Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 27, 1955

When Is An Example Binding? -- (II.)

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

In the former article we studied the rule of Unity. We now take up the second, which we shall call the Rule of Universal Application: No example is to be regarded as reflecting the will of God which can not be of universal application. The gospel with all its requirements is for all the people in all the world (Mk. 16:15), hence must be capable of universal application. The impartial character of God (no respecter of persons Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34, 35) also requires this rule. The scope of the gospel is world wide, providing salvation for all men; its requirements are such as can be met; its provisions, such as can be enjoyed, by all men of every clime.

In the example of "time when" to partake of the Lord's supper there are no restrictions but such as can be universally (in all the world) observed. The Eskimo in his igloo — the African in his hut or under a tree — any creature in all the world where the gospel has gone, has a first day of the week upon which he can "assemble to eat the Lord's supper".

The "upper room" does not possess this quality of universal application as does the "first day of the week". Were it the Lord's will that our assembling to partake of the Lord's supper be in an "upper room", then the Eskimo must be converted not only from his former manner of life but also from his former manner of architecture. He will have to build three storied igloos!! The same would hold true with other peoples. Our preachers who are preaching in Japan, Africa and other remote regions would need to arrange for "upper rooms" before they could teach the converts the will of God on partaking of the Lord's supper.

In summing up what we have learned thus far, we will say that an example is binding in cases where it does not clash with a truth that is expressly stated and where it is capable of universal application.


The Rule of Legitimate Extension: No example is to be extended beyond its legitimate province. No New Testament action (of apostles, Christians or churches) is to be considered as binding beyond the proper province of that action. If the action be in emergency situations it is not to be extended to include normal or regular action e.g., the community of property practiced by the Jerusalem church. There was an emergency situation in Jerusalem that called forth this action of selling "their possessions and goods" and parting "them to all, according as any man had need." (Acts 2:45.) Now not many people reason that this example is binding for any and all congregations regardless of circumstances. To contend that this action is binding in all cases is to be guilty of extending the example beyond its legitimate province — which province is emergency situations. This example is an "approved example" for this situation but not an "approved example" for all situations. This example reflects the will of God for emergency, not general or normal situations.

We have other examples similar to this in the New Testament, that is, examples of action in emergency situations. We read of churches sending to sister churches (Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9) in emergency situations. Some have disregarded the proper province of these examples and have attempted to take these examples of churches sending to needy sister churches in their emergency, as authority for churches in circumstances other than genuine emergencies sending to other churches. This is to fail to "handle aright the word of truth". In no command, example, or necessary inference can we find authority for one church sending to another church except where the receiving church had a real need, but did not have the means necessary to perform its own work.

In parables we have parabolic drapery. By parabolic drapery we mean those incidentals which do not reflect principles. Even so in examples, there is the drapery of incidental circumstance which does not reflect God's will. The modes of travel of apostolic days — Paul's occupation as tent maker and school teacher — these are illustrations of the drapery examples. The drapery can be separated from the items which reflect God's will by a sincere application of the laws of Hermeneutics in the exegesis of any passage. It is hoped that these rules suggested will aid in determining when the will of God is reflected in examples or putting it another way, "When is an example binding?"

We have the heartening assurance from Christ, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know the teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from myself." (John 7:17.)

The next article will deal with the exclusiveness of approved examples.