By Connie W. Adams
More and more we are hearing that “we need to major in the gospels and minor in the epistles.” What is that all about? What it is about is the so-called “new hermeneutic.” It places greater importance on what Jesus said and did than on what the apostles said and did. It is a part of the scheme to rid ourselves of the restraining influences of finding a direct statement, approved apostolic ex-ample or necessary inference to authorize our teaching and practice.
We have some among us who are terrorized by the ghost of tradition. Never mind that traditions are sometimes approved and other times condemned. Paul wrote, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil. 3:17). He also said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). The church at Thessalonica was charged to “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6). So, all traditions are not to be rejected.
The Source of Apostolic Teaching
Those who worry about putting too much emphasis on the epistles need to be reminded of the source of the message in the epistles. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth, bringing to their remembrance what Jesus had taught them, and revealing to them truth which Jesus had not expressed while with them in person. Read John 16:7-14. Paul said, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” and then added, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:13,16). “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Cor. 14:37).
Now, if the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit, had the mind of Christ, and what they wrote were the words of Christ, how say some among us that we need to minor in the epistles?
New Testament congregations which received and obeyed apostolic instruction in the epistles were following the will of Christ. That is why Jude wrote, “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17). Those words were a pattern to shape our thinking and practice.
A “Better” Way?
Some of those who are weary of precept, approved apostolic example and necessary inference, tell us that this is not all bad but they have found a “better way,” that in addition to these means of establishing divine authority, we may add the three “P’s” principle, purpose and perception. Older brethren will recall the time when E.R. Harper was trying to find divine authority for the Herald of Truth sponsoring church arrangement and came up with “principle eternal.” He had no precept, no approved apostolic example and no necessary inference from the word of God, so he found it in “principle eternal.” But how do we know what principle to follow except in terms of what the word of God actually says? How do we know what purpose is to be served apart from divine instruction? How do we know what perception or perspective was present except from what is said in the text?
It is being argued that the only pattern for us is what we think Jesus would do. That is a subjective approach to religion. We “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith rests upon solid evidence, not subjective feelings and perceptions. The truth of the matter is that Jesus taught by the use of commands and precepts. What do you make of the Great Commission if that is not so? He “left us an example that we should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). He also drew necessary conclusions (Matt. 22:23-33) or left it so that his hearers would do so.
There seems to be a terrible dread among some (especially some younger men) that they will do something which brethren have done before and therefore will fall into some theological rut from which they will not be able to extricate themselves. So they tinker with the order of the worship until it borders on disorder. They fear that worship will not be exciting enough. But exciting to whom? To us, or to our God? They must deliver us from boredom. But who is bored? Are we bored, or is God? Certainly worship ought to be offered from the whole heart. We ought not to go through empty rituals. But God has ordained certain acts of worship and who am Ito say that he is bored when his children perform these acts in harmony with what God himself instructed us to do?
These are dangerous times. The only safe guide to see us through these times is the inerrant, eternal word of God. It is a perfect guide. Our eternal destiny is too important to entrust to the shifting sands of human opinion and subjective religion. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3) Let’s hear what Jesus said in the gospels but let’s not minimize what he said in the epistles through Holy Spirit-guided apostles. That is also a part of the word that will judge us in the last day (Jn. 12:48-49).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 19, p. 3-4
October 7, 1993