Good CENI ideas from a former Church of Christ blogger

Let’s talk about a type of interpretive method common in Churches of Christ (and definitely used in Johnny Robertson’s, Norm Field’s and James Oldfield’s television broadcasts).  It basically states – every practice, thought, and value we hold must find within the New Testament (they excluded the Old Testament because they are Marcionites…oops…I mean because they are the church under the NT constitution and not the OT – Israel’s constitution) a clear command, example, or necessary inference.  If one of these three cannot be found, then what we are doing is considered “unauthorized” and thus a sin.  This is how acappella Churches of Christ justify their doctrine when it comes to opposing musical instruments

This interpretive method has been called PATTERNISM – the belief that there is a specific pattern (think…”BEHOLD THE PATTERN”) given to us in Scripture and there cannot be any deviation to be the true church (note that language…”true church”…ouch). 

It seems to me that this interpretive method (patternism) falls under its own weight.  No where do we see Jesus or the apostles adopting command, example, and necessary inference as their interpretive lens with their Scripture…thus it lacks a clear command, example, and necessary inference (e.g., Jesus’ participation in the synagogue, feast of Dedication…all of which have no “command, example, or necessary inference in the OT).

This interpretive method simply does not take seriously the complexity of many biblical passages.  Command, example, and necessary inference do not contend with things that are cultural, things that are situationally-specific, or things that are coincidental in nature.  For example, the NT clearly commands us to wash one another’s feet, greet each other with a holy kiss, and for women to wear head-veils.  Yet, at least in how we actually lived, we never followed any of these very clear and direct commands!  Why?  We judged them to be culturally conditioned and not applicable to our day and age.  Or, what about the fact that when the Bible tells usby example that there were seven deacons in the church in Jerusalem according to Acts 6.  We have no other mention of the number of deacons a church ought to have.  Does that mean that the church can only have seven deacons because it is the only example we have?  In this we have judged that the Acts 6 passage is situationally-specific.  Or what about the fact that when the location of communion is mentioned in the New Testament, it is always in an upper room?  No where do we read about the church taking communion on the first floor (at least not explicitly).  In this we have said that this is simply coincidental.

In the end, I would say patternism has much that it lacks in regards to understanding and applying the Bible. 

adapted from here. 


6 thoughts on “Good CENI ideas from a former Church of Christ blogger

  1. Actually, we do see both Christ and the first-century church appealling to statements, commands, examples, and necessary implications as having authority.

    His section on complexity is self-contradictory. If the way this interpretive method is applied did not take culture into account, churches of Christ would practice foot-washing; the fact that they do not and cite culture proves the exact opposite of what he seems to be saying. (Plus, he makes the embarrassing, though common, mistake of saying the seven men of Acts 6 were deacons, when they aren’t identified as such.)

    Also of note is that, while deprecating the use of commands, examples, and necessary implication (funny how statements always get left out), he proposes no alternative. In my experience, this is nearly universal among “CENI” objectors. I’ve seen some appeal to some extra-Biblical source for determining God’s will (a man, a church, or personal revelation), but that’s about it – and in that case, they don’t object to the particular hermeneutic as much as sola scriptura.

  2. I think that the issue here is that Church of Christ fundamentalists use CENI as a weapon to bludgeon people, and in the process seem to gloss completely over Christ’s message of love. I think any hermeneutic that is used as a weapon to tear people down is a hermeneutic being used mistakingly.

  3. I certainly agree we have to have truth and love; one without the other isn’t much use. However, that’s not the premise Barrington states.

  4. I knew this was coming and am not suprised Jeff commented. CENI can be seen in places in the bible, but can this hermeneutic be used all of the time and do some use it only when it benifits their views? There are many flaws with this hermeneutic and many Church of Christ folk do not use it.

  5. Well, that’s the premise I’m stating.

    And that’s the thing I (personally) don’t see from our three Church of Christ preachers, and it’s one of the big reasons Johnny Robertson lost the debate to Mr. Deloa.

    That, and the complete error in their teaching that only people in their churches are truly saved.

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