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March/April Issue 2007 - Volume 26 Number 2
Reasoning From Scripture
“Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures….” Acts 17:2
The Apostle Paul often reasoned with people from the Scripture; Paul held the Old Testament Scriptures in high regard. He believed that the Old Testament contained reliable teaching regarding Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. It is apparent in Acts 17 that some of the Jews in Thessalonica did not agree with Paul’s reasoning and they became jealous of him. Paul fled to Berea where he was greeted by some people who were more fair-minded than many of those in Thessalonica. Luke tells us, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
We might infer from this statement that some of the “unreasonable” Jews in Thessalonica didn’t bother to search the Scriptures regarding the things Paul was teaching. The Twentieth Century New Testament version translates a portion of Acts 17:2, “…addressed them, drawing his arguments from the Scriptures.” The New Living Translation renders it, “…and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people.”
The word “argument” has a bad reputation in this day and time. Perhaps the idea of “arguing,” as opposed to “reasoning,” has always had a bad connotation. However, the practice of supporting our assertions with solid arguments and sound reasoning is not only commendable but it is also necessary. It is important that we agree on a standard of authority and then recognize that we must subject our own wishes and desires to that authority. In the past, the churches of Christ have accepted the Old and New Testaments as authoritative and useful for instruction, correction and inspiration. However, in the religious world at large, the Old and New Testaments are often questioned and maligned. In more recent years, the same skepticism has emerged among some churches of Christ. When we reject the authority of the Old and New Testaments, where are we to find our direction? Are we at the mercy of the imaginations of men? Must we bow to the philosophies of men, and, if so, which philosophy do we follow? In such unstable conditions we find ourselves adrift on a sea of contradictory and unwholesome doctrines.
There is an aversion to any kind of controversy in this age of “toleration” in which we are living. We are fond of saying things like, “Why can’t we just get along?” We are fairly comfortable and happy with our lives, and we prefer not to be caught up in any controversy. I endorse the maxim that states: “We should disagree without being disagreeable.” And we must admit that this is harder for some of us due to our personality types. However, our discussions should be reasonable and engaged in with respect and brotherly love.
Over forty and fifty years ago debates occurred on various doctrines ranging from the plan of salvation and multiple cups in communion to Sunday Schools and instrumental music. The debaters and the audience behaved at times with proper respect and brotherly love, and at other times the discussion of the doctrines disappeared in the fog of personal attack and acrimony. Debating fell into disrepute with some because of the misuse of this public forum for discussion. However, the idea of reasoning from the Scripture to prove the doctrines that we espouse stands on solid Biblical precedent.
Ignorance of the Scripture becomes a stumbling block for men in any era of history. But it is even more damaging when men come to the conclusion that the Scripture is unreliable or just doesn’t matter. It is much like a man with a fatal disease. In the first place, he may be ignorant concerning the medicines and treatment that can cure his disease. In this state he is unable to appreciate or even discuss the cure. But, alas, if he is given the prescription for a cure and then decides that it is inaccurate or outdated, there is no hope for him and reasoning with him about the cure is out of the question. He has already decided that the medication and the treatment are useless.
In the preface to his book, Prophecy and History (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1955, 1980), Alfred Edersheim briefly discusses the benefit of theological controversy. This book contains The Warburton Lectures for 1880-1884 that were delivered at the Chapel of Lincoln’s Inn. Primarily the book discusses the Old Testament and its Messianic hope. Here is what he said about religious debates:
For all proper defence of truth must aim after this positive result: more clearly to define, and more accurately to set forth, that which is certainly believed among us. And this, in the good guidance of our God, is the higher meaning and issue of theological controversy. As every schism and separation indicate some truth which had been neglected, or temporarily ignored, by the Church, so each controversy marks some points on which the teaching of the Church had been wanting in clearness, accuracy, or fulness. And so every controversy, however bitter or threatening in its course, ultimately contributes to the establishment of truth---not merely, not even principally, by the answer to objections which it calls forth, but by the fuller consideration of what had been invalidated, and the consequent wider and more accurate understanding of it. Thus, long after the din of controversy has ceased, with all of human infirmity attending it, and the never-ending conflict between truth and error has passed to another battlefield, the peaceful fruits of the contest remain as a permanent gain.
