Teacher answers question: Is ‘precision obedience’ a valid theology?

EDMOND, Okla. (BNC) by Phil Sanders — I was recently questioned about precision obedience and whether it is a valid theology. I would recommend to all who wish to know the answer to this question to study the book of Deuteronomy. Throughout the book are specific instructions as to how we are to respond to the commandments and precepts that come from God.

I spent many hours reading and re-reading the book in several versions.

I purchased a copy of the Tanakh (an English translation of the Jewish scriptures) in order to see how they understood the passages. I found that God expects us to obey Him lovingly (12x), fearfully (15x), completely (31x), carefully (27x in NASB), and accurately. We were to do “just as the Lord commanded” (69x in the Pentateuch) and act “according to the commandment” (43x). We were to go neither to the right or left (5x), to walk in His ways, to not turn from the way. We were neither to add to nor take away from His commandments (Dt. 4:2; 12:32).

Any serious student would immediately see the importance of these repetitious instructions.

What cinched it for me was how many times Jesus used words like “keep” and “observe,” words which reflect careful obedience. I noticed to how Jesus would not act on his own initiative, how He did “just as” the Father commanded (Jn. 14:31). I did not make up the idea of “precision obedience.” I found it in the text, where it was all the time. I find these quotations from the Tanankh quite revealing:

When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place that the Lord chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. (Deut. 17:9c-11)

Be careful, then, to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. Do not turn aside to the right or to the left: follow only the path that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you, and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess. (5:29,30 JPS)

Handling aright the word of truth, paying close attention, not acting on our own initiative, and keeping the commandments mean we too should have a loving, careful, fearful, complete, and accurate obedience.

Precisely obeying means we use bread and fruit of the vine, not roast lamb on the Lord’s table. It means we sing from our hearts rather than play or entertain ourselves. It means we have a plurality of elders rather than a single pastor, an archbishop, or a pope. It means we immerse penitent believers instead of sprinkling infants.

In short, it means we do not go beyond the Scriptures for our faith or practice, instead we show our love for God by listening and doing what He says in Scripture rather than pursue our own thoughts.

This is not that hard to understand, and it is thoroughly biblical!

Phil is speaker for the television program “In Search of the Lord’s Way.” He posted this reply on his Facebook wall today.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

← Previous post

Next post →

17 Comments

  1. Joe Wheatley

    We have to be careful using the OT to govern our NT practices unless we want to condemn wearing linsey-woolsey cloth and eating steak with a glass of milk. Jesus kept the old law perfectly because he was a Jew and because he was Jesus but Paul said none of us could do that. Precision was a goal to be pursued under OT law but the governing force of the NT is love, love God and love your neighbor.

    We use bread and fruit of the vine (the early church used wine, but that is a different topic) because we are given specific instructions. Bread and wine cannot be fish and chips. However, singing is a non-specific act. Singing in the shower, singing before the start of a ball game, singing with a symphony orchestra, singing with a bluegrass band and singing a cappella with the saints on a Sunday morning are all examples of singing.

    In our attempts to justify our doctrine we have to be careful we don’t mix apples (Torah) with oranges (the gospel).

    • ken hargesheimer

      God tells us to sing; he did not tell us to sing and play. We can sing anywhere, anytime, etc. In worship, God says to sing to him. I can just imagine Noah saying that he will use some oak in building the ark. God told him what wood to use.

    • Richard S

      The point that bro. Sanders was making was about obedience so going back to the Old Testament to give examples of GOD’s will on obedience is OK according to the apostle Paul in Rom. 15:4 and 1 Cor. 10:11. But if you don’t want to accept the OT examples there are plenty of examples in the New Testament on obedience (Matt. 7:21 ; John 14:23-24 ; Acts 5:29 ; Heb. 5:8-9 ; Rom. 6:16-18 ; 2 Thess. 1:8-9 ; 1 John 2:4 & 5:3). Above all of the examples was the perfect example of obedience when Jesus Christ obeyed the will of the Father to give Himself to pay for our sins(Phil. 2:5-8).

