Recently someone sent an evaluation of hand clapping in worship. The author is Ray Davis, who preaches for the Edgewood Church of Christ in Mansfield, Massachusetts. The document consists of a review of four articles, one of which was mine, “The Applause of Men.” Others were written by Bobby Duncan (“Let God Do the Clapping”), Mel Futrell (“Hand Clapping and Worship”), and Hugo McCord (“Hand-Clapping in Worship”). We will herein deal with the teaching set forth in this material dated September 2nd.
The first assertion is that the clapping referred to in Psalm 47:1 and 2 Kings 11:12 is directed at God and that therefore such a principle might be valid today. Psalm 47:1 states: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph.” It is true that the action of clapping encouraged in this verse is directed toward God just as is the shouting, but what more should be deduced? Are the sons of Korah referring to applause? Or is it possible that the clapping refers to a rhythmic beat that accompanies the singing or the chanting of this song? It is difficult to envision the writer as meaning, “Let’s all get together and applaud the Lord. Ready? On the count of three: Yea, God.” But even if this were the meaning, it provides no authority for clapping, shouting, or dancing before God today, which David did in 2 Samuel 6:14.
2 Kings 11:12 mentions that when Joash (aged 7) was crowned, “they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!'” This applause is directed toward the king, not God. They were celebrating the restoration of the throne from the hands of the usurper Athaliah. The next argument is that edification and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive; he says that singing can be fun and that we sometimes focus more on the beat than on the words. The problem with this reasoning is that it does not distinguish between primary and secondary purposes. Is singing fun? Yes. So is Bible study. Every act of worship is enjoyable to the spiritually minded. But the purpose for worship is not to derive entertainment; it is to honor God. When we focus more on the melody and the beat than the words, we have lost the appropriate emphasis. Some things are designed for entertainment (novels, movies), and they probably contain a message or truth for the audience to absorb, but the focus of worship is upon God. The problem is that in our current selfish era we have insisted that everything be ME-oriented.
Davis’ paragraph on spiritual gifts being irrelevant, we turn to his next argument: We have been clapping hands to songs in teen devotionals, Bible camps, children’s Bible classes, and Vacation Bible School. He should speak for himself. Hand clapping is no more authorized there than in the public assembly. Many of us have consistently opposed all such practices, the one exception being, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” in which case the clapping is neither applause nor joined with the singing. If someone thinks that this might confuse a child or send a mixed message, however, we cheerfully give it up for the dozens of other songs that are available. We ought to be consistent between what we do in more informal gatherings and in worship. Is not that failure to distinguish the means by which instrumental music was introduced?
Davis next finds fault with assigning motives to those who enjoy hand clapping. He writes: “What clappers view as unspiritual, unscriptural, and therefore, intolerable, is a stoic manner of singing.” But, we ask in return, “Where would they get the idea that singing is ‘stoic’ if not from secular entertainment, which emphasizes the point that they are trying to be like the world?” One of the growing markets today is religious (“gospel”) music with a rock or modern beat. Naturally, hymns may seem boring next to that style, but againspiritual must not be defined by the way someone feels about a song but whether or not it seeks to glorify God and edify one another. As long as we do not use instruments, we will never be able to compete with the music of the world and the excitement and enthusiasm that it generates. In fact, we have occasionally been told that singing without instruments does not seem right or spiritual. Davis saddled a losing horse when he chose this argument.
Thus far, no substantial case has been presented in favor of hand clapping. It was already admitted that the Old Testament Scriptures cited did not constitute authority. Next, each of the four aforementioned articles is discussed. Davis took issue with this assertion: “Fervency in worship is provided from within, not by some artificial, external stimulus.” He tries to argue that standing or bowing in prayer constitutes an artificial, external stimulus, which is a really weak, not to mention inaccurate, argument. Generally, bowing is considered an act of reverence. Closing one’s eyes is a means of shutting out distractions and concentrating better. Standing may afford some small benefit (it is harder to sleep), but none of these are “mood” maneuvers. Clapping hands, turning down the lights, or things of that ilk are calculated to affect the mood.
