An Email about Authority and Mathematics, Part 3 (Binding Examples)

freedom_authority.jpgWe pick up with Minghui’s responses to my examples for authorized things that do not meet the standards of CENI.

(For those readers coming in late, I’m attempting to show that CENI/the Regulative Principle are not real rules, and indeed foreign the scripture, by showing what would happen if we were to consistently apply them. To do this, I take on the role of someone willing to let CENI take him wherever it leads.)

[JFG:] “There is no authority for church buildings to be owned by a church. And yet the rightness of the practice is widely accepted by even the most conservative Churches of Christ.”

[Minghui] There is authority for us to assemble. The exact location is not specified; we have the liberty to decide to assemble at someone’s house, at a church building, at a rented place, etc.

But we have examples of the church meeting in houses and in the temple courts. We have no biblical examples of the church meeting in a building owned by the church. This is partly explained by the illegality of the Christian religion under Roman law, but during their early years, the Romans treated Christians as a sect of the Jews — and the Jews were allowed to build synagogues. Why didn’t the Christians?

If Acts 20:6-7 is a binding example for the frequency of communion, then why aren’t the passages re meeting in non-owned spaces binding examples of the ownership of church facilities? Why is weekly communion mandatory and ownership of a building a matter of expedience?

If fact, the same passage is also taken as a binding example that we must meet on Sundays, regardless of what might be expedient. There is no command on the subject, there’s an approved example, and no contrary authority. Therefore, we must meet on Sunday.

(Of course, most teach that we can meet more often than Sundays, because it’s expedient to do so. But we must honor the example, regardless of expedience. How do we claim to have authority to add to a binding example? If Sunday is binding, how do we add Wednesday? May we add fried chicken to the authorized elements of communion?)

Just so, we find in 1 Cor 16 commands relating to the weekly giving of funds for a special collection to be taken to relieve poverty among Judean Christians. This is routinely taught as a binding example, requiring that we give our money weekly to the church, because we have an example of X and therefore no authority for Y.

The doctrine of expediency simply does not apply because, if it did, we could take communion quarterly and we could give our money monthly.

I should add the close analogy of instrumental music. We have authority to sing. We don’t have authority to play instruments. Therefore, instruments are prohibited.

We have authority, by example, to meet in houses and public facilities. We have no authority to raise funds to build buildings owned by a church or even to meet in those buildings. Therefore, church buildings are prohibited.

“There is authority for ordaining deacons but no authority for appointing deacons to head a church ministry. But then there’s no authority for giving them any task at all. Should we ordain deacons with no role to fill? That would be truly absurd, and so we give them tasks based on expedience and tradition — but utterly without scriptural authority. There is zero authority for a church deacon to be responsible for maintaining the building or overseeing the teen program. And yet even our most conservative churches do exactly this.”

“Deacon” means “servant”. The meaning itself gives us authority of the role of deacons.

Really? First, does that mean that one must be a deacon to be a servant? Obviously not, since all Christians are commanded to be servants. Then why does Paul give qualifications to be a deacon when they are being qualified to do what every Christian is supposed to do? This makes no sense at all.

What a strange hermeneutic that ordains certain married, fertile males to do what they could already do — and then insists that we’re not “scripturally organized” if we fail to do this and so damned. Our salvation evidently depends on our having deacons, who are specially empowered to do … what? What every other Christian may do. Strange, strange doctrine indeed.

“There is no authority for an uninspired editor to publish a magazine teaching scriptural doctrines to members of congregations where the editor is not a teacher. In every New Testament instance of teaching, the teaching came from apostolic authority or under the leadership of the elders –teachers within a church who are subject to the eldership. (But it’s clearly okay — just without authority.)”

Believers are authorised to teach (Matthew 28:18-20). Publishing magazines is one way of teaching.

Certainly believers are authorized to teach — the lost and members of their own churches and those to whom they’ve been sent as missionaries. We have examples of how that teaching was done.

But we have not one example of a Christian who is a member of church A teaching the members of church B. Not one. Well, we do have the Judaizing teachers who came from Jerusalem to teach at Antioch — and they were damned for their false teaching — hardly an example that binds.

Again, the analogy is to how we apply CENI to the frequency of communion, the day of assembly, and the day of making contributions. We have examples of how to do it right. Expedience is beside the point. We have to operate as exemplified by the First Century church.

(By the way, this is the same argument made by the no-Sunday school Churches of Christ, applied to a similar question. The usual counter is “expedience” or even “you can’t be serious.” But their logic actually seems very true to CENI.)

