Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 17, 1955
NUMBER 28, PAGE 11-12a

Methods Or Principles?

John T. Overbey, Albuquerque, New Mexico

"Method" is defined by Webster as: "1. An orderly procedure or process; regular way or manner of doing anything; hence, a set form of procedure, as in investigation or instruction. 2. Orderly arrangement, elucidation, development, or classification; more generally, orderliness and regularity or habitual practice of them in action." Synonyms — "mode, manner, way, fashion, system." "Principle" is defined as: "1. A source or origin; primordial substance; ultimate basis or cause. 2. An original faculty or endowment. 3. A fundamental truth; a primary or basic law, doctrine, or the like. 4. A settled rule of action; a governing law of conduct."

Brother Lyles tells us that "there are some things that the Bible does not say. The Bible does not deal in methods, the Bible deals in principles." There never was a statement uttered by mortal man that is further from the truth than is that statement. Why, with that idea toward the Bible prevailing in the minds of people there is simply no stopping place; every thing imaginable could be incorporated into the work and worship of the church of our Lord if such an idea should predominate among us. Is the Bible just simply a book of general directions, outlining the general policy, with all details to be worked out by sanctified common sense, or is the Bible specific in those things that would lead the church or direct it in the accomplishment of its mission in the world? Is it just a general broad-gauged book of principles with the details and specifications left to every man's own idea? Is that your idea of the Bible? If so, there is no wonder that men are thinking like they are today. If I did not believe that the Bible was specific enough to guide me in the life I am trying to live, I would throw it overboard and change my whole outlook on life. Such an attitude is dangerously alarming to any thoughtful student of the Bible, and I sincerely hope and pray that not many among us will espouse it.

To give you an example of just how far an idea like that will lead, I quote a statement by J. B. Briney from the Otey-Briney debate, page 162, "When a thing is commanded to be done, and the method (emphasis mine, J.T.O.) of doing it is not prescribed, those commanded are at liberty to use their best judgment in devising ways and means to carry out the command." It was upon the assumption that the Bible does not deal in "methods" that J. B. Briney justified the existence of the Missionary Society. But the Missionary Society is not a method, it is an institution — an organization separate and apart from the church created for the purpose of doing the work of the church or churches. The only difference in principle between the Missionary Society and the arrangement by which the Herald of Truth is being carried on is: the former is an organization separate and apart from the church white the latter is an organization within the church. They both assay to do the same thing, viz., furnish a medium through which many churches may do their work of preaching the gospel. At best, they both are parasitic by nature.

Now to Brother Lyles' questions. First, "How many elders did these congregations have?" Why Brother Lyles, they had a "plurality" of elders--that's how many they had, and that's how many each congregation must have today! Next question, "How were these elders appointed?"

In Acts 14:23, Paul and Barnabas appointed some. In the Island of Crete, they were to be appointed by Titus (Titus 1:5). In Acts 6, we have an example of a fairly good "method" to use in such cases: The brethren were told to select men of certain qualifications and the apostles would appoint them (Acts 6:3). That "method" suits me all right, and I don't know of any occasion where such a procedure was ever unsatisfactory. Follow New Testament examples of doing things and you can't go wrong.

The New Testament pattern for praising God in song is set forth in Eph. 5:18, 19; Col. 3:16; etc. Now the principle involved is our praise to God; and one of the "methods" of doing so is in song. Now, how are these songs to be rendered? Well, one "method" or "manner" of performing or executing songs is by mechanical instruments; another is vocally; still another is by a combination of the two — vocal and instrumental. But Paul tells us they are to be sung, so that eliminates any other method of rendering songs. What kind of songs? "Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." That eliminates some modern song as suggested by Brother Lyles. What is the purpose of these songs? First, to praise God (Heb. 13:15); second, to teach, and third, to admonish (Col. 3:16). That would eliminate any song that is not designed to praise God or does not teach or admonish. Well, "what about song books?" Now, that is an old digressive dodge and is a tacit admission that Brother Lyles does not know how to meet the issue or that he does not care to meet the issue. Brother Lyles, singing is authorized, song books are expedient. Song books could not be expedient if there were no instructions for singing. It looks to me like anyone who can see through a ladder ought to be able to see that!

Now, Brother Lyles informs us that all this is elementary. He says, "I am not talking about something you don't know anything about. I'm talking about something you know something about, so I can get to something we ought to know something about." So, his purpose is simply this: according to Brother Lyles, the Lord has not given us any "methods" regarding the selection and appointment of elders; the matter of our worshipping God in song; and therefore, he has not given us any "methods" in regard to "congregational cooperation." If that is not the purpose of all his juvenile palaver, then I fail to see his point.

