By P. J. Casebolt
There is such a thing as an unapproved example. Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah “are set forth for an example? Suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (v. 7.) The Israelites set s o m e poor examples for anyone to follow. They lusted, committed idolatry and fornication, and tempted God. Paul says that these were punished for doing such things, and that we are not to follow their examples. (I Cor. 10:6-11.) The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were poor examples of righteous living, and Jesus exhorted his disciples: “…but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Mt. 23:3.)
The Example of Christ
Peter said that Christ left us an example, and that we should follow in his steps. (1 Pet. 2:21.) Many of the things which Jesus did are recorded in the first four books of the New Testament. John said that there were many other things which Jesus did which are not recorded, but that a sufficient number had been put on record to establish the identity of Christ as the Son of God. (Jno. 20:30,31.)
The Example of the Christian
Paul told Timothy to be an example of the believers. (1 Tim. 4:12.) When people see us, they should see Christ. (Gal. 2:20.) When people see our good works, they should glorify God. (Mt. 5:16.) Peter said that if wives have husbands who are not Christians, that they should live before them in such a way that the husbands would be won to Christ. (1 Pet. 3:1, 2.) The example of the Christian is so powerful that a person may be won to Christ without the word, i.e., people can see the word as well as hear it.
These, likewise, must be approved. We cannot follow the one set by Peter which is recorded in Gal. 2:11-13. It will not be difficult to determine whether an example is approved or disapproved if we will observe the text and the context.
Jesus sent the apostles forth and charged them to teach the people “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28: 19, 20.) We are told that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread’ and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42.)
The true followers of Christ have always sought authorization for a practice by (1) direct command, (2) necessary inference, and (3) approved apostolic example. This is not a new procedure introduced by the principals of the Restoration, but a practice which is as old as the church itself. The apostles were commanded to go and to preach the gospel. It was necessarily inferred that they use some means of transportation. The approved examples which they set before the early church were binding then, and are just as binding now.
But, a concentrated effort is being made in our time (even as it has been made in other times) to destroy the power of an approved apostolic example. The proponents of this movement claim that an apostolic example alone is not binding–that it must be accompanied by a direct command. What is the purpose of this effort? There must be a reason. There is.
The only way that we know elders should be ordained in “every church” is by an approved apostolic example. (Acts 14:23.) Paul charged Titus to ordain elders in “every city,” but how would we know that each congregation in “every city” should have elders were it not for the apostolic example of Acts 14:23?
The only way we know that spiritual gifts could only be imparted by the laying on of the apostles’ hands is by the apostolic examples given concerning it. (See Acts 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Tim. 1:6.) The only exception to this is the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the Gentiles. (Acts 10:44-46.) Still, this is an example, not a command.
We would be left in the dark completely as to the time we should observe the Lord’s supper, were it not for the apostolic example of Acts 20:7. We are commanded to observe the supper, but we are not told when to observe it. The lone example of Acts 20:7 tells us when, or how often we are to observe the supper. I have proved for years, and can still prove, by apostolic example alone, that we should break bread “on the first day of the week.” You may find a command telling us to break bread, but you will never find a command telling us when to do it. Thank God for this apostolic example set by Paul in Acts 20:7!
Now, I have a question for those who think that an apostolic example alone is not binding. Since you place more emphasis on a command than you do on an apostolic example, what are you going to do if the apostles command us to observe an example as binding? The apostle Paul commands: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.” (Phil. 3:17.) “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil. 4:9.) Yes, we are commanded to do not only the things we have learned, received, and heard, but also to do the things which we have seen.
Now, why would anyone want to minimize the importance of an approved apostolic example? Especially, why would brethren want to do it? Is it because they don’t want to observe the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week? No. Is it because they want to teach that spiritual gifts were imparted by someone other than the apostles? No. Is it because they don’t think we should have elders in every church? No. The answer is found when you begin reading at Phil. 4:9 and read the next seven verses, especially vv. 15, 16. The approved apostolic example of sending support directly to the place where it is needed instead of through some sponsoring church or human organization is what these anti-apostolic-example-advocates are trying to escape.
No, it is not because of disrespect for the Lord’s supper or opposition to elders in every church that causes brethren to reject an approved apostolic example as binding upon the church today, but rather because of their love for some humanly devised arrangement of raising, contributing, and receiving money. But, it is inexcusable for brethren to abandon the only method possible of proving that we should commune on the first day of the week and that we should have elders in every church just because they want to send their contributions through some “sponsoring agency” instead of sending it directly to the preacher, the church, or the individual in need. Yet, Paul commands in Phil 4:9 that we observe his example in Phil. 4:15,16.
May God help us to quit weakening the influence of approved apostolic examples before the sectarians see our weakness and jump on us with both feet. Even if we escape the wrath of sectarianism, such a practice will lead us into it eventually, and ultimately into the wrath of God.
Truth Magazine VI: 11, pp. 17-18