Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 19, 1955

"A Principle Eternal" (?)

Luther W. Martin, St. James, Missouri

The expression "principle eternal" momentarily stunned this writer when it was used in the following fashion by Brother E. R. Harper in his second speech the first night of the Tant-Harper discussion in Lufkin:

"There are four ways to teach a thing: one is by a command; the other is by an example; the other is by necessary inference; and, the other is by a principle eternal."

The wording is that of Brother Harper, while the punctuation is mine, inasmuch as any quotation concerning this subject, from Brother Harper's remarks, is taken from one of numerous tape recordings made of the Lufkin debate.

Definition Of 'Principle'

The unabridged dictionary, of course, gives a number of definitions of the word principle. We give herewith the more prominent ones:

"PRINCIPLE: That from which anything proceeds; a source of origin: a general truth; a fundamental of truth or tenet; a law from which others are derived, or on which others are founded."

Bible students have long known of THREE ways by which a thing is taught: (1) By direct command; (2) By approved example; and (3) By necessary inference. But a FOURTH way is something NEW and vastly DIFFERENT!

An Analysis Of The Dictionary's Definition

(1) That from which anything proceeds. There is no question in the minds of Bible students, but what God is the source from which all good things come. "Anything proceeding" from some source in religion, other than Jehovah, is vain. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; ..." (1 Peter 4:11.)

(2) A general truth. "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17.) Obviously, if some 'principle,' eternal' or otherwise, came from some source other than the truth of God's word, it is a wrong principle.

(3) A law from which others are derived. It is equally obvious that this 'principle eternal' does not come under this category, because it has been included with the three primary sources of instruction. If it had not been classified with the three basic factors of learning, we might have 'surmised' that 'principle eternal' was merely another term for 'expediency.' 'Expediency' being the argument used by the digressives to justify their use of instrumental music in Christian worship, and other departures from the truth. Of course, 'expediency' is always a secondary thing. For example, when we are instructed to "Go" . . . we have one of the three primary sources of authority . . . namely, a COMMAND. Then, based upon that command, the mind of man is left to utilize that which is expedient ... such as going on foot, by car, plane, etc. Thus, man is left to select the 'expedient' means of obeying the first, fundamental, basic and primary command, to GO. But, in any event, even in this simple instruction, the means used in going must not violate any other commands, examples, or necessary inferences of God.

An Analysis of Brother Harper's 'Principle Eternal' The surprise and astonishment which was this writer's, when Brother Harper proclaimed his FOURTH way to teach a thing, caused me to carefully go over his first speech. So, in order that all of us may cautiously consider the import and impact of this reasoning, we now submit a number of paragraphs from Brother Harper's first speech. Remember, the words are his, while the punctuation is mine:

"The Highland church of Christ hasn't brought me here just for the purpose of defending a radio program, but for the purpose of defending issues that we believe are vital. And, the radio program is but one of the practices growing out of a principle (Emphasis mine, L.W.M.), that we believe is right, and according to 'he principle (Emphasis mine, L.W.M.), would alb w us to have a program of this kind."

The foregoing remarks were made about six minutes from the very beginning of Brother Harper's first address.

We next transcribe more of Brother Harper's first speech, although his numerous references to his chart make it more difficult to follow:

"Here we have (referring to his chart), the pattern of the principle for the 'what.' There is no pattern of the 'how,' it isn't laid down ... the 'how' in methods are not laid down in patterns, but the principle is. (Emphasis mine, L.W.M.) I want you to notice now, the principle of the pattern is, that churches cooperated with each other. When you turn to Acts 11:29 and there they, you remember, they — well, we have it out here (on chart), where they cooperated. Then you turn to 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Now here you have Antioch. Antioch sent to these churches. Oh, you may say, Brother Harper, 'That was benevolence.' That isn't the point! Here is a principle (Emphasis mine, L.W.M.), where churches cooperated."

In this usage, would not Acts 11:29 serve as an EXAMPLE of the brethren at Antioch, having an abundance, and thus cooperating with God's approval, by sending relief unto the brethren dwelling in Judea, who were in need. Note, however, that this would NOT be an EXAMPLE of one or more congregations with abundance, channeling their funds to and through another congregation with abundance, to be used in a 'sponsored church' arrangement.

I Corinthians 16:1-3, would also be an EXAMPLE (not a principle eternal) of cooperation between congregations, wherein those with abundance, supplied to the need of the church undergoing the famine . . . . "as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality." (2 Cor. 8:14.)

Quoting Again From Brother Harper

Still copying from his first speech before he had announced the FOURTH way of teaching, or the 'principle eternal':

". . . . And so the principle tonight is that churches cooperated. And that churches and preachers cooperated, and that individuals cooperated and a man had a right to do the thing himself."

"Now I want to press the question tonight. They may say, 'Brother Harper, but it isn't the same because it's for different purposes.' But a principle is eternal!!"

I wish to make it clear, that I'm not questioning the fact that churches in New Testament days cooperated with each other. In this article, I'm simply quoting Brother Harper in order to illustrate his use of the expression 'principle eternal.'

More Quotations From Brother Harper

Of these examples, they are being presented consecutively as they appeared in his speech.

"Notice now, let's not forget it .... here you have these churches, plural, helping this church . . . . (pointing to chart), here you have these churches, plural, helping that church . . . and this church at Highland isn't sending it to any other church either... anymore than this church (on chart), they say, sent it to any other church — the principle is eternal! And where a principle is one time laid down, that principle can never be overthrown."

Brother Harper's last reference, I believe, to the 'principle eternal' in his first speech, reads as follows:

"Now you remember they're using 1 Corinthians 16, that was given out here (on chart), to feed the poor, they're using that to feed the preachers. But, I don't want you to stop it — I want you to keep it going — my wife's back there (indicating the audience), and she might get hungry. Anyhow, both (feeding the poor and feeding preachers) are works of the church, and the principle is eternal, the occasion is incidental.

"Now the principle that I'm going to present here is eternal, no man can change it, but the occasion that brings the principle out, that's incidental, it can be changed."

In the preceding quotation, Brother Harper terms the "occasion" as bringing out the principle. Now, in this expression, would not the "occasion" be an EXAMPLE? And if the OCCASION is an EXAMPLE (and surely it is), then the principle is simply illustrated by an EXAMPLE. Therefore, IF Brother Harper could have located a Bible example for his practice, surely he would have done so . . . . and his 'principle' established. But such was not the case.

Where Can This Lead?

"There are FOUR ways to teach a thing: one is by a command; the other is by an example; the other is by necessary inference; and, the other is by a principle eternal."

What false doctrine can be logically opposed if I were to espouse such a statement? The sectarian could admit that there was no command, example or necessary inference for his particular false doctrine or practice .... but the PRINCIPLE is ETERNAL!!