Let me begin this dialogue with Darrell by expressing my complete agreement with an observation he made in his first affirmative to the first proposition. In response to the obvious challenge as to why such an exchange between brethren as this current one is even necessary, he wrote, "Differing views about what God authorizes leads to a fractured fellowship. ... In fact, the Lord's church is divided because of differing views of the New Testament pattern." He is absolutely correct. Brethren, the Family of God has been feuding and fragmenting for far too long, and, frankly, over matters that have absolutely nothing to do with our ultimate relationship with God or His children. And these "vital issues" are most assuredly not proving to be effective in evangelizing the lost or in edifying and unifying the saved. Satan is having a field day in the church, and I fear far too many of us are willing (or, at best, unknowing) participants. Darrell's "prayer and aim," as is mine, is to "help stem the tide of division in the church." I believe that responsible, respectful, reflective dialogue between differing brethren is a good, and even necessary, beginning. It is with this noble end in mind that I have agreed to this present exchange. May all those who read it do so with open minds, open Bibles, an openness to change, and with a yearning for greater fellowship and loving harmony between shamefully separated siblings in the Family of our Father.
Answers to Darrell's Questions
According to the format of this formal debate, as previously established by David Brown, the editor for the monthly publication Contending for the Faith, who also serves as the moderator of this exchange, each participant will be permitted to ask six True/False questions of the other participant in each of his posts (except for the final rebuttal post in each half of the debate). True/False questions obviously can be somewhat misleading if not correctly phrased. For example: "You are no longer beating your wife." True or False? Well, clearly, this will need some clarification by the respondent, for either answer reflects poorly on his character (unless the term "beating" simply refers to the fact that he regularly "beats" her in their daily game of chess). One can easily perceive the weakness of such questions when poorly phrased, or when terms employed tend to be ambiguous. However, I will do my best to respond to the six Darrell has posed.
Darrell Broking declared, "Different hermeneutical approaches to God's Word lead men to different conclusions about what God authorizes. ... Accordingly, there are differing views in regard to that which God approves and rejects." He further observes, "Differing interpretations of the Word of God are the result of how men approach the Scriptures." I would tend to agree with this. If someone perceives the inspired Scriptures (and yes, I do indeed believe them to be "God-breathed") as a book of LAW, then they will search the pages of this book for God's law. However, if they perceive the inspired Scriptures to be a book of LOVE, then they will search the pages of this book for God's love. I personally do NOT regard the 27 New Covenant writings to be a legal document. They are not regulatory -- they are revelatory. They reveal to us a loving Father who was willing to display that love in the most dramatic way imaginable to man: sending His beloved Son to die for our sins so as to bring about a restoration of relationship (not a regulatory religion). It was not only an act of love, but an act of grace and mercy. To reduce this revelation of grace to some regulatory code is nothing short of an affront to our Father, and it marginalizes His gift.
When I examine the Scriptures, I do not search for a pattern to impose, but rather for a Person to imitate. HE is my pattern. We sing a marvelous hymn (I wonder if Darrell sings this same hymn) written in 1885 by William A. Ogden titled "Where He Leads I'll Follow." There is a line in this hymn that sums it up for me: "HE the great example is, and pattern for me." I fear that far too often my beloved brethren in the Family of God have failed to perceive the true purpose of these inspired writings. They are not given to regulate a religion, but rather to reveal a Redeemer! It's not about law, it's all about love. Does love involve an obligation to strive to live according to the expectations of our Father? Of course. There are clearly commands He has issued. "Love one another" is one of them. Are we to obey? We had better. Our precious Redeemer Himself observed, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" [John 14:15]. In Hebrews 5:9 we are informed that our Lord "became unto all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." No, we do not diminish the role of obedience. It is vital. But, let us not forget that our Lord Jesus also declared that His load was light and His yoke was easy [Matt. 11:30]. Jesus came to lift the burdens of the weary and heavy-laden, not pile more upon them. Jesus pronounced a woe upon the legalists of His day, "For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear" [Luke 11:46]. It was never Jesus' intent, however, to perpetuate such legalistic, patternistic religious oppression. His commands are not burdensome.
Indeed, may not His commandments be summed up in a word --- Love?! A lawyer approached Jesus one day (at the instigation of the Pharisees) and asked Him which was the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus replied that one must love God with every fiber of one's being, and that the second greatest command was like unto it -- one must love one's neighbor! The Lord then said, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" [Matt. 22:40]. Volumes of regulatory law and tradition were just reduced to a command to LOVE. In so doing the Lord lifted the burden of legalistic patternism and merely imposed the royal law of love!! In commenting upon this, the apostle Paul wrote, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law" [Rom. 13:8]. Paul then lists several well-known laws regulating behavior and then again stresses the fact that they are summed up in love for others. "Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" [vs. 10]. The apostle John wrote, "God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" [1 John 4:16]. Indeed, love is the very mark of discipleship. Jesus declared, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" [John 13:35]. When we are united in one loving, harmonious body of believers we have the greatest evangelistic witness on earth [John 17:21]. This is a far cry from the heavy burdens imposed by the legalistic patternists.
