Willis-Carrell Discussion  First Affirmative

William L. Carrell
Muncie, Indiana


RESOLVED: "That it is in harmony with New Testament teaching for one or more congregations to send money from their treasuries to another congregation, (Highland Avenue in Abilene or any other) for the purpose of supporting a nationwide radio broadcast (Herald of Truth or other) which broadcast or telecast is supervised by the congregation receiving the funds."

A Question of Bible Interpretation

1. In approaching this discussion I take it for granted that we are agreed that the Bible is our authority for all things done in the work and worship of the church. Therefore I do not consider a nationwide broadcast, such as is mentioned above as a departure from the faith, or a rejection of s o u n d doctrine, but as one method of carrying out the command to preach the Gospel to all creatures. That it is "in harmony with New Testament teaching" means only that we violate no New Testament teaching or principle when we engage in such a broadcast or when we support it from church treasuries. It does not mean that we must do it this way or that we must support it financially. As the method is optional, our support of such a program is also optional.

2. Also we are not set for the defense just of the Herald of Truth, but of any similar nationwide broadcast or telecast. I am not defending the judgment of those in charge of such a program with regard to the details of how they spend the money. I am only defending their right to engage in such a program and of the right of sister congregations to assist. By this I do not mean that I think those in charge of the Herald of Truth are using poor judgment in the details of the work. But even if they were this would not prove that the principle is wrong, or that no one has a right to carry on such a program.

3. It is my conviction that most of the controversy that has arisen over this question results from a misapplication of fundamental principles of interpretation. And to get to the root of the problem I would like to consider the following diagram, for which I am indebted to Bro. J. D. Thomas of Abilene Christian College:

How Do We Understand God's Will?

4. The "Generic Command" stands for the general command God has given concerning any matter, for example, concerning baptism. The "Specific" just below it is some detail concerning the command which God has specified. For example, in studying all that God has commanded concerning baptism we find that immersion in water is a specific part of it. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The church has been sanctified and cleansed "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). There are of course other specifications, but we will consider just this one to illustrate the principle.

5. In that God has specified immersion in water he has excluded every other application of water, such as sprinkling or pouring. (These would come under "Excluded Specifics" in the chart.) In other words, when God specifies something in a command, all other things of the same order is excluded.

6. However, where God has not specified some detail of how to carry out a command, we are at liberty to use our own judgment in carrying it out. (See "Optional Expedient" squares in the chart.) For example one may be baptized in a river, a lake, the ocean, or a baptistery. One may be laid backward, forward, or even immersed on a cot or in a chair if necessary. As long as he is immersed, the method makes no difference. To this I think all will agree.

7. It is easy to multiply examples of the application of this principle. In the Lord's Supper bread and fruit of the vine are specified. Therefore every other food and drink are excluded, even though not specifically excluded in the Bible. On the other hand, the container is incidental, not specifically commanded, and we understand that individual communion cups are permitted, even though not specifically mentioned in the New Testament. Thus the silence of Scriptures may be taken to exclude some things, but include others as optional.

Misuse of the Principle

8. Sprinkling, as we have seen, is excluded as a mode of baptism because God specified immersion. Our denominational neighbors err therefore by taking an "Excluded Specific" (sprinkling) and making it an "Optional Expedient," Their "broadmindedness" in accepting both sprinkling and immersion does not excuse them from the charge of changing God's law.

9. But it is just as wrong to take an "Optional Expedient" and make it either "Specific" and therefore binding on Christians, or an "Excluded Specific" and therefore prohibited, when the Bible says nothing about it. And this is exactly what Bro. Willis is doing when he attempts to bind on his brethren his opinions concerning cooperation and the handling of funds.

10. Bro. Willis recognizes that the church is commanded to preach the Gospel. He recognizes that the radio, television, or the printed page are legitimate expedients for carrying out this command, even though not specifically mentioned in the Bible. They are "Optional Expedients."

