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Vol.  9  No. 5 May 2007  Page 4
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D. Gene WestGeneric & Specific Authority #1

By D. Gene West

    One of the things causing so much confusion among our brethren today is a lack of understanding of generic and specific authority as these apply to our religious life. For example, one of the arguments used by those who are attempting to foist on us what even they call a “radical restoration,” by insisting that we should have “house churches” and worship only in our homes, eating the Lord’s Supper in the midst of a common meal is this: There is no authority for our having meetinghouses. They insist that in apostolic times there were none; the disciples always worshipped in their homes. One of the many flaws in their argument is that they could not prove it if their lives depended on it! While it is true that the early saints worshipped in their homes, there are hints that this was not always the case. For example, James, half-brother of our Lord, spoke of one coming “into your synagogue,” or “into your assembly” (2:2). That could have been in the home of a brother who had sufficient wealth to own a home, but it could also have been in another place—wherever the assembly was. Hence, it is not proper to say the early saints always met in homes, for the Book of Acts mentions their assembling on Solomon’s Porch of the Temple (3:11). Paul spoke to the Corinthians of the church “coming together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:20). He even indicated that the place of their coming together was not in their houses, for he asked, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (11:22) This is a hint that they may have come together somewhere other than in their houses as they did in Jerusalem when they met on Solomon’s Porch of the Temple.

    It is true that there is no record of the erection of church buildings for more than a hundred years after the death of Christ. The earliest ones of which we have knowledge were erected in Asia Minor around the year 150 A.D. However, be all of this as it may, the question is: Do we have biblical authority for the building or erecting houses of worship, or what we commonly call church houses? The answer is, “Yes.” Under the principle of generic authority we do. We learn from a study of the New Testament that the saints of God assembled for worship. At Troas, for example, it was in an upper room, which may or may not have been in someone’s house. With the teaching either by precept or example that saints are to assemble for the purpose of worshiping God comes the generic authority to do any number of things. We can rent a hall in which to do that. We can rent such places as community centers, as do the British brethren in many places. We can worship in someone’s garage or living room. We can worship in the Court House. We can rent the Seventh Day Adventist’s building which they do not use on Sunday, and of course, we can buy an already constructed house of worship or build one of our own. In none of these matters do we sin. We have generic authority, if nowhere else, under the command not to forsake “the assembling of yourselves together” found in Hebrews 10:25. Any command or example of the regular assembling of the church found in the Bible authorizes us to do whatever we deem necessary and wise to fulfill that command, or follow that example. Therefore, we do not sin when we erect houses in which to worship God. It is authorized by the generic authority to follow what the apostolic church did!

    If, on the other hand, God had told us where to worship, that is, if he had told us to worship only in our homes, or only in rented halls, or only in upper rooms, we would be bound by specific authority to do that and that only. However, since he has not, we are free to use our best judgment in the matter, and later to change that judgment if we so desire. An excellent illustration might be: when God commanded Noah to build an ark, although he specified the number of doors and windows, the number of floors or decks, the kind of wood and its dimensions, he never said a word about whether Noah could use tools to build that ark. Why, one might ask. He knew Noah had enough gray matter to know to use tools! He authorized their use under the generic command to build an ark.

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