Bible Authority--

Approved Examples

By David Phillips

As discussed in a previous lesson, many examples are recorded in the Bible narrative. When it comes to understanding God’s will for our service, worship and teaching in the church today, we must look to the approved examples provided in the New Testament only (see Heb. 7:12; Gal. 5:4).

Approved Examples

The challenge here is in determining which N.T. examples are binding as a pattern for our works today and which ones are merely incidental as a record of what happened. The rule that helps us distinguish between the two is: Always look for the command behind the example. For the early Christians to be approved, their works must have been done in response to a command from God. As we observe their examples, we need to identify which parts of the record were in obedience to a specific or generic command and which parts were merely incidental. Incidentals are the things that set the scene, but are not binding.

The chart below illustrates how this works. According Acts 20:7-8 the disciples at Troas assembled on the first day of the week to break bread. We are told that their assembly took place in an “upper room” of a certain building. The commands that relate to the assembly and worship of the church are found in 1 Cor. 11:33; Matt. 26:29; and John 4:23.

specific,generic

According to Luke’s account, the Christians “came together” on the first day of the week. Was their assembly in obedience to a specific command or were they exercising generic authority? According to Paul’s command in 1 Cor. 11:33, the Lord’s Supper was to be observed “when you come together,” and they were to “wait for one another.” So when the disciples at Troas “came together to break bread” they were obeying a command to do so. The command was generic in that the time of day and place were not specified. But God did command that they assembled in order to observe the Lord’s Supper.

What about the day of their assembly? Was the first day of the week in obedience to a specific command, or were they permitted to assemble any day of the week? When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in Matt. 26:29, He pointed to a single day, i.e. “that day in the kingdom”, when His disciples would eat the supper. The context and grammar of the Lord’s statement point to a single day and not merely to a time period. What day was Jesus pointing to? We would not know, except we look to the example of New Testament Christians. The disciples in Troas assembled on the first day of the week. Thus, while “come together” was generic, “first day of the week” is specific. This, being our only example, is therefore binding as the fulfillment of the Lord’s specific command. It is no coincidence that the collection as commanded by Paul in 1 Cor. 16:2 was also to take place on the first day of the week, seeing that the Christians would already be assembled together at that time.

Thirdly, what of the location of their assembly? The disciples in Troas assembled in an “upper room.” There are some today who bind the “upper room” specifically based on this example; therefore, they will only assemble in a multi-story building. However, Jesus addresses the place of our worship in John 4:21-24, where He said, “the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). In this passage Jesus loosed the location of worship for God’s people. The Jews had worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritans in Samaria. In the new covenant, God did not identify a specific location for the worship of His people. Since Jesus loosed the location, and no specific commands were given identifying another, we understand that the “upper room” was an application of generic authority.

God gave the command to “come together” for the Lord’s Supper, so the disciples had to assemble to break bread. Because God did not specify a place, they were free to choose the location that was most expedient for them. Congregations today may choose different locations in which to assemble, such as a meeting house, hall, or individual’s home. God gives us generic authority to choose whatever location is most expedient for the congregation. In Troas that happened to be an upper room. Therefore, in the example of Acts 20:7-8, “upper room” is merely an incidental element of the example—it sets the scene, but is not binding. Another incidental in this passage is found in verse 8, “There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together.”  We would not make “many lamps” a requirement for the Lord’s Supper, and neither should we bind the “upper room.”

We must be careful not to bind   the generic options exercised by early Christians  as though they are specific commands. Likewise, we must avoid binding as commands the incidental elements of the Bible record. We must look to the commands to determine what God’s will is, then interpret the example in light of that. When we apply these principles properly we can better understand the New Testament pattern. We can both observe how God’s commands are to be obeyed and avoid the mistake of binding where God has not bound.  

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