Five Problems with Command, Example, Necessary Inference and Silence of the Scriptures Doctrines (CENI+SoS)

The following is an excerpt from my book House Church Reflections. Download it free.

In our particular “fellowship,” the favorite topic to teach and preach on (based on how frequently it was discussed) was what we referred to as “Bible authority.”

With regard to biblical authority, there were two fundamental doctrines emphasized dealing with the interpretation of Scripture.

(The word “hermeneutic” is often used in discussions about interpreting the Bible, and rightly so, for that fits its definition. For multiple reasons, I have a strong dislike for the word and generally seek to avoid its use.)

Command, Example, Necessary Inference

The first of these principles was Command, Example and Necessary Inference (CENI).

CENI essentially says that there are three ways the Scriptures communicate GOD’s will:

  1. direct commands;
  2. approved examples; and…
  3. necessary inferences.

Silence of Scripture

The second principle was Silence of the Scriptures (SoS).

The SoS principle teaches that when GOD is silent about something in Scripture, then it is forbidden.

In other words, when you combine CENI and SoS, the conclusion is that anything for which we do not have a command, example or necessary inference in the New Testament is “unauthorized” and should be avoided.

Further guidelines were applied on top of this foundation, such as general authority, specific authority, binding examples, and expedients.

These combined doctrines were consistently, definitively and authoritatively (pun intended) taught as GOD’s way.

Anyone who disagreed with these teachings was considered to either misunderstand the “truth” or have a disregard for GOD’s authority and rule over us individually and the church collectively.

Individuals and congregations who didn’t comply with these rules often resulted in their being looked down upon, considered as not true brethren, or even labeled as false teachers.

Proponents of CENI point to examples in Scripture where we see obvious clear-cut commands or factual statements which must be obeyed or believed, such as water immersion in Acts 2:38 and loving one another as Jesus loves us, per John 15:12.

They cite other passages where the early church provides an example which the Holy Spirit either affirms or does not rebuke as sin, such as assembling on Sunday (Acts 20:7) and appointing elders (Acts 14:23).

They also appropriately note certain Scriptures that lead the reader to undoubtedly infer a specific conclusion, such as Jesus’ affirmation of the resurrection in Matt. 22:23-33, the apostles’ reasoning regarding GOD’s acceptance of the Gentiles in Acts 15, and the interchangeable use of the terms bishop (overseer), shepherd (pastor) and presbyter (elder) per the combination of Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:28; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1-4 and others.

I readily acknowledge the logic that humans make decisions every day based on the combination of being told to do (or avoid) certain things, imitating others’ examples, and inferring conclusions based on the information they’ve been given.

(It should be noted that these inferences sometimes end up being inaccurate assumptions, by the way.)

However, I have the following five objections to teaching the combined CENI+SoS as the formula by which we can discern the will of GOD:

  1. Its complex, rigid nature is counter to the simplicity of the gospel and life in Jesus as described in the NT.
  2. We must acknowledge the existence of Scriptural examples that do not fit the CENI+SoS mold.
  3. I know of not one CENI+SoS proponent who consistently applies these principles in all phases of their life.
  4. The inferences component has been an unnecessary source of significant disagreement and division.
  5. I see strong similarities between this behavior and the Jewish religious leaders that Jesus opposed.

Want my detailed explanation (with Scripture!) regarding my objections to CENI+SoS, as well as how I believe Scripture should be interpreted?

Download my free House Church Reflections e-book.

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