Binding ExamplesFebruary 24, 2006
Today we will continue looking at the CENI hermeneutic. Earlier we considered the first principle in that approach, explicit commands in scripture. In this post we will take on the second principle, example (aka approved precedent). As we examine CENI we will continue collecting the Inventory of Doctrines which we will be examining later from the perspective of CENI.
There are two sides to the principle of examples. First, when we have an example in scripture of the early church holding to a certain practice, and it can be shown that the practice had the approval of an inspired apostle, it can be reasonably assumed that we can safely practice the same thing today. Second, some people take that a step farther, and hold that in this situation that we are obligated to practice the same thing. Let’s take a look at some examples in the scripture, and the conclusions drawn from them.
1. Weekly Communion
The practice of taking communion every Sunday is based on example. Acts 20:7 says:
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
It is not explicitly stated that this church (or any other church) actually did this every Sunday, but it is generally believed that they did. Justin Martyr’s Apology I describes the weekly Sunday service including weekly communion. In view of that, the Acts 20 passage is understood to be describing a weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Based on this example, the churches of Christ take communion every Sunday. The example is considered binding. That is, these churches believe that we are required to follow the example of taking communion every Sunday. Many in these churches would not consider being a member of a church where communion was taken less frequently.
2. Daily Assembly
The frequency with which the church meets together is understood somewhat differently. Acts 2:46a says:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
This is an explicitly stated example with apostolic approval. These Christians assembled every day in the temple courts. Yet few if any churches of Christ today consider this practice binding on the modern day church. If there were counterexamples where the scriptures stated a different frequency of meeting, it would be understandable that the Acts 2:46a example would not be binding. But that is not the case. Apparently either there are more subtle clues that tell us which cases should be taken as binding and which should not, or else the principle of examples has not been applied consistently.
I think all would agree that it is at least permissible for a church to assemble every day, based on Acts 2:46a.
Heb 3:12-13 might suggest that daily assembly is not merely optional. This passage contains a command to encourage daily (not merely an example) but it does not indicate that the encouragement must be performed in an assembly of the church. Heb 10:25 does indicate that encouragement should happen in the assembly, but not that it only occurs there. So the Hebrews passages at most would provide a possibility to infer daily assembly (ie. not a “necessary” inference).
So a requirement for the church to meet daily would stand or fall based on the merits of Acts 2:46a alone, depending on whether or not examples with apostolic approval are binding.
Undoubtedly other instances could be shown to illustrate that the principle of examples in CENI is not consistently applied in the churches of Christ. It is used where the conclusion seems reasonable to us, and the result enforced as if with the authority of God. But when the result does not seem reasonable, do we quietly ignore the principle? The determining factor seems to be our fallible human judgment. When we bind only some approved examples, we might be binding human opinions.
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