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Precept and Example

 

How can you know with exact certainty what
God wants you to believe and do?

He has given it to you, and your church,
in both Precept and Example.

 

JB-head

The Beheading of John the Baptist

If a man as great as John the Baptist almost lost his faith in Jesus, so can we.

You might remember the situation. John was days away from getting his head cut off when he sent this ‘end-of-life’ question to Jesus,

“Are You the Coming One, or
do we look for another?”
(Mat. 11:3, NKJV)

His faith in Christ was weak. His doubt was real. And remember, this from the man who baptized Jesus and loudly proclaimed Him the Lamb of God. He even saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus as a dove, so what more was John looking for?

Assurance. John wanted assurance that Jesus was the Christ, and therefore, had authority to raise the dead.

So if the great John the Baptist wanted assurance, can we be so wrong for wanting the same – additional confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, and that all that He claimed about Himself is true? Not at all.

John did the right thing. He went to Jesus for an answer, and what an answer he got! If we would be spiritually-minded like John, we would do the same.

Not only was Jesus’ answer perfect, but so was the way Jesus answered perfect. He gave John the convincing power of Precept and Example.

First, Jesus performed just such miracles as Isaiah prophesied. These provided examples to John:

“At that very time He cured many people of diseases and
afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to
many who were blind”
(Luke 7:21)

John could, by examples alone, be temporarily convinced that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. But he needed more to build an assured faith. Thus Jesus followed up the examples with two precepts. First, He asked John to compare His miracles with Isaiah’s description of the Messiah:

“the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed
and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor
have the gospel preached to them.”
(Mat. 11:5, cf. Isa. 35:5, Isa. 61:1)

Indeed, Isaiah’s description would have enabled John to judge Jesus accurately since they required John to assess Jesus by the measurement of Scripture.

But Jesus wasn’t done convincing John. He gave John a second precept in the form of a command:

“and blessed is he who does not
take offense at Me”
(Mat. 11:6).

john-baptistJesus’ example, linked to His precepts, gave John what he needed – the power to possess to a justified faith in Christ at the hour of death. That’s the power only Precept and Example gives.

Anything less can quickly form a presumptuous faith built on insufficient evidence. Such presumption often crumbles in the day of distress, even as John’s. Other times it survives by will power. But in all cases it relies on less than God offers in His glorious Word – the cross-checking power of precept and example.

Remarkable, isn’t it? Jesus said, “there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist,” but yet, John’s faith was all too human. Like us he was tempted to misinterpret and misunderstand divine truth though he personally saw Jesus.

So, what overcame John’s unbelief before he died? Jesus convinced John that He was the “Coming One” by the power of Precept and Example.

It’s the very same convincing power He gives to you.

 

God Understands our Weakness

help me understandWe are all weak to trust and obey God, so to help us, He gave us Precept and Example. It’s the only way we can make sense of Scripture so it is obeyed. Before we believe a doctrine, or adopt a practice, we express humble faith in Scripture by finding it commanded in a precept and also illustrated by an example.

It is the infallible means to know what doctrine He wants us to believe and what duties He wants us doing. Because it relies only on Scripture and is taught throughout Scripture, it is pure and holy. It is Scripture’s own confirmation of itself.

Precept and Example also restrains us back from adopting false beliefs and practices, because false beliefs and practices are never found in both Precept and Example in Scripture. When connected together, Precept and Example is the way Scripture teaches us God’s revealed will for our personal lives individuals and our churches.

Precept and Example is also the way to be consistent with the fact that no one stands above the Word of God. Scripture is all from God and without error in the whole or in its parts. It is equally true on all it asserts, includingp and e
man’s origins, history, salvation, and judgment. It is wonderfully clear.

But, we say, “there are so many interpretations of the Bible. Who is truly right?” It’s frustrating for all, and as a Bible teacher, I’ll be held in special judgment. But if I’ll follow Precept and Example I’ll never hurt anyone with false teaching on anything. And, I can act in haste to protect people from those who would hurt them with false teachings.

