Scott D. Crawford
Do you remember the first time your child walked around the house in your shoes? Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! Or, have you ever seen the picture of a little boy and girl dressed up like mom and dad? The little boy has on a suit too large and is wearing a hat too big; the little girl with pearls hanging around her neck and holding an oversize purse and gloves. These mental images make us smile because when our children dress and act like us we understand that it is a desire to be like us; they want to be like us because they love us. Those children, all new and fresh in the world, look to adults as their pattern; in essence, we become the image of what they desire to be and to do in this life. This is important because of two questions that have arisen during the past couple of weeks, which had to do with Biblical example concerning the Lord’s Supper:
Why can’t we take the Lord’s Supper any day of the week?
Why can’t we take the Lord’s Supper as part of a larger meal?
In truth, there are no verses in the Scriptures that tell us: “Thou shalt only take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week,” or “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s Supper as part of a larger meal.” Yet, in most congregations of the Lord’s church, it has been the practice to observe the feast on the first day of the week, and not as part of a banquet; both reasons why point back to example, which shows, also, why examples are bindings.
First, it should be noticed that an example must be given from a source that has the authority to bind an obligation upon us1. This may seem like a simple truth, but in reality this truth is often overlooked by many when seeking Biblical authority for or against a teaching or practice. In a practical sense, this means we don’t look to examples of teaching or practice that occur in the Old Testament as normative for Christians today. The practice of Job or Abraham offering physical sacrifices does not apply to us; fasting under the Law of Moses no longer has authority; both the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations no longer have authority for Christians (cf. Eph. 2:14, 15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 9:15-17). This is why we look to the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, as our pattern. That is why Stone and Campbell went “into the Bible to find out what the New Testament taught and dictated as practices2” because they were looking for restoration and not reformation. We look to the actions of Christ and the apostles as the authoritative pattern for our teaching and practice, because “we MUST be absolutely diligent in walking in the footsteps of the Master (1 Pet. 2:21).”3
Second, when we look to the Scriptures for authoritative examples, we must also carefully examine what we think is normative from what is considered as circumstantial. Take for example the setting for the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which occurred during the Passover meal (Matt. 26:17ff). Then, according to the Scriptures, the next time observe Christians taking the Lord’s Supper along with a meal is in the first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:17-22), but at this point Paul is condemning them for their abuse of that special time together. Looking at Paul’s comments, the feast in which those Corinthians were participating had become a time of favoritism and separation in which one remained hungry while another became drunk. Paul could have given them detailed instructions about how to observe the meal, but instead directed their thoughts back to the central theme of the original setting: the bread and the cup – the proclamation of the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:23-26). The fact that a meal was being eaten before, during, or after the Lord’s Supper is only a circumstance of that time and culture and should not be taken as a normative example. In other words, the meal that they were eating, although a wonderful time for fellowship among the church, is not as important as the commemoration of the Lord’s death and sacrifice. “Do this in memory of Me.”
Finally, any doctrine or practice performed by the first century church, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, which the inspired apostles allowed to continue can, in the absence of a direct command, be considered an approved example for Christians of all time and place. As Milligan notes in The Scheme of Redemption, the apostles were appointed – among other things – to reveal the essential truths and principles that accompany redemption, and to enact the necessary laws and ordinances of the kingdom4. This was necessary because in the absence of a single written document by which all may appeal as a standard, the inspired apostles and writers of the Bible acted as a direct means of addressing areas of teaching and practice that God saw as either appropriate to encourage or extinguish. This is why we take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week:
We know the early disciples came together at that time (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2);
We know that when they came together they took the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18).
Since these actions were not condemned by the inspired apostles or those miraculously gifted, we look to them as normative for our practice. Of course, this brings up a point of caution. Although it was obligatory for the early disciples to conform to those that were inspired and confirmed by miracles, “it is sinful for men today to claim to do such.”5
When we discuss example as part of the command, example, and necessary inference model to find authority, we are typically looking at those actions performed by the early church to see how those actions apply for current use. We do not seek to apply examples to our teaching and practice that fall outside the instructions for Christians from the New Testament. We must be diligent to apply only the necessary components of an example, while leaving the circumstantial elements to the realm of opinion, not obligation. We should consider those actions performed by the early church under the direction of the inspired and miraculously gifted of the New Testament as applicable to our teaching and practice, if those actions were not in some way condemned or extinguished. “More than simply a ‘hermeneutic,’ our formulation of ‘command, example, and necessary inference’ is a rejection of human creeds and a commitment to the authority of God and His divine revelation.”6
1Trevor Bowen, “Examples and the Pattern,” In Search of Truth (2014). <http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles/examples.html> (October 7, 2014).
2Adron Doran, Restoring New Testament Chrsitianity, (Nashville: 21st Century Christian, 1997), 31.
3Goebel Music, Behold the Pattern, (Colleyville: Goebel Music Pub., 1991), 67.
4Robert Milligan, The Scheme of Redemption, first published in 1868 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Reprint Library, 2001), 295.
5Thomas Warren, When Is a Bible Example Binding? (Ramer: National Christian Press, 1975), 147.
6F. LaGard Smith, The Cultural Church, (Nashville: 20th Century Christian, 1992), 35.