Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 15, 1955
NUMBER 32, PAGE 10-11a

Direct Command, Approved Example, And Necessary Inference

John T. Overby, Albuquerque, New Mexico

In this article we are dealing with a statement that was made by Brother Lyles in his lecture which has been very shocking to many of us who have been students of the Bible through the years. Brother Lyles says, "All of my life I've been taught that God teaches in three ways only — direct command, approved example, necessary inference. Now does that always follow? I am here to say I don't believe it. And I don't believe that I ever have believed it!"

In the fall of 1938 it was this writer's privilege to be in Nashville, Tennessee and attend the Hardeman meeting in the Ryman Auditorium. At that time Premillennialism was the issue before the church, and the purpose of that meeting was primarily to expose the false teaching that was being done by the proponents of that theory. During the course of the lessons that Brother Hardeman presented he spoke one night on "Teaching the Word of God." I should like to give herewith a few excerpts from that sermon. The reader may find the sermon in full in HARDEMAN'S TABERNACLE SERMONS, Vol. IV, pp. 46-59.

"When I study the Bible and become conscious of the fact that the religion revealed in it is a taught religion, I begin to wonder: How does God teach us? What are the methods by which heaven's instruction are to be made known unto man? And may I suggest to you now that there are three ways by which God teaches us his will, his word, his way. Now hear them: First, he teaches by direct statement, by positive command, saying the thing in so many words. Now that is one way. Well, there is another. You might not have a direct "Thus saith the Lord," but if you can find an example approved and inspired of God, that concrete example comes to us with all the power and force of divine authority. That is God's way of teaching. Then again, if there is a passage in the Bible from which a necessary conclusion and inference must be drawn, I am willing to accept the statement that the Bible teaches that thing. So watch then. How does God teach us? First, by direct statement. Second, by approved example. Third, by a necessary inference." (p. 52)

"At the time to which I referred as being in old St. Peter's, I saw our Catholic friends count their beads, one by one. and say a little sentence prayer with each bead pulled down the string. Now, without any prejudice against it or anything unkind to say about the practice, I ask: Does the Bible teach that? It will have to teach it in one of three ways: (Emphasis mine, J.T.O.) First, is there any command in God's word bidding folks to count their beads as a religious rite? And I turn to the Bible, unbiased and unprejudiced, and try to find that. No, no such statement. All right. Does the Bible teach it by direct statement? No. Is there any example approved under heaven where they were counting beads and God smiled graciously upon it? Absolutely none. Well, again, is there any statement in all the Bible from which I must conclude, therefore, they surely did count beads? Now there is not a sign of a statement like that in the Bible. Therefore what? I say the Bible does not teach it. Why? I have checked up on the three methods of teaching (Emphasis mine, J.T.0.) and each one is like old Belshazzar 'weighed in the balances and found wanting.'

"Now that is the way to get at things all along the line. Try any kind of a new-fangled theory, any kind of a speculation, any kind of a guess--check upon it and you will find it is the easiest matter in the world to determine whether or not the Bible teaches it." (pp 58, 59)

Now, I have not quoted these statements from Brother Hardeman in order to prove anything, but rather to show the reader that the position that Brother Lyles has taken is contrary to the principles that have been accepted all through the years in regard to the study of the Bible. As long as I can remember my brethren have been willing to give either a direct statement, an approved example, or a necessary inference for everything taught or practiced.

Anything that could not be established by one of these three methods of Bible study, they have been willing to abandon. Now the brethren who are the supporters of the Herald of Truth type of church cooperation have instigated a practice that they can not uphold by either of these three methods — so what do they do? They throw overboard the whole method of Bible study that has been accepted and used so successfully against the enemy, and have set about to establish their own will based upon human judgment. Not too many weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of our very prominent preachers who was conducting a meeting for one of the churches in that city made the statement, "There is no such thing as a necessary inference; I rejected that method of argumentation years ago." Well, maybe that brother has, but I haven't. And even so, it would certainly be interesting to watch that preacher undertake to prove that the Church was established on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ! Does the Bible say by direct statement that the Church was established on that day? It does not. Is there an example of something else having been established on that day? That would not prove that the church was. The only way you can prove that it was is by a necessary inference. But according to the brother, there is no such thing as a necessary inference, therefore no one can prove that the church was established on the first Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Christ. And down goes one of the very important features that has to do with the identity of the church of our Lord. Furthermore, maybe the Premillennialists have been right all along — the church or kingdom was not established on the day of Pentecost, but will be established when Christ comes again? Such is the consequence of the course these men are taking when they reject the three methods of Bible study mentioned above.

Brother Lyles Calls For Examples

I do not seriously believe that Brother Lyles would accept an example if I gave him one, seeing he has already stated that he does not believe that the Bible teaches by way of example, but I'll give him some anyway. Bear in mind, however, that an approved example is just one of the three methods of establishing a practice. Some of the things for which he calls for an example may be established by the other two methods of Bible study.