    • “Singing is a non-specific act?” Music can be defined as “vocal, instrumental or a combination of both.” Paul specified “sing.” Paul specified how to sing, “psalms” (scripture being sung); “hymns” (praise to Deity); and “spiritual songs” (songs of edification to one another). He likewise specified the purpose of singing, to “teach and admonish one another” (assembly) and last of all he specified the object of our singing “to God.” He left no room for “musical performances in our worship.” To me it is a sad commentary on where some among us are going when they draw a parallel between singing in worship and “singing in a shower.”

  2. If we love God, we will obey him! Jesus told his disciples: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John wrote: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:4-5). There should be no doubt about love and obeying God! My first desire, if I love God, is to obey him!

    • Joe Wheatley

      You are correct, Jesus said “keep MY commandments.” And what were Jesus’ commandments? “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” We get into trouble when we start going beyond that and say “don’t eat in the church building”, “give money every first day of the week and only on the first day of the week” or “don’t ask women for their opinions on scriptural matters.” We have trouble distinguishing between post-resurrection commands, OT commands and the commands of men. Our problem is not whether or not we should obey commands (of course, we should) but what commands are binding on us today.

  3. Sunday Akpore

    It is a matter of knowing where God requires precise obedience (elements of the Lord’s Supper) and broad obedience (taking it any time on the first day of the week). It becomes a sin if precision obedience is made to apply on matters of culture, methods, or application of a command.

  4. Travis

    It is unfortunate that the examples given from the NT are not commands. They are examples which some believe are binding, which is another topic altogether. The “commands” about singing are not concerning the assembly, in context. The commands about love, mercy, grace, long suffering, humility, etc, however, are specific. Inferences are not commands, no matter how much we want to bind them.

    • The Bible authorizes by (1) direct statement (which includes imperatives); (2) example; (3) implication and (4) expediency. An example is just as binding as an imperative. That which is implied can be just as binding as that which has been commanded. It is the failure of some among us to understand how the Bible authorizes that results in some wild interpretations. These same brethren often don’t have a clue about the true meaning of God’s grace or His love.

  5. Lynn Alan Heath

    Mr.Wheatley you are incorrect singing is not “a non-specific act.” Singing, according to Paul’s definition, is specific. He instructs the Christians in Ephesus as follows: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).
    Notice:
    1) more than 1 assembled in order to speak to one another –an assembly
    2)speaking = singing not playing an instrument
    3) the only instrument mentioned by Paul (in the original Greek, to be plucked) is the heart
    To add anything more would constitute will worship.
    ————————————————————————
    Two primary attitudes are involved in true worship. First, there is a sense of awe in coming into the presence of the high and holy God. Second, there is an attitude of willful, humble submission to God – a willingness to worship the only true God in the only way He wishes to be worshipped. (More Than a Feeling pg. 41)

    • Joe Wheatley

      We tend to define words, especially “sing” and “denomination”, according to theology so as to support our doctrine. We need to look at words from an etymological or linguistic point of view. The common sense definition of sing includes both a cappella singing and singing accompanied by an instrument. In the context of Paul’s writings, psalms and odes (as in psalmnos, hymnos and ode from Galatians and Ephesians) would have been understood by a first century Greek speaking person to include accompanied singing. As best I can tell, the idea of plucking referring to plucking the heartstrings originated with Marshal Kurfees. The concept of “heartstrings” originated in the 15th century and the imagery would not have been used by Paul.

      With regard to Lynn’s point #1, Paul was writing in terms of an assembly but what kind of assembly? There is no indication that he was thinking of a Sunday morning worship assembly as we know it today. It is just as logical to think Paul was saying whenever you get together with some of your friends, sing a Jesus song to teach and encourage each other. Kind of like when James said, “If you are happy, sing a song.”

      So there is no misunderstanding, I prefer a cappella singing from the heart rather than weak singing overpowered by an organ. My problem is when we demand more than what is demanded by scripture.