The pattern for congregational cooperation is set forth in the following passages: Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-15; 2 Cor. 8:16-24; 2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15, 16. Now, as outlined in Brother Tant's booklet, there are three essential elements of the pattern set forth in these passages; (1) The action — Many churches — Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, etc. — sent to one church, Jerusalem. (2) The reason or purpose — To benefit the receiving church "that there may be equality." (3) The time — Temporary "at the present time." That constitutes the "method" — the how it was done — of congregational cooperation as taught in the New Testament. Brother Lyles misses the point when he asks, "How did they take care of the matter? What method is involved in the matter? What method did the elders use in dispensing that money? How did they operate?" Such matters as these are incidental. How the elders dispensed the money has absolutely nothing to do with the method by which the churches cooperated, that is, there is nothing essential about that. The essential thing is one church was in need, and many churches seeing their need sent money to take care of their needs. When the need no longer existed, they ceased their contributions. Thus we have an approved example in the New Testament for church cooperation, in which many churches with a common goal, for a common cause, discharge their obligation to cooperate. But we do not have an approved example in the New Testament for the "sponsoring church" (Herald of Truth) pattern of congregational cooperation, in which many churches have a common goal, a common obligation, but one church becomes the agency through which they all operate. If Brother Lyles knows of any such example in the New Testament, let him come forth with it and I'll accept it without reservation.

Next Brother Lyles cites 2 Cor. 8:14, "But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want; that there may be equality;" and makes the following comment: "God wouldn't do a thing wrong just because it was temporary. God doesn't do wrong to make right, and anything that God would allow to be done that is temporary, God would allow to be done, PERIOD! For, God doesn't make a law for temporary affairs, and a law for a permanent affair — God doesn't do wrong in order to do right." I really do not think Brother Lyles realized what he was saying when he made that statement. A man with a mere thimble-full of Bible knowledge ought to know better than to make a statement like that.

Brother Lyles, were the churches sending money to Jerusalem before a famine existed there — were they ever commanded to do so ? The famine in Jerusalem was a "temporary affair." According to Brother Lyles' reasoning, the churches in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia were violating God's law by not sending to the Jerusalem church all along, for "God doesn't make a law for temporary affairs, and a law for a permanent affair." Such reasoning is beneath the dignity of a man of Brother Lyles' mentality — I'm surprised at him!

Brother Lyles says, "The Bible has given us a pattern regarding the faith that we have," and he cites 2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 10:17 with the following application: "In giving the bread and the fruit of the vine, Christ excluded all other elements in the Lord's supper." Then he asks, "How many cups are you going to serve the fruit of the vine in? How many plates will you use in which to serve the bread? And how many people shall you serve at a time?" Surely, Brother Lyles knows that when a command is given, the thing necessary to the carrying out of that command is included in the command. Serving the fruit of the vine to people necessitates a container or containers from which to serve it; likewise, the bread. The number served is described in 1 Cor. 11:29 — those who "discern the Lord's body."

Brother Lyles' reasoning concerning the singing in the worship; the first day of the week as the day for observing the Lord's supper; the appointing of elders is too naive to demand any further attention. Surely the reader can detect the sophistry in those things, and we shall go on to some other things.

In his booklet, "How New Testament Churches Can, and Can Not, Cooperate," Brother Tant draws a parallel between baptism and cooperation. He points out that "To be scriptural, baptism must have proper action (immersion) of the proper subject ( a penitent believer) for the right design (unto the remission of sins). Failure at any point invalidates the whole act.

"To be scriptural, cooperation must have proper action (a gift from one church to another) between proper subjects ( a church having abundance and a church in want) for the proper design (to produce equality)."

Now, watch Brother Lyles' treatment of it. He misses the river again! Hear him. "Now, what method? Shall we have a baptistery? Shall we do it in a creek? Shall the water be warm? Shall the robes be ready? etc., etc., etc."' Brother Lyles, baptism is commanded — the baptistery is expedient to the carrying out of the command. When people are baptized, there must be a place in which to do it, whether it is a creek, a pond, a brook, a river, or a baptistery. Surely you ought to be able to see that!

There is one thing about Brother Lyles' "lecture" that stands out crystal clear, viz., he does not even remotely deal with the issues involved. Therefore, it is understandable why he remarked to me that he was unwilling to debate the propositions handed to him before he spoke. I urged him to sign the propositions if he believed them to be an accurate statement of the issues, and he said he did not want to debate with his brethren on any question at any time. A man who is certain of his ground should certainly be willing to discuss his position with any honorable man anywhere. Peter says, "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (1 Pet. 3:15).

Next week, we shall examine Brother Lyles' comments on "Equality."