“There is no authority to use multiple cups. Jesus just used one.”

Multiple cups are authorised in Luke 22:17 (“divide it among yourselves”).

You know what? You nearly persuaded me on this one. I was just about to concede the point when I read from Matthew Henry’s commentary —

This is not said afterwards of the sacramental cup, which being probably of much more weight and value, being the New Testament in his blood, he might give into every one’s hand, to teach them to make a particular application of it to their own souls; but, as for the paschal cup which is to be abolished, it is enough to say, “Take it, and divide it among yourselves, do what you will with it, for we shall have no more occasion for it, v. 18.

Luke records the taking of two cups. (They probably actually drank four, as was the Passover tradition.) The second cup is the one we emulate, the one coming after the bread. The first cup is not part of the New Testament service, and so is not mentioned in Matthew, Mark, or 1 Corinthians.

Matthew Henry finds it unlikely that the second cup was divided, as Luke only says this as to the first cup. More importantly, Matthew 26:27 and Mark 14:23 seem to clearly say that the second cup was shared.

Now, the fact that the first was divided and the second shared seems to suggest a good theological reason for a shared cup. (Or else, why provide that bit of information?)

By the way, the Catholics, Episcopalians, and many other denominations practice a single-cup communion. It’s not nearly as unusual as it seems to us low-church folk.

(But it does feel a bit odd arguing the one-cup position; nonetheless, their logic under CENI is solid. They just shouldn’t be using CENI as a hermeneutic.)

“There is no authority for a preacher to conduct a wedding or funeral service.”

I agree that it is not authorised for the work of the church to include a wedding or funeral service. It must be done by individuals.

We lawyers sometimes speak of “a distinction without a difference.” I don’t know how a wedding or funeral might be done other than by an individual. Corporations don’t deliver eulogies.

Are you suggesting that it’s okay so long as the preacher isn’t paid by the church to do this? So long as it’s outside his job description?

Well, how long will he keep his job if he declines to do funerals and weddings for his church members? Don’t rationalize. It’s unauthorized by the Bible, and yet every eldership will fire the preacher if he refuses to do it — regardless of what we pretend his job description is.

And under your own logic, this is sin. Under the logic of some, it’s a damning sin, because nearly every CENI dispute there has ever been has been cause for division. I don’t understand it, but we seem to have so fallen in love with our hermeneutic, that we’ll divide over the man-made, poorly understood Regulative Principle while happily tolerating a failure to evangelize, pray, or love our neighbors as we should — which God himself has commanded.

“There is no authority to assemble to take communion other than in an upper room. Every example of the apostles or church taking communion took place in an upper room.”

We remember that a certain Samaritan woman asked Jesus about the proper place for worship — a nearby mountain, or in Jerusalem. He responded: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus said the location did not matter. It was worship “in spirit and truth” that mattered.

Furthermore, we know that churches met in homes at times, as mentioned in Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 1:2. If we are to bind the example of the upper room, then we must necessarily assume that these houses all had an upper story. But that is not a necessary assumption. Yes, some of the houses may have had an upper room, but we cannot assume that all did. We are also aware that many of the early Christians were among the poor, and it is likely they would have been living in pretty simple dwellings.

We’ll come back to John 4:21. It’s important.

Now, you argue that we may assume that the churches met on the first floor, at least some of the time, basing this conclusion on (are you ready?) silence. You are arguing that the Bible’s silence as to which floor the church met on creates authority — not prohibition. Really.

I’m just saying that we should not assume facts to reach convenient conclusions. I mean, it seems reasonable to me that the Bible is silent about instruments because the writers simply weren’t concerned about the issue — and therefore it’s entirely possible that some of the assemblies had a lyre or zither. Why not?

But the CENI advocates get quite upset with such an audacious argument, insisting that silence is a prohibition, even though we aren’t once told that the church sang a cappella — only that they sang. And everyone agrees that we should sing.

And so when we have some actual facts — not total silence — how can the CENI advocates argue that the silence implies a likelihood of meeting on the first floor and hence authority — all by sheer assumption.

You can’t have it both ways. I mean, whom do we appoint to decide when silences are prohibitions and when silences (even only partial silences) are permissions?

In short, I think you’ve demonstrated why CENI cannot be applied consistently even by its advocates. The results are often absurd.

(PS — Whoever your source is, he’s in good company. David Lipscomb himself sometimes slipped into finding authority in silence. It depended on the question.)

Finally, let’s remember that “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17).