Certainly Edersheim points us to the ideal use of religious controversy and debate, even though he acknowledges that very often there is an abundance of “human infirmity” that attends it. Men’s motives may not always be pure. There are times when power struggles are the real fuel behind the controversy; but, despite the human frailty, the doctrines discussed are either true or false based on our chosen authority.
This brings us to another question: What is more important, Christian unity and fellowship or doctrinal purity? On the one hand we do not want to isolate brethren and cause divisions in the church, and on the other hand we do not want to abandon the accurate exposition of Biblical doctrine. The idea of “agreeing to disagree” just to promote unity hampers the teaching of the truth. The idea of “disfellowshipping everyone who disagrees with me” kills Christian unity and fellowship.
James B. North has written a couple of commendable books on the history of the church. One of them is A History of the Church: From Pentecost to Present (College Press, Joplin, Missouri, 1983, 1991), and the other is Union in Truth (Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1994). In the preface to the second book North writes:
It is the perspective of this author that the Restoration Movement has two central foci---the concern for Christian union and the concern for biblical authority. Everything that happens in the history of the Restoration Movement is the direct result of one or the other or both of these concerns. Sometimes these concerns work in tandem; sometimes they are polarized. But it is the ebb and flow of these twin concerns that has created the Restoration Movement. Hopefully the reader will see these twin concerns as the skeleton of development within the Movement; the flesh is simply developed around these skeletal ideas. The author has tried to use a title for this work that will adequately reflect both the Movement and the interpretation presented here. The phrase “Union in Truth” was used by Thomas Campbell in his key writing Declaration and Address. The phrase reflects both the commitment to Christian unity as well as the commitment to base that union on biblical authority (truth).
There are, no doubt, times and instances wherein one of these “foci” is emphasized to the exclusion of the other. I grew up at the end of an era of debates that resulted in brethren withdrawing fellowship from a certain brother because he fellowshipped a certain brother who fellowshipped another brother. The original one from whom fellowship was withdrawn was not marked because of anything he practiced himself, but because he associated with Brother X and Brother X associated with Brother Y and Brother Y was the one who was actually practicing something questionable by biblical standards. I have heard my late father tell of the year he was disfellowshipped by certain brethren. They accused him of being a located preacher at May & Alabama Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Unfortunately, the particular year in which he was marked for disfellowship, he had conducted about 25 gospel meetings around the country, and it is very likely that he had filled the pulpit fewer times at May & Alabama than some of those who accused him had filled the pulpit in their own respective congregations. There were certain brethren who wanted to dictate to my father where he could preach and couldn’t preach. When he would not bow to these demands, he was disfellowshipped.
From the 1960’s to the present there has been a backlash to this kind of disfellowship. It is now the other “foci” of union that has taken the field. The church in some instances is drifting away from the moorings of biblical truth. It isn’t just traditional hymns and rituals that are being questioned, but even the very basis of the plan of salvation has come under attack. Some have decided that it is better to preserve unity even if some biblical truth must be sacrificed.
What are we to do with the religious confusion that abounds today? It is imperative that once again we try to speak what the Bible speaks. And we must do so with all the gentleness and humility that God’s grace can bestow upon us. A number of years ago a lady who was having some problems with her daughter came to me for advice. In our conversation the lady said, “And I told her the church of Christ says this and the church of Christ says that.” As you might imagine, the daughter was beginning to develop a lot of bitterness toward the church. I advised the lady that she should quit saying the church of Christ says this and instead she should direct her daughter to the Bible and say that the Bible says this. After all, it doesn’t really matter what the church of Christ says unless it be based in solid reasoning from the Bible.
In his second letter to Timothy Paul exhorts him: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible is still the standard by which we should judge every doctrine. And we must remember that we are judging the doctrines that men teach and not the men themselves. Jesus taught this principle that was true in His day and is still true today: “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him---the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:47-48).
We must do our best to “rightly divide the word of truth.” We must stand faithfully on the principles that God’s word teaches. We must not presume to put any man into heaven or hell; that is God’s prerogative. I may say that a man’s doctrine is unscriptural if it contradicts the word of God, but God will be his judge. At the same time, we must not be afraid to question the validity of various doctrines and to correct and reprove when it is necessary.
