CENI: a hardline Church of Christ approach to Scripture

Let’s talk about a type of interpretive method common in hardline Churches of Christ (and definitely used in Johnny Robertson’s and James Oldfield’s television broadcasts).  It basically states – every practice, thought, and value we hold must find within the New Testament (they excluded the Old Testament because they are Marcionites…oops…I mean because they are the Church under the NT constitution and not the OT – Israel’s constitution) a clear command, example, or necessary inference.  If one of these three cannot be found, then what we are doing is considered “unauthorized” and thus a sin.  This is how acappella Churches of Christ justify their doctrine when it comes to opposing musical instruments.

This interpretive method has been called PATTERNISM – the belief that there is a specific pattern (think…”BEHOLD THE PATTERN”) given to us in Scripture and there cannot be any deviation to be the true church (note that language…”true church”…ouch).

CENI

It seems to me that this interpretive method (patternism) falls under its own weight.  No where do we see Jesus or the apostles adopting command, example, and necessary inference as their interpretive lens with their Scripture…thus it lacks a clear command, example, and necessary inference (e.g., Jesus’ participation in the synagogue, feast of Dedication…all of which have no “command, example, or necessary inference in the OT).

This interpretive method simply does not take seriously the complexity of many biblical passages.  Command, example, and necessary inference do not contend with things that are cultural, things that are situationally-specific, or things that are coincidental in nature.  For example, the NT clearly commands us to wash one another’s feet, greet each other with a holy kiss, and for women to wear head-veils.  Yet, at least in how we actually lived, we never followed any of these very clear and direct commands!  Why?  We judged them to be culturally conditioned and not applicable to our day and age.  Or, what about the fact that when the Bible tells us by example that there were seven deacons in the Church in Jerusalem according to Acts 6.  We have no other mention of the number of deacons a Church ought to have.  Does that mean that the Church can only have seven deacons because it is the only example we have?  In this we have judged that the Acts 6 passage is situationally-specific.  Or what about the fact that when the location of communion is mentioned in the New Testament, it is always in an upper room?  No where do we read about the church taking communion on the first floor (at least not explicitly).  In this we have said that this is simply coincidental.

In the end, I would say patternism has much that it lacks in regards to understanding and applying the Bible.

Thoughts?

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