Hopefully we understand from part 1 of this study that the goal of our religious convictions isn’t to pat ourselves on the back for being “right” and ridicule those who are “wrong”. No, the point is to please our Sovereign King! (Psalm 2.10-12; Galatians 1.10). But how can we know that we please Him? How we approach this question will help shape how we view others, and how we view ourselves.
Knowing we please God requires revelation. (Matthew 28.18-20)
Since Jesus has “all authority” we should make it the aim of our lives to live under His authority. And to say that we have authority for something means we claim to have His permission to act. So, if Jesus has all authority and we need His permission to act, we would conclude that our King would reveal His will to us (see Deuteronomy 30.11-14). He has done just that!
- Jesus commissioned His apostles to teach us His will (Matthew 28.19-20)
- He promised that the Holy Spirit would aid them (John 14.26; 16.13). We cannot minimize the importance of this fact. It is why we should pay attention to both what the apostles said AND did (Philippians 4.9). The work, worship and organization of the church were set under the guidance of these Spirit-led men.
- God’s mind was revealed through the apostles (1Corinthians 2.10-12)
How does God reveal His will?
We’ve already seen that Jesus revealed His will through the apostles, but how does that will come to us? Through the books of the New Testament, of course. But, it’s important to understand that the New Testament is a collection of letters. These letters contain narrative, instruction, exhortation, prayers, etc. The New Testament is not a law code. So, given the nature of NT Scripture, we have to determine what God desires.
Historically, members of churches of Christ have used a hermeneutic (approach to interpretation) known as CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) to determine what God wants us to do. Recently, Doy Moyer has done an excellent job of explaining this approach, opting for the abbreviation TSI (Tell, Show, Imply). What does all of this mean?
- God tells or commands certain things. We would hope that when we see God tell us something, we would make it our aim to do what He said. Sadly, that is often not the case in our religious world. Otherwise, baptism wouldn’t be viewed as unnecessary (Mark 16.16) and homosexuality wouldn’t be normalized (1Corinthians 6.9).
- We find examples of practices that please God. So, while God told us to observe the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26.26-28), we have an example when and where the early church observed the Lord’s supper (Acts 20.7). We follow the example of when because it’s the only time mentioned in Scripture. However, we don’t follow the example of where because there are other examples where the disciples met. Important to note: examples are not commands! But they are valuable because they show us approved ways of following God!
- God leaves some implications. Fact is, we can’t obey God without making implications. Some Scriptures demand that we make implications. How do you want people to treat you (Matthew 7.12)? What are the “things like these” that are part of the deeds of the flesh which we must avoid (Galatians 5.19-21)? God says we must “discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5.12-14). Fact is, we imply that what was said to these 1st century Christians has application to us as well.
But what about silence? If God doesn’t specifically say something is wrong, does that give us authority to do it? Remember, to say that God authorizes something is to say that God gives us permission. So, silence cannot authorize because silence cannot give permission. Revelation is what authorizes, silence by definition cannot! Hence, the many warnings against not following what God revealed (Deut. 12.32; 29.29; Isaiah 8.19-20; John 8.31-32; 1Cor. 4.6; 2John 9; etc.). If our aim is to please God, then we should aim to practice what we KNOW will please Him! If a practice isn’t found in God’s word, then by definition it is not authorized. At best one could hope that God is fine with the practice, but you could not possible KNOW that it pleases God.
If our aim is to please God, let’s do what we KNOW will please Him.
Are we right? Are others wrong?
The only way to properly address those questions is by answering another question: am I pleasing God? I believe we are right to practice baptism for remission of sins, because God commands it. I believe we are pleasing God. I believe others are wrong if they treat baptism as optional. I believe they are not pleasing God. I believe we are right to refrain from using instruments in our worship, because God nowhere commanded their use nor do we find examples of their use in the early church. I believe we please God by singing praises to Him (Eph. 5.19; Col. 3.16). Are others wrong if they use instruments? A better way to look at it is to acknowledge that others are engaged in a practice not-authorized by Jesus and His apostles, thus they cannot know that they please God. God determines if they are wrong, but I certainly don’t want to practice something I cannot know God approves.
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