This is a simple principle we all enjoy in our church, with the by-product being a high measure of unity and freedom because Scripture, not the practices of men, rule over us. For example, we don’t bind people to confessions. We use them when they affirm Precept and Example, and we expose them as the work of errant men when they don’t.

God is not partial to any man and gave us all a confirmatory method by which we can know the right beliefs and the right practices and protect us from errant interpretations. If you can reason (and you can) you can know with certainty Scripture’s doctrines and duties.

P&E is public proof that the Bible is inspired and the domain of no man or church. It demands that we compare the Bible’s precepts to the Bible’s examples. In so doing, God gives to each of us what Jesus gave to John the Baptist – infallible, inspired, and confirmatory answers to our questions without directing us away from Scripture to rest our faith in the potentially errant teachings of men.

 

What is a Precept?

A precept is a commandment or directive. It is a statement teaching moral ethics:

“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely,
nor lie to one another.”
(Lev 19:11)

Then there are teaching precepts. These teach doctrine, for instance, Christ’s full deity:

“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we saw His glory, glory as of the
only begotten from the Father,
full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14)

Here’s another precept teaching Adam’s sin:

“just as through one man sin entered into the world,
and death through sin, and so death spread
to all men, because all sinned”
(Rom. 5:12).

Teaching precepts teach what to believe, and moral ethics teach what to do.

 

What is an Example?

Every doctrine to be believed is also taught in example. Here, the doctrine of Christ’s full humanity is exemplified when He prays:

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from
Me; yet not as I will, but as You will”
(Mat. 26:39)

Then too, Adam’s sin is exemplified in examples too numerous to count. They include men’s sins while they live and promises of judgment after death. For instance,

“But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
There they have dealt treacherously against Me.”
(Hosea 6:7)

Then too, examples can provide guidance on proper practice:

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’
teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking
of bread and to prayer”
(Act 2:42)

But, the church in Corinth provides an example to avoid:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you,
and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even
among the Gentiles, that someone
has his father’s wife”
(1 Cor. 5:1).

 

The Scripture Cross-Checks Itself

God authored Scripture in infinite intelligence. Therefore, it affirms itself within itself and never disagrees with itself. It is worthy of all our trust in matters large and small. Thus, what it says in one place is affirmed in other places. For instance, “do not bear false witness” is a precept that commands men to always give a true witness. Following that, there are many examples of that precept.

There are examples of men giving a true witness in Scripture, such as Jesus’ statement to the chief priest while on trial. He said,

“I tell you that you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand
of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven”
(Mat. 26:64).

And there are also examples of bearing false witness, a practice to be avoided. The chief priest’s response to Jesus is an example of violating God’s precept and bearing false witness:

“the high priest tore his robes and said,
“He has blasphemed!”
(Mat. 26:64-65).

Of course, Jesus had not blasphemed, but the chief priest had. So Jesus provides us an example of obeying the precept, while the chief priest gave us an example of breaking the precept. Scripture is self-consistent:

“The infallible rule of interpretation of
Scripture is the Scripture itself…”
Westminster Confession, 1:9

 

Regula Fidei

regula fieiThrough church history the principle of confirming the teaching of Scripture in one passage by another has been called “regula fidei,” a Latin phrase meaning, “rule of faith.” Not the kind of faith you and I have in our hearts, but the faith written down in Scripture for all to believe. Early Christians wrote massive texts relying on Scripture alone to disprove heretics, and provided us who come later concise statements on elementary Christian truths, such as the deity of Christ.

For instance, one of Athanasius’ treatises, “Against the Arians” was over 111,000 words (almost as long as the New Testament). Arians believed Jesus was not God, but was a created being. The treatise is a lengthy argument from hundreds of Scriptural precepts and examples confirming Christ’s deity. Athanasius employed Scriptural precepts and confirmed them by Scriptural examples and proved the damning error of those who deny the full deity of Christ.

