Approved Examples and Fellowship

By Mike Willis

Some who are presently seeking to unify the various segments of the “restoration movement” have concluded that men can be united if they will only consider as necessary for extending fellowship to an individual his obedience to the commandments of Jesus and leave as matters of opinion such items as are taught by apostolic examples and necessary inferences. To demonstrate that I am not attacking an enemy of my own invention in this article, please read the following quotations:

“4. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians further than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so. for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but properly belong to the after and progressive education of the church,’ Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have anyplace in the Church’s confession” (Carl Ketcherside, MISSION MESSENGER, Vol. 34, No. 1, p – 9).

AHowever, matters of inference and when an apostolic example binds are not so clear that all can understand the truth at once. We all have differing spiritual I.Q.s because our abilities and opportunities vary. But if we are doing our best with the I.Q. we have and the opportunities we have, we can be assured salvation. Notice that John said that we can know that we know Him and are saved if we practice His COMMANDMENTS. Jesus said, ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). He did not say, ‘If you love me you will keep the necessary inferences and approved examples you will find in the N.T.’No other writer in the N. T. said this either. (Paul did not say this in I Cor. 11:1 and Philip. 4:9, as the context indicates; these verses do not mention ‘examples’ and ‘inferences). I am not ruling out the possibility that inferences and examples teach, but I am simply saying that those who are sincerely ignorant of such matters will not be condemned for such ignorance” (RONNIE COMPTON, p. 9 of a letter to John McCort).

“This writer suggests (until a better and more Biblical answer is suggested) that since God is not the author of confusion and since God is indeed fully able to plainly, clearly and irrevocably reveal his will to man, then ‘matters of faith’ are those areas wherein there is a direct, explicit command that’s binding upon all people at all times! And thus, ‘matters of opinion’ are all those areas of private judgment of men concerning Bible subjects and themes. So what does this all mean? It means that the determining factor that decides and distinguishes between ‘matters Of faith’ and ‘matters of opinion’ is the identification of a teaching as to its nature. ‘Matters of faith’ are distinguished from ‘matters of opinion’ in that the former are direct, expressly stated commands and the latter aren’t!” (Michael Hall. ‘In Matters of Opinion, Liberty!”, FIRM FOUNDATION, Dec. 18, 1973).

“For example, how often should the Lords Supper be observed:’ The Bible nowhere gives a clear, definitive answer. The New Testament tells us that on one occasion one group of Christians met to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). It also says that other Christians ‘broke bread’ daily from house to house (Acts 2:46). Nowhere does it either lay down a law for Eucharistic observance or formulate a principle of approved apostolic example. All such laws and hermeneutical principles are products of our personal theological ingenuity” (James Robert Ross, “Real Reasons For Disunity, RESTORATlON REVIEW. Vol. 13-14. p. I 10).

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with human deductions about the Biblical text or any ‘accepted system of religious belief” – the Good News of Jesus is redemptive power in every aspect of human life” (Don Haymes, “The Restoration Illusion, – INTEGRITY, Vol. V, No. 5).

(A similar quotation could have been included from the pen of Edward Fudge from his Reprint of Articles in his article entitled “Faith Or Opinion.”) The positions quoted above have not developed overnight. I remember reading in some literature of the brethren some years ago that one could not consider an apostolic example as binding unless a divine, expressly stated commandment was underlying it. The generation who taught that could be reasoned with on the basis of the Lord’s Supper to show the necessity of considering that apostolic examples and necessary inferences were binding. But now another generation has arisen who are perfectly willing to concede that we have no authority for binding the necessity of partaking of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week and of binding that the bread of the Lord’s Supper must be unleavened. Thus, we must go back to the basics of the principles concerning authority to decide whether authority can be established by any method other than direct statement or command.

Preliminary Observation

A person cannot arbitrarily decide that he will not allow necessary inferences and apostolic examples to possess legislative authority. If God has chosen to bind in this fashion (the question which we are attempting to answer), man must be willing to submit to that authority. The reason why I am bound by the things implied in God’s word is not that I inferred them but because God implied them! Thus, I cannot arbitrarily discard necessary inferences and approved examples as a method of establishing authority. If they are discarded, reason must be given for why they are discarded!

Secondly, if approved examples and necessary inferences. are not binding on man, I would have no way of knowing it. There is no precept which indicates that they are not binding. Since this is the only kind of authority that some wilt allow, there is no way that they could ever know that approved examples and necessary inferences are not binding. For a man to argue, with the intention to prove, from an approved example or necessary inference that examples and inferences are not binding would be self-contradictory and, therefore, absurd. All admit that there is no explicit statement saying that approved examples and necessary inferences are not binding.

