The “NI” in CENI is necessary inference. Now, I majored in mathematics, and to us mathematicians, an inference is not “necessary” unless it is proven to a mathematical certainty. The Church of Christ approach to necessary inference is something else.
Let’s start with the “5 acts of worship,” which is a fundamental teaching of the Churches of Christ, going back to a series of articles written by Alexander Campbell over 150 years ago. The current teaching is that there are five and only five acts of worship permitted in the assembly —
However, as we review the prooftexts for this foundational argument, we see very little “necessary” in the inferences.
Where is the text commanding us to pray when we assemble? Surely, it’s a good practice for God’s people to pray when they are together, but where is the requirement to pray every time we assemble?
Just so, we have an example of Paul preaching to the Sunday assembly in Acts 20, but how is it necessarily so that they had a sermon every week? After all, Paul was a visiting evangelist.
We also know from Acts 20 that the church in Troas met on a Sunday to “break bread,” but we aren’t even sure whether “break bread” means communion, the Love Feast, both, or a common meal. And we can’t tell from scripture whether this was a universal, weekly practice.
We know that Paul told the church in Corinth to lay aside funds for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem weekly, but we have not a word of instruction regarding a weekly gift for the church’s general fund.
And where’s the passage that tells us to sing in the assembly? Paul mentions singing in the assembly in 1 Cor 14, along with prophesy and speaking in tongues. He urges Christians to sing in Ephesians and Colossians, but it’s a stretch to turn those verses into commands that you’ve not properly assembled unless you’ve sung.
We’ve taken possible interpretations and turned them into necessary interpretations — and then had the gall to damn those who disagree with our suspect logic.
Do I think we should practice the 5 acts of worship on Sunday? Well, that’s how my church does it. But if someone wants to give monthly or mail in his check, that’s quite all right.
And if we skip the sermon one week to focus on the Lord’s Supper or prayer, that’s quite all right, too.
And if we add to the 5 acts now and again — by having a baptism or greeting each other — that’s okay, too.
For now, the point is simply this: what we call “necessary” very often is simply not as certain or as mandatory as we claim. Something else is going on, something that’s hidden from view. The real hermeneutic is hidden. In the next post, we’ll look behind the curtain.