11. But if one church engages in a good work, and another church wishes to assist the first in the work, in order to enlarge and spread it, Bro. Willis objects. Why? And what is he doing? Referring back to the chart above, he is moving an "Optional Expedient" up to make it an "Excluded Specific." And when he insists on one "pattern" for handling funds, he is making a "Specific" command out of an "Optional Expedient."

12. What he is obliged to do in order to substantiate his position is to produce not an example of how the early church did it, but a command, generic or specific, which expressly limits the church with regard to cooperating in such a work or in the handling of its funds. Or he must show that it violates some principle of the New Testament expressly stated.

An Example, Not a Command

13. Can Bro. Willis produce such a command? No. He produces examples and inferences which, he says, prove that in the New Testament churches always contributed according to a certain pattern, the church with ability sending directly to the church in need, through its own selected messengers, etc.

But Are Examples Binding?

14. Right here is where Bro. Willis jumps the track. Let us examine the principle by which he determines that his "pattern" is binding to the exclusion of all others. He can produce no command, stating either how funds were to be handled or prohibiting any particular pattern in handling them, other than the general principle of providing for things honorable in the sight of men, (2 Cor. 8:21) and of doing all things decently and in order. (I Cor. 14:4:0).

15. Let us examine further the use of scriptural examples. We learn God's will through commands, approved examples, or necessary inferences. When are inferences necessary? And are examples, even approved examples, equal to commands? Bro. Willis seems to think so. Note the following chart:




Lords Supper




Heb. 13:2

I Peter 4:9

Rom. 12:13


Mark 16:16

Acts 2:38


I Cor. 11:23 ff.


Gal. 6:6, 10

3 John 5




Included foot washing, providing food, shelter, etc.

Christ in Jordan

Acts 20:7

Acts 11:27

Rom. 15:26

II Cor. 8,9




Is Foot washing binding? No

Running water required? No

Jordan? No

1St Day of the week? Yes

Must be in Upper Room? No

Rich to Poor only?


Emergency? No

Directly? No

16. Let us examine each of these cases to see if examples are binding. Concerning hospitality the command is very general, and might be summarized as in 1 Peter 4:9. "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." But-we find that Bible examples of hospitality included foot washing, besides the ordinary matters of providing food, shelter, comfort, aid, etc. (1 Tim. 5: 10). Are we bound therefore to practice foot washing as an act of hospitality? Of course not! Foot washing illustrates the command to show hospitality in terms of the society of that time. Being an approved example it could be practiced if it were the custom, or if some one needed it, as in the case of an accident. But it was never intended to be binding on the whole church in all ages.

17. Consider then baptism. Most of the readers will not need to be informed that this is commanded (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, etc.). Turning to examples of baptism we find among others that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Must we conclude that baptism must be in the Jordan? Or in a river? Or in running water? There have been those who turned the faucet on in the baptistery in order to be baptized in "running water." Again, however, the example of Jesus only illustrates the importance of baptism. We are bound by the commandment, not the examples, when we obey the Gospel today.

The Lord's Supper

18. Now we come to a slightly different case. The command to take the Lord's Supper is found in I Cor. 11:23ff, with the parallel accounts in the Gospels. However the command lacks in one important detail it does not tell how often it is to be done. If we had no way of knowing the frequency we might take it once a week, once a month, or even once in a lifetime.

19. We find, however, from Acts 20:7 that the church at Troas took it on the first day of the week. Does their example bind us? Admittedly the case is unique, but what this example actually does is to supply us with a part of the command which is incomplete. And when we consider that 1 Cor. 16:2 commands that we assemble on the first day of the week, and that Heb. 10:26 warns us not to forsake the assembly, and that according to all historical records the church did universally observe the Lord's Supper every first day of the week, we infer that a command was given to do so. The command is nowhere written out, but Acts 20:7 unmistakably implies that the church at Troas was following apostolic command, and we are therefore also obliged to follow this implied command. But it is the command, by necessary inference, not the example, which is binding.