Thirdly, one needs to consider what the denial of the binding power of approved examples and necessary inferences does to the historical books of the New Testament. Rejection of ‘these reduces the historical books to a collection of interesting, perhaps informative, but otherwise dispensable curiosities. The rejection of approved examples and necessary inferences prescribes that God reveal His will to us in a well-indexed, systematic theology (some would be willing for man to make his own index) and shows no appreciation of God’s various ways of revealing His will. To do this is tantamount to the creature prescribing to the Creator how to reveal His will.

Fourthly, inasmuch as no single commandment in Scripture is personally and expressly given to Mike Willis, I am bound, to be logically consistent, to conclude that the Bible has no commandment in it that applies to me, if I take the position that no authority can be established by necessary inference. The way that I conclude that any commandment applies to me is through necessary inference. I must reason, whether consciously or unconsciously, that inasmuch as God is no respecter of persons but accepts the man who fears Him and does what is right (Acts 10:34) and that He has commanded that all men everywhere must repent (Acts 17:30, therefore, since I am a man, I, too, must do these things. Now, if a man denies the binding power of necessary inference, he must find commandments personally addressed to him or admit that there is nothing in the Bible applicable to him.

Fifthly, one must ignore the scriptures themselves to conclude that approved examples and necessary inferences are useless. We are taught that the examples of Jesus (I Pet, 2:21; Phil. 2:1-8; 2 Cor. 8:9), approved men (Phil. 3:15-19; 4:9; 1 Cor. 4:6, 16; 11: 1; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:9; Heb. 6:12) and churches 0 Thess. 2:14) are to be imitated. Too, Jesus used arguments from necessary inference to refute the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the dead (Mt. 22:31-33). The author of Hebrews argued from necessary inference to conclude that the descendants of the tribe of Judah could not be a priest in the Mosaical system of worship (Heb. 7:12-19). Thus, one must not ‘ be hasty to reject what God has used to reveal His will to men!

Acts 15: A Study of How To Determine Truth

David Koltenbah has contributed no little amount of help, in my opinion, to the study of approved examples and necessary inferences through his exegesis of Acts 15. If you have not read that, it is available in the 1974 Florida College lectureship book (“The Apostles’ Appeal to Scriptural Authority,” Biblical Authority, pp. 80-94) and Truth Magazine (Vol. XI, pp. 234-240, 255-258, 275-281). Read it, study it, and preach it! Koltenbah demonstrates that in the Jerusalem “conference” the issue of whether Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved or not was settled by necessary inference, approved example, and direct statement, even though men through whom direct revelation could be given were present at that conference. Again, I urge you to get a copy of this work by Koltenbah and read it.

When Are Examples Binding?

Of all the subjects which have troubled me in my studies, the problem of determining when approved examples are binding on men has been as hard as any with which I have dealt. The enormity of the problem is probably the reason that some have concluded that approved examples are not binding on men. However, the problem of determining when something is binding is not peculiar to approved examples; one must also determine when commands are binding! We have concluded without serious difficulty that the commandments to wash feet Un. 13:1-20), to not carry a purse with us as we go forth to preach (Mt. 10:5-11), and to salute one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16) are not binding. We have a little more difficulty in arriving at a uniform conclusion with reference to the veil of I Cor. 11. However, one should not arbitrarily discard the binding power of approved examples because some are binding and some are not. If one uses this as his basis for discarding approved examples, he must, to be logically consistent, also discard the commandments of our Lord. If he decides to ignore approved examples because we are divided over which ones are binding on us, he must, to be logically consistent, also discard the commandments of our Lord since we are also divided over which of these are applicable to us (see I Cor. 11 and the covering issue).

I suggest that we approach approved examples in the same way we approach the commandments of Christ: we must assume that they are binding unless a reason exists which indicates that the command or approved example is not binding. From time to time, brethren have listed some of the reasons why approved examples might not be binding. (Rather than listing those reasons here, I will refer you to these sources for further study: Biblical Authority, Cogdill Foundation, pp. 156-198 and Walking By Faith, pp. 22-28.) One does not have the liberty arbitrarily to pick and choose which commands and examples are binding and which are not. Neither does he have the liberty to blanketly discard every approved example or necessary inference, as was done in the quotations at the beginning of this article.

Let us not forget the destiny to which those whose quotations we cited at the beginning of this article are taking us; they are wanting to establish fellowship with the liberal Churches of Christ and the Christian Churches. Thus, they are trying to make fellowship with one another conditional only upon obedience to the plan of salvation and the moral code. (Who gave these men the right to select which commandments were the most important for men to obey has not been named.) The discussion of the authority question is not simply an harangue over some remote, unimportant issue. It is a discussion that will ultimately decide whether those who have brought the instrument into the worship and those who have introduced the sponsoring church concept, recreation in the work of the church, and other social gospel features, are to be considered false teachers or not. I believe that they are false teachers who must be marked and rebuked; others believe that they are not false teachers and, therefore, can be fellowshipped. This is the issue.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:38, p. 8-10
August 1, 1974