Garrett’s seventh wish for the Churches of Christ is —
Let us become more responsibly biblical.
We have supposed that the New Testament produced the church, when in fact it was the church that produced the New Testament. …
The New Testament is more descriptive of what the church should be (or not be), than prescriptive, as if a code of law. …
I suggest one basic rule of interpretation, a negative one, that I call “the spirit of Christ rule.” I think it will prove to be liberating, especially for us in the Churches of Christ: No interpretation is to be accepted that runs counter to the spirit of Christ.
(emphasis in original).
Garrett is certainly right that it’s been a colossal mistake to read the New Testament as though it were a code of law. I’m a lawyer. I’ve written quite a few state statutes. I know how codes of law are written and how to interpret them. The Churches of Christ are more “legalistic” than lawyers! I mean, we lawyers would be embarrassed to take some of the positions our preachers take routinely.
In law school, we’re taught to interpret statutes consistently with something called “public policy,” that is, the legislative purpose behind the rule. And this is much of what Garrett is arguing for. We shouldn’t let a hypertechnical reading contradict the reason for the rule in the first place. And we certainly shouldn’t turn non-law into law.
For example, Acts 20:6 mentions the fact that the disciples in Troas met to “break bread” on a Sunday. Some of my brothers take the position that this command (command?) bars taking the Lord’s Supper on any other day of the week, even though Jesus instituted communion on a Thursday night!
Common sense tells us that Acts 20:6 was not written as a command, much less as an exclusive command. And the “public policy,” that is, the divine purpose behind communion is to remember and declare Jesus’ death. Why wouldn’t Jesus want that to happen as often as possible?
Now, Garrett suggests that we can deal with these issues by asking whether Jesus would have agreed with such an interpretation. He’s right, but he’s wrong. You see, a large part of our problem is that we’ve distorted our understanding of who Jesus is in order to justify our pet doctrines. We’re glad to discuss grace, love, and Jesus’ sacrifice, except when the context is weekly communion, instrumental music, or such like. Then we are only interested in the wrath of God against disobedience.
I wish that we had such a Christology that we could ask “what would Jesus interpret?” and get a sensible answer, but my observation is that it just won’t work until we’ve let go of our obsession with being saved by obeying rules of doubtful existence.