“Does Inconsistency Justify Disobedience?”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Those who are opposed to the project of restoring New-Testament Christianity often love to point out times when the churches of Christ (or other conservative groups) are inconsistent in the use of Scripture (they think).   The argument goes that if believers are ignoring the authority of the Bible when it comes to Practice X, they don’t have the right to object to Practice Y on the basis of Bible authority either.  Thus, they conclude, we should feel free to engage in Practice X and Practice Y alike.

There are many different areas of study in which this argument appears.  For instance, Craig Keener famously uses it in his discussion of women in ministry (which those who are so inclined can read here.  He contends, among other things, that people who hand-wave away the covering as a cultural practice 2000 years ago also must accept the argument that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a cultural practice that does not apply to us today.  Others similarly argue that people who eat shellfish should not condemn the practice of homosexuality (Law of Moses for the win!), and that churches that don’t practice foot-washing and the holy kiss shouldn’t insist on a-cappella worship either.

I think there are significant flaws with all of those analogies (comparing apples to elephants does not permit the conclusion that apples have floppy gray ears!), but there is an even more severe problem with the form of argument than that.  If indeed it is true that Christians are being inconsistent by ignoring Commandment X and insisting on Commandment Y, the cure for the disease is not to begin ignoring Y too.  It is to begin practicing both X and Y.

If indeed the Scriptures require women to wear the covering, they should wear the covering.  If indeed Christians are instructed not to eat shellfish, we should not eat shellfish.  If indeed God expects His people to wash feet and exchange holy kisses, we should wash feet and exchange holy kisses.  Period.  End of discussion. 

By contrast, if we are wrong about coverings and shellfish and kisses, we should not compound our error by allowing female ministers and the practice of homosexuality and instrumental music!  Unrighteousness is not an excuse for more unrighteousness, not ever.

I don’t think that every commandment in the Bible is binding on Christians today, nor do I even know anyone who argues that they are and lives accordingly.  There are reasons to ignore the ordinances about shellfish, along with the rest of the Law of Moses.  There are reasons to regard commandments concerning the covering as specific to a particular place and time.    If we’re going to say yes to shellfish and no to the covering, we need to know, understand, and accept those arguments.

What we must not do is dismiss the parts of the Bible that we don’t feel like following as “cultural” while insisting on the rest as the inspired word of God.  There is a deadly problem with so doing, and it is not that we have opened the door to lady preachers and gay marriage.  It is that we have done what is right in our own eyes while rejecting His ordinance.  We have dethroned Him as King and set ourselves up in His place.

No one with a spirit like that can inherit eternal life, and that’s true no matter what our culture (or any other) says.