Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 26 -27A (Authority and Worship)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.

Chapter 26

The Five Acts of Worship

Randall next makes a presentation on the Five Acts of Worship: Lord’s Supper, Prayer, Singing, Giving, Preaching.

Randall argues that if you dropped denominational names, you’d recognize the true church by its practices, and since the true church has these and only these practices, the Churches of Christ are the true church. 

The folly of this argument is that it treats each of the Five Acts of Worship as defining who is saved and who is not saved — and this is simply nowhere to be found in the Bible. After all of the chapters pounding the King James Version and demanding that we follow the scriptures and not traditions, where is the passage that says the marks of the church are these five acts?

And  why wouldn’t we better ask who their Savior is? Or in whom they have faith? Or, like Paul, whether they’ve received the Spirit (Act 19:1 ff)? Or as Jesus taught in John 13, whether they have love for one another? Or as Jesus prayed in John 17, whether they have unity?

You see, there’s an odd bias here against the things the Bible actually focuses on and instead insisting on things that the Bible only hints at — such as how to conduct a worship service rather than, say, being a light to the world. It’s a convenient way to damn several million people, if one were so inclined, but it’s got nothing to do with the scriptures.

There’s not even a single book in the Bible that lists all five of these acts. You have to jump hither and yon to assemble these from scattered verses, omitting other likely candidates, such as the common meal called the “love feast” (Acts 2, Gal 2, Jude) and the public reading of scripture (1 Tim 4:13). The Landmark Baptists added washing feet, and many denominations add the Holy Kiss.

Again, you can only make up these kinds of lists if you proof text rather than reading the passages truly in the context of the arguments being made and lessons being taught. If Shank had just read the books of the Bible front to back rather than letting Randall pick and choose which verses to focus on and which ones to ignore, he would surely have reached a better set of conclusions.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 14, when a question arose as to what is proper in the assembly, Paul didn’t refer to a checklist of approved “acts” handed down from on high. He asked — over and over — whether the suggestion would edify those present. And if the answer was no, he asked whether it might be done in a way that does edify.

Thus, tongues are generally not permitted — for failure to edify — unless an interpreter is present, and then they’re allowed. Prophecy is generally permitted, but only if the prophets do not interrupt each other and only two or three per service. Why? Because in Paul’s judgment, in that church, anything else would fail to edify — and not because prophecy is or isn’t on a list of authorized acts of worship.

Paul’s approach is flexible and grants the freedom promised to children of God. Randall’s approach adds laws to the Bible that just aren’t in the Bible.

For example, Shank notes that nothing requires communion to be taken weekly, and Randall argues for a weekly Lord’s Supper by analogy to the Law of Moses’ Sabbath commands — which are about not working and say nothing about worship or eating together. It’s a strange kind of logic. (Let’s see, the Israelites were told to keep the Sabbath “holy” by not working; the communion is obviously holy and so we should do it weekly like the Sabbath, except on Sunday because Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, because we take communion on Sunday, which is holy, like the Sabbath. It’s just so circular and nonsensical. Oh, and get this wrong and you’re damned for all eternity because it’s just so very obvious.)

Binding examples

Randall next introduces Shank to the rubric of command, example, and necessary inference (CENI). Of course, this approach to hermeneutics is not found in the Bible itself but borrowed from law. To quote attorney and Bible scholar Edward Fudge,

I found it very interesting, when reading some old cases in law school during the 1980s, to discover an appeal for legal authority in the form of either express statute, approved precedent or necessary inference. These categories were lifted from Anglo-American common law to become the hermeneutical framework you are discussing here. Not surprising, some of the debaters who popularized this approach (Roy Cogdill, Guy N. Woods, Alan Highers) were men trained in the law.

Randall just states as an obvious fact that biblical authority is found this way, as though legal principles might be easily applied to Acts, a book of history, not a book of laws. And, I might add, even if legal principles were to apply to the narrative in Acts, the “authority” the judges would find would not be an implied command to take communion weekly but at most the right to do so. “Authorized” doesn’t mean “compelled.” “Authority” in law means permission.

But I’m just a lawyer.

Regulative Principle

Although Randall does not use the technical term, he next brings up the Regulative Principle —

Paul’s specific command necessarily infers inclusion and exclusion,” Randall explained.

(Kindle Locations 5464-5465). Really? Why? Randall just announces the rule as though it’s found in scripture — and it’s not.

He then dismisses Sabbath keeping and the paying of tithes, but he insists that Christians must give weekly based on 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. He considers it wrong to contribute to the church on any other day.

It’s an absurd argument, because Paul was not speaking of a gift to the church’s general fund to pay the preacher and the building mortgage. Rather, he was raising money for the church in Corinth to give to the church in Jerusalem — a one-time, temporary fund raiser.

