When discussing matters of the work, organization, and worship of the church, or the plan of salvation, our objective should be to establish biblical authority. Direct commands, approved apostolic examples, and unavoidable conclusions become the avenues by which we read and understand what the church should, or should not, be involved in.
It is incredibly hard to deny direct statements. When some teaching is directly stated or commanded, then it becomes undeniable. However, examples and implications/ inferences of Scripture are more subtle. We must exercise caution and examine carefully for what is an approved example, or a required and necessary implication.
Are examples binding? Yes, some examples are binding; not all examples are binding. Some approved examples are binding, but some examples may be permissive (for more on this, please be sure to look forward to next week’s article).
In the book of Acts we have many examples which show us how a person receives the forgiveness of sins and becomes a Christian. The 3,000 in Acts 2 were baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38, 41). The Samaritans were baptized and converted to the Lord (Acts 8:12), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36-38), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:18), and Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48)—all of these were baptized to have their sins washed away (cf. Acts 22:16). Later in Acts Lydia and her household were baptized (Acts 16:15), a jailer from Philippi was also converted and baptized (Acts 16:33). The Corinthians and the Ephesians were baptized, as well (Acts 18:8; 19:5). We learn from so many examples there is an approved action that must take place in order to become a child of God—a person must submit to the Lord in baptism. Baptism was (and is still) a universal requirement.
What makes these examples binding? It was applied universally to various people in diverse locations and in several different circumstances. Specific details might be
different, but the principle and example of baptism is evident in each case.
In regards to the organization of the local church, in the New Testament, we read of only a plurality of elders. We never read of a congregation having a single elder, or pastor. Paul and Barnabas brought a collection to the elders of the church (Acts 11:30). Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in all the churches (Acts 14:23). Paul met with the elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:17). He addressed the elders of the church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1). Paul told Titus to ordain elders in the churches (Titus 1:5). Churches are to be organized by the New Testament pattern and example—having a plurality of elders in the churches. There is no other example and no exception, so the example becomes binding.
Clearly, some apostolic examples are not binding on us today. Paul took a vow that involved cutting his hair (Acts 18:18). He traveled by boat (Acts 20:6), whereas, other preachers’ mode of travel is not specifically given (Acts 8:26-27). Paul went into the temple in Jerusalem and purified himself according to Jewish tradition (Acts 21:26). Peter sinned and acted hypocritically by not accepting Gentiles, even though he knew better (Galatians 2:11-14). Simply because an apostle did something, does not mean it was an approved action, nor are we expected to keep those examples.
How do we know when an example is approved and binding upon us? We will look at this question next week, Lord willing.
by Sean P. Cavender