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The Blueprint


Speaking where the Bible speaks, and silent where the Bible is silent. (About 20% of Churches of Christ keep the following rules strictly.)

1. In the book and website The Thunderous Silence of God, the author argues that we are to establish whether musical instruments are authorized in worship to God by
     1) apostolic command,
     2) early church example, or
     3) necessary inference from early church example.

This method of establishing authority is based on a mistaken premise: There must be a rulebook in the New Testament for the work, worship and organization of the local congregation.

The practice of establishing authority by command, apostolic example and necessary inference, is a doctrine that descends from the reformed Presbyterians (Alexander Campbell).

Why would one think that there has to be a rulebook for the church? Where did this idea come from?  Certainly not from the New Testament. Jesus never worried about rules for worship either in the synagogue or in the coming church that he was establishing. The only teaching we have from Jesus about church life is when Jesus tells people how to draw the line on troublesome people (Matt. 18:15-17). When the woman at the well asked Jesus about where a follower of Jahweh should worship, at this mountain (as her people taught) or in Jerusalem (as the Jews taught), Jesus brushed the question off as of little importance (John 4). If Jesus was interested in congregational work and worship, why did he never ever comment on it? Jesus said quite a bit, none of it about congregational work and worship. Anyone who wants to be the church of Christ should pay attention to that fact.

2. The Reformation was popularized* by Martin Luther, who in the zeitgeist and the Holy Spirit nailed 95 objections to the church door (which was the local bulletin board) in his hometown in Germany (1517 A.D.). Luther objected to the raising of church funds by selling forgiveness--Michelangelo was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the time. It was expensivo. The printing press had just been invented by Gutenberg in Holland. One of the first items printed were certificates for the forgiveness of sins (indulgences) that were hawked in Germany by John Tetzel (who probably wore a shiny suit and white shoes and cried on TV--but I digress). 

Thomas Olbricht states that Luther's way of interpreting the scriptures was Christocentric: all theology and doctrines had to point to or originate with Christ. 

Two years after Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the church door, a church salesman started selling indulgences in Zurich, Switzerland, which Ulrich Zwingli opposed, also nailing objections to his church door. Eventually Ulrich Zwingli opposed the Catholic view of the sacraments--believing baptism and the Lord's Supper were symbolic and covenantal (promises between man and God). He banned musical instruments from churches because they obstructed the focus on the preaching, but he encouraged lively singing. He instituted the Lord's Supper with the members sitting at a long table with wooden cups of wine and wooden platters of bread. He died defending Zurich against an attacking army sent by the Roman church.

Ulrich Zwingli was extremely influential in the churches of Scotland and England. One of Zwingli's disciples became a professor in the main seminary in England training ministers in the Church of England. Puritans (who later became the Pilgrims of America, and later the Congregational Church) followed Zwingli's teachings (as well as Calvin's).

The next generation of Reformers was John Calvin. Originally a Renaissance lawyer and the son of a lawyer, he was enamored with logic and philosophy and went about forming as logical a religion as possible. He rebelled against the earn-your-salvation view of the Roman church and emphasized our need to totally depend on God. A great admirer of Augustine (AD 430), he believed we are born so depraved that we are incapable of responding to God's call without God specifically calling each one of us. He viewed God as despotic and authoritarian: God chooses before we are born whom he will call and whom he will not. No-one can call this unfair, Calvin maintained, because, in all justice, everyone deserves to be lost and burn in hell, because we all sinned through our representative Adam. If God chooses some to be forgiven, then that is only because of God's mercy. (The other wings of Christianity: Eastern Orthodoxy and the Coptic Church, do not draw from Augustine, and do not believe in the total hereditary depravity of humans.)

John Calvin ruled Geneva, Switzerland strictly. One of Calvin's first acts was to have Michael Servetus burnt at the stake for not believing that Jesus was co-eternal with the Father. Calvin outlawed any criticism of himself or his trainees in Geneva. Some of his own relatives were hanged for adultery during his rule. People were terrified of Calvin, inspectors going from house to house, people informing on their relatives, to avoid being thought to have condoned sin. They also hated Calvin, naming their dogs after Calvin, and sometimes sicking their dogs on Calvin as he walked down the street. Calvin sheltered Protestants in Geneva when Bloody Mary, oldest daughter of Henry VIII, outlawed Protestantism in England. (Henry VIII knew that England wanted to be free from the Catholic Church, and he knew that he could get rich if he stopped sending money to Rome. His oldest daughter Mary was a staunch Catholic.) These English protestants helped elect the men to the Geneva city council that Calvin wanted, and Calvin and his church became the total ruler of Geneva. When the English protestants returned to England, they became the core of the Puritans, the Congregational Church or "free church", and the Presbyterian Church.

Thomas Olbricht states that Zwingli and Calvin's theology and way of interpreting the scriptures centered around purifying the church

3. The Presbyterian Church arose in Scotland and northern Ireland out of John Knox's teaching. John Knox was a follower of John Calvin. By the time of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, there had been divisions in the Presbyterian Church over whether the ruler of the city (burgh) was also the ruler of the congregation (as Calvin was both spiritual and political head of Geneva). Thus the Campbells were part of the Anti-burghers (actually the Old Light Seceder Anti-burgher Presbyterian Church).

A dash of John Calvin's authoritarian rule of Geneva, a teaspoon of DesCartes, a tablespoon of Francis Bacon's logic, and a cup from the American Declaration of Independence and Voila! you have the soufflè of the Churches of Christ.