These legalists and religious patternists of the first century would often "travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte," and yet Jesus declared that when such a person became one, he was made "twice as much a son of hell" as those who had indoctrinated him [Matt. 23:15]. Why? Because they had lost sight of the true purpose of God's Word, which they were daily invalidating for the sake of their own tradition, and as such they were worshipping the Lord God in vain, teaching as divine doctrine the precepts of mere men [Matt. 15:3-9]. They searched the Scriptures for LAW, and in so doing had utterly failed to perceive the LORD. In other words, their hermeneutical approach was flawed. They perceived, as many do even today, the inspired writings as regulatory rather than revelatory. Too many of my brethren today are making the same mistake, thinking that life is to be found in the Scriptures. That is a false quest. Life is to be found in the ONE who has been revealed to us within the Scriptures. To make the NT writings themselves (as Darrell has done) "the divine pattern which must be followed for both fellowship and salvation" (Darrell's words) is to elevate them to a status unto which they were never divinely intended. Yet, in speaking of these 27 documents, Darrell has referred to their "standing as the divine pattern for salvation." Then he later extends this to "the church of Christ wherein salvation is." No, brother, salvation is in Christ, not in the "church of Christ." Salvation is in a Person, not a pattern or a place or a position or a practice. The New Covenant writings do not impart life (that was never their purpose), but they DO impart knowledge of One who DOES impart life.
Just before stating that all Scripture is "God-breathed," and that it is profitable for instruction and training, among other things, the apostle Paul made this statement regarding Timothy -- "From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" [2 Tim. 3:15]. Yes, once again we perceive that the Scriptures (in this case the OT writings) were largely intended to be revelatory in nature, although we freely admit that under the Old Covenant there were indeed a great many more regulations (especially pertaining to the tabernacle/temple worship). These were imposed until a "time of reformation" [Heb. 9:10; cf. vs. 1], which time was ushered in with the coming of the New Covenant, and which Jesus said was even then on the scene [John 4:23-24]; a time when worship of the Father by His beloved children would be characterized less by regulation, and more by depth of spiritual relationship. Nevertheless, some today still perceive the New Covenant writings to be equally as much about LAW as those of the Old Covenant. Both, however, were designed to reveal relationship, not to regulate religion. Jesus rebuked the religionists of His day with these words: "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life" [John 5:39-40]. I fear that people like Darrell are still searching the inspired Scriptures looking for patterns, and perhaps, in so doing, truly failing to perceive the real Pattern right before their eyes -- JESUS. Their hermeneutical approach is skewed, and, as a result, so is their theology.
Observations on Darrell's Thoughts
Let me make a number of observations on the thoughts presented by Darrell Broking within his first affirmative. He has made several statements that truly need to be challenged, as, in my view, they are far removed from Truth. In his introduction Darrell wrote, "God's desire for His people is unity and uniformity based on the teaching of His Word." Unity I will agree with ... uniformity, however, actually works contrary to genuine unity of the Spirit. If every member within the Body of Christ was uniform, then we would have a strange looking body indeed. "If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?" [1 Cor. 12:17]. If the whole body was just one large ear, then you would have uniformity. Unity, however, is a diversity of parts making up a functional whole. This is not just applicable to talents and abilities and opportunities, it also applies to personal convictions and methodologies. Yes, there are indeed some essentials upon which we must agree in order to be in fellowship with the Lord and one another (and even to be saved), but they are truly few in number (more about these when I take the affirmative in the second half of this debate). The challenge of unity is to come together as one in spite of these many differences. The key is LOVE, and the unifying force is the Holy Spirit. Even a casual reading of Romans 14 will reveal that these disciples of Christ were far from being uniform (even in their strong convictions of faith), but IN HIM they could clearly be united. Rallying to a Person allows for unity in diversity; rallying to a position or pattern, however, demands uniformity of thought and practice, and I believe such a focus to be completely contrary to the spirit of biblical teaching, especially that of the New Covenant writings.
