The New Hermeneutic: Part 1
By Mark Dunagan

"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 super induced 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 from that generation seriously and with 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 (that is, taking liberties with the Scriptures), are now facing what has been called "The New Hermeneutic". This is the logical end result of the attitude that says "We don't need Bible authority for everything that we believe and practice".


The term means, "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 hermeneutic of 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. He taught by command (Mark 16:16); approved example (Matthew 12:5), and 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.

Specific Elements of the New Hermeneutic


"The interpretative theory alleges that Christianity is a rather plastic religion. It is argued that whereas we must retain the "core" of the gospel (that is, the doctrine of the virgin birth, resurrection, and so on), 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

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 and drink the cup".

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 should not stand in the way of unity.

If I only have to believe that Christ was born, lived, died, was buried, and was raised, then the vast majority of the N.T. is irrelevant, and all the 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. In contrast, Jesus expected people to obey all His commands and not just some of them (Matthew 7:21-23; John 14:15).

This "core" just keeps getting smaller and smaller. 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, 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 doctrines do not matter, eventually they end up teaching every 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, or how we are saved. The truth is, the Bible doesn't make any distinction between the gospel and doctrine (Compare Acts 17:18-19 with Romans 1:16; Romans 1:15 with Acts 2:42).

"Core gospel advocates hold that fellowship may be enacted on the basis of a brief list of beliefs which all factions within Christendom have held in common. Ironically, agreement on what is to be included in the 'core gospel' is lacking" (Piloting the Strait, Dave Miller, pp. 135-136).
Some argue that the only thing we have to agree on are the seven one's of Ephesians 4:4-6. The problem with this view is that: 1. Each of these seven one's contains may other doctrines. For example, the statement "One Lord" includes the doctrine that Jesus is God (John 1:1) and that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). 2. "One baptism" includes the doctrines that the baptism that saves is water baptism, it is immersion, must be preceded by hearing, faith, repentance and confession, and is for the forgiveness of sins. 3. "One hope" includes correct teaching on the end times, the nature of heaven, the existence of the soul, heaven and hell. 4. "One faith" includes every doctrine revealed in the New Testament (Jude 3). For years the denominations made the same argument, "All we have to agree on are the seven ones of Ephesians 4:4-6". One preacher noted that the denominations presently don't agree on any of these statements!

Some have tried to argue from Matthew 23:23 "the weightier provisions of the law", that not all Biblical doctrines are of equal importance, and that we can disagree on the lesser matters of the law. But this isn't the point that Jesus was making. Rather, He insisted that we keep everything revealed in God's word (23:23 "these things you should have done without neglecting the others"). Miller notes, "Besides, what we humans sometimes consider to be an insignificant matter, God considers to be of paramount importance (Luke 16:15). Adam and Eve were expelled permanently from Eden for eating the fruit from one tree (Genesis 3). Nadab and Abihu were destroyed for incorporating foreign fire in their incense offering (Leviticus 10:1-2). Moses was excluded from entrance into Canaan because of his one mistake (Numbers 20:7-12)" (p. 135). We could also add the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). These incidents are no more technical or trivial than New Testament regulations pertaining to vocal, or verbal music in worship (Ephesians 5:19), unleavened bread and fruit of the vine at the Lord's Table (Matthew 26:26-29), or that baptism is for repentant believers and is an immersion in water.


Problems with this view:

Then what about the doctrine concerning the existence of God? (Romans 1:20). Those in this movement complain about establishing Bible authority through necessary inference. But what people overlook is that 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. The statement "being perceived" means to exercise the mind (Strong), "To perceive with the mind, as distinct from perception by feeling" (Vine p. 168).

What about the doctrine that the Bible even 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".)

This view is really based on the assumption that unity on what the Bible teaches is impossible. Many false doctrines either are defended or excused by the argument, "We can't have 100% agreement concerning what the Bible teaches". The problem with this view is that it is basic unbelief in what the Bible says (1 Corinthians 1:10). Jesus said that unity would be based on what the apostles would teach (John 17:20-21). And departure from this truth is what breaks such unity (2 John 9-11; Galatians 1:6-9). Please note there is a difference between 100% agreement and agreeing on what the Bible teaches. There are many things upon which we can have differing opinions, but God commands us to be united on what He has revealed in the Bible. In First John, to walk in the light, is to walk in His commandments (1 John 2:3,5,6,17,28). The above argument basically accuses God is being not only a poor author but a liar was well.

In addition, consider the fact that most of the false doctrines encountered and opposed by the apostles had nothing directly to do with the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Rather, false doctrine includes much more than perversions of those truths. Paul opposed those who insisted that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1-4), and said of this gospel, that it would condemn a person (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:1ff). John opposed people who believed in Jesus, but who believed that He really didn't have a physical body (1 John 4:1-3). Paul named false teachers who said that the resurrection had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Others falsely taught that there wasn't going to be any general, bodily resurrection of all the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). What about people who thought that Jesus was coming at any moment and had quit working? (2 Thessalonians 3). Or, people who would command abstaining from certain goods, and promoted mandatory celibacy (1 Timothy 4:1-3)?

This view is also based on the assumption that objective and absolute truth is impossible to find, or doesn't really exist. The New Hermeneutic isn't anything new; rather it is very liberal and modernist views coming into the Lord's Church. In fact, most conservative denominations that still believe in the Bible being the inspired Word of God would reject the New Hermeneutic. Miller notes:

"The Churches of Christ in the 1990's are facing the same aversion to logic that has typified American culture for three decades. Among most institutions of higher learning, the operative presumption is that there really is no such thing as absolute truth. Absolute truth is now considered to be an aberration of the simplistic Judaeo-Christian ethic that once dominated western civilization. Truth is considered to be 'fluid'. Within the academic environment, what's true today, may not be true tomorrow" (p. 124). Yet, Jesus disagreed (John 8:31-32; 17:17; 1 Timothy 2:4).
Allan Bloom makes the same point with regard to the way America has shifted into relativism to the extent that now "the point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all" (The Closing of the American Mind, p. 26).

But even people in the New Hermeneutic use "reason"! Such people do what they actually condemn. They condemn reason, logic, and drawing necessary inferences from the Scriptures, yet they reason and draw their own conclusions from Scripture! In reality, everyone reasons from the Bible!

They do believe in absolute truth, and that people can understand the Bible alike: It is hypocritical to claim that people can't understand the Bible alike, and then insist that people all agree on your position. Such men do condemn people who disagree with them! Any time false teachers condemn those who either do go along with their new theory or challenge them, they are saying by their actions that they do believe that there is one truth and that everybody must see it alike to be saved!

The truth of the matter is that some people don't want to be confined to the teachings found in God's word. The Bible is very logical and clear. It will expose the false teacher or the person who attempts to twist its teachings for his or her own agenda.


Those advocating this doctrine argue," 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.
The above argument is denying the inspiration of 75 percent of the New Testament!
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, and 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).

One reason that people want to get away from the epistles is because the epistles get specific and they apply many of the truths that Jesus revealed in the gospels.

In addition, let us remember that the epistles applied to a wider audience than to whom they were first sent (1 Corinthians 16:1; 4:17 "even as I teach everywhere in every church"; Colossians 4:16). And the following the teachings of the apostles is stressed as mandatory (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).

Some consequences: If the patterns found in the epistles are irrelevant, then 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).

What about 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 a lifelong faithful relationship. 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 fornication (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, that is, you can have an affair, as long as it is with only one other person for a prolonged period of time".
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