Davis wonders how I determined that hand clapping smacks of artificiality and if I am not simply speaking for myself. This knowledge was obtained by watching and by conversation with others who have observed the same thing. Apparently, Davis is one of the few people whose powers of observation are limited.
Incredibly, the critic next tries to appeal to the Old Testament as a valid authority for our worship on the basis that New Testament writers quoted from it. After referring to several verses in Romans, he says:
Is not Paul appealing to the Old Testament to prove his point which is for us New Testament doctrine and practice? What about the time Paul participated in the rite of purification (Acts 21:24-26)? Does the apostle not refer to this act as worship (Acts 24:11)? Was this not an Old Testament authorized act, done in New Testament times? …There is more to Heb. 8.6-7; Col. 2.14; Gal. 5:3.4 than the idea that the Old Testament is no longer usable for New Testament doctrine, practice or worship.
As brother Taylor would say, this paragraph is amazingly amazing! To what lengths will someone go to try to justify hand clapping we would never have believed if we had not seen it! This man has more problems than hand clapping; he does not know how to rightly divide the Word of God. Perhaps he should not just cite Galatians 5:3-4‹he should read it:
And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law: you have fallen from grace (emphasis mine).
What about Paul’s actions? Who said he was right in what he did? He succumbed to peer pressure in Acts 21 just as Peter had at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-13). He was trying to make the point that he did not despise Jewish customs, and he went about it the wrong way. He transgressed briefly his own writing. The apostles were not perfect men in their actions–only in their inspired teaching. We must abide by their doctrine and only follow their example only as they followed Christ.If Old Testament teaching is reaffirmed in the New Testament as part of our covenant, then it may be used. In most cases, it is a principle that is made applicable or a truth that is restated (“there is none righteous; no, not one,” e.g.). Verses are also cited as fulfilled prophecies (Acts 2). In quoting an Old Testament passage, the inspired writers of the New Testament were not in any way insinuating that we are to follow their laws regarding worship.
Davis (whether inadvertently or not we do not know) missed the point in my article of mentioning Saul’s disobedience to God regarding the Amalekites. We are well aware that Saul violated a specific commandment and that hand clapping does not. What the critic missed was the point of similarity between the two:
“Oh, but all of this is for God [referring to the reason for clapping hands, gws].” Sure it is–just as the animals that Saul was to kill (but instead brought them alive back from the Amalekites) were for sacrifices for Jehovah (1 Sam. 15).
The reader can clearly see that the point of comparison is that people excuse their actions (whether violating a specific law or doing what God has not authorized) on the basis that they are just wanting to please God.He also tries to restrict the phrase, in spirit and in truth, to Jesus’ ministry and death. Worship is with the right attitude and in harmony with God’s revelation, or it is not, period. False teachers, who generally use the NIV (as he does), are always trying to limit universal principles. They want to choose the context in which it applies, but a principle applies beyond an immediate problem unless it is plainly limited (Gal. 1:8).
Primarily, all Davis says here is that McCord’s conclusions are unrelated to the Scriptures he lists, and he faults him for not making “a deeper examination of the text.” He also reaffirms what he said earlier about the Old Testament.
Brother FutrellHere the critic takes issue with the authority principle of Colossians 3:17. He asks: “What if a person asked him for his specified authorization for the prohibition of clapping?” Does he not realize that the whole point of talking about authorization is to show that none exists for hand clapping in worship? When there is a “thou shalt not,” that ends the discussion. Some think that, in absence of such a statement, everything is permitted that is not expressly condemned. God wanted us to know that suh a way of thinking involves faulty logic. Whatever someone advocates must have Biblical authority. Would this “preacher” object to instrumental music? Most of the rationale that he applies to hand clapping would have the same application to mechanical instruments of music.
Brother DuncanThe application of 2 John 9-11 is also challenged by Davis. See if what he says would not apply equally to instrumental music as well. “Brother Duncan I think, is defining the doctrine of Christ as anything Jesus taught and did not mention.” By that criticism, 2 John 9-11 would not prohibit the use of instruments of music in worship–even though they were never used by Jesus, the apostles, or the early church in worship, were never commanded to be used, nor was it even implied that their use would be acceptable. Brother Duncan is right.