Here’s a small sample of Athanasius arguing from Precept:

“Why do you [Arians], as ‘the heathen, rage, and imagine vain phrases against the Lord and against His Christ.’ for no holy Scripture has used such language of the Saviour, but rather ‘always’ and ‘eternal’ and ‘coexistent always with the Father.’ For, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God John 1:1.’ And in the Apocalypse he thus speaks ; ‘Who is and who was and who is to come.’ Now who can rob ‘who is’ and ‘who was’ of eternity? This too in confutation of the Jews has Paul written in his Epistle to the Romans, ‘Of whom as concerning the flesh is Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever Romans 9:5.”
(Against the Arians, 1:4:11)

And here’s small sample of of Athanasius arguing from Example:

“who that saw Him healing the diseases to which the human race is subject, can still think Him man and not God? For He cleansed lepers, made lame men to walk, opened the hearing of deaf men, made blind men to see again, and in a word drove away from men all diseases and infirmities: from which acts it was possible even for the most ordinary observer to see His Godhead. For who that saw Him give back what was deficient to men born lacking, and open the eyes of the man blind from his birth, would have failed to perceive that the nature of men was subject to Him, and that He was its Artificer and Maker?”

Much more could be pointed out, but over time such masterful teachings were reduced to creedal statements for people to memorize.

As Athanasius wrote,

“For, behold, we take divine Scripture, and thence discourse with freedom of the religious Faith, and set it up as a light upon its candlestick, saying:— Very Son of the Father, natural and genuine, proper to His essence, Wisdom Only-begotten, and Very and Only Word of God is He; not a creature or work, but an offspring proper to the Father’s essence.”

Problem is, we forget the creeds depend on Scripture instead of the other way around. True faith is not built on creeds, but Scripture written by inspiration of God, something creeds cannot legitimately claim.

 

When to Obey…

One of the great things about P&E is that it takes the Bible out of the hands of the experts and puts it where it belongs – in your hands. You can read the Scripture for yourself and compare its precepts and examples.

funeralFor instance Jesus tells a disciple in Mat. 8:22 not to attend the funeral of his father: “let the dead bury their dead.” Does that command from Jesus apply to us? No, because there is no further example in the NT to enforce that command. We should attend the funerals of our parents. That command from Jesus was for that particular man at that particular time and only applied during the 3 year earthly ministry of the Christ.

You see, without a further example in the NT on avoiding parental funerals we can be confident that Christ’s words on parental funerals are not to be followed by all who come to follow Him. That applied only during His earthly ministry, and only to those called to leave their normal lives and follow Him. But it’s easy to see why someone might wonder to himself after reading that verse, “am I disobeying Jesus by burying my father?”

That’s actually a good question any disciple should ask after reading Mat. 8:22. It shows a desire to obey Jesus. But without an example in Scripture given to the churches to confirm Jesus’ statement, obeying it would not be faith, but foolish presumption.

So, if your religious leaders told you not to attend your father’s funeral based on Mat. 8:22… well, now you know. They would be sinning by misinterpreting Scripture, and leading you away from obedience to God.

Along the same lines – here’s another instance where Precept and Example helps you avoid presumption. Are you familiar with the debate over women and head-coverings in worship from 1 Cor. 11: 1-16? Some very good Bible teachers say they should, and others say they don’t need to.

Well, Precept and Example makes the debate moot. Even if I was convinced that Paul gave a precept commanding women to wear head-coverings in this text, that precept isn’t confirmed by an example elsewhere in the churches of the NT. And without an example of head-coverings elsewhere in the NT, I have no way of confirming my interpretation of 1 Cor. 11. Now, I personally don’t think that text commands women to wear head coverings anyway, but even if I did, I couldn’t enforce it as a practice God wants for women. I would be presumptuous.

 

P&E is Deduced from Scripture

sermon mount location

You also know the greatest sermon ever, the Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 5-7). In it Jesus corrected the perverted teachings of the rabbis of His day and instructed thousands in the way of God by employing Precept and Example.

Consider the precept “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” It is followed with an example on how to obey it:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there
remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your offering there before the altar and go;
first be reconciled to your brother, and then
come and present your offering”
(Mat. 5:21, 23-24).

Here’s another. Jesus gives the following precept: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He immediately follows it up with an extreme example on how to apply the precept:

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it
from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts
of your body, than for your whole body
to be thrown into hell.