  6. Richard S

    The common definition of sing is “to produce musical sounds with the voice” according to Websters New World Dictionary and others online. They make no reference to being accompanied by instruments. The definition of music would include using the voice, instruments, or both.
    You need to read the definition of psallo as it is explained in an article at http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/829 to understand the fallacy of your statement on what first century Greeks or Christians knew. Apologetics Press also has an article on psallo.
    As far as singing in an assembly, see what Christ and his disciples did after the Passover meal in Matt.26:30 and Mark 14:26.

    • Joe Wheatley

      Putting aside the psallo argument, look at the three forms of song mentioned by Paul.
      “Laleo heautou psalmos kai hymnos kai pneumatikos ode…” (Ephesians 5:19) “Greek odes were originally poetic pieces performed with musical accompaniment. As time passed on, they gradually became known as personal lyrical compositions whether sung (with or without musical instruments) or merely recited (always with accompaniment). The primary instruments used were the aulos and the lyre (the latter was the most revered instrument to the Ancient Greeks).” (from “Ode” in Wikipedia, not the best reference but easy to use).

      Jesus and the 11 apostles sang a cappella in Matt 26:30 and Mark 14:26 but are these examples of Sunday morning worship in a Christian church assembly? If we use this as an example do we also have to follow the example of eating the Lord’s Supper while reclining and sharing one cup?

      • ken hargesheimer

        Not only must we recline and use one cup, we must speak only Hebrew or Greek, wear robes, use wine, be in an upper room, no more than 13? people, etc.

        God told Noah to use one wood. Did He have to list those He did not want used. He said to sing to Him.

      • Richard S

        When you quoted Eph. 5:19 why did you stop at songs and not continue and include the word singing(adontes). Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 are quite specific in saying that we are to use our voices(i.e. speaking & singing) not musical instruments. Can you give an example of the use of musical instruments in worship in the New Testament after the Church began? Studies of Church history don’t show the use of musical instruments in worship until the 5th or 6th century or later (Christian Courier article 1328-What is A Cappella Music?).
        As far as using one cup goes, the Lord told the disciples in Luke 22:17 ” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves;’ “. And as for reclining, the accounts in Matt., Mark, and Luke say they sat at the table. Only in John does it say that any reclining took place and that was after Jesus got up after the supper and washed the disciples feet. Therefore, if you want to use one cup and recline you’ll have to wash the feet of everyone also.

  7. God went into great detail in the Old Testament regarding instruments in worship. If you investigate, you will see it was always harp, cymbol, and lyre. Also,they were to be played all day every day at the temple. Also, they had to be supported by the “church”. Also, they could only be men. Also, they had to be Levites. Seen any Levites lately?

    If God was so specific about detailed commandments regarding use of instruments in the O.T., did he just forget in the N.T.?

    • Joe Wheatley

      Read Galatians 4:21-5:6 (the chapter division breaks up the thought). God was specific in the OT but the people could never keep the law perfectly. Under the NT we have freedom in Christ. We don’t need specific instructions. Rather than try to interpret the NT by using the rules of the OT, we should rejoice in the freedom we have in Christ and worship God according to our hearts instead of trying to follow a set of rules. Are your children more sincere when they follow your rules about curfews, doing their chores or doing school work because they know you have given them orders that must be obeyed or do you get a better feeling down in your heart when they do these things because they love you and want to demonstrate that love for you?

      God didn’t “forget” the rules about instruments in the NT, he did away with the rules so that we can worship from the heart, each in our own way. I worship on a Sunday morning by singing a cappella Stamps-Baxter style harmonies or hymns that are influenced by the English composers such as Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley. A congregation in India or Brazil wouldn’t have the same feelings for American or European hymns that I do and under the freedom that we all have in Christ, they can worship with hymns that are rooted in their native culture. If that involves beating on a drum or playing a sitar, so be it. OT worship was for ethnic Jews so they only needed one style of singing. Under the NT, all cultures and races can be a part of the church and we all bring our own ethnic identities with us.

Reaction?

%d bloggers like this: