YEA, HATH GOD SAID?
We live in an age of rapid change. The twentieth century began with the horse and buggy. Now, air travel is common. Letters were the usual means of communication then. Now, the telephone and e-mail are everywhere. Most of us live in homes today with features superior to anything known by the wealthiest at the turn of the century. New materials with undreamed of capabilities are commonplace. We all appreciate medical advances that have lengthened life expectancy.
Advances and changes do have a downside. Environmental pollution is a major concern. Unquestionably, there has also been a huge slide in ethics and moral values. With wealth and material possessions so abundant, people today seek to get along without God. No wonder we see broken homes, drugs, and mindless violence on every hand!
Societal change has its impact on Christians. One aspect that change has produced amongst Christians is especially significant. In a past day, a preachers statements were accepted unquestioningly. No longer! Children today are encouraged to question, and even reject values once taken for granted. Such values were solidly based upon the word of God.
One place where questions very frequently occur is on e-mail forums. The forums are quite popular with some assembly believers. Some questions have NO concrete answers! David Oliver calls these issues “imponderables,” because satisfying answers are not easily found. Some individuals may ask questions to undermine truth. The questions of others are sincere.
In answering questions, we must go back to the Word of God. Unanswered (or poorly answered) questions can introduce doubts. The title of this article is taken from the words of the first question recorded in the Bible. The serpent asked Eve in Gen 3:1, “Yea, hath God said..?”. We may easily mark how the serpent used this question to confuse Even and introduce doubt about Gods intentions for Eve and her husband.
Questions deserve answers. Questions may be “answered” from the Scriptures on three levels: by Precept, Principles, and Patterns.
A precept is a direct statement or commandment. When we have such, our course is clear. One word of caution is in order through: a translation may not always communicate the exact meaning in a second language that was conveyed in the first. We must never try to circumvent or explain away clear instructions from Gods Word. God rightly expects OBEDIENCE to His precepts. An example (of many,) is 1 Cor 11:24-25 “This do in remembrance of Me.” This is very clear.
Not everything we practice is based on precept. We have no precept for opening with a hymn, followed by worships in prayer. Moreover some things we practice differ from the Lords examplewhen He instituted the supper. He did that in the evening and not on the first day of the week. He certainly used unleavened bread. Why do we not meet on a weeknight and use unleavened bread? We have no precept directing us to do so. We do have the example of the believers in Troas meeting upon the first day of the week in Acts 20:7. Paul waited there five days to be with them for that purpose.
Principles are harder to define. Principles are seen in Gods ways of dealing with man and in the practices of those who have learned Gods ways. It should be noted that Gods principles are as changeless and binding as His precepts. God will always act in keeping with His principles. He cannot do otherwise. God is a God of love, of grace, of mercy, of righteousness, of justice (and much more). As a principle, NO attribute of God will override any other attribute!
We ought to obey principles just as fervently as we do precepts! One principle that touches on our assembly practice is “worship before service.” This touches the question of why we break bread in the morning on the first day of the week. Another principle that will influence our lives when we grasp it is found in 1 Sam 15:22, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” There is another in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
A Pattern will be found in what the early believers practiced. This is what gives such value to the book of the Acts. One pattern that affects our practice is Acts 20:7, “Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” Nowhere are we enjoined to observe the Lords supper on the first day of the week. Yet here we find Paul, present in Troas with the believers, waiting seven days to observe this. With this example (and no contradictory precept or principle) we confidently do the same.
Gods Word clearly reveals ALL God intends us to know without doubt and to practice without reservation. We may have practices with no Precept, Principle or Pattern to point to, BUT if such are NOT CONTRARY to these, we ought not to say such are wrong. What about the question posed earlier, “Should we in fact open with a hymn, then worship in prayer?” We read, “And He spake a parable unto them that men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). This is a principle without contrary pattern in the Acts. Similarly, we read, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives (Matt 26:30) on the night of betrayal.
The great need of our age is for EACH believer to become intimately familiar with all of the Precepts, Principles and Patterns of Gods Word. Would we expect ALL questions to be resolved by these three elements? YES! But, perhaps not immediately!