If Jesus Preached to the Churches of Christ Today
Principles have two major roles in Scripture. Principles can be (and are) overall, general ideas and/or truths. We will discuss that in more detail in a moment. But principles are also the fundamental and foundational substance of something. When it comes to Christianity, in the new covenant, this fundamental and foundational substance is a loving and active faith (Matthew 22). What is this loving faith a substance of? Christ-likeness, the mind of Christ, the entire purpose of the new testament. Being under the law of Christ, the law of liberty, and the law of grace (law is better translated principle in the context of these epistles) is the principle of becoming like Christ and accepting His freedom and grace. This allows us to exercise loving faith in order to have the mind of Jesus. The best hermeneutic for the new testament really is “WWJD.”
Christians are to submit their spirit humbly before God, and allow Christ to live through them. Rubel Shelly says, while speaking about being poor in spirit in The Beatitudes: Jesus’ Formula for Happiness, “Surely it is true that without the spirit of deep humility which is envisioned in in this statement, without a realization of our helplessness and utter dependence on God, we are in no state to receive the unsearchable reaches of Christ” (page 18). Our goal is to be a continuation of Christ here on Earth so that more people may come to know (yada) God (Gal. 2:20). Through God’s word, providence, and the Spirit, we receive the mind of Christ. Rubel Shelly also says in his book, In Step with the Spirit, “’Be filled with the Spirit’ is a hortatory statement in God-breathed Scripture. It is a command” (page 164). Our goal is not to keep a law. We should not think that for a minute. We need to be filled with the Spirit. That is something we need to keep in mind while interpreting the Bible; specifically, the new covenant.
What is the difference between law and principle? A law is for those who are ignorant and immature. A principle is the overall truth. Our principle is to love God and our fellow man. God made law to show us what that looks like, and that we cannot do it perfectly. We need grace! A speed limit is a law for those who are lawless. It is something that will result in punishment if not kept. If a teenager drives in front of a primary school, he will not care about the possibility that if he speeds he could hurt someone. He needs a law, and discipline to teach him to be careful, and consider others. However the overall truth (principle) is to watch out for people’s safety. An adult will take that principle, and even if there isn’t a speed limit (law) on that road, the adult will take that principle and decide to go at a slower speed. The same is true between the relationship between the old and new covenant. The law was the school master for those who were lawless. But freedom is for those who understand the principle of God; to be like Christ. Cecil Hook explains this well in Free in Christ, he says:
The Ten Commandments, for instance, were not arbitrary (i.e. random) laws, but were based on principles even though the Jews interpreted them as arbitrary. In the first three God is saying, ‘I love you and want your full fellowship.’ In the fifth through tenth He is saying, ‘Love and respect each other.’ The fourth command, ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,’ might seem not to fit with the nine. However, it is the pivotal command. It points both directions-to God and man. In it God is saying, ‘Remember your spiritual relationship with me and remember the dignity and purpose of man.’ (page 11)
We have two commands: love and trust our God, and love each other. It is said in the first epistle of John that loving God is keeping His commands, but it goes on to say that those commands consist of believing in Jesus, and loving fellow man (1 John 3:23). In Ecclesiastes Solomon says that giving respectful adoration to God and keeping his commands (love) is the whole purpose of man. It is what makes man complete. It is the eternity within our hearts (Ecc. 3:11)! This is the law of Christ. Once we are in Christ, we are free in Christ, and live by his grace and love.
Do We Interpret the Bible the Right Way?
We read in the earlier section about the correct way to interpret the new covenant. It is not as a law, but as a lifestyle; a relationship which gives us the mind of Christ. That is the correct hermeneutic. Do we in the churches of Christ do the new covenant justice? Generally speaking, given the evidence above, it is suggested that we don’t. We don’t seem to take the above into account. Let’s briefly look at two ways we try to interpret the new covenant in the church. We will look at what is known as “command, example, necessary inference (CENI), and the so-called “law of silence.” We use these methods to interpret (or, mis-interpret) the Word.
Of course, we already know that the two hermeneutic ideas will be invalid because We discussed in great detail the correct hermeneutic, and these two ideas contradict it. CENI is inconsistent. Generally speaking, the church tries to make laws using this method. If there is a command for something, we see an example of the church in the 1st century doing this, and/or we infer that it is a command, it is binding. For example: “As often as you meet take the lord supper” (paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 11). There is an example of the church doing this, so we must do it. In that example CENI works, but if it is not consistent, we can not use it. Another example (paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 16): “Lay aside money on Sunday and I (Paul) will pick it up and take it to Jerusalem’s church.” There is a command and example, but we cannot infer that this is necessary for us. Yes, we are to give, that is a principle of Christ’s character, but for this to be a command for us today, Paul would have to come pick up the money himself and take a couple of Corinthians from our congregation to the nonexistent church in Jerusalem. There are many examples like these, but we can see with just one inconsistency that CENI is not a valid means of interpretation. It ignores context and treats the new covenant as a law and not as Spirit.
The law of silence is not valid for three reasons. 1) We would have to get rid of any expediency for it to be consistent. 2) It can not be consistent anyways because God allows, and even condones expedience (tools, aids, instruments, etc) on numerous occasions. 3) We are under an entire different covenant.
Assuming that we were not under a different covenant the law of silence still would not work. Rather, a “law of specificity” would be more accurate. There is a fine difference between expedience and innovation. Expedience does not change the end result of the original command. However, innovation does. Innovation is either adding to, or taking away from the end result of the original command. For example: God told Noah to build a gofer wood ark for his family. The end result would be a gofer wood ark. If we took away gofer wood, or added oak, he would be innovating, thereby, changing the end result of the original command. However, he could have an oak table inside, or use a hammer, or put in a refrigerator. The end result would remain as commanded. Another example: As often as you meet, eat bread and drink wine with worthiness and remembrance. Cups, trays, and singing a spiritual song would not change the end result. However, taking away worthiness and juice, or adding coke and chips would be an innovation. That would break the principle we were given by Jesus.
We, in the church, try to apply that to things like musical instruments and hand clapping. We are told to sing with our hearts to the lord. Not singing, or singing without our hearts, or adding pride or vanity would be an innovation. However, a musical tool (instrument) would not change the end result. Nor does hand clapping. The list goes on. We must read Scripture in its literary and cultural context. We must read Scripture through the lenses of Christ-likeness. We must read Scripture in mind of grace and wisdom from above.
CENI and the law of silence cannot be used, and still be consistent with how the new covenant describes itself. We are humans, so of course we will make mistakes, but that is why we are under grace, and not under law. Grace covers our sins; even intellectual ones. Nevertheless, when we see our errors, we must humbly change. Shall we sin that grace may abound? As Paul says, God forbid!
Misinterpretation of God’s will has always, and will always be an issue. This is the main theme in the sermon on the mount. It seems in our attempt to be Bible people, we have missed the point (like the Pharisees). We are people of good intent, but scripture is not salvation, Christ is. Scripture is simply a tool to show us his will. And His will is not burdensome. We must recognize our blessing under the new covenant, and realize the false Gospel that we teach by mistake. We are not commanded to be perfect, but we are told to try. I pray our movement seeks the unity of the Spirit; not uniformity of the law. – Jesse
Suggested Reading Before This: If Jesus Preached to the Churches of Christ Today Pt. 1