If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and
throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose
one of the parts of your body, than for
your whole body to go into hell.”
(Mat. 5:28-30)

And the Lord goes on to teach on marriage and divorce, making genuine oaths, forsaking vengeance, and love for all men, all in Matthew 5, and all in P&E format.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus referred to the Old Testament as “the law and the prophets” (Mat. 5:17). By the ‘law” He meant the first five books, written by Moses. The remaining thirty-four books of the OT comprises “the prophets.”  The “law” details precepts from God to man, a list of requirements, commands, and injunctions: “Do this and I will bless you.” Alongside the precepts of blessing are threatenings for breaking the “law” such as earthly punishments and even death: “Do this and I will curse you.” For Jesus’ purposes of teaching, “the law” is a series of governing precepts.

Then come “the prophets,” a wide variety of books that exemplify what happens when God’s law is obeyed or disobeyed. They are the examples that display God’s loyalty to His own law. When His law was carried out “the prophets” detail His blessings, but most of “the prophets” bear witness to His loyalty to His law in bringing cursings. Again, for Jesus’ purposes of teaching, “the prophets” show example.

Hence, when Jesus refers to the OT, He can summarize it in precept and example format.

 

Should We Wash Feet?

washing disciples feetIn John 13 Jesus washes the disciple’s feet, and gives them a precept: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). In the next verse Jesus explains His teaching method: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:15).

Yet few churches obey that command of Christ and wash each other’s feet. Why? Because nowhere else in Scripture is another precept or example of churches washing feet. Jesus was doing a one-time foot-washing that none of the apostles who received it enjoined upon others. The foot washing is found in but one passage (John 13) and therefore God hasn’t provided us all a way to cross-check it’s applicability to us. In this way it is like head-coverings in 1 Cor. 11 – a command without a corroborating example.

Going broader then, when Paul writes that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20) he attracts our interest to their writings which are collected in the 27 books of the New Testament (NT). These books teach us who Christ is and what churches are to be.

In fact, these books were written in a special way so we could interpret and obey their words by P&E, for even though they were written in the 1st Century, God already knew all the questions and confusions we would have in our present day. They are gospels, history, letters, and apocalypse, all fitted together and forming one perfect tapestry that the eternal God called, “all the truth” (John 16:13). Any question that we might ask concerning faith and duty can be answered by appealing to the cross-checking precepts and examples of these writings.

 

A Complete
Cross-Check System

girl-reading-bibleYou see, the great thing about P&E is that it helps us understand that the NT as a system of doctrine (John 16:12-15), by which I mean that the New Testament is a whole. Like Jesus using the book of Isaiah to answer John the Baptist’s question, the NT answers our questions by comparing examples to precepts, and vice-versa.

In the end, every matter that is vital to your life or your church is addressed in both P&E in the NT. At the same time, if a matter is not discussed in both P&E it is not essential either to your Christian life or to the practice of your church. It might even be in error if it goes against other P&E principles.

Such as? I’ll give you another one, but a little tougher: Should churches meet for worship on Sunday? Yes. The precept is derived from 1 Cor. 11:17-18 and 1 Cor. 16:1-2. In 1 Cor. 11:17-18 a church is commanded to get together for the better, not the worse, and 1 Cor. 16:2 tells the day of the week they were obligated to get together (the first). Alongside this is the example of Sunday gathering in Acts 20:7 and Rev. 1:10. Get it?

The reason why P&E works is because the NT comes from God and He made it this way. Since He knows all that can be known, He designed the NT to perfectly complement itself. By it we can cross-check beliefs and practices to be sure we aren’t misunderstanding God. It isn’t new – the older Christians called it precept and precedent. Same thing.

 

Interpretation Wars

thats-just-your-interpretationP&E lifts us up and beyond the “interpretation wars.” Surely you already know all about this.

People get locked into opposite beliefs on thousands of issues, all of which can be cleared up by relying on the Bible’s own interpretive paradigm of P&E. If people would just do what John the Baptist did they wouldn’t have to get into pitched battles on matters related to Christian faith and practice. That is, unless they just wanted to be contentious.

