Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 23, 1956

How Binding Are Bible Patterns?

Leslie Diestelkamp, Brookfield, Illinois

In a desperate effort to justify certain practices, some brethren have been driven to declare that we are not to be bound by New Testament examples. They ask, "How do we know that they are meant for patterns for us to follow? May they not have been just incidents that happened to happen? They will all admit that such patterns authorize us to do anything thus "patterned," but they deny that we are limited to the doing of those things without addition. Specifically they say that the examples of church cooperation (where several churches helped in one specific work-1 Cor. 16:1-4; Horn. 15:26; 2 Cor. 11:8) do not bind us to doing it that way. They say that Paul didn't tell us not to do it another way, and that for all we know they may have sent through one church on other occasions about which we have no record.

To so argue is to abandon the basic principles for which we have stood through the years. It is to completely ignore the silence of the Scriptures. By the same reasoning we could conclude that we only have examples of observing communion on the first day of the week, but for all we know they may have met for that purpose on other days. It would definitely open the door to Thursday night communion. Likewise, by this rule we could conclude that the Scripture only says, "sing" but for all we know they may have "played" too, and just didn't mention it in the inspired record. The New Testament gives a pattern for church government, showing that each church is to have its own elders, but by the method of reasoning being reviewed we could conclude that there may have been some organization ABOVE the elders which just isn't mentioned in the Bible.

If we are not to be bound by precept and example, then we are not bound at all, except when the Lord says "Don't." If divine positive law does not LIMIT as well as authorize, then we can do anything unless the New Testament specifically says "don't do it." By this rule, we would like to see brethren try to oppose a Ladies Aid Society, a rummage sale to raise money for the church, instrumental music in the worship, bitter herbs on the Lord's table or a dancing interpretation of a spiritual song.

But when the Lord directed and authorized us with command and example, He did not have to tell all the things we cannot do. The silence of the New Testament forbids all that is not specifically authorized. An example is: "For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem." (Rom. 15:26.) There are other patterns that agree with this one. Thus cooperation of many churches with one church in special need is authorized. There is no pattern of precept of one church sending to another church for a work to which they were equally responsible. Philippi did not send to Corinth so that Corinth could do Philippi's work, nor did Corinth send to Jerusalem so that Jerusalem could do Corinth's work. Neither did Antioch solicit aid from Philippi so that Antioch could do Antioch's work in Philippi, nor did Antioch solicit aid from Corinth so that Antioch could do Antioch's work in Jerusalem.

One prominent preacher says frankly (Guardian, Nov. 4, page 9, column 2) that he doesn't believe we are taught exclusively by direct command, approved exampleor necessary inference. He says, "The one cup brethren wanted an example of a plurality of containers. Now where are you going to get it?" But, brethren, what are we doing when we use such containers? Are we "glassing"? No, we are drinking the cup of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:27.) So also when we gather in classes — what are we doing? Classing? No, we are studying, (teaching). We do have precept and/or example for thus doing! We do not have, nor do we need, a direct word from the New Testament telling us what we may USE when we do what God says for us to do. But we do have such direct word telling us what to DO. We have liberty to USE anything that is right in itself to aid us to do what God authorized us to do, so long as in using it we do not do something else. When we use a song book, all we do is sing, and we do have authority for that (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16, etc.). But when we play, even only to aid us to sing, we do something other than sing. (This is the only real answer to the "aid only" argument on the music question.) The command to sing authorizes us to USE anything that will aid us to sing, so long as we don't do something other than sing.

The New Testament "completely furnishes us unto every good work." (1 Tim. 3:17.) God has "granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." (2 Peter 1:3.) To fail to be limited by the commands and examples of the New Testament is to fail to respect the wisdom of God and His ability to direct the church in the way that would please Him and accomplish His purposes.

With regard to benevolent work, the New Testament pattern authorizes several churches (like those of the provinces of Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia), to send to one church (like Jerusalem) on a temporary basis to relieve a special need. (Acts 11:27-30; 2 Cor. 8:13-24; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2.) With regard to evangelism, the New Testament pattern authorizes churches to send to the support of gospel work in the place where the work is being done, and to the one doing the work. (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15, 16.) Let us try harder and harder to "Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names."