You haven’t said so, but this has become a favorite proof text for CENI. I’ve done a detailed rebuttal in this old post.

I’ll address John 4:21 in the next post.

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.
This entry was posted in An Email about Authority and Mathematics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to An Email about Authority and Mathematics, Part 3 (Binding Examples)

  1. Ted Bigelow says:

    Could I get a explanation of what CENI stands for? Thanks.

  2. David Himes says:

    CENI = Command, Example, Necessary Inference

  3. Ted Bigelow says:

    Thanks, David.

    Follow up….

    Does that mean Command, or Example, or Necessary Inference? Or does it mean all three are necessary for formulating practice?

  4. As currently employed, CENI means that the believer is bound to observe and comply with anything in the New Testament (not the Old) which is either found as a direct command, an “approved” example, or any other requirement or prohibition which is “necessarily inferred” from such a command or “approved example”. The problem is that this method of determining how to apply scripture to our own actions is so inconsistently and irrationally applied that it takes increasing layers of added structure to explain the inconsistencies. Prepare for “expedients”, “aids” versus “additions”, “exceptions”, personal versus general command, and the application of so-called “common sense”. One specious rule after another is required to justify the gross inconsistencies of the doctrines created under the guise of CENI. Jay does a good job of exposing this nest of flawed reasoning and many of its component parts.

  5. Ted Bigelow says:

    Thanks Charles.

    How then might CENI let a disciple “off” from following the Lord’s command, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Mat 8:22), i.e., don’t go to your father’s funeral but be out preaching?

  6. I remember some years ago when Milo Hadwin published a small booklet, When Are Examples Binding?, some reviewer commented to the effect, “If we accept this understanding of when examples are binding, we will not be able to condemn instrumental music in worship.” This, the reviewer thought, was an adequate rebuttal of Hadwin’s book.

    This is in reality an example of how we get the desired conclusion cart before the hermeneutic horse. Hermeneutics must drive conclusions, not vice versa. Conclusions must come by applying principles; principles should not be adopted to justify a desired conclusion. Alexander Campbell said that if his opinions (conclusions) varied from his principles, he would sacrifice his opinions rather than his principles until he was convinced his principles were in error.

    Thank you, Jay, for so clearly pointing out the inconsistencies involved in CENI with its very subjective and ever changing approach to understanding Scripture. The way to apply CENI seems to change, depending on what conclusion we wish to justify.

  7. Ted, see the “Personal Versus General Command” section of our unprinted hardbound manual. Cross-reference the chapter on “Common Sense” which says, “Of course you can go to the funeral; Jesus doesn’t want you to make your mama cry.” 😉

  8. Ted Bigelow says:

    🙂 Thanks Charles.

  9. Grizz says:


    IS there a point at which you plan to deal with those passages which CENI proponents claim establishes the validity of CENI scripturally?

    Having had several discussions with CENI proponents in recent years, I would find such a treatment in this series more useful than the demonstrably weak approach you have used thus far..


  10. Alabama John says:

    I too have had many “discussions” with members of the COC about CENI.

    What I have finally realized is it is used to make a point or “prove” a position already taken by an individual that has found a scripture that it or part of it could be interpreted to prove their point.

    Talk about misinterpreting to meet a goal.

    Lets face it, some just like to hear or read a position presented and will take the opposite simply for arguments sake to prove the other wrong or confuse the position taken to show in their mind some superiority. Sure have seen and read that a lot. Interesting that the ones doing this never seem to realize how blatently obvious this is.

    Finally, many I have talked with have gotten to the point that to listen to all the who is right, who is going to be in heaven and even the who will not, it came down to what are you presently DOING to present Jesus to the lost, loving your brother and your God.

    It has proven to be far more accurate and satisfying to follow the example of the doers than the blogers, blog teachers, blog writers, etc.

    That understanding is highly recommended.

  11. Grizz, CENI as currently applied is pretty much bulletproof against logic, already having built-in excuses for its inconsistencies. See “exceptions” or “expedients”. The resulting logic plays out something like this:

    “Every horse described in the Bible is either red, white, black or dappled. So horses only come in those colors.”
    “But there is a brown horse right over there in the pasture!”
    “Okay, that horse is an exception. But all the other horses are colored as I said. With that one exception, if it’s brown, it can’t be a horse.”
    “But I saw a buckskin horse yesterday!”
    “What should I believe, you or the Bible?”

    A good primer for arguing against this idea is “Alice In Wonderland”. See how far logic gets Alice.

Comments are closed.