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).
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).
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
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.
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
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
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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