This is what Thomas H. Olbricht, a Church of Christ historian has to say:

"In determining what specific matters were to be adapted, Zwingli spoke of both the commands of Christ and biblical examples. I have not found as yet, however, a statement in which Zwingli brought the two together as a clear hermeneutic principle. Whatever the case, an English contemporary of Bullinger, Edward Dering (1540-1576), a Puritan, offered what may be one of the earliest statements on commands, examples, and inferences, in arguing for the theological importance of inferences. He insisted that conclusions based on Scripture and drawn from "proportion, or deduction, by consequence,. . . is as well the Word of God, as that which is an express commandment or example." This early expression of the tripartite formula is worth noting because this formula rose to the forefront in the middle of the twentieth century as the consensus Churches of Christ hermeneutic. (1995)

4. So what does this have to do with the hard-line Churches of Christ looking for a rulebook? Everything. The lawyer attitude of John Calvin, the ruler of Geneva, opposition to the Catholic Church's monopoly on salvation, and the need to include or exclude people who take communion, all of these ideas went into the attitude of reading the scriptures with a presupposition. Calvin wanted to purify the Church, the church's worship and way of salvation. The presuppositions arose from each person's point of view:

If you were the Catholic Church during the Renaissance you read the New Testament with a presupposition that the church mentioned in the New Testament was the Catholic Church with all of its hierarchy, traditions and decisions. Just as everyone met in Jerusalem and decided what to do about the Gentile Christians (Acts 15), just so everyone must obey the bishops when they are elected and meet in Councils to make decisions. On the other hand if you were Martin Luther and John Knox you saw the harlot of Babylon in the book of Revelation as the Catholic Church itself.

5. The early organization of congregations in the New Testament mirrored exactly the Jewish synagogue. The Jewish synagogue organization had no authority in the "silence" of the Old Testament. There was no unit in the OT like the synagogue. There was the family, the tribe, the nation, the priesthood, the temple, the Sanhedrin, but no synagogue congregation with elders. Yet Jesus and the apostle Paul seemed quite happy to work within the structure of the synagogue as long as they were permitted. They never spoke out against synagogue organization, nor did they ask where the authority for the synagogue came from.

When confronted with this argument, members of the hard line churches of Christ usually say that there were things in the OT that were authorized orally by God to prophets that were never written down. Yet Jesus and all of the OT prophets always appealed to the written scriptures, never to oral tradition for authority.

6. The hard-line Churches of Christ are quite happy to have a God who switches rules without logic, from the OT to the NT. Even though they use logic to figure out the rules; the logic is divested of its intuitive sense. Some are even proud of this counterintuitive paranoia. ("God has a reason that we may not know about.") This presupposition is foreshadowed in Calvin's view of a god who pre-determines who will be saved and lost, and there is nothing you can do about it.

7. The hard-line Churches of Christ also don't seem to find it strange that God would hide his rulebook in a history of the early Church. It does not seem odd to some churches of Christ that the rules for the Israelites were clearly laid out in the Law of Moses, but now in the New Testament we have to carefully sift out the rules from the examples and expediences with the skill of paranoid lawyers. ("To be safe we must not use instrumental music.")

8. If we take away the presuppositions then what do we have? We have Jesus who tells us how to love one another and describes to us the character of God. Then we read a history (in the book of Acts) of how the early church responded to the Word made flesh. That's all. It is not a rule book. It is not a restriction. It is an account of how they responded to God. We may respond differently.

When we make this argument to hard-line CoCers, they are horrified:
     1. What would the church do if we quit teaching against denominationalism? (i.e. Who would purify the church?)
     2. How would you know you were close to God if you didn't have a rule book?

The answers:

     1. We would spend our energy helping the helpless. We would teach people how to love and forgive each other. We would teach people of the wonderful character of God.

     2. We would accept by faith the wonderful gift that God has given us: all our past, present and future sins have been nailed to the cross (Heb. 10), we are adopted into the family of God, we are imputed with the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4, II Cor 5:21), we share his glory and honor (II Thess. 2:14).

The Churches of Christ need to stop trying to find or create the perfect work, worship and organization of the church, and focus on Christ and what Christ asked for.

Next Page


The practice of establishing authority by command, apostolic example and necessary inference, is a doctrine that descends from the reformed Presbyterians (Alexander Campbell) and The Scottish School of Common Sense.

See here for Pharisees and Instrumental Music.

*Earlier protesters and reformers of the Roman Catholic Church include the Waldensians of Italy (800 A.D.) and England (1120 A.D.).

Jesus never worried about rules for worship either in the synagogue or in the coming church that he was establishing.

"The New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members."
--Thomas Campbell,
"Declaration and Address"

"Using the New Testament as our blueprint we have reestablished in the twentieth century Christ's church. "

--Batsell Barrett Baxter and Carroll Ellis in Neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jew

For a page on Prooftexting click here.

The presuppositions arose from each person's point of view.

There is no authority for the establishment of the Jewish synagogue anywhere in the Bible. The entire Bible is "silent" about the organization of the synagogue.

Why would God hide his rulebook in a history of the early Church?

For more on Contextless Prooftext Sermons click here.

The history of the early church is not a rule book. It is not a restriction. It is an account of how they responded to God. We may respond differently.

For more on Black-and-White thinking click here.

For more on Stages of Faith click here.

What does the New Testament claim to be?

Click here for a Legalism Questionnaire

Was Jesus pleased that Americans around 1840 ignored the human trafficking of slave labor and concubines, and ignored the land grab and genocide of Native Americans, and focused on reproducing the exact worship service of the early church? Is Jesus pleased today if we continue that tradition?