Darrell declares, "The term pattern refers to the authoritative standard to which men must model themselves in order to be saved and in fellowship with Deity and those who are saved." I would tend to agree with this statement IF that "authoritative standard" to which Darrell referred is identified as JESUS CHRIST. I utterly reject this statement, however, in light of the fact that Darrell believes this "authoritative standard" to be "the New Covenant writings" themselves. In their entirety, Darrell? Every single word? No exceptions? Every word, every phrase, every sentence is a vital part of that "authoritative standard" which "must be followed for both fellowship and salvation"? Is this your position, Darrell? Readers, please take note that he has stated that "the New Covenant writings ARE the divine pattern which must be followed for both fellowship and salvation" (his exact words). Again, every single word, phrase and sentence, Darrell? Absolutely no exceptions? I eagerly await his response to this, as it is central to our present debate. Indeed, it is the actual point over which this debate is being waged. Thus, he owes it to the readers to respond to these questions, and to do so with great specificity and clarity.
I found it extremely interesting, and not a little amusing, to be perfectly honest, that near the end of his first affirmative Darrell Broking provides a quote from E. W. McMillan in which the following statement is made: "In the King's regulations of his New Covenant laws, these obligations are not systematized, as they were in the Old; but they are scattered throughout the entire group of writings and clearly stated." Hmmm. Scattered throughout the entire group of writings and clearly stated. Well, that sounds amazingly similar to the proposition I will affirm in the second half of this debate, and which Darrell denies. Odd that he would include a quote that appears to defeat his own argument!!
Although Darrell and I both believe that the Scriptures are genuinely "God-breathed," nevertheless I believe that God still allowed the individual personalities of the writers to shine through the documents they penned. I also believe that they collected documentary evidence, under the guiding influence of the Spirit, to aid them in the writing of their various gospel accounts, historical reviews and epistolary charges to the churches. This is clear, for example, in the statement made by Luke at the beginning of his gospel record. He spoke of those who had compiled the accounts of eyewitnesses and put them together, and "it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out..." [Luke 1:1-3]. It was an investigative effort; a compiling of evidence from a number of sources. Yes, the Spirit was at work here, I believe. But, let's not discount the individual efforts of the NT writers themselves. Darrell asserts that "this view places the focus of inspiration on men and scholarship and not on God and His Word. This view is probably doing more to strip the New Testament of its standing as the divine pattern for salvation and fellowship than any other factor today." I disagree completely!!
Darrell has given us all a couple of examples of divine specificity in ages past, and I have no disagreement with them whatsoever. When God specifies, man must obey. It is when men assume or infer or seek to deduce such legal regulation in the face of divine silence, and elevate said personal perceptions to the standing of divine precept that I must voice a strong objection. Darrell asked, "Al, please tell us what part of the divine pattern could Noah have left undone and still have been saved from the flood?" God spoke; God specified ... Noah complied. We must do ALL that our God commands. No argument from me here! "Al, please tell us what part of the divine pattern could Moses not do and remain well-pleasing to God?" God spoke; God specified ... Moses complied. Again, we must do no less today. The key, however, is -- God spoke; God specified. I am convinced with all of my heart that these specifications of our God in the New Covenant writings are clearly stated, rather few in number, and easily located within the pages of the NT writings. It's this that Darrell denies. It's his view, apparently (or so this first proposition and his first affirmative seem to suggest), that every single word of these 27 books IS the divine standard of authority upon which both fellowship and salvation depend. I find that to be an absurd notion, and one he will have much difficulty in defending when faced with some practical challenges (which I intend to provide). When God specifies, we must all obey. No argument there. When men speculate, we are under no such obligation. Much of what is imposed upon the church today as divine specification is nothing more than human speculation. I will heed the former, but never the latter.
"God has given mankind today a divine pattern for building his life. It is the New Testament of Jesus Christ. ... If the whole or the totality of the New Testament does not constitute God's divine pattern today, what message is conveyed to us by 2 John 9, First Corinthians 4:6, Galatians 1:6-8, and Revelation 22:18-19, and what do they mean?" So writes and declares Darrell Broking in his first affirmative. The 27 books known collectively as the New Covenant Scriptures ("the whole" and "the totality" of them) "constitute God's divine pattern today." This is the clearly stated view of Darrell Broking, as here seen in his own words. I take "whole" and "totality" to include every single word contained within these 27 books. Indeed, to diminish these 27 books by even one word would be to jeopardize our very eternal salvation, as per his apparent interpretation of the passages he provided. Thus, according to Darrell's view, the New Covenant writings do not merely contain an authoritative standard for godly living resulting in both fellowship and salvation, THEY ARE (wholly and totally) that authoritative standard for godly living resulting in both fellowship and salvation. This, of course, leads one to speculate as to the identity of that "divine pattern" prior to the penning and collection of these 27 books. The very first book of the 27 to be penned was not produced until almost two decades after Pentecost, for example. IF these 27 books ARE the divine pattern, then what constituted the pattern for the first two decades of the existence of the church? In fact, the 27 books were not completed until near the end of the first century, so we're looking at several generations of disciples who did not possess "the divine pattern," or who only had bits and pieces of it ... that is, IF these 27 books truly constitute "the whole" and "the totality" of that divine pattern, as Darrell claims. Just something to think about!!