(1Co 16:1-4 ESV) Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.  2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.  3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.  4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

In v. 2, “when I arrive,” doesn’t mean when Jesus returns. Paul is speaking of his planned return trip to Corinth to pick up the funds to be delivered to Jerusalem. At that point, the weekly giving urged by Paul would stop.

To apply this to the modern weekly contribution as though it imposes a command binding on today’s church is an absurdity. I even know of a married couple where the husband is paid monthly. To honor this “command,” they write eight monthly checks, so that both spouses can give and satisfy the supposed command for each one to give weekly as though God might damn them if the husband or wife would drop a single check in when gets paid. (I respect their commitment, but do we really envision God as a being who commands this sort of obedience? Miss Jesus and you miss God. You may miss him so badly that you imagine he’s like a teacher who poses trick questions, hoping you’ll not catch the trick and fail.)

It’s odd that Shank will readily read and study — use his mental muscles and shovel — to challenge Baptist errors but he turns off his study habits when it comes to Church of Christ errors.

Chapter 27


Randall explains that instruments of music are not allowed in the worship of the church because God never authorized them. He does not explain why authority is needed, especially when the test Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 14 for what is proper in the assembly is edification of the church.

The answer is that the conservative Churches of Christ have adopted, from Calvinism, this principle that authority is essential, called the Regulative Principle of Worship. The Calvinistic churches of the Reformation wanted an argument to allow them to reject Catholic practices they saw as unscriptural. And this principle states that anything not authorized is prohibited — and authority is found only in command, example, or necessary inference.

This is a hermeneutic (way of interpreting the Bible) imposed by men using man-made laws not found in scripture and is only about 500 years old. It’s just not what the Bible teaches.

Moreover, the Regulative Principle proved to create far more problems than it solved. Some Calvinists rejected the use of any hymns other than biblical psalms. And then they split over whether the psalms could be reworded to have a rhythm that suited Western tunes. Some churches even rejected singing altogether, arguing that only making music in your heart is authorized — which excludes making any other kind of music.

In the Churches of Christ, the Regulative Principle has led some churches to reject hiring a located minister, having any fund raiser other than a free will offering (no bake sales!), building a fellowship hall, having a kitchen in the church building, having a water fountain in the church building, having a praise team, having a children’s worship, having a youth minister, having Sunday school classes, having a campus ministry supported by the church treasury, funding orphans homes out of the church treasury, having a missionary society (a nonprofit organization that sends out missionaries), elder re-affirmation, and on and on.

There is no end to the devilment that the Regulative Principle has caused. In fact, it is clearly the leading cause of division within the Churches of Christ. And it’s produced an astonishing amount of unholiness. We should flee from the Regulative Principle.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 26 -27A (Authority and Worship)

  1. Johnny says:

    How do those that believe the Regulative Principle deal with”12 Everything is permissible (allowable and lawful) for me; but not all things are helpful (good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things). Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become the slave of anything or be brought under its power

  2. Johnny: This is a very good question. Of course the answer is an incredulous question, “you mean you could have beef and potatoes on the Lord’s table?” or some other similar question that attempts to make your implication look absurd. This ignores Paul’s whole line of reasoning in 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 where mutual love and edification are the criteria for how to conduct worship.

  3. R.J. says:

    “I found it very interesting, when reading some old cases in law school during the 1980s, to discover an appeal for legal authority in the form of either express statute, approved precedent or necessary inference. These categories were lifted from Anglo-American common law to become the hermeneutical framework you are discussing here. Not surprising, some of the debaters who popularized this approach (Roy Cogdill, Guy N. Woods, Alan Highers) were men trained in the law”.

    Indeed! But in Law authority is required by an express statute no doubt. But not so in scripture. Unless one rips Colossians 3:17 out of context and cultural consideration. That is, Eastern thought!

    You see back in the first century, to do something in the name of another was a common way to express high regard, honor, glory, cause, repute, or even representation(names signified character).. Paul I believe is saying that all undertakings must be in honor of King Jesus-Filled with gratitude! By no means is permission required in this verse.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    Totally agree as to Col 3:17. It’s not about needing authority but acting as a representative of Jesus. It’s like I might tell my children: “Behave! Remember that whatever you do in word or deed reflects on me and your mother.”

  5. I would suggest that being challenged by extreme questions provides a wonderful opportunity to examine our own views. “Could you have beef and potatoes with the Lord’s Supper?” is intended to intimidate one into backing away from a position for fear of sounding radical or strange. But once we leave the fear of man behind, and don’t mind being the little boy observing the emperor’s new clothes, we can have the courage to review our understanding and admit to them. For example, my answer to the beef and potatoes question is, “Of course. And gravy.” Certainly the Passover was not limited to a jigger of juice and a cracker crumb. Neither was the love feast that the early church celebrated. But we often don’t want to seem radical -or worse, unwise- in the eyes of others. Hey, if it turns out we ARE unwise, don’t we want to know? And if we are not, we owe it to each other to speak up.