The Argument from Scripture’s SilenceDavis argues that we are inconsistent. We are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss, but we shake hands instead. We reject a specific commandment and do what we are not authorized to do (based on the silence of the Scriptures). If he really believes his own argument, then he should encourage all brethren to drop their hands and pucker up instead. Otherwise he is objecting to the argument from silence, which the Scriptures themselves make in Hebrews 7:14 (Moses spake nothing concerning priests from any other tribe but Judah).
Then he attempts to make hand clapping a substitute for saying, “Amen.” Truly, only the “uninformed” would clap in place of the Amen (1 Cor. 14:16). This approach rids us of a valuable, Biblical principle and substitutes it with, “Let’s just do what we want.”
Perhaps next we could substitute for the elements of the Lord’s Supper Pizza and Pepsi; after all, the Lord didn’t say NOT to make substitutions. And if we can substitute shaking hands for holy kissing and clapping for Amening, why not change the day of worship from Sunday to Saturday (some congregations in New York have already done so)? We can really start to blend in with our culture, have the kind of worship we enjoy, and maybe even bring in some rock bands to replace that “stoic” singing. Wahoo!
“The Solution to the Clapping Issue”
Whether one claps or refuses to clap, a person’s relationship with the Lord is not effected [sic] for we are justified in the Lord’s sight by faith in Christ’s obedience and sacrifice.
We disagree: If God refuses to accept our worship, we are affected. Furthermore, those insisting on clapping will affect everyone else’s worship, just as bringing in an organ, a piano, or a guitar would.
Here it comes: “Is the blood of Christ and His body more important than our clapping preference?” No, and that is precisely the reason it should not be done. If it is not a requirement, then those who crave it should go to a basketball game and leave the church assembly alone! This is the same problem that existed with instrumental music 100 years ago. Brethren said, “We can worship without it and be acceptable to God.” But they would not give it up for the sake of unity! Neither will the hand clappers.
Davis even suggests using different songs for clappers than for non-clappers and then speaks of maturity. If we were mature, we would not insist on bringing something into the worship assembly that is admittedly not required.
Yes, we will have clapping and non-clapping churches, just as we have instrumental and non-instrumental churches. The basic difference, however, will not be the clapping–but rather the love and respect the members have for the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. Those who love Him would not want to add anything to the worship that is not practiced or authorized in the New Testament. They would rather die than sow discord among brethren (Pr. 6:19).
In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul wrote that, “if food makes my brother to stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” If brethren could withhold themselves from something that was outside the assembly (but would adversely influence brethren), then how much more should brethren repudiate a practice which no one has proven that they are entitled to do and which affects every worshipper in the assembly! Such a disposition would be mature and promote unity.
Some brethren are just on a witch hunt,” defenders of apostates like Max Lucado affirm. Of course, such a flippant accusation is absurd on the face of it–as if most preachers wouldn’t prefer spending time on other areas of endeavor. But even if the charge were true, in this case, we’ve found one. A witch, that is. Truly, Max has somehow cast a spell over quite a number of brethren.
So what follows is a portion of a speech that he made at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, and, yes, I have a tape of the entire “sermon” in case anyone thinks the transcribed portion below was taken out of context. [Why is it that faithful gospel preachers must be scrupulously careful about documenting one false teacher, but we may be lumped together, indicted wholesale, and summarily dismissed by thoughtless phrases such as witch-hunters (without any evidence whatsoever)?]
Max Lucado: “But the longer I’ve been in this battle, I’ve noticed that there are some curious soldiers who share these foxholes with us. For example: there’s an Anglican by the name of C.S. Lewis, whose books put muscle in my faith; a Presbyterian (of all people) by the name of Stephen Brown, formerly of Key Biscayne, Florida (somehow I got on his tape mailing list), and he helped me understand the sovereignty of God; another Presbyterian by the name of Frederick Boettner, who writes books somewhere in Vermont, helped me see the passion of Christ; a former Catholic priest named Brennan Manning convinced me that Jesus is relentlessly tender; a Nazarene by the name of Jim Dobson helped my family skills; a pastor of the Evangelical Free Church named Chuck Swindoll helped my preaching; a Baptist in Miami taught me about grace; a Pentecostal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, helped me understand prayer.”