Just as he went to Jesus for clarification and Jesus gave him both P&E, so we should go to the NT and read it, looking for its own internal cross-checking consistency.

So too when it comes to the church’s one foundation the Lord would have us “go to Jesus” to have our questions answered and our church practices confirmed or condemned. Practices that are critical to our church but cannot be demonstrated by the NT’s own P&E structure prove to us that our church is not built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Perhaps our church is built on the teachings of men who lived soon after the apostles, or who lived in more recent centuries. In such cases our church is by nature schismatic in that it is built on a different foundation than that of Eph. 2:20. That doesn’t mean there aren’t Christians in it but it does mean it exists in a measure of disobedience to God. As long as it remains committed to another foundation it will never leave its disobedience until it closes or repents.

 

The Bible’s Testimony
to Precept and Example

From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is one book. Its writings are like a tightly compacted foundation that holds up all the weight humanity can put upon it and yet never crumbles and never shifts. Its own weighty subjects can be comprehended by anyone who read its words while keeping in mind that what it commands us to do and believe is enforced by precept and example, and what we are warned not to do and what not to believe is enforced by the same. The remainder of this article is a series of doctrines and practices that show the wonderful strength of the Bible’s own testimony to P&E.

 

From Beginning to End

From beginning to end, God has written sober words to gain our obedience in precept and example.

  • Precept: “God said, ‘Let there be light;’
  • Example: “and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

At the beginning God commands,

“From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
but from the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil you shall not eat, for in the
day that you eat from it
you will surely die”
(Gen 2:16-17).

That’s the precept that teaches us that disobedience to God results in death. His example follows right after:

“Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded
you not to eat?… you shall return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken; For
you are dust, And to dust
you shall return”
(Gen 3:11, 19).

All mankind is explicitly taught precept and example on the most important of all matters from from the very beginning of God’s revelation.

But we’re of such a weak-faithed nature so as to doubt God on what happens after our own death. That’s why our Lord assures us with a P&E pattern when we look into the the future :

Precept:

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward
is with Me, to render to every man
according to what he has done.”
(Rev. 22:12)

Example:

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that
they may have the right to the tree of life, and
may enter by the gates into the city.

Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral
persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and
everyone who loves and practices lying.”
(Rev. 22:14-15)

Just to assure us in our weak faith He doubly assures us, for Rev. 22:12 would have been sufficient by itself. But He adds to it pictures (examples) of the future destiny of the blessed and cursed, because of our weakness.

 

Works and Words

Jesus-talking-with-jewsJesus expected the Jews to judge him by the internal consistency between Himself and the OT Scripture. To the men who read Moses he said “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words” (John 5:47)? Jesus also asked the Jews to compare his works to the Father’s works, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

For the Jew raised on Moses and the Prophets, God’s works functioned as permanent precepts on the nature and activity of God. Jesus asked those men to compare those precepts to the examples of His own works to see if in fact they didn’t match the Father’s exactly. Too bad so few were willing.

 

Confirmatory Miracles

moses-burning-bushWhen Moses appeared before God at the burning bush he feared the people of Israel would not believe him if he would tell them that God spoke to him (can you blame him?). “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.” (Exo. 4:1). Moses knew his words of God’s future deliverance will not convince the leaders. So God gave him a series of miracles to confirm his words, beginning with his staff:

The LORD said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ And he said, ‘A staff.’ Then He said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’ So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail’– so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—‘that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.’

Moses’ words to Israel were God’s precepts and the miracles were God’s examples that confirmed Moses’ testimony to the men of Israel. P&E is for people like us – the slow of heart and even the discerning of mind.

The apostle Paul appealed to the church of the Corinthians in the same way. He pleaded with them to accept his precepts for their lives and church because they were backed up examples that proved they came from God: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12). If they would not obey his words he threatened punishment later in that chapter. He expected P&E to be enough, but some in the Corinthian church were proving to be an unbelieving bunch.

 

Apostolic Precedent

When Paul asked the Philippian church to help some women who were sliding into schism he offered them a godly P&E: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9). The first three items (learned, received, and heard) refer to the precepts he taught them, while the last item (seen) refers to his example among them.

