The restoration hermeneutic (a method or theory of interpretation) has been to find a “thus saith the Lord” for all of one’s practices. Those things that cannot be found authorized by Scriptures are to be discarded. Throughout the years, brethren have demonstrated that things are either “from heaven” or “from men” as Jesus directed us to search with reference to the baptism of John the Baptist.
And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority do you these things? And who gave you this authority? Jesus refused to give them the correct answer at that moment (Matt. 21:23-27).
The directions to inquire whether a thing was authorized “from heaven” or “from men” is tied to another statement from Jesus. Jesus said, “This people draws near unto me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Those things that are practiced in religion on no greater authority than the “commandments of men” render man’s worship void of result or useless.
Command, Example, and Necessary Inference
Accepting Jesus’ statements as the truth, since Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6) and he is the faithful witness about spiritual things (Rev. 1:5), brethren seek to establish divine authority for their practices. We are serious about providing divine authority for all of our practices; this is not a religious game that we play. In studying to provide authority, faithful brethren generally recognize the Bible teaches that God authorizes by three different methods:
Direct Command or Statement.
When Jesus or an apostle gives a direct command, all men are bound to obey that command (unless there is something in the context that limits its application). We usually have illustrated these principles with reference to the Lord’s supper. Jesus said, “This do in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 f; 1 Cor. 11:24). The command provides divine authority for the church to observe the Lord’s supper. Indeed, a church that does not observe the Lord’s supper is guilty of sin.
Approved Apostolic Example
Another way that authority is established is by approved apostolic example. Paul instructed, “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). “Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as you have us for an example” (Phil. 3:17). The example of the practices of the early church show us conduct that pleases God. We know that the early church observed the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week from the example of Acts 20:7. (Additional information about saints meeting every Sunday can be learned from 1 Cor. 11:20 cf; 16:1-2. The Corinthians assembled for the purpose of breaking bread and also to give; that assembly occurred on the first day of every week.) Consequently, we have divine authority to observe the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week.
The third means by which men learn the will of the Lord is through necessary inference. Peter learned that Gentiles could be saved by the shed blood of Christ on the condition of faith, without being circumcised and obeying the Law of Moses, from necessary inference. On the basis of the vision of clean and unclean animals let down on a sheet from heaven and God’s word, “What God has cleansed, that call not common,” Peter concluded that Gentiles could be saved through faith in Christ. He said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter necessarily inferred from the vision and God’s words that this conclusion was true. In the same manner, brethren necessarily infer from the fact that Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt. 26:17) that the bread used in the Lord’s supper is unleavened bread.
A New Hermeneutic
Our liberal brethren generally forsook restoration hermeneutics during the battle over institutionalism. There were two groups among the liberals: (a) A first group believed that the Bible is the only source of authority and that they can provide Bible authority for church support of orphan homes and other institutions: colleges, hospitals in third world countries, old folks’ homes, summer camps, and a host other things. (b) Out of the first group, another group emerged who believed that the old restoration hermeneutic was to be rejected. This group ridiculed the idea of “command, example, and necessary inference” in their periodicals.
The “where there is no pattern” argument was used to defend the sponsoring church. The “if we can support orphan homes then we can support colleges” argument was used to justify church contributions to David Lipscomb College, Freed-Hardeman University, Abilene Christian University, and other colleges operated by liberal brethren.
The one thing that is absent from all of the articles, books, debates, and tracts on the sponsoring church and church support of human institutions is the clear presentation of Bible authority for such practices. A few passages such as Galatians 6:10, James 1:27, and Philippians 4:25 were twisted and tortured in an effort to produce some semblance of authority. The following things are conspicuously absent from all such materials:
• A Scripture that gives a command for the church to support human institutions or the sponsoring church.
• A Scripture that is an approved apostolic example of a church supporting human institutions or organizing a sponsoring church.
• A Scripture that contains a necessary inference that a church supported a human institution or participated in a sponsoring church arrangement.
In the absence of divine authority to authorize these practices, brethren who were faithful to the Lord repudiated church support of human institutions and the sponsoring church arrangement.