“Some day, when we all get to heaven, I’m going to finally learn the name of some radio preacher who was on the air in 1978. I was home working in an oil field job, wantin’ some extra money. My faith was very fragile. I had more questions than I had answers, and I was literally at a crossroads as to whether or not I was going to believe. While making some deliveries for an oil field company in a pickup truck, I could only pick up one radio station. I don’t know if that’s because of west Texas or because of the truck, or both. But that one radio station had a radio preacher, and in fifteen minutes, he put the heart and soul of the faith in a little sermon on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. And all of a sudden I realized it wasn’t what I knew, it was Who I knew. And I pulled over to the side of the road and rededicated my faith. [It] may have been a Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, or an angel. Or all four!”
Anyone should be able to read these word of Max Lucado’s and understand that he accepts all who abide in religious denominations as brethren, Christians. Never mind if they were immersed, sprinkled, or whatever. If they claim to be a Christian, that’s good enough for Max. The following observations are in order.
First, does not the Bible teach the grace of God? Who made the Baptists the guardians of this doctrine? In fact, when they teach salvation by grace and faith ALONE, they have perverted the Biblical doctrine. Did Max get his false ideas of salvation from them? Does not the Bible proclaim that God is sovereign? Must we go to Presbyterians to get a clue? Is the Bible so mysterious in its teaching about prayer that we have to import teaching from Brazil? Perhaps if Lucado had spent more time in the Book and less time with popular authors, he might have learned a great deal more than he currently knows.
Second, It’s too bad that in all of his gleaning he never found anybody to teach him a love of the TRUTH. Those lacking such a love cannot be saved (2 Thess. 2:10). Since he is so influenced by the writings of men, too bad he never read The Bible Only Makes Christians Only And the Only Christians by brother Thomas B. Warren. In fact, Max did not see fit to credit even one faithful brother with enough knowledge to teach him anything.
Third, the fact that these men have written some helpful things does not make them brethren. Fourth, it does matter what you know as well as Who you know. Who (Jesus) said it matters what(“If you continue in My word, then you are My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). [See also Romans 16: 17-18 and 2 John 9-11.]
On Friday, December 8th, I was able to attend the second night of the debate between John T. Lewis, a graduate of Brown Trail, and Jason Weatherly, who resides in Beebe, Arkansas. Brother Lewis, from Lone Grove, Oklahoma, the town in which the debate was held, refuted the idea that either Holy Spirit baptism or miracles are part and parcel of the New Testament Church today; Mr. Weatherly affirmed that they were.
The focus of attention was partly on Ephesians 4:11-16. Brother Lewis argued that the use of miraculous gifts was given for the equipping of the saints till we all come to the unity of the faith in order that we can fight against false doctrine. Obviously, if we still have apostles and prophets, who yet reveal the will of God (and who will continue to do so until the second coming), then we will not arrive at the unity of the faith until this world ends. Such an interpretation leaves us with an unsavory dilemma: either we become totally equipped to fight false doctrine when it no longer exists, or there will be false doctrine in heaven to fight against.
Mr. Weatherly responded by trying to weaken the force of the passage. He tried to bypass the duration expressed in verse 15 altogether, but also held that we can fight false doctrine with incomplete revelation today by asserting that if Paul could do so without the entire New Testament, so could we. The flaw in this theory is that he can not prove that Paul did not know the entire body of New Testament teaching. Just because he did not write it all down at one particular point in time does not mean that he had not been divinely taught it or that he had not revealed it orally.