 

Precept and Example in the Churches

The right way for a church to honor God is to obey Scripture’s teachings in both precept and example. For example, all churches recognize that they are to practice communion (i.e., Lord’s Supper, Eucharist) because it is taught in both P&E in the gospels and in the letters to the churches. Precepts on this topic are found in Mat. 26:27 and 1 Cor. 11:26-27 while examples of taking the Lord’s Supper are found in Mat. 26, Luke 22, Acts 2:46, Acts 20:7, and 1 Cor. 10:16-17, and 1 Cor. 11:17-34. We are obligated as those who claim to follow Christ to take the Lord’s Supper.

However, as we saw, the washing of each other’s feet is a practice that doesn’t rise to the level of P&E. Although He gave the apostles both precept and example (John 13:14-15), the apostles did not pass along His instructions to them to the churches. Thus, even though the One who washed feet in John 13 is none other than Jesus Himself yet churches almost universally recognize His example is not an obligation upon churches since there is no accompanying command in the words of the apostles to the churches for us to wash each other’s feet. Simply put, churches are not sinning against Christ by not washing feet, as they are if they refuse to practice the Lord’s Table.

The principle of P&E assures anyone of their obligation to God even as it protects from presumption and error. P&E removes the stumbling block of humanly devised authority from ruling our churches since it locates authority in a paradigm in which Scripture cross-checks itself. Practices that cannot be easily justified by both P&E can be seen to come from presumption while those that are easily supported by P&E will be embraced by obedient faith.

A church that bases all its practices on P&E is a church that submits itself to the apostolic foundation. That’s seen when a church obeys those matters clearly seen in the NT in both P&E. Several practices can be mentioned up front:

Church Practice Precept Example
Preach the gospel Romans 10:15, 2 Tim. 4:2-3 1 Thess 1:8, 1 Cor. 14:23-25
Does discipline on the unrepentant Mat. 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:13 1 Cor. 5:1-13, 2 Cor. 2:6, 2 Cor. 13:1, 2 Th. 3:11, 1 Tim. 5:19
Meets together for worship Heb. 10:25, 1 Cor. 11:18-20 Acts 2:42-47, Acts 5:42, Acts 14:27
Makes Disciples Mat. 28:19 Acts 14:21, Acts 18:27
Prays Eph. 6:18, James 5:16 Acts 4:24, Acts 12:5
Loves the brethren John 13:34-25 Acts 2:45
Meets the needs of worthy widows 1 Tim. 5:9 Acts 6:1-7
Pursues Unity Eph. 4:3, Phil. 2:1-2 Acts 15:1-41, Titus 1:5

As well, we can trace several beliefs this way, too:

Christian Beliefs Precept Example
The Trinity Mat. 28:19, Eph. 4:3-6 Mat. 3:16-17
The Deity of Christ John 1:1-2 John 17:1-4
The Deity of the Holy Spirit John 3:34 John 20:22-23
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ John 10:18 John 20:1-17
Salvation by Grace through Faith Eph. 2:8-9 Luke 7:47-50
Christians are to be Holy 1 Peter 1:15-16 Acts 5:1-11

On the other hand, there a variety of church governance systems tied to church traditions but do not rise to the level of P&E. These practices have a long history and are absolutely necessary to the functioning of numerous ecclesial institutions but have no verification in Scripture (except the last one):

Church Polity Precept Example
Ruled by a Bishop None Acts 15?
Ruled by Representative Synods or Assemblies None Acts 15?
Ruled by Majority Vote None Acts 6?, Acts 15?
Ruled by Qualified Elders 1 Tim. 3:4-5, 1 Tim. 5:17, Titus 1:5-9, Heb. 13:17 Acts 14:23, Acts 21:18, 1 Tim 5:17, 1 Thess. 5:12-13

What is Acts 15? It’s the Jerusalem Council, when the doctrine of “circumcision unto salvation” teaching was formally recognized as heresy. Some ecclesial groups say the Council was led by a bishop (i.e., James). Others say it shows the God wants representatives from churches to rule the churches (Protestant). Still others believe the Council was only ratified when the church of Jerusalem voted (Congregational).

jerusalem-councilHypothetically the council could have been a scriptural example of one or none of these polities, but it couldn’t have been all of them at the same time. Someone had to rule and someone had to submit in a way that all accepted.[1]In a separate article I argue it was an unrepeatable one-time event due to the presence of apostles, but with strong implications for eldership (Acts 16:4).

