Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Reply to A Better Way (1b)

What the Apostles and elders did in Acts 15 on the question of circumcision was gather the evidence from statements of prophecy, examples of conversions without circumcision, and then drawing the “judgment”, verdict, or necessary inference. They did what we all have to do on any question. There is really just one common sense way to approach any Bible subjected. You gather the evidence as they did, you test it for relevance to the issue at hand, and you draw the necessary conclusions from the tested evidence.


Our courts are set up to use this approach because it is common sense. Suppose someone came along and said we need to free all prisoners because the courts have been using a faulty hermeneutic? That would certainly cause us some concern for the person making such a claim. But, I’m sure there would be people who would rally to that man and act like he was really thinking and being wise and conscientious. The fact would still remain that in order for the man to be credible he would have to do more than CLAIM that a faulty hermeneutic was the problem of the injustice of having so many men and women in prison, but he would have to show exactly HOW the evidence SHOULD be handled in order to arrive at the right conclusions and judgment. Unless he can clearly set forth his case for a “new hermeneutic” his credibility will rightly fall flat.


In similar manner, brethren today who say we need a “new hermeneutic” and then proceed to say that the old way of judging and determining truth was faulty and brought about faulty conclusions, will view this man suspiciously until he sets forth the clarity of a better way of handling evidence. We would gladly listen if the man will actually show a better way of gathering, handling, and testing evidence so that the right conclusions can be drawn. But, merely claiming that gathering the evidence, testing it, and drawing the necessary conclusions is a faulty process and a faulty “hermeneutic” is not going to clear up anything.


Before someone came along and termed it CENI, we have long been doing it as in Acts 15 long before a summarizing acrostic (CENI) was invented to describe it. There is nothing wrong with the description summary, but I never consciously think of the acrostic description while I am studying the evidence on a topic. I simply gather the available evidence as they did in Acts 15 and try to draw the necessary conclusions.


Now, if the teachers of circumcision had accused the apostles and elders of needing a “new hermeneutic” and that the problem was that their SENI approach (statements, examples, necessary inference approach) is what blinded them and was causing division, the apostles and elders would have probably engaged the man further to see what was wrong with their hermeneutic. If the man did not show clearly what was wrong with what they did, then they would have good reason to mark that man (Rom.16:17).


The problem is not with the summarizing acrostic (CENI). It is just a summary of what we do without even thinking about it. It summarizes that we gather the relevant evidence and draw the conclusions from the evidence. That is all we can do.


Even if you never hear of the acrostic, you do the same thing they did in Acts 15. So, why not call it “the Acts 15 hermeneutic” if CENI gives you problems? What you CALL what you do with evidence and conclusions is NEVER the problem. The problem is always either: 1) Not gathering all the evidence, or 2) mishandling the evidence, or 3 ) ignoring the evidence. And, this is why different conclusions are reached. Disputing is good if you are testing ideas. The apostles and elders engaged “much dispute” before they laid out the evidence and drew the conclusion they reached over the circumcision question.


Using Acts 15 as the model for a process of dealing with issues of differences, it is unifying if you truly want truth. If you don’t want truth it doesn’t do any good to test ideas in “much dispute”. The process even in Acts 15 does not work for those who do not WANT the truth.


If we don’t like the conclusions on a matter, then retest the evidence and show where the conclusions went wrong, but don’t blame a summary acrostic for causing blindness and division. Let us not divide over an acrostic summary. Call it the “Acts 15 Hermeneutic” and go on and gather the evidence and draw the conclusions demanded. We don’t need a new hermeneutic. We just need to use the same common sense they used in Acts 15. Combine that process with love, honesty, and desire for truth, and we can come to the unity of the faith in the unity of the Spirit. -Terry W. Benton

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Reply to “A Better Way” (1a)

My Reply to “A Better Way” (1a)

I do not want to be uncharitable or seem uncharitable.  So, I am not. Replying to what I deem as misleading information is not being unkind or uncharitable.  I labor to say the right things in the best way possible, trying hard to speak the truth in love.  I want to respond to some things a brother (MR ) has published on the internet.  I do not know this brother, and have no personal dislike for him.  This is not about personalities. It is about ideas. This is wholly an examination of ideas that he has expressed publicly. I will quote the ideas he expressed and show what I think are mistakes in the idea presented.

MR: I still stand behind my affirmations that the presently accepted (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) approach used by brethren in Churches of Christ is inadequate and flawed.

TB: I would desire for an “adequate and unflawed” approach, but do not anticipate that our brother will be able to avoid using commands, examples, and necessary inferences and still present to us an approach that is both “adequate and unflawed”.  What will a man look at and consider in the scriptures if he will not draw his conclusions (necessary inference) from commands and examples in the scriptures?  On the surface it seems that his approach will seek to avoid the very things he has to use to get to something less flawed and fully adequate.  Since the scriptures come to us in the form of commands, statements, and examples, and reasoning upon the scriptures requires necessary conclusions, how will our brother avoid these things? 