Paul believed in sound reasoning from the Scripture, and he understood that such reasoning has validity. May God help us to rightly divide His word while at the same time loving those with whom we may disagree.
"Teachers of Obedience"
this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard
from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love."
2 John, 6 (NIV)
of the areas of Christian duty and activity is that of teaching God's word
in the assembly of the church. For the last generation, and longer, teaching
the how and the why of this activity has been neglected, indeed, even
ignored and perverted. At least a part of this is due to a misdirected
desire for a wider fellowship, even to the embracing of unsound doctrine and
practices. Some of it is a flagrant disregard of God's simple and easily
before the Christian era, it was God's plan that when the Law of Moses was
read, all of His people were to be taught together: men, women, and
children. They were to include even the foreigners who were living among
them. In Deut. 31:10-13, Moses was directing the Children of Israel as they
were about to enter the Promised Land:
Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the
solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, When all
Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall
choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather
the people together, men, women, and children, and thy stranger that is
within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the
Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their
children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the
Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to
this they did, as recorded in Josh. 8:35:
his commentary on Josh. 8:35, Adam Clarke wrote, "It was necessary that
all should know that they were under the same obligations to obey; even the
women are brought forward, not only because of their personal
responsibility, but because to them was principally entrusted the education
of the children. The children also witness this solemn transaction, that a
salutary fear of offending God might be early, diligently, and deeply
impressed upon their hearts. Thus every precaution is taken to insure
obedience to the divine precepts, and consequently to promote the happiness
of the people; for this every ordinance of God is remarkable, as he ever
causes the interest and duty of his followers to go hand in hand."
parents had upon them the divine injunction to teach diligently the word of
God to their children as they went about their daily home-life. In Deut.
6:6-7, we have this:
early church, the church of the New Testament, did not use the class system
of teaching commonly known as the Sunday School. The early church could have
used it, but didn't. All of the elements needed for the class system were
there, but God did not see fit to authorize the use of them. In his address
to the elders of the church at Ephesus, in Acts 20:20, the Apostle Paul
declared, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have
showed you, and have taught you publicly and from house to house."
taught in their synagogues and in their streets, wherever he could get an
audience; he taught them in their homes. He taught them all of God's will
and kept nothing back. Yet there is no record that he ever used or taught a
system of separating his listeners into groups according to age or gender
for teaching in any assembly or teaching service of the church.
his second letter to Timothy, he wrote:
said thoroughly furnished. Completely furnished. Not anything lacking.
Everything we need for doctrine - for what to believe - is there. Everything
we need to point out our faults and failures is there. Everything to show us
how to correct and direct our lives is there. The scripture completely
furnishes us with the means and equipment to do good works for God. But it
does not furnish us with the Sunday School or any system like it. The Sunday
School was invented by man at a much later date and is not profitable
because it runs counter to the will and word of God. It was foisted on the
churches of Christ by men who rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul in giving specific and clear-cut rules
for governing the teaching services of the church when writing to the church
at Corinth in 1 Cor. 14. Read this chapter carefully, and then consider the
following instructions given there:
When the church has come together, do not pray or teach in a foreign
language (unknown tongue, KJV) unless there is someone to interpret (1 Cor.
14:1-28). The word "unknown" does not occur in the original text.
When the church has come together, the men that are gifted and able to teach
God's word are to speak one at a time and avoid confusion (1 Cor. 14:29-33).
The women are to "keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted
unto them to speak; --- for it
is a shame for women to speak in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
These are the commandments of the Lord. "If any man think himself to be
a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto
you are the commandments of the Lord" (1Cor. 14: 37).