In his next affirmative speech, brother Lewis concentrated on the purpose of the miracles as stated in the New Testament: to reveal truth, and to confirm the truth. The word of God having been completely revealed, no need has existed for miracles since the end of the first century. Weatherly countered by mentioning that there was still a need for non-doctrinal matters to be prophesied of such as the famine mentioned by Agabus in Acts 11:28. This is not a bad explanation, but it carries with it a tremendous risk–the possibility of being asked for some of these types of prophecies. Wouldn’t it be nice for Christians to know ahead of time of upcoming famines, or earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, etc.? But who has foretold such things? Not Jason Weatherly, nor Don Finto, nor anyone else claiming to be a latter-day apostle or prophet. It is not cruel to insist on examples of these kinds of prophecies; they are found in the Bible; they should be found today among those claiming these powers. They cannot duplicate what is in the Bible because they are not apostles, prophets, or divinely inspired.
FAILURE TO END THE DEBATEBrother Lewis chided Mr. Weatherly for coming in word only and not in power, also. He showed a chart listing past debates that brethren have held with Pentecostals. Not once in all those occasions has a single miracle been performed which would effectively and conclusively ended the discussion. After all, if one disputant is denying that miracles are occurring today, and the other one heals a man born blind (for example), what more can anyone say? The debate would be over by virtue of the demonstration of such power. Even Pharaoh’s talented magicians finally had to conclude of the things Moses did, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19).
Brother Lewis challenged Mr. Weatherly to end the debate as Paul had effectively done with Elymas (Bar-Jesus) by striking him blind (Acts 13:6-12). The Pentecostal’s response was weak–he declined to do what Paul did on the grounds that he did not want Lewis to be blind; he wanted him to see. Does he not think Elymas’ spiritual vision improved dramatically after Paul performed a miracle on him? Yes, he undoubtedly saw better in his blindness than he ever had with physical sight.
This passage in Acts 13 is devastating to the old Pentecostal argument that one must have faith before a miracle can be performed on him. No, that was exactly Elymas’ problem–he had no more faith than the fig tree that Jesus cursed, which withered immediately. Yet this faithless adversary of the gospel received a miracle. To teach that Christians today possess the same powers as the apostles and prophets but then refuse to demonstrate such only proves that they, in fact, lack the powers they claim after all.
In his closing remarks, Jason Weatherly thanked Harding College for giving him access to their library so that he could prepare for the debate. And he did display a knowledge about many of the doctrines we teach. But if he believes that the Holy Spirit works today as He did in the first century, why did he find it necessary to prepare for this debate? The disciples were promised “a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:15). Those who hold his view of the Bible should not have to spend hours in diligent preparation; the Holy Spirit should provide wisdom.
Brother Lewis conducted himself well. His opponent talked throughout much of his first speech (to his moderator) and violated the “spirit” of the rules by insinuating that brother Lewis was a liar. Furthermore, Weatherly’s moderator challenged brother Lewis’ quotation from a tract which made their position seem preposterous. The fact is, however, that they had sent him the tract to help him understand their views so that he could use it to prepare for the debate. Their behavior was at times tacky. Some good questions were raised on both sides, which should provoke further study.
Several members received letters from Dan Billingsly within the last week. Many of you probably glanced at the fourteen page dissertation and dismissed it as the rantings of an individual who thrives on controversy and wants to debate everybody and his cousin. In fact, he and Farrell Till would make an excellent team: they could debate each other from one end of the country to the other, wherever they could find an audience. Perhaps, eventually they might get their fill of confrontation.
Ostensibly, Billingsly wrote to members here at Pearl Street to warn us of the “great heresies” of Roy and Mac Deaver that they might present at our upcoming lectures. You see, Dan believes that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are Old Testament “gospels” (page 1 of his lengthy diatribe). He further (and falsely) asserts that Jesus did not teach New Testament doctrine and avers that even the Lord agrees with him (14).
Apparently, brother Billingsly is ready to pronounce as a false teacher everyone who disagrees with him, including not only the Deavers, but also Dub McClish, Johnny Ramsey, Dave Miller, and every Bible in the world that includes Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as part of the New Testament (they are all wrong, wrong, wrong, according to him). [What he lacks in common sense, he makes up in ego and pugnacity.]
Such belligerence does not deserves a reply, but we will deal with the issue briefly (even though we know of no major scholar or preacher within or without the church who agrees with Billingsly’s conclusions). Following are points that are designed to summarize the truth of the matter.
