A few words about authority

In this space last week, I made you aware of my brief exchange with Bro. Jesse Winn, whose website article entitled “The Church of Christ: Some Thoughts on Change” has gotten a bit of play lately.  The article features 30 statements, each of then beginning with “I believe.”  They represent his current thinking on a variety of subjects ranging from church music to congregational oversight to the resurrection.  I do not have the inclination to respond fully to any of these points, let alone all of them. But I would like to address the tone of the article as a whole, and perhaps touch on a few specific points along the way.

The most glaring characteristic of the 30 “I believe” statements is a complete absence of Scriptural foundation. The only reference to the text at all, in fact, was when he said, “I believe Genesis 1 and 2 are classic examples of Hebrew poetry.” 

To be fair, Bro. Winn has made it clear that he is not trying to convert anybody over to his way of thinking, necessarily. His article is, in his words, “a call, in love, for an honest look at our movement and the divisions we often cause in God’s kingdom.”  That is to say (in my words), he hopes to cause us to rethink the issues that have separated brethren over the years with a view to reevaluating which of them is really worth going to war over.

Perhaps if his purpose were to win readers over to “his side,” he would have used different tactics.  Still, in a culture such as ours in which Biblical authority has generally been revered, it is certainly expected that an expression of one’s faith will be accompanied by the Scripture or Scriptures that led one to that conclusion.  I am drawn to the conclusion that these assertions, then, were not so much a result of earnest and prayerful contemplation of the text as listening to the Holy Spirit who, he says, “lives within us and speaks to us today.”  I am quick to add that Bro. Winn also believes the Spirit “doesn’t contradict what He has already said in Scripture.”  I agree.  But then, what would be the point of Him speaking at all in an era of full Biblical revelation — particularly since He said He wouldn’t (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)?  Yes, all those who are accepted into fellowship through Jesus are given “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  But that never meant that all believers would be personally directed by the Spirit.  It was so unavailable to the Christians in Samaria that Peter and John had to come “so that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-16).  Salvation and inspiration are different considerations.  Prophets such as Balaam could be inspired but not saved; believers today can be saved but not inspired.

Granted, “universally applying the interpretive method of CENI/the law of silence is inconsistent at best.”  And if Bro. Winn has a solution better than “try harder,” I am more than willing to consider it.  But abandoning any effort to establish our teachings in Scripture simply because it is difficult, or because others do it differently than we do, is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Commands (and general statements), examples, and necessary inferences — the CENI to which Bro. Winn refers — is a human way of describing God’s efforts to inform mankind of His will.  I am more than willing to utilize another paradigm if a good one can be found.  But it is unarguably true that humans communicate with one another in precisely this manner every single day.  It is to be expected that God would use the communication method with which we were already familiar.  Yes, it can be confusing.  Yes, we may think we would have been more clear.  But it is not the job of the student to criticize the methods of the Master.

If we can agree that the Bible is God’s word, that it is infallible, that it is understandable, and that it takes precedent over any human philosophy or logic, then we can also agree that any hope of unity rests wholly on reading the Bible and committing to doing what it teaches.  It will equip us fully (2 Timothy 3:16-17) if we give it a chance.

That is what I believe.