Friday, February 06, 2015

Should We Bind Examples As We Do Commands?

I was recently asked if examples such as the meeting found in Acts 20:7 are to be considered binding.

My answer is: Yes, and No.

Paul writes:
HCSB 1 Cor 4:16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
HCSB 1 Cor 11:1 Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.Now I praise you because you always remember me and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
The implication, of course, is that whatever the first century church was doing, they were doing according to what Paul had taught them, and thus are traditions to be kept.

But that implication can be pressed beyond its breaking point. After all, they were baptizing for the dead (1 Cor 15:29); is that a tradition they learned from Paul, which we should be maintaining?

I think another question is the more relevant question: If examples are binding, how do we know which examples are binding and which aren't, and in what way/aspects is the example binding?"

For example, when we are told to imitate Paul (as in 1 Cor 4:16, cited above), does that mean we should imitate him in taking a vow and shaving our heads and offering animal sacrifices on the completion of that vow? Does it mean we should go on four missionary journeys across the Middle East? Does it mean we should have night-long church services?

Looking at the Acts 20:7 passage, how should we imitate this passage?

By meeting for supper on the last night a guest speaker is in town? By having church all night long every first day of the week? By having a healing service for dead young men? By having a long-winded lecture until past midnight when people are starting to fall asleep, and then having a group discussion from then until daybreak?

It seems to me that if WE bind something from an example, we'll be binding what WE perceive to matter, whereas our brother, equally devout, may perceive a different thing to matter, which HE then binds, and pretty soon, we're quarreling and then dividing.

So I think the binding we must do with examples is a binding only for ourselves, as we see happening in Romans 14 -- "each must be fully convinced in his own mind" -- without judging someone else who sees it differently. This means we must make room for other people to see it differently, which requires humility rather than "leaning on our own understanding".

Commandments (actually-stated, black-and-white, "direct" commands) are binding on all.

Examples (and inferences) are binding only on one's self according to how he understands the example (/inference).

This doesn't mean I can't try to persuade you to understand the example in the way I understand it, or to even believe you're wrong in your understanding, but it does mean I can't judge you for your understanding, right or wrong. I have to let you stand on your own feet before the Lord. And that's okay, because "[you] will stand. For the Lord is able to make [you] stand" (Rom 14:4).

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