The "New Hermeneutic"

'Churches of Christ enjoyed phenomenal growth in the twentieth century. From 1906 to 1916 there was a growth of more than 100% in only one decade. By 1926 there had been a growth of 50% over the previous decade. In 1967 Louis Cassels of UPI called the churches of Christ the "fastest growing major religious body in the United States". It is interesting to consider why churches of Christ had grown so consistently during this period. It was not because of an "educated ministry", because most preachers of the time were not men of high academic attainments. It was not because of ornate buildings. James DeForest Murch of the Christian Church in his book, "Christians Only", listed one reason: "It's people had stood like the Rock of Gibraltar for the 'faith which was once delivered unto the saints', amid the doubt and confusion superinduced by liberalism. They have challenged the spirit of compromise and worldliness and dared to be a "peculiar" people teaching and practicing what they believe is the Bible way of life." Numerous studies in recent years have shown that mainline denominations have declined in membership while conservative churches with a strong doctrinal emphasis have increased. It is strange that some today are urging churches of Christ to forsake a strong doctrinal emphasis, contending that this is no longer what is needed in our generation.' (The Spiritual Sword. 'The Winds of Change', Alan E. Highers, Volume 25, October 1993, p. 3)

When the church split in the 1950's over the issues of Institutionalism/ Herald of Truth/ Sponsoring church arrangement/Social Gospel. Many here from that generation seriously and in love warned those brethren, 'once you stop insisting on bible authority for a few things, how do you maintain respect for bible authority in other areas?' Those congregations, traditionally referred to as liberal (i.e. taking liberities with the Scriptures), are now facing what has been called "The New Hermeneutic". The logical end result of the attitude that says 'we don't need bible authority for everything that we believe and practice'. And it is headed our way!

I. Hermeneutics:

"HERMENEUTICS"-the science of interpretation; esp., the study of the principles of Biblical interpretation. The "New Hermeneutic" therefore would be a new method of Bible Interpretation. For years, members of the church have taught the Command, Approved Example and Necessary Inference view of interpretation. That God grants permission, teaches us what is right and lawful through these three avenues. Jesus used all three in teaching and EXPLAINING THE SCRIPTURES. Command (Mark 16:16); Approved Example (Matthew 12:5); Necessary Inference (Matthew 22:32-33).

The "New Hermeneutic" abandons such a method of interpretation. It says that such is outdated and needs to be replaced.

  1. Specific Elements of the 'New Hermeneutic':

A. PREACH THE 'CORE GOSPEL', NOT DOCTRINE:

'The interpretative theory alleges that Christianity is a rather "plastic" religion. It is argued that whereas we must retain the "core" of the gospel (i.e. the doctrine of the virgin birth, resurrection, etc..), the ancient forms in which the Christian system was expressed are not obligatory today. We may alter certain aspects of the gospel format in order to conform to the cultural motif of our day.' (Spiritual Sword p. 12) One example cited is that: 'Steve Ink, a prominent contributor of 'Image' magazine, has suggested that there could be occasions when it might be acceptable, if no one was offended, to add Coke to the elements of the Lord's Table.' (Spiritual Sword p. 13) PROBLEMS WITH THE ABOVE THEORY:

(1) PICKING AND CHOOSING WHICH PART OF A VERSE APPLIES TO US:

This method of interpretation would teach that the 'gospel' and 'believeth' parts of Mark 16:15-16 apply to us today, but we are not bound by the 'baptism' part. Likewise, we have to keep 1 Corinthians 11:26 'proclaim the Lord's death', but not 'for as often as ye eat this bread'.

(2) OLD FALSE TEACHING IN A NEW DRESS:

For years the denominations were telling us, 'Preach the man (Jesus) and not the plan (doctrine). Then Leroy Garrett, Carl Ketcherside and Ed Fudge defined the gospel as 'believing Christ was born, lived and died, rose again, was seen, ascended and was crowned'. Anyone who believed this regardless of anything else, they perceived to be in fellowship or united with them. Doctrinal matters they said did not stand in the way of unity.

(3) IS THE 'CORE GOSPEL', ROTTEN TO THE CORE?

If I only have to believe that Christ was born, lived, died, was buried, and was raised. If these are the only 'facts' one must believe, then the vast majority of the N.T. is irrelevant. Then all doctrines that deal with morality are irrelevant, or how to treat one another, or the purpose, work and organization of the church. In fact, Jesus becomes irrelevant and impotent. When you divorce a Teacher from His message, you have made Him meaningless. (John 12:48; 5:47; 8:37,40,43,45,47) The 'core gospel' actually teaches a 'Lord, Lord' plan of salvation. (Matthew 7:21,24 '..and HEARETH THESE WORDS OF MINE, AND DOETH THEM' (5:28)

(4) HOW SMALL IS THAT 'CORE' GOING TO GET?