Darrell asks, "If the pattern that God obligates man to follow today is not the totality of the New Testament, but it is only found within the New Testament, how is it that men are to determine what parts of the last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ are important to God and, thus, a pattern that man must follow, and what parts of the New Testament are not important to God and, therefore, not a part of the pattern that man must follow?" Again, we detect a bit of confusion between these 27 inspired documents and the "last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ." Perhaps a careful study of what a "covenant" is would be in order for Darrell, if he is able to find the time. As for how to determine what is related to salvation and fellowship within the pages of these 27 written documents, that more properly falls under the heading of the second proposition. I will get into that in some depth when we arrive at that phase of this debate, so I would urge Darrell to be patient. It will be discussed. As for what part of the NT writings may NOT constitute a pattern for man to follow pertaining to fellowship and/or salvation, let me give just a singular example -- Mark 14:51. "And a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body." Hmmm!!! Darrell may actually have a point -- if he showed up at the congregation for which I preach wearing only a linen sheet over his naked body, that just might be a fellowship issue! Shall I give a few more examples, Darrell, or will this suffice?! After all, you DID declare that "the whole, the totality" of these documents constitute the divine pattern. MY linen sheet stands at the ready, brother ... how about yours?! Maybe this is why Paul urged Timothy to "bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus" [2 Tim. 4:13]. When you follow Christ Jesus naked, wrapped in your linen sheet, Darrell, make sure you have someone bring a cloak to you later on while you're in prison ... after all, it's part of the NT pattern of godly behavior resulting in fellowship and salvation. The whole ... the totality ... right?!
Darrell Broking wrote, "The gospel of Christ teaches alien sinners how to get into the church of Christ wherein salvation is. ... Al, do you believe this?" No, I do not. The gospel message that I preach is NOT designed to get the lost "into the church of Christ." Salvation is NOT in the church of our Lord Jesus, rather it is in Christ Jesus Himself. I labor to lead people to HIM, not to the Church of Christ church. When one enters into relationship with Jesus, then our Lord numbers such a one together with all the other redeemed of this earth. They thus become part of that universal "called out" body of believers. Salvation is not in this group, but rather in the One who numbers them together. Darrell also referred several times to 2 John 9-11, one of the favorite passages of the legalistic patternists ... and also one of the most abused texts in the New Covenant writings. Darrell further abuses it by equating "the teaching of Christ" with the "divine pattern." Thus, it appears Darrell believes that the New Covenant writings (all 27 of them; every single word of them) constitute "the teaching/doctrine of Christ." He wrote, "Those who go beyond the established boundaries of this divine pattern 'have not God.'" He then asks, "Al, do you believe that the reference to the 'doctrine of Christ' in 2 John 9-11 is to Jesus' teaching known as the gospel?" No, I do not.
This is a passage whose meaning has been debated for many, many centuries. Dr. Albert Barnes states the problem very simply -- "Is this the doctrine which Christ taught, or the true doctrine respecting Him? The language is somewhat ambiguous, like the phrase 'the love of Christ,' which may mean either His love to us, or our love to Him. It's very difficult to determine here which is the true sense -- whether it means the doctrine or precepts which He taught, or the true doctrine respecting Him" (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament). The issue is this -- is the phrase "doctrine of Christ" a Subjective Genitive or is it an Objective Genitive? Which Greek grammatical construction one chooses will determine one's interpretation of the passage .... and thus one's theology and practice. Again, scholarship has been divided for centuries over which to choose, since either is correct grammatically! I have dealt in-depth with this passage in a study which may be accessed online by those interested in examining this question in greater detail than is permitted here (Reflections #84 -- The Doctrine of Christ), however let me just declare that my own personal conviction is that this is an Objective Genitive. Contextually, the teaching about Christ that John sought to emphasize was that Christ Jesus had indeed come to this earth in the flesh, something that was being denied by some at that time (see verse 7). Thus, it was a very specific teaching, and should not be expanded to include every word of the 27 inspired New Covenant documents.