1. Jesus lived and died under the Law of Moses, which was nailed to the cross at His death (Col. 2:14).
2. He taught others to obey the law of Moses (Matt. 5:17-19).
3. The church began on the day of Pentecost, in actuality. Jesus promised to build the church (Matt. 16:18); He also promised that some would still be alive to see the kingdom of God come with power (Mark 9:1), which it did in Acts 2.
4. The church, however, had existed in the mind of God from all eternity (Eph. 3:1-12). It had been prophesied of by many (Isaiah 2:2-4, Daniel 2:44 & 7:13-14, Joel 2:28-32, etc.).
5. Jesus lived at the end of this Old Testament period, and while He upheld the law of Moses (since it was still in effect) and kept it Himself, He also taught many principles of New Testament doctrine. In other words, the things our Lord taught were not just part of the law of Moses; they were new and different teachings. If they were only part of the law, then why on the Mount of Transfiguration did God say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5)? Why did He not simply say, “Continue to listen to Moses for a little while longer”?
6. “God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son…” (Heb. 1:1-2). When did Jesus speak these things, if not during His earthly ministry? “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first was spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him?” (Heb. 2:3).
7. “He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). What words were these, by which we shall be judged, and when were they spoken? They were the teachings of Christ which He taught during His earthly ministry.
Billingsly claims that the “all things” that Jesus said should be taught to others (in Matt. 28:20) was not what He had taught during His earthly ministry, but rather what He taught them “during the forty days he was with the disciples after His resurrection (Acts 1:2-3)” (9). Here is a truly amazing assertion. What’s wrong with it?
1. It eliminates the things Jesus taught during His earthly ministry, by which He said men were to be judged (John 12:48).
2. It contradicts the Lord’s prophecy to the disciples. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). How many categories of “all things” are mentioned? Two: the “all things” that Jesus had taught them, and the “all things” they yet needed to know. There is no third category here of “all things” they would be taught during the forty days.
3. Billlingsly’s hypothesis makes the Holy Spirit look incompetent. Instead of revealing what Jesus taught the disciples during that forty day period, He foolishly waited more than two decades, left out the “all things” of Matt. 28:20, yet recorded the “all things” Jesus taught during His earthly ministry, which (according to Dan) were nothing more than Old Testament teaching. Why would the Holy Spirit record the wrong, useless, out-of-date teachings of Jesus and ignore those things which were relevant? Why, indeed. There is no proof whatsoever that Jesus taught any new information during that forty days. In fact, the question asked in Acts 1:6 (immediately prior to the Lord’s ascension) indicates that the apostles did not yet themselves understand the nature of the kingdom, an odd fact if He had explained it all to them.
A Position of DesperationWhy, one might ask, would someone adopt such an easily refutable doctrine, taking on the whole world (practically) in the process? It all relates to the discussion of mar-riage, divorce, and remarriage. Dan thinks that what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:3-9 is Old Testament doctrine and is therefore not applicable today, even though Jesus said that God had (under Moses’ law) allowed divorce, but “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). How can Jesus be affirming the law of Moses when He taught that contrary to what the law allowed, it was not so.
In an effort to get away from Jesus’ teaching on this subject Billingsly is ready to do away with everything that Jesus taught, which is truly an act of desperation. He will, in fact, be judged by the things Jesus taught (John 12:48), as well as the rest of the teaching of the New Testament. And although it does not show great wisdom to hold such an extreme view, it does show that people who feel compelled to do away with God’s teaching on divorce at least understand what it says. Matthew 19 is not unclear or ambiguous. The force of the passage is so plain that some are willing to go to any lengths to get rid of it–even to the point of denying that Jesus ever taught New Testament doctrine.
This final article on the first two nights of the recent debate in San Antonio will deal with the two opposing views of the sufficiency of the Word of God. The man representing the Catholic Church, Michael Luther, charged that the Bible is neither complete nor sufficient for mankind today. His contention was that although the Bible is the Word of God, it is not complete. God left various portions to be revealed over the centuries (presumably on a need-to-know basis). What this view amounts to is that we need the Bible plus the infallible interpretation of the pope.
