Sunday, July 13, 2008

"...that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written..." 1 Cor. 4:6

More Observations from the 1988 Highers-Blakely Debate on Instrumental Music

In Highers' last speech he showed a chart titled, "An Abandonment of the Restoration Plea." The chart consisted largely of a quote from an article that appeared in the Apostolic Times in 1881. The person quoted was J. W. McGarvey, who Highers described as "one of the great pioneers in the restoration movement." In the excerpt McGarvey condemned the use of a musical instrument in Christian worship. 

I find it somewhat disingenuous on Highers' part to extol the virtues of and quote McGarvey in the support of his arguments since Highers wouldn't fellowship McGarvey if he was present at the debate! As far as I can tell Highers is of the "non-institutional" brethren and therefore does not fellowship any church that supports institutions other than the local church itself. Yet McGarvey served as the PRESIDENT of the American Christian Missionary Society! (Alexander Campbell was the first president.) McGarvey was also a pacifist and felt that service in the military lead to personal apostasy.

The Missouri Manifesto was a document authored and signed by fourteen prominent Missouri preachers as the Civil War raged on. The document was addressed to "all the holy brethren in every state" and stated that "...engaging in the fraternal strife...would be to incur the displeasure of our Blessed Lord and Saviour." The manifesto goes further and states, 
(3) Knowing, as all history teaches and as the experience of many of us can testify, that active military service almost invariably destroys the religious character of Christians who are drawn into it, we cannot discharge our duty to Christ, if we see our young brethren rushing into this vortex of almost certain ruin without an earnest and affectionate remonstrance. (Isbell, Allen. War and Conscience. Abilene; Biblical Research Press, 1966. p. 198)
Making it clear that their position on military service was not limited to the current Civil War, the Manifesto adds in a later section, 
Let us for Jesus' sake endeavor in this appropriate hour to restore the love of peace which he inculcated; which was practiced by the great body of the church for the first three hundred years, in an utter refusal to do military service; which continued thus to be practiced by the true church throughout the dark ages, and which has been so strongly pled by many of the purest men of modern times, our own A. Campbell among the number. (Isbell, p. 199)
It almost sounds as if one can't be a member of the Armed Services and a member of McGarvey and Campbell's church of Christ. If this is true I know many preachers and faithful brethren that have some repenting to do for their years of service in the military.  

Highers also placed a lot of weight on the definitions of Greek words as defined in Joseph Henry Thayer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. That is a little concerning as well. Thayer was a Unitarian and did not believe in the Trinity and/or the deity of Christ. In February of 1891 Thayer also published a lecture that he gave titled The Change of Attitude Towards the Bible in which he expressed disagreement with the idea of Bible inerrancy.

Highers also quoted several denominational religious leaders, past and present, whose positions on Scriptural passages agreed with his position. Most, if not all, of which Highers would not fellowship if they were in the room with him. 

Perhaps this is why we have so many cautions in the Scriptures regarding the valuing of men above God: 
"Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." (1 Cor. 3:21-23)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Squaring the Hole

For a number of years now I've had among my COC material a video of a debate on instrumental music. The debate took place in Neosho, MO in April of 1988. Alan E. Highers represented the COC and Given O. Blakely represented the Christian Church. I find it ironic that I have never taken the time to watch the video until now that I'm no longer a member of the COC. (That's common thinking in the COC though: why read or watch something when I know what I already believe on the matter?)

I'm have converted the VHS tape over to a format that I placed on my iPod. Now I can go through the entire four nights of the debate and really spend some time considering the arguments of both men.

What I have noticed already is that every doctrinal issue Highers argues for the COC always ultimately results in an affirmation of and a return to what they consider 'establishing Biblical Authority.' Every point ends up an extension or interpretation of their system of hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation).