MR: . I will get to a presentation of what I consider to be a better way to understand God's will for both ourselves individually and for the church but first I must make some preliminary observations before I get to that.

TB: We are to anticipate from our brother a better way ‘to understand God’s will” than gathering information in the form of commands and examples, and a better way than drawing necessary inferences from the evidence.  On the surface it seems to me to be an impossible task.  The preliminary observations are to me a useless exercise.  It seems designed to create doubt and frustration and suspicion by use of prejudicial inferences and unfair misrepresentation of what brethren have done with their approach to the scriptures.

MR: All we have to do is look at the evidence all around us in the devastation of division with its attendant animosity to see that what is supposed to be the best way to understand the Bible just isn't working – at all.

TB: I contend that it is not a problem with the way to understand the Bible, but more with the will to understand and apply the Bible. I would contend that gathering information from the Bible and drawing necessary inference from that evidence is all we can do, and that our brother will not be able to avoid commands and examples or the necessary inferences from the evidence.

MR: Rather than finding the peace and unity we professedly all want, the landscape is littered with the ruins and devastation of incessant battles and rings with the continual sniping of partisans rather than genuine love accompanied with the peace that naturally flows from hearts that are ruled by love.

TB:  I agree whole-heartedly that genuine love is necessary and that our hearts should be ruled with love, but, even when we are genuinely guided by love, we are still to “test all things” and “hold fast what is good” and “mark those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine”.

Love does not forbid the testing of ideas and love does not demand the surrendering of truth and just agreeing to ignore practices our consciences forbid us to participate in and condone.

What normally happens is that brethren who want a “new hermeneutic” do the “sniping” and show no genuine love, and when brethren love them enough to tell them the truth, they start “sniping” brethren and accusing them of no love and of having a bad attitude.  Paul asked, “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth”?  Paul “loved” the Galatian brethren enough to tell them the truth. It was not a pleasant thing for him to do, but it was a “loving” thing for Paul to do.  Likewise, when brethren start saying that we are wrong to appeal to “commands, examples, and draw the necessary inferences from the total evidence of scripture, and then when we point out the error of such thinking, it is the loving thing to do on our part, but the new hermeneutic brother thinks we have become their enemy by telling them the truth.  Why won’t the new hermeneutic brother love us and quit impugning our motives and attitude?

Why is it that we cannot be viewed as loving God with all our heart and our brethren, when like Paul, we try to tell brethren the truth?  How is it that we have to accept their view and their mishandling of scripture before we can be viewed as loving God and our brethren?  I believe this is what Paul meant when he appealed to some brethren at Corinth to be at least as “open” to him as they were the false teachers of another Jesus, to be at least “equally yoked” to true Jesus teachers so as to give truth the same chance as they were willing to give error.

Perhaps through bad experience with a few, we think all brethren who seek authority through God’s commands and examples in scripture cannot possibly “love” God as much as the man who is advocating “love” and fellowship of all erroneous practices. We must take heed to be fair-minded.  I know plenty of brethren who respect authority, agree to “prove all things” by examining the evidence of commands and examples and then drawing the necessary inferences of the total scriptural evidence, and who are very kind and loving men and women.  Don’t forget those brethren just because you had a bad experience.

I do not see attacking “commands, examples, and necessary inferences” as loving simply because it is not right. It is misguided and reckless, and therefore we need to point this out if we are to do the “loving” thing.  The problem is not CENI (commands, examples, necessary inference).  Jesus and the apostles used all of these. The problems we have is in the MISUSE of commands, examples, necessary inferences, or not caring enough to use the Bible at all to “prove what is acceptable to the Lord”. Not using commands and examples, or misuse of commands and examples, is the problem every time. It is never the FACT that we appeal to these things.

It takes nothing but common sense and reading the Bible to discover that Jesus appealed to commands (Matt.4:1ff) and examples (Matt.12) and drew necessary inferences (Matt.22).  It was not the fact that Jesus appealed to each of these things that caused problems. It was the fact that He did and His hearers did not like the TRUTH that caused problems.  Anybody can misuse a command or example and therefore draw the wrong inference.  You blame that persons’ misuse, not the very use of such.

MR: We never consider the possibility that there could be anything wrong with our conclusions because there is something wrong with the method we have employed in reaching those conclusions.

TB: Of course we would consider the possibility that there is something wrong with our conclusions and of the method used to reach those erroneous conclusions if someone would point it out. I have changed my mind on various things through the years because someone tested my idea and did an excellent job of showing the evidence, showing how the evidence was mishandled earlier, showing the right way to handle the evidence, and then reaching the right conclusion.  That is how truth-seekers have always worked out of error into the light of truth.  But, for a brother to suggest that we are wrong to gather the evidence of scripture (looking at the available commands, statements, and examples) and drawing a necessary inference from that evidence, tells me this person is not a truth-seeker.  He wants us to consider that we may be wrong, but he does not want to consider that he may be wrong, and is wrong.