But for our purposes here it isn’t necessary to weigh in on Acts 15. Why? Acts 15 is at best an example, and an example isn’t enough to establish NT doctrine and duty. Fact is, there is no precept in the NT that churches be ruled by a bishop, a synod, or a vote. Therefore none of these methods of church governance have P&E support in the NT.

They should be abandoned since as shown above there are a number of clear passages on churches being ruled by qualified elders. And actually, there is such an abundance of clear precepts and examples on this very point that I only listed a few. This form of church governance alone receives approval from the NT’s own cross-checking system, and is critical to ending schism and isolating heresy.

 

Conclusion

whole church fruitA church that is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets enjoys a system of doctrine that is easily shared with other churches that do the same. Such churches can end schism quite easily by merging. Churches that do not organize their practices and beliefs by P&E can only remain in disobedient schism

Such churches are only partially built on the foundation of Christ and the apostles. For example, they likely meet on Sunday, and likely practice communion. But other practices may be at odds with the P&E of the NT and to that extent that church is built on a foundation of men’s aberrant teachings.

Such churches can only recover from schism if they become institutionally obedient, and the only way to do that is to submit to P&E. It isn’t hard to understand but human pride and rebellion gets in the way. Until such churches define their authority by the P&E cross-check system in the NT their only option is to live by theories that conform to the bygone eras of church history.

The temptation for churches is to define themselves in such a way as does justice to their authority structure and keeps them from being guilty of schism. After all, nobody likes to be guilty of that.

But if church leaders will see that the P&E of the Bible is better than the writings and best practices of the centuries, then and only then can we together end the age of schism. To that end, I encourage you to read the next article in this section, Jesus Builds the Apostolic Foundation.

References   [ + ]

1. In a separate article I argue it was an unrepeatable one-time event due to the presence of apostles, but with strong implications for eldership (Acts 16:4).

7 Comments

  1. 1
    Larry Cheek says:

    I will begin assembling some of my thoughts that I had while reading your lessons. It seems a little ironic to me that I feel that in order to provide you with proper evidence from scriptures for my conclusions, I will need a little time as I also spend many hours at my business. Ironic because I had mentioned that I observed your message of possible delays in communications, and I had indicated that I expected a faster response. Being accustomed to Jay’s site many times we make a quick observation and direct a response to it, and others have the opportunity to carry it further or rebut it quickly, still being a learning process. This has a tendency to fine tune communications on the subject. A one on one dialogue will need a lot more you might say meat or completeness into the study or lesson. Also, in attempting to help each other to understand certain points sometimes the point that we want to make visible is dependent upon an underlying misunderstanding that needs to be clarified first.
    Hoping for fruitful studies Larry Cheek

    1. 1.1
      Josh the Tree Guy says:

      Ted I miss you. Hopefully I’ll see you this Sunday. I was “pondering” precept and example just a few days ago, then tonight I came across it on your world famous blog. I have a ? on John 13 (Sermon on the Mount section) where Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet. I always thought that was just an example, but you said in vs 14 that Jesus was giving a precept. Then later in the article (Precept and Example section) you said that Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, was just example only. If you don’t want to touch my feet just say so, you don’t have to mess with Gods word. Maybe I’m reading something wrong, I do inhale chainsaw fumes a lot.. C-Ya ..Yosh I’ll bring the towels!!

      1. 1.1.1
        Ted says:

        Hey Joshie, So good to hear from you, brother.