Rubel Shelly, one of the editors of 'Wineskins' magazine, has been a leading influence in the 'New Hermeneutic Movement'. But the very magazine he edits for, published an article entitled 'Christmas at Matthew's House' (Nov. 1992) by Andre Resner, a teacher at ACU, which characterized Mary as a "sexually questionable" woman and cast serious doubts upon the truth of the virgin birth. The lesson: When people teach that 'doctrine' or 'most doctrine' doesn't matter, eventually they end up teaching ALL DOCTRINE DOESN'T MATTER. Notice the inconsistency: They say we must agree on the 'doctrine' concerning the birth of Christ (His first coming, incarnation), but we can disagree about the 'doctrine' concerning His second coming. Why? We have to agree on the fact that He died to save us (the atonement), but we don't have to agree on 'what' He saved us from. The truth is, the bible doesn't make any distinction between the 'gospel' and the 'doctrine' (Compare Acts 17:18-19 with Romans 1:16; Romans 1:15 with Acts 2:42)

B. NO DOCTRINE CAN BE MADE A TEST OF FELLOWSHIP THAT HAS BEEN ARRIVED AT THROUGH THE PROCESS OF LOGICAL REASONING:

(1) WHAT ABOUT THE 'DOCTRINE' OF GOD'S EXISTENCE? (ROMANS 1:20)

Those in this movement complain about establishing bible authority through 'necessary inference'. But what people overlook is, the doctrine of the existence of God is a necessary inference! Paul said that the invisible things of God are clearly seen, BEING PERCEIVED through the things that are made. 'Being perceived'-TO EXERCISE THE MIND (Strong), 'to perceive with the mind, as distinct from perception by feeling' (Vine p. 168)

(2) WHAT ABOUT THE 'DOCTRINE' THAT THE BIBLE APPLIES TO US?

Since none of these letters were personally addressed to us, how do we know that we are even 'bound' by the commands they contain? It takes 'reasoning, logic' and necessary inference to conclude that I am accountable to what God said in the New Testament! (Mark 16:15-16; John 12:48; Revelation 21:7-8) In fact, God commands the use of reason and logic (Ephesians 5:17 'understand'; Hebrews 5:14 'have their senses exercised'; Matthew 15:10 'hear, and UNDERSTAND'.)

C. MAJOR IN THE GOSPELS, MINOR IN THE EPISTLES:

Those advocating this doctrine argue that 'you won't get much nourishment eating the shadow or the reflection (Acts-Revelation) of a ham sandwich (Matt.-John).' We are being told that the epistles are simply 'love letters' to the churches, and were never meant to serve as a 'pattern' for all Christians.

(1) BUT WHERE DID THE EPISTLES COME FROM? (John 14:26; 16:13)

Jesus gave His stamp of approval to everything that His apostles would teach (Matt. 10:40)

Paul (1 Corinthians 14:37), John (1 John 4:6) and Peter (2 Peter 3:16) all agreed that they were writing VITAL INFORMATION. One writer said, "The NH holds that the N.T. is a group of 'love letters', not a 'blueprint.' Could it not be both? Since 'it is not in man that walked to direct his steps' (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 16:25; 1 Cor. 1:21), a love letter that is a love letter would tell him HOW TO WALK, would give him a blueprint." (Spiritual Sword p. 33)

Those in this movement reject the idea that an 'example' is binding. In fact, Rubel Shelly said, 'Pattern theology has been our undoing' (Behold the Pattern. Goebel Music. p. 301)

(2) THE N.T. LETTERS WERE INTENDED FOR A WIDER AUDIENCE THAN THOSE TO WHOM THEY WERE FIRST SENT: (1 Corinthians 16:1; 4:17 'even as I teach everywhere in every church'; Colossians 4:16)

(3) FOLLOWING THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES IS STRESSED:

(Acts 2:42; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:14; 2 Timothy 1:13 'Hold the PATTERN of sound words'; 2 Timothy 3:10 'thou didst FOLLOW MY TEACHING'; 2 Peter 3:2; Jude 17)

(4) THE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH A 'DOCTRINE':

If the 'patterns' found in the epistles are irrelevant, than a man doesn't have to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:22-33); Children are under no obligation from God to honor and obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-2), and parents are under no obligation to properly raise their children (6:4). Church government, as outlined in Timothy and Titus is meaningless. Do those that advocate 'New Hermeneutics' believe in elders? Elders and deacons are part of the 'pattern' (1 Timothy 3:15).

AND WHAT HAPPENS TO MORAL ISSUES?

Hugo McCord stated, 'a professor from Virginia Seminary, where I was a student (1948-49), concluded that homosexuality is the mark of a sinful world, but that:'

"Individual homosexual persons, LIKE THE POOR, are not necessarily any more responsible for their condition; and therefore not necessarily any more sinful (sorry, I didn't know that being 'poor' was a sin??? MD) than the rest of us..under that standard it might be possible for the church to ordain homosexuals and countenance a lifelong faithful relationship between homosexuals." (Spiritual Sword p. 35)

Notice the hypocrisy: If people are going to practice homosexuality, then it must be in lifelong faithful relationships. WHY??? The very same passage that condemns homosexuality also condemns FORNICATION! These people have come up with the crazy moral ethic that says, 'homosexuals that fornicate are sinning', but the monogamous ones aren't. Hey, if homosexuality is permissible, THEN SO IS FORNCATION (1 Cor. 6:9). It makes about as much sense as saying, 'adultery practiced in a committed relationship is permissible, but adultery practiced with more than one person isn't, i.e. you can have an affair, as long as it is with only one other person for a prolonged period of time.'

Mark Dunagan, Beaverton Church of Christ-644-9017