  6. Pingback: Links To Go (March 13, 2014) | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

  7. charles shepherd says:

    This statement is incorrect. “There’s not even a single book in the Bible that lists all five of these acts.” The book of 1 Corinthians contains all 5 of these acts.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t read 1 Corinthians that way.

    For example, there are several references to “preaching.” But “preach” is usually the verb form of “gospel.” Paul frequently references his original body of teaching when he was acting as a missionary.

    (1Co 1:17 ESV) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

    I’m not sure this is the same thing as a located preacher delivering weekly pulpit messages. And certainly the modern fashion is to seek “eloquent wisdom” — and how rare is a sermon that’s actually based on the gospel?

    So … maybe preaching in the contemporary sense is included, although I’m inclined to agree with A. Campbell that these sorts of passages generally refer to missionary proclamation of the gospel, not the weekly feeding of the sheep.

    (But I’m not so sure that our sermons shouldn’t be more like Paul’s. We need real gospel preaching — not mere Five Steps preaching but the fullness of the gospel.)

    Congregational prayer is mentioned in c. 11, but there it’s women praying and prophesying — hardly like our current practice! Prayer is again mentioned in c. 14:15, and does seem to reference a vocalized prayer in the assembly.

    Singing is mentioned in 14:15 in the assembly.

    The Lord’s Supper is certainly mentioned in c. 11, but it appears to be part of a Love Feast or Agape — since enough wine was served to make drunkenness possible and because some people ate a meal (11:21) without waiting on others. (Paul shuts the love feast down until he could visit in person, but the practice continued in the young church. Jude 12; 2 Peter 2:13.)

    And then there’s the passage on giving.

    (1Co 16:2 ESV) On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

    BDAG — the premier koine Greek dictionary — takes this as referencing storing the contribution at home. After all, this was a special gift for Jerusalem, and not the church’s general fund. NICNT agrees.

    Some have argued that “by himself” means “let him take to himself what he means to give”; in other words, each is to bring to the assembly what he or she has determined “privately” to give. But there is very little linguistic warrant for such a suggestion, not to mention that the participle translated “saving it up” implies that “each person” is to store up what is set aside until the designated time. The phrase “by himself” almost certainly means “at home.”

    Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 813.

    In any event, this is clearly not the kind of contribution that we normally do during the assembly.

    And so I find three or four of our traditional acts of worship — plus the love feast, tongues, interpretation, and prophecy and female praying and prophesying. So there’s certainly more than five acts in 1 Cor but they aren’t quite the same as our traditional teaching.

  9. Prophesying and speaking in tongues are both addressed quite specifically in Corinthians as a part of the corporate gathering, and far more clearly so than any reference to preaching– which dominates our current meeting model. So how, in our dedication to finding and maintaining strict observance of all the corporate “acts of worship”, did we lose those two facets which Paul spent the most effort to address and set in proper order for the assembly?

    I think I should probably re-start my “Special Judean Camel Sauce” franchise. If there is going to be so much consumption of camel among us, I’ll bet folks would like a tasty condiment to enhance the experience. To get them “over the hump”, so to speak.

  10. Ray Downen says:

    I surely like ALL of Jay’s comments about our assemblies. But especially, “He does not explain why authority is needed, especially when the test Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 14 for what is proper in the assembly is edification of the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:26 is the ONLY verse where an apostle speaks of what is being done (and should be done) in our assemblies. “When you come together, each . . .” Each participates as time permits, with as many speaking as can fit into the need to call an end to being together. Nothing is said there or anywhere about a “preacher” to tell all the others what to think and how to act. Mutual edification! That’s the apostolic practice. But we choose to ignore what the Bible says on this subject, so we have “worship services.” Will those who favor meeting for worship, point to a verse or passage which indicates that was the purpose for church assemblies in apostolic days? We pattern our services after what the denominations were doing when our movement started rather than after what the apostles practiced and reported. Should we genuinely seek to replicate what the apostolic church did, things would be vastly different!

  11. Sounds like to me that “replicating” is the problem, so it can hardly be the solution. We are trying to replicate the behaviors of people in an ancient time and in a different culture as though those actions are key to knowing and following Jesus. This assumes that the infant church “had it right” in all particulars, but was corrupted by the same people who gave us the NT canon. This is the lesser of two curious and unfounded assumptions. The more harmful assumption is the one which insists that if only we could copy the external activities recorded about the first century church, then our church would be as close to Jesus as they were.

    It’s the same reasoning that says the more you look like Pavarotti, the better you can sing.

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