Paul states in 1 Tim. 2:11-12 that the woman is to learn in silence with all
subjection. She is not permitted to teach nor to usurp authority over the
man, but to be in silence. Of course this could apply only to when the
church has come together, as in Acts 18:24-26 Priscilla clearly had an
active part with her husband, Aquilla, in privately teaching Apollos the way
of God more perfectly. He had been preaching in Ephesus, but he knew only
the baptism of John. Then in Titus 2:3-5, Paul tells Titus to instruct the
older women to teach the young women how to be good wives, good mothers,
good homemakers, and how they should live "that the word of God be not
blasphemed." This would have to be done privately and not in a church
assembly, for women are not permitted to teach in a church assembly. And to
break these commandments is to place our eternal welfare at risk.
was centuries before men and women decided that they needed to improve on
the way the teaching was being conducted. God's way just didn't fill the
need. For more than a thousand years they did not use the Sunday School
class system. In the mid-18th century the Sunday School had its beginning in
England, and soon spread to continental Europe and to the United States
where the Philadelphia Sunday School Union was organized in 1791. The
churches of Christ did not begin to adopt the use of the Sunday School on a
wide scale until the mid-19th century.
Schools, or Bible schools, as many preferred to call them, began to be a
significant arm of the church. For some time, despite the approval of
Alexander Campbell and Isaac Errett, church leaders doubted these
organizations had the authority or sanction of Scripture" (Murch, in
Christians Only, Chapter 13).
the push to "place the Sunday School classes in every church,"
many of the congregations of the church of Christ refused to accept this
arrangement for the same reason they rejected instrumental music in the
worship: it was not authorized, it was a violation of scriptural precepts,
and it was
is evident that many otherwise good people chafe under the directives and
restrictions God has placed on us, and take whatever means or reasoning they
can devise to circumvent and nullify those guidelines. Eve knew what God had
said about the tree in the midst of the garden: "Ye shall not eat of
it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die" (Gen. 3:3). But under
Satan's lies and deception, she "saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one
wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat," (v. 6). And what a
price mankind has paid for that deception! Man's wisdom doesn't count for
much in the eyes of God (1Cor. 1:19-20).
let us go back to the church at Ephesus where in about the year 57 A.D. Paul
had said in Acts 20:20 that he had "kept back nothing that was
profitable" to them. Then he said in verses 29-30, "For I know
this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not
sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking
perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
let us move forward to A.D. 97, when John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos.
There Jesus, the risen Christ, directed him to write a letter to the Angel
of the church at Ephesus. In Rev. 2:4 he tells them "thou hast left thy
first love." Forty years had passed. And the church at Ephesus had
changed: they had "left their first love."
was it they had done to "leave their first love?" Had they spurned
Christ and His salvation? Had they disowned Him and turned to other gods?
Had they turned to evil and ceased to work for Jesus? No, none of these.
Jesus bears them witness that they could not bear them which were evil, or
liars. They had endured; they had borne and had patience; they had worked
for Jesus' name's sake; they had not fainted.
it possible that they had simply quit walking after His commandments? Jesus
had said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). He
also said, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love"
(John 15:10). The apostle John wrote, "And this is love: that we live
in obedience to His commands" (2 John 6, NIV).
was it that the Ephesians were no longer acting with the right motivation?
Had they become like the sounding brass and the clanging cymbal even though
their speech was eloquent? Even though they understood all mysteries and all
knowledge, had a great gift of prophecy and mountain moving faith, did it
all amount to nothing due to the wrong motivation? Were all of their
benevolent deeds and sacrifices useless because they were not motivated by
the love of God? (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
wolves had entered. Leading men had perverted the truth and led the church
into disobedience. They had left their "first love." What was the
nature of their disobedience? We do not know, but it was something they
could change. They could "repent and do the first works." They had
fallen and they had to repent and return to His commandments "or else I
will come unto thee quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of his
place" (Rev. 2:5). While we may look to various passages of scripture
to help us understand what it means to "leave our first love,"
there can be no denying that the Angel tells John those who do so are in
danger of having their candlestick removed, their light would go out and
they would no longer be recognized by the Lord. The only way to avoid this
removal was to repent.
I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences
contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom.
16:17). Warnings like this one in Romans should instill in all of us a
desire to rightly divide the word of truth. It behooves each of us to
examine himself as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine
yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not
know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? ---unless indeed you are
gives us this glimpse of judgment in Revelation 20:12, "And I saw the
dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And
another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged
according to the their works, by the things which were written in the
books." Most commentators agree that at least two of the books opened
out of which the dead will be judged are the Old and New Testaments. We
cannot treat God's word as if it doesn't matter. May the Lord help each of
us to heed Paul's warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let him
who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." May God grant us grace
that we might understand what the will of the Lord is.