Before I ever pushed play on the VCR when I started viewing the video I knew that Highers and Blakely would end the four-day discussion in disagreement over the issue. And to no surprise on my part, neither man won the other over to their side. (One thing I did notice was that Highers consistently jabbed at Blakely and his arguments to which the members of the COC in the audience would roar in laughter, mocking Blakely. Unfortunately, that type of condescending attitude and behavior is abundant among the COC brethren.)

In just the little amount of viewing that I have had the chance to do I noticed that in Higher's first address that he began his 'defense of the Gospel' by carefully laying the framework for his arguments: "Whatever you do in word or deed do all in the Name of the Lord" + "To do something in someone's name is to do it by their POWER" + "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" + "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" And so on and so on. It's a hermeneutical game of "The foot-bone is connected to the...leg-bone. The leg bone is connected to the...knee bone." AND THEN IT STRUCK ME! This might be the key!

Early in every discussion the COC has to lay the framework for the discussion. They demand that everyone work off of their approach to establishing Biblical Authority. Or in other words, you have to study and understand the Bible according to their rules. This is why most sermons preached by the COC starts as one thing but often ends up the same old sermon on what they consider “authority.” It's almost as if in the COC all you need is one good sermon on why our church is better then everyone else's church. Just re-title it each Sunday.  

This was the problem with Highers and Blakely. Highers would get up and argue that Blakely AVOIDED the questions that he was posing; that Blakely REFUSED to stick to the proposition and give a 'book, chapter, and verse.' Then Blakely would get up and passionately respond and expound upon the Scriptures, how God deals with man, what God expects of man today, and that he felt that Highers' legalistic approach to understanding and applying the scriptures is un-Apostolic and foreign to the New Testament.  Blakely's arguments went totally above Highers' head. The two men were on two entirely different levels of thinking, each in disbelief that the other "didn't get it."

If you let the COC establish the framework for the discussion, (i.e., use the COC's hermeneutics of Command, Example, Necessary Inference - and then apply it as arbitrarily as they do) you will NEVER be able to answer their questions to their satisfaction; and they realize this. It is an unfair playing field since their system of religion is the only one that comes close to fitting in their adopted system of Bible interpretation and application. Anyone else trying to analyze their faith by COC's "standard" is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It will not work.

For example, early in Highers' first address he referenced Acts 4:7 stating that to do something by someone's name is to do something by their power. From there he linked this verse to Col. 3:17, which states, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." What Highers began doing early on was laying the 'firm foundation' of the COC's Command, Example, and Necessary Inference (CENI) hermeneutical system.

But let's do something radical: Let's go back and read the context of this passage. Let's see who made this statement and in what setting the statement was made.

In Acts 3:1 we find Peter and John going up to the temple to pray. While there, they healed a man who had been lame from birth. When the people saw the once lame man now walking and leaping for joy it cause a great stir among the people (vv 8-10). When the people gathered in amazement on Solomon's porch Peter used this opportunity to preach to them about Jesus, which he does from verses 11-26.

Oh, but this raised the ire of the religious-right of the day. In chapter 4 we read that the priests and the Sadducees came upon the crowd and were unhappy because they did not agree with what Peter and John were preaching. They arrested the Apostles yet couldn't prevent a number of about 5000 people from believing in the Gospel of which Peter spoke. The next day Peter and John were brought before the Jewish elders, rulers, and scribes and they demanded an answer from the Apostles as to how this man was healed. THEY ask Peter and John " what power, or by what name have ye done this?" We know that it was the issue of the man being healed that was the reason behind by the question as opposed to the preaching of Jesus. How do we know this? Context. Peter begins his defense by saying, "...Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole." Peter's answer tells us that the men were not questioning whether or not the Apostles healed the lame man in violation of some written law. They wanted to know how the obvious miracle occurred and to whom (or what) it could be attributied. Peter answers them and parlays the opportunity into a chance to preach Jesus to them. 

