Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Following Biblical Examples

There is a common tendency to take Biblical examples as commandments. In fact, there are many teachings and practices that have been derived this way. But is this legitimate? The Scripture says that God commands what He intends to command and it is wrong to add to it (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Matthew 15:8,9). Nor is there any basis in Scripture for seeing an example, even a repeated example, as a commandment. There are four cases in Scripture where God split bodies of water (Exodus 14:13-31; Joshua 3:14-17; 2 Kings 2:7-14). Does this mean that if we truly follow God, He will split a body of water for us? I would therefore conclude that, while an example can illustrate a clearly taught Biblical principle, it does not constitute a commandment. The exception to this is that examples can show us what is allowed, but even there we must be careful, so as not misconstrue something that is simply mentioned to have occurred or is a special case as being universally allowed. I am convinced that God is not shy: the things He intended to command, He commanded, at least in principle. I do not see evidence that He left us obscure commandments to be strained from Scripture based on our human intellect.

I am convinced that much of what is taught today in terms of church government and ministry procedures is based on examples rather than the clear teaching of Scripture. Such examples may be useful in illustrating principles, but what God does not command, He leaves free. In connection with this, there is a danger of putting the early church on a pedestal and regarding them as a perfect church. If you read the New Testament epistles, you will see the early church struggled with the same kinds of problems we have today: false doctrine, carnal behavior, and a tendency toward various extremes. We are faced with the Corinthian's carnality. The departure of the Galatians from the gospel. The Thessalonians quitting their jobs and living in idleness in view of Christ's immediate coming. The Colossians entertaining false doctrine. And many more problems. Looking at the early church may be useful, as they may not have had as much time to depart from the apostles' teaching as we have. But they are not the standard for perfection. This does not mean we are necessarily required to change our current organization or procedures, but we should recognize they may not be the only right way to do things. Now this does leave us a greater ability to adapt to current circumstances, but we should beware of the idea that it will make a major difference. If this were an important issue, God would have commanded it. Rather, we should shift our emphasis away from these things and focus on the things God really does teach and command. I would therefore encourage basing our behavior on the clear commandments and principles of Scripture, rather than trying to draw precepts out of examples.

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