There are actually several “Bible plus” views. The Mormons must also believe the Bible is incomplete–because they have extra books that (in their eyes) stand equivalent to the inspired Scriptures: The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, etc. Catholics teach that the church was built on Peter (Matt. 16:18); the Mormons claim that the rock in this verse is continuous revelation. They are both wrong; the rock is the deity of Jesus, which Peter had just confessed. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).
Christian Scientists give allegiance to the writings of Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy; Seventh Day Adventists listen closely to Ellen G. White. Jehovah’s Witnesses are more loyal to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society than the Bible, although they may say they regard the latter more highly than the former. And then there are the Pentecostals (or charismatics) who claim to continue to receive revelations from God. In fact, some of them are so arrogant that they have been known to turn up their noses at those not claiming miraculous gifts, saying, How can you know what the Scriptures mean? You don’t even have the Holy Spirit. Well, why don’t you who are tapped in to The Source write down the new Scriptures so that we can all examine them? The problem for such people is that whatever they say will either agree with what God has already revealed (in which case it is not new), or it will disagree with the Bible (in which case it is wrong).
The problem with all of these religious groups who seem to need more than what the Bible reveals is that they have neglected what the New Testament teaches about revelation and completeness. Relevant passages will be discussed below.
What The New Testament Says About ItselfBrother Conley set forth marvelously well what the Bible has to say about itself. In addition to other Scriptures, the following were cited. Luke says that he wrote of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). Mr. Luther could not quite comprehend the meaning of such verses. His contention is that the apostles had all things revealed to them, but that they did not record all of it (Mark 4:34). He averred that the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-31) was never explained in the Scriptures. “What does he not understand about it?” one wonders. Do we really need an infallible interpreter to understand this parable?
His point was that God omitted explanations for certain things and purposefully did not reveal all there was to know–so that we would learn the valuable lesson about not going by Scripture alone. Yes, according to his system of theology God wants us to depend upon continuous revelation (not to mention the one revealing it) and official interpretation. But can he believe his own doctrine? In a preliminary letter arranging this debate this disputant expressed confidence that Luke 21:15 would apply to him during the course of the debate: “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.” Then why did he write out and read his opening speech each evening, and why was he stuttering so much when trying to speak extemporaneously during the second speech of the second night? [Calling this to attention is not an attempt at sarcasm or cruelty, but it must be noted because it contradicts his position.]
The fact is, however, that Luke said he revealed the substance of all that Jesus taught (Acts 1:1). Certainly, we do not have every word of every sermon that Jesus taught, but we have every principle that God wants us to know. Consider the following verses.
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but has now been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations. . .” (Rom16:25-26).
“How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I wrote before in a few words, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by His Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:3-5). The mystery that was not understood has now been explained.
“As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. . .”(2 Peter 1:3). All things? All. What a strange thing for a pope (alleged by Mr. Luther) to say. The us who received these things in verse three is the same us who were called in verse three and who received exceeding great and precious promises in verse four. Peter is not saying that just he and the apostles received all things that pertain to life and godliness: we all have.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). “The faith” embodies the complete Christian system, the entire body of New Testament doctrine. It was once for all delivered. In the Old Testament God gave a prophecy (as part of the Law) that there would be another lawgiver, to whom all Israel was bound to hearken (Deut. 18:15-19). The prophets even spoke of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).
But the New Testament foretells no new law, covenant, or revelation. Once it was completed, inspiration ceased (1 Cor. 13). Not only is no new revelation expected, but all that we need to please God has been revealed once for all. If additional revelations had been needed through the centuries, then Jude 3 and 2 Peter 1:3 would be both incomplete and false. False, however, are those who hold such a view. The Scriptures are true and complete; they are all we need for salvation and correct worship
The above title may not be the official one for the discussion held August 14th-15th in San Antonio. Since brother Conley went on to debate Robert M. Narvaez on August 16th-17th, who knows what the entire procedure will be called? Both opponents are part of a group called Catholic Response, which aggressively defends the Roman Catholic Church. This article will deal only with the first two nights of the debate (since that’s all I was present for).
