CENI – The Good Side

After that last post about the limitations of CENI (Command, Example, and Necessary Inference) I want to point out some of the things I think are good about those three things.

First, I appreciate people who have a zeal for scripture. Some of the people who hold most tightly to CENI know the Bible backwards and forwards. It is impressive. I wish we all had that kind of knowledge, especially if that knowledge comes from such a love of God that we are immersed in His Word to the point that it is written all over our hearts and minds from study…to the point that it bears fruit in our lives that is undeniable. I love it when I meet someone who has a tremendous knowledge and grasp of the Scriptures AND whose life has been transformed by the Bible to be more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing.

Second, I agree that commands are important. When God commands something, we best pay notice and do it. Faith requires it. To have a command of God and ignore it not faith at all. That is faithlessness. So I want you all to hear me say that God’s commands are very important to me. I think David Platt said it well in his book Follow Me,

“We can all profess publicly belief that we don’t possess personally, even (or should I say especially) in the church. Hear the shouts of the damned in Matthew 7 as they cry, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus replies to them, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 29

Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom. As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying. Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying. Now I want to be very careful here, because we could begin to twist the gospel into something it’s not. Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis for our salvation. The grace of God is the only basis of our salvation— a truth we will explore further in the next chapter. But in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place. – David Platt, Follow Me p.16

There is an important distinction made here about obedience and works. Those things work alongside our salvation. They are associated with our salvation. As David said, they are “involved” in our salvation but are not the “basis” for our salvation. Jesus thought obedience was vitally important. So do I. To think any less of obedience would be to make Christ out to be a liar.

Third, I am not a patternist (someone who believes we must use the New Testament as a pattern for EVERY practice…in essence, no one is a full fledged, 100% patternist) but I do value biblical example. I worship with a church that takes the Lord’s supper every Sunday. We worship without instruments, as the early church did. We sing. We pray. We read scripture out loud together. Fasting is important to me and so is giving, teaching, evangelism…these are all a part of my life and ministry. Why? They are because they were either taught in the New Testament or given to us by example. While I don’t believe every detail of their assembly was to serve as an example for us today, I do believe that having continuity with those who have gone before us is important, while still recognizing that even in the 21st century we are still the Lord’s people.

Fourth, inferences are more common than is often pointed out. When we read, we constantly make inferences. It is just part of reading comprehension to fill in the gaps with assumptions and to create meaning where none has been communicated. That is part of the beauty of reading the written word, entering into it’s space and taking something of value from it. I don’t appreciate necessary inference being used as a battering ram in the past, to push through various doctrines that aren’t explicitly laid out in scripture, I still think there is value in inference if done lovingly, with care and in line with a heart that is set on loving God and neighbor. Inference reminds us that there actually is interpretation going on here and if there is interpretation going on then someone is reading scripture and that is a good thing.

6 Responses to CENI – The Good Side

  1. Good points. When someone opposes the use of CENI as a hermeneutic, others may feel they are against commands, examples and inferences. That’s not the case.

    Commands, examples and inferences are central to how the Bible teaches. They just don’t work as a framework for interpretation.

    • Bruce Morton says:

      Tim:
      Your last statement left me scratching my head a bit. You agree that commands, examples, and inferences are central, but then you dismiss them from biblical interpretation?

  2. Ryan says:

    I’m not sure if this helps the conversation, but a good book that focuses on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the CENI principle is Jeffrey S. Stevenson’s ‘All People, All Times: Rethinking Biblical Authority in Churches of Christ’.

    I agree 100% with your comment on inferences, It is impossible to read scripture without drawing inferences. The flaw, if you will, with the rhetoric of ‘necessary inferences’ is that often these syllogisms hinge on assumptions and traditions that are themselves questionable. The response, though, is not to stop making inferences, but to ask better questions and to dig deeper into the text, to continue to being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

  3. Gene says:

    Great post, Matt. Happy to call you a brother in Christ!

  4. Bruce Morton says:

    Matt:
    Well done; thank you for writing.

Leave a Reply