        Great pick-up, there, Josh, on the washing of the feet. Here’s the distinction:

        In John 13 Jesus is employing the teaching methodology of Precept and Example, but since both P&E occur in the gospels, we want to think through one additional element. The gospels are the record of Jesus’ 3 year ministry to the apostles, which is sometimes different than His ministry to us, for He is now glorified. So we look to see if what He enjoined on them is also what the apostles enjoined upon the churches, in His behalf. In the case of foot washing, they didn’t. In the case of servanthood, they did!

        If they had taught the churches foot washing, we would have Precept and Example, and would be practicing it.

        Here’s another way to see the distinction.

        When Jesus says “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14), we wonder to ourselves, “Is this just for the apostles, or for us, too?” Since the apostles did not teach us also to wash each other’s feet, we conclude “no, this was for them only.”

        So John 13 is the teaching method that reinforces Jesus’ own servanthood.

        Let me know if that is incomplete or unclear.

        In the mean time, I pray for you constantly, and trust that next month’s surgery will bring you back to health.

  2. 2
    Marty Crocker says:

    Ted, thanks for the article – as I mentioned, it made me think of a case in a prior church where this would have been particularly helpful. A couple of comments. First, with the “E” part of false witness that you reference, from Mark 14:61-63 . . . it might be helpful in the article to have a reminder of what was happening, that Jesus was on trial before the Sanhedrin. He had been asked if he was the Christ; so before saying that He would be seen sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven, he first said, “I am.” He gave true witness in spite of the consequences. And while the high priest bore false witness, he didn’t necessarily realize that’s what he was doing. Another example of false witness with negative consequences is Ananias and Sapphira. Also, on your chart where you show Church Polity issues that don’t have both P & E support, the bottom one listed is “Ruled by Qualified Elders” – with support listed from both P & E. So I assume “Ruled by Qualified Elders” DOES have verification in Scripture, though it appears under the heading here that it does not? I may be misunderstanding – and unlike Josh, I can’t blame it on chainsaw fumes . . . just maybe too much time behind the wheel. Thanks again for the article!

    1. 2.1
      Ted says:

      Thanks for catching that mistake on the “Ruled by Qualified Elders” grid. Made the high priest sentences clearer too. Negative examples… they abound in Scripture… as do negative precepts. Thanks!

  3. 3
    Bart says:

    Ted,

    thank you for your insightful articles. They sharpen my thinking and understanding and make my love for Christ and His C(c)hurch grow. I’ve especially looked up this article because I’m doing a study on ‘Birth Control’. If doing this, you can’t avoid reading on the ‘Onan incident’ in Gen.38. This is the key verse for the ‘Let Go Let God’-defenders. However they also admit ‘it is the only Bible passage to explicitly mention a specific form of contraception’. So as far as I can see, if this passage indeed adresses the contraception issue, it is only by example, but the precept is missing. So applying the P&E principle on this passage would clarify a lot and stop a large part of this discussion.

    Now, after reading your article on precept and example, I’m still left with a question: ‘Where is the precept of the P&E principle?’ You’ve explained the principle and gave plenty of examples, and the principle makes perfect sense, but I was wondering if a more specific Biblical precept could be appointed. It is certainly a helpful principle, but if it isn’t specifically adressed in the Bible, I’m wondering if you can employ it as a standard by which all doctrinal statements must be measured. Maybe I’ve overlooked this precept or missed some point in your article. In that case thank you for your patience… 🙂

    Till later, Bart

    1. 3.1
      Ted says:

      Hi Bart,

      Wise question. The clearest witness to P&E in a single verse that I know of is Isaiah’s “to the law and the testimony” (Isa. 8:20). God provides confirmatory examples of His precepts to his people so they can obey and believe.

      Throughout the article there are numerous instances of P&E – from the teachings of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, from Genesis through to Revelation. I didn’t write a section on Moses’ law due to space considerations, but the law is taught in P&E fashion – specific precepts, and then examples in certain cases so the precepts can be obediently applied.

      Thus, P&E is inherently deduced from Scripture. It is simply its self-testimony. It also correlates to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, and the omniscience of God, who already knew every question man would ever throw at Scripture before He had it written. Point being, within Scripture is a firm and complete answer to every question on every matter concerning faith and duty, whether asked in unbelief, or faith.

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