The focal point in the discussion centered around authority. This issue of authority, how it is properly derived, and how it should be applied is absolutely crucial to correct worship, doctrine, and holy living. There are two main ways to view the subject. Following is a brief description of how it entered the discussion.
The proposition which brother Conley affirmed the first evening was: “The church of which I am a member is the one true church of Christ in which alone is to be found salvation (and which recognizes the Bible as the only authority in faith and practice).” The first overhead chart he used was a quotation from “;Catholic Facts,” Our Sunday Visitor, published in 1927, which read: “If it is not identical in belief, government, and etc. with the primitive church, then it is not the church of Christ.”
Next, he proceeded to show briefly that we are identical with respect to belief (in obeying the gospel) and in government (elders and deacons, autonomy). In his second speech he used a chart showing that the Roman Catholic church is not synonymous with the first century church because they have added a multitude of things, among which were: acolytes, cardinals, popes, nuncios,beads, images, relics, incense, sprinkling, sacraments, the rosary, shrines, crusades, penance, candles, praying to Mary, Lent, ashes, Mass, celibacy, and more. This point is clear to most of us. The Bible does not mention these matters; therefore they are unauthorized (Col. 3:17).
What would Mr. Luther say in defense of having added all those things which were not part of the worship and doctrine of the New Testament? Like his namesake, he said: “THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY that there could not be a pope. The Bible does NOT say that you can not pray to Mary or to dead saints. Who says that infants can not be baptized? THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY IT! Who says the church can not sprinkle as baptism? Who says the church could not be centered in Rome? The Bible does NOT say any of these things. If the Bible does not prohibit it, then we are free to do it.” Are you listening, brethren? This is not a minor point; it is the crux of the matter. Does it remind you of, “The Bible doesn’t say you can’t use mechanical instruments of music”?
In reality, there are only two alternatives: either we need New Testament authorization for what we teach and practice (whether explicit or implicit); or we may feel free to do whatever the New Testament does not specifically forbid. The problem of using mechanical instruments of music has never been the issue ; correctly understanding Biblical authority is the issue. If the demand is made for a specific repudiation of every wild, fanciful idea someone may invent in religion, then everything will be permitted.
“Moses Spoke Nothing”In the first speech of the second evening brother Conley made the point: “What is not taught explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures is implicitly forbidden.” He then illustrated the point with Heb. 7:14–“For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” The verse applies to the above statement in the following way. God appointed Levites as priests. Implicitly, His appointing members of one tribe excluded men from the other tribes from being priests. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. He could not be a priest. Why not? Jesus could not be a priest because God had spoken nothing concerning men from Judah being priests. HE DID NOT AUTHORIZE ANYONE FROM ANY OTHER TRIBE TO BE A PRIEST!
But Jesus is a priest, you say. Yes, but for Him to become one, God had to change the law (Heb. 7:12). Jesus could not be a priest under the Law of Moses; it would have violated God’s principles of authority for Him to have made an exception–even for His own beloved Son! Therefore, He changed the law, and Jesus is now a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17). This principle of authority is not something that man dreamed up so that he could amuse himself with entertaining philosophical games, nor was it invented by the restorers of the early nineteenth century: it is God’s own system.
Luther missed the point entirely, saying that David prophesied that Jesus would be after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4); therefore, it was foretold. The reason for citing Heb. 7:14 had nothing to do with whether or not Jesus’ priesthood was foretold (which it was); it was to show how God authorizes. If a doctrine is not taught explicitly (command, direct statement) or implicitly (example, implication), then the practice is implicitly (indirectly, not directly by a “Thou shalt not”) forbidden. In other words, we are responsible for reasoning correctly (drawing the proper conclusions) with the Scriptures.
The question is not, “Where does the Bible say, don’t do it?”; rather, it is, “Where does God authorize it?” The New Testament does not authorize either explicitly or implicitly the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship or any other addition the Catholic Church has incorporated over the centuries. All of the innovations stand or fall together. No one can rightly adopt one out of the group without being stuck with the entire family. The principle taught by Heb. 7:14 is both Divine and (therefore) valid.