Are the Epistles Binding Today?

Can women preach in the assemblies of the church? Do we have to take up a collection on Sunday? Why not do it on Wednesday too, or at every service during a gospel meeting? People who claim to believe the Bible arrive at opposite answers to these and similar questions. How is that possible?

The basic view that one has of the authority of the New Testament, especially that of the epistles, accounts for many of the differences people have in applying it. If someone thinks that the epistles were meant to apply only to the churches and people to whom they were originally sent, they won't apply them very strictly to themselves today. Often, people with this view will see the epistles as "love letters," designed to encourage and guide their original recipients, but not meant to be the constitution of the church through the ages. Are they right?

The answer can be found in the epistles themselves. For instance, Jude addresses his epistle to "those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ." (Jude 1). We see here that Jude's epistle is a general epistle that is intended to be used by all Christians everywhere. Other epistles are addressed to specific churches or individuals, and we will discuss that momentarily. But notice that Jude goes on in verse three to say the following: "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." There are three important points to notice here:

Jude is writing to all Christians about "a common salvation." This implies that salvation is a shared experience. It is not different for different people.

Jude is writing to all Christians to exhort them to contend for "the faith." There is one faith or system of believing.

The "faith" which Jude mentions was "once for all delivered to the saints." Note that the faith, the one faith that is shared by Christians, was "once for all delivered." There was not one faith for Corinth and a different faith delivered later for Rome. Nor is there one faith for Baptists and another for Pentecostals.

From Jude 1-3 then, it would appear that the Lord intended for beliefs and practices to be the same for all Christians for all time. But what about those letters that are addressed to specific people in specific places that appear to deal with fairly unique issues in those places? Let's examine some of those.

Paul wrote letters to Timothy in which he tells him "the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2). So, what Paul taught Timothy was meant to apply to others! Titus was also instructed to teach others the things that Paul was writing (Titus 2:1, 3:1). Paul's letter to the Colossians was to be read by the church in Laodicea, and a letter he had written to Laodicea was to be read by the Colossians. (Colossians 4:16). These examples leave no doubt that the epistles were meant to apply to others besides the ones to whom they were first addressed.

The issues of women speaking in the assemblies and the proper day for taking a collection are addressed in Paul's letters to the Corinthians. To begin with, notice how Paul addresses his first letter to Corinth: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." (1 Corinthians 1:2). It is not addressed just to Corinth! Paul includes "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord."

As you read through the letters to the Corinthians, it becomes even clearer that Paul's teachings were not intended just for Corinth. He says this specifically more than once. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, he tells the Corinthians that he is sending Timothy to them, "who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church." In 1 Corinthians 7:17, he writes, "But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches."

Interestingly, Paul's teaching to the Corinthians on women not speaking in the church and the day of the collection are both specifically said to apply to other churches.

The same orders Paul gave Corinth concerning the collection for the saints on the first day of the week were also given to the churches of Galatia. First Corinthians 16:1-2 states, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come."

The same orders Paul gave Corinth concerning women not speaking in the assemblies were to hold sway "in all the churches of the saints" according to 1 Corinthians 14:33-34: "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says."

We conclude that the New Testament epistles contain God's plan for the work and worship of Christians in all churches for all time. Let's follow His plan!

By Steve Klein

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