Growing up in the traditional sect of the Churches of Christ, I was taught from a very young age the alleged importance of having either a “command, example or necessary inference” from the Bible for every religious act. All religious practices and beliefs that do not have such are deemed “unauthorized” and thus sinful.
I believed and taught this idea for many years. Of course, I still believe we must have authority for all we do since having God’s authority simply means acting in accordance with His will. After all, the Bible is clear that we must act within God’s will (Mt. 7:21; 1 Thess. 5:21; Rom. 12:1-2; Phil. 1:10; etc.). Paul states:
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17)
Doing something in “the name” of someone signifies doing something by their authority (see: Acts 4:7). Since Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18), and since authority means the power or permission to act, the conclusion is that in everything we do, we need to be seeking to follow God’s will.
However, I came to realize the real debate is not over whether we are to strive to act within God’s will (since that is typically agreed upon in Christendom). Sincere Christians are striving to act within God’s will. The true issue is how do we know if we are acting by God’s authority/His will?
As stated before, I was taught the only way you can know if you’re acting within God’s will is if you have a so-called “command, example or necessary inference” from the Bible. The more I studied this belief and attempted to apply it consistently, I realized this was a faulty understanding of how to understand God’s will. I found (at least) three blatant and obvious problems with this understanding.
THREE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS
The first problem is that this position assumes itself. The Bible never states nor teaches that the way to study the Bible is by command, example or necessary inference. In fact, there is no command, example or necessary inference in the Bible for this method of studying the Bible. Therefore, by its own admission, this method would be “unauthorized” if pressed literally.
The second problem I found is that this misapplied view of authority is very abstract and undefined. Many of the traditional Church of Christ members have their own subjective understanding of what it means to have a “command, example or necessary inference.” This can be seen in the many divisions within the traditional Church of Christ sect, which all claim to act by “command, example and necessary inference.”
While this approach to Scripture is advertised as being simplistic and common sense in nature, it is very chaotic, confusing and divisive when attempting to apply it. For a humorous, yet painfully true explanation that demonstrates the division this belief has caused in the Churches of Christ, watch this sermon clip from Rick Atchley.
The third problem is that this method of studying isn’t applied consistently to all practices. Colossians 3:17 says we must do all things in the name of Jesus, not just religious activity or worship services. Yet, many members of the traditional Churches of Christ only apply Colossians 3:17 to religious activity.
This inconsistent belief leads to bizarre conclusions where one will condemn the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas or the resurrection of Jesus on Easter because they claim there is no “command, example or necessary inference” for such. Yet, they will turn around and gladly celebrate a mythical man coming down their chimney or a magical bunny hopping to their house to bring candy-filled eggs (According to their logic, where is the command, example or necessary inference for that?)
Instead of dismissing God’s authority and will outside of worship and religious acts, we must respect God’s authority and will all the time if we are going to be truly pleasing to God.
If the only way we can prove that we have authority for a practice is if we have a command, example or a necessary inference, then that means we cannot participate in any practice or belief (religious or not) if the Bible does not give us a command, example or necessary inference for such. Even those who claim to practice the “command, example and necessary inference” system don’t consistently apply it to all things as Colossians 3:17 teaches us to do. Therefore, they are violating the very law they claim to be upholding.
NO LAW, NO SIN
Now that we have pointed out the error of the way many members of the traditional Churches of Christ approach authority, we need to know the right way.
We can know that we are acting by God’s authority if we are not willfully and rebelliously violating His law (Rom. 6:1-2; Heb. 10:26; Gal. 2:18-21). In Romans 4, Paul is discussing the difference between faith and law. He states a universal truth when he says:
“where there is no law, there is no sin” (Rom. 4:15)
For there to be sin, there must be a violation of law for:
“sin is transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4)
Law can be given either explicitly (Jn. 13:34; e.g., Do this/Don’t do this-States in an explicit way) or implicitly (Num. 3:11-13; Heb. 7:14; e.g., Specifying a speed limit of 50 would implicitly exclude any speed over 50).
Sin entered the world because God gave a law and Adam and Eve violated that law (Gen. 3:11). Not only is this a biblical teaching, but this is also a practical teaching. If a city doesn’t have a speed limit, then there would be no speeding tickets. Authority or permission for a practice is intrinsic in the absence of law. But where does this leave us with examples?
There are many places in the Bible that refer to the importance of following examples. We are to follow the examples of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21). We are to follow the examples of Paul and other Christians (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 4:9). We are to imitate what is good, not evil (3 John 11). It is vital here that we understand the difference between manner and method. Paul said:
“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, my manner of life…” (2 Tim. 3:10).
Christ-like examples are binding, every single one of them. Yes, you read that correctly. However, how are they binding? They are binding in manner, not in method. Unless there is a command given regarding the method, then examples can only bind in manner (Rom. 4:15; 1 Jn. 3:4).
Consider examples found in Scripture such as foot washing, fasting, the holy kiss, etc. Clearly, these examples are “binding.” Yet, they are binding in manner and not method. 1 Peter 2:21-22 tells us that Christ is our example and we must follow in His footsteps. Within context, this is speaking about His suffering and crucifixion. Obviously, this doesn’t mean we have to suffer and die the exact same way Jesus did.
Examples teach us about character. They teach us about attitude. They teach us about heart. Which, at the end of the day, having a relationship with Jesus is what it is all about—not living a perfect life with all the answers. The bottom line is that no example, in and of itself, can ever bind a specific method.
Thankfully, many members of the Churches of Christ are realizing their inconsistency. They have attempted to apply this belief and have realized it is a faulty system. I pray this article will help those who are seeking. I pray this article will help members of the Church of Christ realize that many preachers, teachers, professors, deacons, elders and other Christians are realizing our inconsistency and are willing to change.
Our tribe has always claimed to be the ones willing to change to follow the Bible if we realize we are wrong. We claim to speak where the Bible speaks. Are we willing to not only speak, but to do and to be who we claim to be? Only you can answer that.
– Kevin Pendergrass
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