20. If Bro. Willis rejects this explanation, let him explain why he accepts the duty of taking the Lord's Supper each first day of the week from Acts 20: 7 but rejects the taking of the Supper in an upper room, from the same passage. How does he bind one example, but leave another in the same place unbound?

21. I conclude therefore that examples illustrate or clarify commands, and in this case, perhaps in a few others, lead us to infer a command. But no example is itself binding.

22. Now let us apply the same reasoning to the support of evangelism, with reference of course to the Herald of Truth and similar programs. The Lord's command is to go preach the Gospel (Matt. 28:18f; Mark 16: 15f). As for helping those who preach, the command is general. "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto (or share with) him that teacheth in all good things" (Gal. 6:6). And "Beloved, thou doest a -faithful work in whatsoever thou doest to _the brethren, and to strangers; which have borne witness of thy love before the church, whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well" (III John 5f).

23. As far as commands concerning the handling of funds are concerned, God has left us free of any detailed pattern. Obviously circumstances will differ, the needs and opportunities in different places and times will vary, and the ability of brethren to, for example, provide their own messenger in every case may be limited. As long as the funds are used for the purpose for which the church was established, therefore, the scriptures impose no rigid pattern as to the mere details of handling money.

24. But Bro. Willis claims there is a pattern, to the effect that "A church with power (ability) gave to a church in want in order to produce mutual freedom from wants." In the first place this is just an assumption. He assumes that if a church gave it must have had ability, and if it received it must have been in want. This is gratuitous, and establishes no pattern. But further than that, his assumption is contrary to fact, for Paul said of the Macedonian churches that they gave "beyond their power." Quite likely many who contributed money in Macedonia were worse off financially than those they helped in Jerusalem. There was no way for them to know exact conditions, and their giving was based on love, not on a cold-blooded comparison of economic conditions.

25. But even if it were true that in every example a "rich" church gave to a "poor" church it would prove nothing. It would merely be so many examples of how the brethren gave. And it is commands, not examples that are binding.

26. The same reasoning applies to his argument that churches helped only in time of "emergency." Again his point is gratuitous, for he can always assume an emergency where one church sent to another. But the fact is that the word "emergency" is not in the Bible. The word "need" is there. Bro. Willis, in order to support his proposition, has changed the word from "need" (a broad term) to "emergency" (a narrower word, and one which he assumes the prerogative of interpreting.) And he has changed Christian giving from the free-hearted generous act of love it was supposed to be into a parsimonious penny-pinching pattern of necessity, to be done only in time of "emergency."

27. Bro. Willis also claims that the "pattern" of churches selecting their own "messengers" to carry their "bounty" directly to the church in need is binding. Even if such examples do exist, as we have pointed out, they only illustrate God's commands. They do not exhaust them. But actually the command of Paul concerning this is much broader than Bro. Willis will allow. "And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem" (I Cor. 16:3). WHOMSOEVER! Suppose the Corinthian church had decided to ask the Macedonian churches to carry the bounty together with theirs. Would this have been in accord with Paul's command? Certainly! He said only, "Whomsoever ye shall approve." Any sensible arrangement was implied.

28. And so I think the conclusion is inescapable, that when brethren recognize the NEED to preach the Gospel, whether by radio or television or any other means, and they find the opportunities greater than they can meet with their own finances, they are at liberty to invite their brethren to help them do it. And if other churches see fit to fulfill a part of their duty to preach the Gospel by helping such a church, then they are at liberty to do so.

29. The examples of giving and sharing in the New Testament were given to inspire us to higher effort, not to restrict us to a perm pinching pattern of do-nothingness. When other churches have opportunities for good which are great, and when they show a talent and zeal for good sufficient for such opportunities, lacking only the resources, we should be glad to share with them in the great work of getting the Gospel preached to all the world.


1. What command (not example) authorizes the preaching of the Gospel and the sending of missionaries abroad to preach beyond the area of a local congregation?

2. What specification in that command prohibits two or more churches pooling their resources to carry on such a work?

3. Do you consider all approved examples binding on Christians? If so, on what principles do you decide this?

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 10, pp. 3-7
July 1967