The Big Squeeze: Silence and CENI

February 28, 2006

The hermeneutic known as Command, Example, and Necessary Inference (CENI) contains its own controversies and grey areas, but with a little discretion it can be a quite reasonable way to understand scripture. However, when the examples and inferences are considered binding, and when that is combined with a belief that the Silence of the Scriptures is binding, we have a volatile mix which has frequently resulted in divisions in the church.

The principle of Silence holds that we must have authorization in the scriptures for every practice of the church. From CENI, that authorization can be in the form of a direct command, an example approved by the apostles, or a necessary inference. Remember that the principle of CENI, as used in the churches of Christ, makes all those commands, examples, and necessary inferences binding. So we are caught in a vise. On one side we are prohibited from doing anything not authorized in scripture. On the other side we are mandated to do everything that is. There is no room for a grey area, no room for differences of opinion. Every practice is either mandatory or prohibited.

Unfortunately, as we discussed in previous articles, the principles of CENI are not cut and dried. There is room for difference of opinion regarding which grammatical commands are intended as mandates for us. We saw that the examples in scripture have not been applied consistently. And we saw that we have not been very rigorous in our determination of which inferences are truly necessary. Further, we noted that Thomas Campbell had argued against the binding of inferences on those who have not come to the same conclusion. Inferences are inherently based on human reasoning as well as scripture, and there will always be differences of opinion.

To illustrate, if we agree that there is no example nor inference of a kitchen in a church building in the scriptures, the rule of silence prohibits us from having a kitchen in ours today. (For now let’s ignore the absence of an example for the building itself!) But someone might reason that there is a “necessary inference” that there must have been a kitchen, since according to the examples of scripture there was a full meal with communion. So wouldn’t the kitchen become mandatory for those who reason like this? We have certainly made matters mandatory on less evidence than this. So if the kitchen is prohibited for one honest brother, and mandatory for another, does it follow that these two honest brothers cannot take communion together? Our hermeneutic has us trapped in a big sqeeze. If our hermeneutic leads to that conclusion, there must be a flaw in the hermeneutic itself.

If every practice is either mandatory or prohibited, and if we cannot agree on which practices are which, unity becomes impossible. Given the priority that the scriptures place on unity, the impossibility of unity is an untenable position. So there must be room for difference of opinion in the church. And we must not divide over every difference.

Save the strong lose the weak….Never turning the other cheek
Trust nobody don’t be no fool….Whatever happened to the golden rule
We got stranded….Caught in the crossfire
We got stranded….Caught in the crossfire
We got stranded….Caught in the crossfire
Stranded….Caught in the crossfire
Help me — Stevie Ray Vaughan

Click for the complete series on Restoration Hermeneutics


  1. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time when all Christians will agree on what is mandatory and what is prohibited in the scriptures. It is absolutely impossible to incorporate CENI and the principle of Silence. Both practices have merit, but both have proven divisive with numerous splits in the brotherhood as testimony to their failures. I think we have rode those ol’ horse’s way past their prime and into the ground.All that being said, I really appreciate your efforts to put these practices under the microscope and honestly observe the results.Only my opinions for what their worth! 🙂

  2. Let’s clear up this misunderstanding right here. An example, approved by the Apostles cannot be bound upon anyone without having scriptural support. The church of Christ DOES NOT bind and should NOT bind an example as a command. This is where most of the denominational world misunderstands and many of our OWN brothers and sisters misunderstand this principle.

  3. I have a question about your statement; “But someone might reason that there is a ‘necessary inference’ that there must have been a kitchen, since according to the examples of scripture there was a full meal with communion.”Where in scripture is there an example of “a full meal” with communion, other than in 1 Corinthians 11? In that passage, Paul was actually chastising them for turning the Lord’s Supper into a general feast, using the occasion for satiating the appetite, instead of the Unity found in Observing the Communion in Christ as originally commanded.1Cr 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, [this] is not to eat the Lord’s supper.1Cr 11:21 For in eating every one taketh before [other] his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.1Cr 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise [you] not.

  4. Paul didn’t rebuke them for sharing a meal. He rebuked them for eating everything before some people even arrived. His point seemed to be that, if they arrived so hungry that they couldn’t wait for the others, they should instead have eaten at home before they came.BTW, lots of commentators think that Jude 12, “love feasts” refers to the meal at which communion was shared.

  5. […] Example, and Necessary InferenceWhen is a Command a Command?Binding ExamplesNecessary Inference The Big Squeeze: Silence and CENIDo Expedients […]

  6. […] John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB) « The Big Squeeze: Silence and CENI Doctrines of CENI » Do Expedients Help? March 1, 2006 In the previous article […]

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