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.