One of the cardinal rules of biblical/sacred hermeneutics is that an obscure or ambiguous passage should be interpreted, if possible, in light of one that is clear and unambiguous. I believe we have just such an instructive parallel in 1 John 2:22-23. There is a clear parallel of ideas found between this passage and 2 John 9. In the former we clearly see that it is teaching about Jesus Christ that is in view. John places MUCH emphasis upon the doctrine of Jesus having come in the flesh (see 1 John 1:1-3 for example), and thus the objective genitive should not be lightly dismissed as the probable authorial intent of 2 John 9. One should also not overlook that John clearly referred back to verse 7 in verse 10 where he spoke of "this teaching/doctrine." What teaching or doctrine was that? The teaching or doctrine that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh (vs. 7). Between those statements we find our problem phrase which speaks of "the doctrine/teaching of Christ." The immediate, as well as the remote, context seems to favor an objective genitive interpretation. This is teaching ABOUT Christ. One scholar observed, "Christians should not tear 2 John 9 out of its context, and then seek to employ this passage as a meat cleaver to hack to death all those who disagree with their party cry for orthodoxy, which originates out of their own interpretive community." Thus, my own personal conviction on this passage, after much research and reflection, is that "doctrine of Christ" is most likely, based on the context and John's overall focus in his writings, an objective genitive. Therefore, John is referring to the teaching ABOUT Jesus Christ; specifically: that He was truly incarnated ... "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), and they handled that flesh with their own hands (1 John 1:1). This is a foundational Truth of the Christian faith, and if anyone comes to you and does NOT bring this teaching/doctrine, they are to be rejected!
Darrell asks, "Al, do you believe that keeping God's laws is a negative thing?" On the contrary -- when our God commands, He does so with our best interests in mind. Therefore, it is a very positive thing for men to comply with His specified instructions for our lives. However, when mere fallible men assume various rules and regulations for the people of God, dictating where HE never did, then that is indeed a very, very negative thing. And, sadly, that's just what is happening much too frequently within the family of our heavenly Father. Where our God speaks and specifies, I will always listen and obey; where some of His people presume to speak for the Father, I feel no compulsion to comply.
Near the end of his first affirmative, Darrell speaks of various "patterns" he perceives within the New Covenant documents. He is convinced "there are five steps required to get into Christ or the church." Which is it? Christ OR the Church ... or are you equating the two (as it appears)? Are you sure there are just five steps? No more, no less? What would you do with Paul's statement that "whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" [Rom. 10:13]? Is this calling upon the Lord salvific? Does this make six? Are there others? Darrell talks about "one pattern for worship," which I find interesting in light of the tremendous diversity of worshipful expression in most every congregation I have visited. He says, "There are five acts of New Testament worship which are authorized by Christ." Really? Just five? No more, no less? What about baptism? If this occurs within the corporate assembly, might it be considered an "act of worship"? Just curious.
Additionally, Darrell Broking says, "the pattern teaches that the Lord's Supper may only be observed on the Lord's Day and that in the assembly of the saints." The "pattern" also indicates it was done in the evenings, in conjunction with a meal, and in an upper room. Also, please make sure that one of the teens falls asleep and tumbles to his death. Legalistic patternism is, as one will quickly notice, a "pick and choose" religious exercise. It appears Darrell gives greater authority to a singular example of disciples in one location on one weekend than he does to the very words of the Son of God Himself -- "as often as." Darrell also writes, "Christians are to sing in worship unaided by mechanical instruments of music, which violate the divine pattern and constitute sin." Well, Darrell Broking has just declared far more in that sentence than our God ever did anywhere in all of Scripture. God has never called the use of instruments as an aid or accompaniment to singing in worship a SIN. I would challenge Darrell to show me where God has made such a declaration. In fact, I would challenge Darrell to provide even ONE passage, in either OT or NT writings, that even HINTS at divine disapproval of instrumental accompaniment to singing in a corporate worship setting. I'm sure we would all like to see that passage. We shall await it. Practices based upon human deduction and assumption can never rise to the standing of divine decree, no matter how convinced one might be of his personal preferences and perceptions. God never called it sin, thus neither shall I.
I must admit to being rather curious as to how one evolves such a narrow legalistic perspective. Is this view of patternism, as it is expressed in the first proposition of this debate, a perspective Darrell has recently come to, or has he held this view for many, many years? If his conviction that the NT documents ARE the divine pattern that must be strictly adhered to for one to obtain eternal salvation and to enjoy the fellowship of the saints, and these documents don't merely contain God's divine expectations in that regard, then I have to wonder if this is a rather recent revelation of his, or if he has pretty much always believed this way. Again, it would be enlightening to know the evolution of his thought ... if indeed it has evolved, and not remained constant over the years.
Questions for Darrell