On the subject of deaconesses you wrote: "The office of deaconess had not developed until the 3rd century. What does the Bible teach? What was the practice of the first century church? Where the scriptures are silent we need to proceed cautiously." Yet on the subject of musical instruments in church worship you say, "The New Testament neither commands nor condemns the use of musical instruments in church." However, couldn't your answer equally have been, "The use of musical instruments had not developed until the 7th century. What does the Bible teach? What was the practice of the first century church? Where the scriptures are silent we need to proceed cautiously"? Or on the question of deaconesses, couldn't the answer equally have been, "The New Testament neither commands nor condemns deaconesses in the church"? What method do you use to decide when to follow the example of the first century church, and when to appeal to the fact that something is not expressly forbidden in the New Testament? -- Stephanie Klempfner

In neither reply did I teach that we must follow early church practice. The article on instrumental music was written in part to answer those who condemn its use in worship based on the silence of the scriptures. As for deaconesses, the point I was making was that the "office" is not easily proved from the N.T.; it developed. (Please see my reply in Q&A 0800.)

The question is certainly a good one. I would say that we are bound to follow the example of the first century church when an explicit doctrine has been articulated. To the extent that our interpretation is an inference, there is less obligation. To illustrate, the early church met for the Lord's Supper. We know from church history that this was a weekly observance. And yet the Bible nowhere commands us to take communion weekly; that view would be an inference from Acts 20:7. (Please see what I have already written about this passage, which oddly enough may support a "Monday" communion!) In short, I have no "method," though I would like to comment on the method I was taught from the time I became part of the American Restoration Movement (when I was 18 years of age).

In the Restoration Movement, three lines of reasoning were followed to determine doctrine:
* Direct command
* Binding example
* Necessary inference

And yet all three are problematic. A direct command to whom? (If Paul commands Timothy, does that mean we have to follow his instructions too, as in 2 Timothy 4:13?) A binding example? (Who determines whether it is binding or merely cultural?) A "necessary" inference? (What seems obvious to one Bible student may not be obvious to another.)

While I would not reject these three lines of reasoning out of hand, they are of limited value. We who are fond of saying that "the Bible interprets itself" had better get used to the silences of scripture. And its ambiguities, too.

But not to leave people hanging, let me return to the trio of interpretive methods and illustrate their value:

* Direct command: Acts 2:38. Yet since the command is said to apply to all generations (Acts 2:39), and is amply illustrated as crowds and individuals obeyed it throughout Acts, the command is rightly construed to apply to us as well.
* Binding example: Acts 8:38. Since every baptism appears to be an immersion, and the original Greek word baptisma means immersion, we have no right to sprinkle, pour, or apply water. Those baptized must go under the water.
* Necessary inference: Colossians 2:12. Since faith is required for one's baptism to be valid, and babies do not have faith, it follows that babies may not be baptized.

In the case of baptism and a number of other subjects, there is sufficient evidence upon which to arrive at certain conclusions. But on many other biblical subjects, there is insufficient evidence upon which to build doctrine. Which is where I think that those who are dogmatic about instrumental music, or the role of the "deaconess" have overstepped.

For more on this, search "restoration hermeneutic" at the worldwide web.

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