Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 15, 1956

Adhesion To Apostolic Models

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

The question of whether or not apostolic models or examples reveal the will of God is currently occupying a large place in the discussion on church independency and sufficiency. It is reported that some have gone to the extreme of denying that the scriptures teach by example. Such was true in the institutional apostasy in the 19th century. Pendleton, the man, who probably more than any other, was responsible for the missionary society being accepted by the majority of churches, was very bold and outspoken in his denials of the authority of apostolic models.

In the "Apostolic Times, August 12, 1875, there is an article by Brother McGarvey, reviewing an article of Pendleton's which had appeared in the Christian Standard. The extract which Brother McGarvey reviews is taken from an article of Pendleton's in which Pendleton was discussing the question of church independency.

With the thought that the article will be of benefit to others, we publish it in the Gospel Guardian. It is interesting to note the similarity in Pendleton's reasoning of 70 years ago with some of our "modem" 20th century brand.

Apostolic Times (Aug. 12, 1875, P. 355)

Extract from an article of Pendleton from "Christian Standard" in which the question of church independency has been re-discussed and some kindred topics have received attention.

"We have the Spirit ever dwelling in the Church, the source of inspiration; and the word of the Spirit, the sure counsellor in what is good and lawful in action: and with these the church of today must form her own character. A blind adhesion to models, apostolic or apostate, is mere slavish stupidity, unworthy of the Lord's freemen."

Each of these two propositions contain a thought which will be startling to our readers: first, that we have the Spirit ever dwelling in the church, the source of inspiration. If this means that the Spirit, who was the source of inspiration in the apostolic age, is ever dwelling in the church, it is universally admitted. But it is stated that with this and the word of the Spirit, the church of today is to form her own character: and this seems to imply that the church now receives inspiration from the indwelling Spirit, and such inspiration as frees her from the necessity of observing apostolic models. We say it seems to so imply rather than that it does imply, because we cannot think Brother Pendleton really believes in the Romish idea of a present and perpetual inspiration of the church.

But the second idea to which we allude is expressed in less ambiguous terms. It is the idea that what he calls a "Blind adhesion" to apostolic models is "mere slavish stupidity, unworthy of the Lord's freemen." By the use of the epithet "blind" before "adhesion" we suppose that he means to stigmatize close adhesion to these models as blindness; and we take the entire proposition to mean that such adhesion is blindness and slavish stupidity.

In order to prepare his readers for this proposition, Brother P. presents an ingeniously constructed conversation between imaginary persons, in which he attempts to show that no church established by the apostles can serve as our model. The church at Corinth cannot, because it tolerated incest; none of the "seven churches of Asia" can because fault is found with them all; nor can the church in Jerusalem, because it worshipped in the temple, it had daily meetings and its members had all things in common.

Now in all fairness we must pronounce this mode of reasoning more ingenious than candid. If Brother Pendleton had asserted, as on a proper occasion he would, that the church of today is to be guided by the models furnished us in the apostolic churches, he would find no difficulty at all in disposing of the facts, just enumerated. The incest tolerated in the church at Corinth, he would say, is not to be imitated, because it was one of the things condemned. He would show that a church of the apostolic age is our model in so far as its conduct and observances meet with apostolic approval — that it is the fact of apostolic approval which makes those churches rather than others a model in any particular. And if an objector should cite the fact that the Jerusalem church worshipped in the temple, held daily meetings, and had all things common, with the approval of the apostles, he would answer that the same church at a later period had not all things in common, did not hold daily meetings, and worshipped in other places than the temple; and as the apostles approved the latter state of things as well as the former, he would insist that these were matters of expediency, in reference to which duty is determined by circumstances. If the objector should go so far as to say that the apostles at one time approved some things which they did not approve at others, he would answer that an approved apostolic precedent is one that was approved by the apostles when they had been guided by the Spirit into all the truth, and not one that they themselves were led by the Spirit to condemn. In this simple and brief method, the details of which need not be further expanded, could Brother P. remove the confusion in which his own "Talk By the Way" has left this important subject?