1. An example of a plurality of containers: An example is not necessary here. The Lord commanded us to drink the fruit of the vine, and that necessitates a container or containers. The container inheres in the command.

2. An example for a plurality of classes: The Lord commanded us to teach. Classes is an arrangement by which this teaching is to be done, therefore they inhere in the command to teach. However, we do have an example of a plurality of classes in Mark 7:14-17. I cited that example to an anti-class brother one time and he accepted it. I don't know whether Brother Lyles will or not!

3. An approved example for orphanages: I have never heard of any such demand on anybody. But we shall treat the matter of orphans in a later article.

4. An approved example for a preacher receiving a specified salary: (2 Cor. 11:8) "I robbed other churches taking wages (the amount paid daily or weekly for labor — Webster) of them, to do you service." Thayer defines wages: "a soldier's pay, allowance."

5. An approved example for a meeting house: No example is necessary here. The command is to worship, and worship demands a place of worship, hence, a meeting house; however, I shall give an example, Acts 28:30, 31. Notice Paul preached and taught "those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ" in this house for which he paid the rent himself.

6. An approved example for a bulletin: A bulletin, such as is published by most churches, is simply a medium through which the various activities of the local church are made known to the membership. Webster defines a bulletin: "A brief statement of news to the public, esp. as issued by an acknowledged authority." The "epistle" that was sent by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:23-29) would come under that definition.

7. An approved example for a Vacation Bible School and a Singing School: Brother Lyles will find an example for these in the same place he finds an example for a plurality of classes. See No. 2 above.

8. An approved example for a radio program: The radio is a medium of communication like the printed page. The command is to teach; and one may teach by word of mouth, the printed page, or by any other method of communication. The radio is a medium of teaching just as the Bible classes are a medium of teaching. I do not know of anyone who is opposed to a radio program — Do you, Brother Lyles?

9. An example of a church selling bonds with which to build a building: Can the Trustees of church property go to the bank or loan company and borrow money with which to build a building? If so, they can promote the sale of bonds for the same purpose, for the money from the sale of the bonds is in reality borrowed money; the bonds can and must be redeemed.

10. An example for a baptistry: This has already been considered in a previous article, but we shall give it briefly here. The command is to baptize. In order to baptize there must be a place in which to carry out the command, hence a baptistry.

11. An example for a plurality of churches in one city: I shall turn Brother Lyles over to Brother Coleman Overby on this one. In Brother Overby's little booklet, "Systematic Study of the Churches," (Revised Edition) p. 26, is a lesson on HOUSEHOLD CHURCHES. Under the division, POINTS TO CONSIDER, may be found the following questions and answers:

(1) Were there two churches in Ephesus? Answer: Eph. 1:1; I Cor. 16:19b. (2) There were two churches in Rome, Prove it. Proof: Rom. 1:1a, 7a; 16:3-5a.

(3) Now show there were two churches in Colossae. Col. 1:1a, 2a; 4:9a, 17a. (4) Now show there were two churches in Laodicea. Col. 4:15, 16.

(5) What saying should be taken with a "grain of salt"? Answer: "There was only one church to the city, in New Testament times."

Brother Lyles either doesn't know how to use the "approved example" method of teaching, or else he is just quibbling. Methinks the latter is true. Hear him. "There are therefore some approved examples in the Bible that the churches are not following. There can be no doubt, bear in mind, that an approved example is all right. I don't deny that. But does that limit us to that kind of operation? It would be right to eat the Lord's supper in an upper room but that wouldn't make it wrong to eat it in the basement. It would be right to follow the approved example and meet in a private home but that doesn't mean it is wrong to meet here in the Church building. So, the approved example doesn't necessarily limit us to that one thing." Now, I want you to see what Brother Lyles has done! By his line of reasoning Christians may partake of the Lord's supper on any day in the week they choose. True, we have an example (Acts 20:7) of the disciples partaking of the supper on the first day of the week, but Brother Lyles tells us that "the approved example doesn't necessarily limit us to that one thing." So, why not partake of the Lord's supper on Thursday night as some First Christian churches do? What would be wrong with it? After all, "an approved example doesn't necessarily limit us to that one thing" — or day! Ah! the folly of some folk's reasoning!

We have an approved example in the New Testament of churches in "abundance" sending to a church in "want" in order to supply their needs; but we do not have an approved example in the New Testament of many churches sending to one church which was not in want, making it the central agency through which all the churches do their work. Neither do we have a command for such, now is there any passage of scripture from which we might necessarily infer that such was ever practiced in New Testament days? Let someone come forth with a command, or an approved example, or s necessary inference of such and the argument will desist. "Now that is the way to get at things all along the line. Try any kind of a new fangled theory, any kind of a speculation, any kind of a guess — check up on it and you will find it is the easiest matter in this world to determine whether or not the Bible teaches it."