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Binding Examples
Reprinted from The Carolina Messenger
David R. Pharr

As Head of His Church, Christ has all authority (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22‑23; Col. 1:18). He commissioned His apostles to represent Him on the earth as His "ambassadors" (II Cor. 5:20). This commission involved their teaching the church " to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19). Authority from Heaven was delegated to them, therefore, to make known the things which were to be bound and the things which were to be loosed (Matt. 18:18).

Apostolic teaching provided a "pattern of sound words" (II Tim. 1:13). The word translated "pattern" (tupos) indicates that Timothy was to teach that which fit the mold of the apostle's teaching. This teaching produced certain practices and Paul (as an apostle) did not hesitate to require that the church practice what he had taught them (I Cor. 11:2). He delivered to them what he had received from the Lord (I Cor. 11:23; cf. Matt. 18:18).


Universal Pattern

This apostolic teaching and the practices that resulted were to be consistent among all New Testament congregations. Timothy was sent by Paul to Corinth to "put you in remembrance of my ways [practices] which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church" (I Cor. 4:17; I Cor. 7:17; 14:33-34). Apostolic teaching and the practices which such teaching required were to be the same everywhere. Since apostolic authority was not limited to their lifetime (Matt. 28:20) and since their teaching was to be passed on from group to group, generation to generation (II Tim. 2:2), it would have to follow that the same teaching and practice should continue throughout the ages.

This brief summary should be sufficient to show that there is a biblical pattern for the church. If we are to be the church of Christ today, we must follow the pattern of the New Testament church of Christ. The faith and practice found in the New Testament must be our faith and practice. In his matchless wisdom, the Lord has not only given us his commandments, but He has also given us a demonstration of how His commandments are to be obeyed by recording examples of how faithful Christians obeyed them during the apostolic age.


When Binding?

This brings us to the question of "binding examples." Are we bound (obligated) to follow the examples of New Testament congregations, and, if so, to what extent? Some say there is no sense in which we are required to follow New Testament examples. Others believe examples are binding, but may be confused as to when and why some are binding and others are not.

Part of the difficulty may be in a failure to clearly define the principles and issues. First it must be understood that, precisely speaking, the only thing that can be obeyed is a command. In the Great Commission it is commands that are to be observed (Matt. 28:20). Christ saves those that obey Him (Heb. 5:9), but in the very nature of things obedience implies that there must be commandments. What are bound upon us, therefore, are the Lord's commands (I John 2:3; Phil. 2:12; etc.).

Next we must understand what is meant by an "example." The broad meaning of the term would include every incident, every event, every activity (with all of its components) that are mentioned in the New Testament. When we speak of "binding examples," however, we are not referring to every incident and every detail. Certainly we are not referring to examples of sinful conduct; but neither do we hold that every approved example requires that we imitate it. What is the basis, then, by which we determine that we are required to follow some examples and not required to follow others?

Keeping in mind that it is commands that are to be obeyed, an example is binding only when it is a demonstration of required obedience. When there is evidence that the New Testament church practiced a certain thing because it was something bound on the church everywhere and always, that practice serves as an example for us to follow. A binding example is one that has a universal divine command behind it. Not included, therefore, are the numerous examples of actions which were merely incidental, local in application, or simply expedients. What the apostles commanded set forth action that was required. When such action was properly performed it serves as an instructive example. Such an example serves, therefore, as a "mirror" to reflect the command that was behind it. Through the "mirror" of an example we can recognize the command that required it. In such a case the example is not merely an example, but a binding precedent because it demonstrates obedience to a divine command. The point to be made is that examples are one of the ways God helps us to understand his will.


The Lord's Supper

The question arises as to the example of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). We do not read of a direct command that the Supper is to be on the Lord's Day. We do, however, find that the Supper is to be observed. Jesus commanded it (Luke 22:19) and the apostles taught us to observe all he commanded (Matt. 28:19). The correct observance was part of the "all truth" given to them by the Spirit (John 16:13). Either this included a designated time or it did not. If it did not, one could assume that partaking once in his entire life would fulfill the requirement. (Such would hardly fit the instructions Paul gave for proper conduct in the assembly for the Supper and the fact that the church "continued" in it. See I Cor. 11:20ff and Acts 2:42.) On the other hand, if there is a designated time, we have to discover it by apostolic example, the specific command not being recorded.

When did the New Testament church partake of the Lord's Supper? The answer is found in Acts 20:7. Let one search in vain to find any other time. There was a regular assembly on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:2) and the Supper was properly in that assembly (I Cor. 11:20).

We follow the pattern of Acts 20:7, not because the example in itself alone binding, but because what was being practiced there was consistent with apostolic instructions.



The wisdom of God in using examples should be obvious. Demonstration is often the most effective method of teaching. It is not accidental that much of the Bible is narrative. It is filled with examples. The New Testament church was guided by the personal and written instructions of inspired men (II Thess. 2:15). The apostles guided the early church: showing them the Lord's plan, correcting their mistakes, and confirming their obedience. Because of that apostolic guidance we can discern the God‑given pattern for the church by studying the approved practices of the New Testament church. When it followed the apostles' instructions, the New Testament church exemplified God's pattern for the church. Examples provide binding authority to the extent that following those examples puts us into compliance with the plan of God.

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