We have to be fair-minded and not just blame the other person. But, we don’t need to humble ourselves to the point that we cannot trust our conclusions about truth just because the other person might accuse us of being prideful.  Paul rebuked Peter “because he was to be blamed”.  It would not be right for Peter to turn and accuse Paul of thinking he was always right.  But, if Peter was a false teacher, he just might have turned the tables on Paul in that way.  I’m thankful that Paul rebuked Peter when it was right to do so, and I’m thankful that Peter was man enough and humble enough to accept correction. That should be the manner of all of us.

MR: . The question that must be answered before we can even approach the matter of what is authorized is “How does God exercise his authority through the Bible?”

TB: Instead of beating around the bush with continual prejudice against gathering commands, statements, examples, and drawing necessary inference, I truly wish our brother would come right out and tell us “How does God exercise his authority through the Bible?” The mystery of what “better way” of “proving what is acceptable to the Lord” has got me on edge, hoping his next paragraph will clear it all up. Sadly, he goes a whole series of articles and never clears it up, and then he came out with “A Better Way (5)” and still made nothing any clearer.

There are two things that keep me bothered about our brother’s approach: 1) He never shows WHY we are wrong to gather total Bible evidence on a subject and draw necessary inferences, and 2) He keeps leading us along like he is going to show what we missed, how God REALLY exercises His authority through the Bible”, and never comes out with it. 

MR: There is agreement among all I know – even those who question the validity of the CENI approach – that Bible is authoritative.

TB: I wonder what “method” we all used to reach this agreement.  Was it not the fact that we looked at the total evidence of statements and examples and drew the necessary inference that the Bible IS “authoritative”?   If that was how we reached agreement on the issue of WHETHER the Bible is authoritative, do we take a different approach on how to use the authoritative word to find out how to “prove what is acceptable to the Lord?”

MR: The assumption made by those who rely on CENI approach is that this is the correct and ONLY way that his authority can be determined.

TB: CENI simply means “commands, examples, and necessary inference”.  It says NOTHING about how to “approach” anything.  If someone has “approached” commands, examples, and necessary inferences in the wrong way, we do not throw out commands, examples, and necessary inferences. We simply try to correct the fellow that was “approaching” commands, examples, and necessary inferences in a wrong manner.  It was his MANNER of approach, not CENI that would be the problem.

 Now, whether I ever heard of that acrostic or not, I will have to look at the Bible, consider the commands and examples pertaining to any subject, and try to draw the necessary conclusion or inferences from the evidence.  CENI does not tell me to ignore any other biblical form of evidence. If it is an acrostic to remember to gather just the words expressed in the form of examples and commands, but don’t consider statements, exclamations, or other forms of literary expression, then I would be the first to say that it is wrong.  But, that is just getting too technical.  What the Bible is, is an EXAMPLE of God’s communication to other people in other places of the world.  So, in that sense we are looking at examples of commands and statements and other forms of literature written to other people.  We are to gather evidence, all the evidence, on a topic such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper and draw a necessary conclusion about what God wants from us using someone else’s mail.

CENI (commands, examples, necessary inferences) IS NOT AN APPROACH to the Bible. Rather, it is WHAT we are approaching just by handling the Bible.  The Bible is basically a book with a great story of God’s love in trying to redeem a condemned people. Inside the expectation part of the story are commands and examples that demand necessary inferences about what applies and how it applies.  How would we determine how His authority is to be executed if we do not look at what has been commanded and the examples of those who were carrying out His will?

Making the issue the very use of the acrostic, CENI, is a mistake.  What needs to be done is to simply acknowledge that God’s authority is indeed revealed to us in commands and examples, and the evidence does in fact have to be reasoned upon to draw the right conclusions, and then to discuss with our brethren where and how some have misused a command or example and drew the wrong inferences.  I would encourage brethren to refrain from muddying the water and clouding the issues. That is what happens when you make CENI, a memory acrostic, the problem.  That is not a problem and never has been and never will be.

It is ALWAYS the misuse of evidence in whatever form, or not appealing at all to the evidence, ignoring the evidence, or misusing the evidence that causes problems. But the evidence itself is not the problem.  When brethren realize this, they will quit making a memory acrostic the issue and will start to reason over the evidence and start drawing the necessary conclusions and be equipped to show how others mishandled the evidence and drew the wrong conclusions. When we start talking TO each other about the evidence, and start discussing the evidence and the proper handling of the evidence, we will start making some progress.  Those who do not want to test their ideas and those who do not want to reason together will get culled out, and the remaining disciples will have a greater amount of unity. I pray that we can do more of the kind of thing we see done in Acts 15 when we disagree.  We ought to engage much dispute if necessary to test the ideas.  Our courts of law believe that evidence can be tested in such a manner that 12 jurors can draw the right judgment.  It is a matter of evidence, testing the evidence, and drawing the necessary conclusion.  If courts of the world can do it, surely brethren in the Lord can do that as well.  That is pretty much what we see in the efforts made in Acts 15.  That is a good pattern for brethren to follow.   Terry W. Benton