Using the COC's application of the verse, here is a case where the enemies of Christ demanded to know Peter and John's AUTHORITY for healing the lame man. I find it ironic that the COC uses this as a peripheral 'proof-text' for their CENI framework when the origin of the statement stems from the Sadducees demanding 'authority' from God's Apostles for some "good deed" (v.9).

Peter and John had not done something that ANYONE could have done. They had not picked up a musical instrument and sang a hymn to the lame man about the virtues of Christ. They had not took money out of the common purse to buy the man a new wheelchair. They did something SUPERNATURAL. They performed a MIRACLE. Tell me how in the world this relates to Christians worshiping God during a church service? This question does not originate in a church worship setting where Jesus (or an Apostle or even a disciple) is enumerating the 'rules' on how believers in Christ can establish "Biblical authority" for their corporate worship practices! This statement is prior to the death of Christ, prior to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and therefore prior to the establishment of the church. Yet the COC brethren use this passage in their daisy-chain of verses to prop up the foundation of their doctrines.

If Paul had wrote to one of the NT churches and asked them in whose name or by what authority they added something into their worship service, then we could apply the verse this way. But that is clearly not the case and you would have to set aside context and common sense to arrive at any other conclusion. 

The real question that needs to be answered in a study with the COC is 'Where is the “authority” for the COC to demand that believers today have to subscribe to a system of faith patterned after the CENI hermeneutic?” Show me one verse that contains CENI. Show me one verse that contains the phrase “necessary inference.” Be consistent COC brethren. Where is the “book, chapter, and verse” prescribing this format? It does not exist. 

Maybe they should “be silent” on CENI since the Scriptures are “silent” regarding it.   

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Check out this site!

I ran across another blog with a similar purpose as this one here:

The information there is very well stated and appears to come from someone with a good knowledge of the COC. It delves into an excellent study of the COC's approach to hermeneutics, i.e. method of interpreting the Bible. The writer's experience sounds a lot like what most people are exposed to in that group. It certainly mirrors mine. My only concern is that this person's experience caused them to lose their faith in God entirely. Tragic.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps." Proverbs 16:9

Many years ago Leroy Brownlow wrote a well-known book outlining why he was a member of the church of Christ. Brownlow's book is a familiar resource among the membership of the non-denominational 'church of Christ' and finds its place on the shelves of most - if not all - preachers of the church. Brownlow's intentions were to systematically provide a methodical rationalization as to why he felt membership in the church of Christ was superior to membership in any other religious group. And when I say "superior" I mean necessary for salvation - no other will do. 

When writing to brethren who were putting a little too much "confidence in the flesh" the apostle Paul substantiated his pedigree as a Hebrew when he told the saints at Philippi, "...If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Phil. 3:4-6)

In the same way I like to think that I have some experience concerning the subject of the church of Christ. I was baptized in a "liberal" church of Christ in the late 1980s - although I had no idea the church was "liberal" at all. But I would learn soon enough that not only are there "liberal" churches of Christ, but a whole host of subgroups that I did not want to be associated with: non-class, one-cup, institutional, head-covering requiring, the list goes on and on. But, I was snatched from realms of ecclesiastical obscurity and found myself a member of a true-blue, non-institutional, "conservative" group of brethren who sought to "Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." Although now in retrospect it seems in application more like "Shout, Be-little, and Challenge to Debates Where Our Understanding of the Bible Speaks and..." Well, I can't think of many religious subjects we were silent on. 

But my experience does not stop there. I've taught classes, preached sermons, had private studies with members of various religious groups, and even attended debates. I own a copy of McGarvey's Acts of the Apostles, an American Standard translation of the Bible, and a complete set of the Pulpit Commentary. We didn't (and they still don't) even use likenesses of Jesus' face when teaching children so as to not give the children any false impressions of Jesus. I've driven hundreds (if not thousands) of miles to attend Gospel Meetings AND I've even been to the ACU lectureships to "see what the liberals are up to now."     

To say that I know what I am talking about is an understatement.