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