The CENI Stick

I have been challenged to develop a hermeneutic for Bible study that is better than the plan concocted sometime in the past among churches of Christ. That plan is to obey commands, examples, and necessary inferences and is sometimes referred to as CENI. I reject this hermeneutic because it is faulty. It demands that we use human reasoning to pick and choose the particular commands, examples, and necessary inferences we are to follow, yet it also demands that we agree on which commands, examples, and necessary inferences we choose.

I believe CENI is subjective and leaves much room for disagreement; however, no disagreement is allowed. Any differing view, except on topics specifically chosen by those who follow CENI to be appropriate topics of variance, is met with an outcry. Those who disagree are declared to be liberals who do not accept the authority of the scriptures and who have gone onward and do not follow the doctrine of Christ.

CENI followers believe CENI is the hermeneutic God wants us to use because the apostle Paul commands us to follow his example. They state that no matter what hermeneutic we use, we all must pick and choose which examples to follow, as we know we do not have to follow Paul in being celibate, making tents for a living, preaching until midnight, or refusing to take John Mark on a missionary journey with us. CENI proponents think those of us who reject the use of CENI are hypocritical because we pick and choose which commands and examples to follow just as they do and yet we denounce them for doing so.

It is true that we all pick and choose. I have never denied that. However, I fail to see how I am hypocritical. Followers of CENI proclaim CENI to be the one and true way to determine Bible authority—the one and true way to determine what is bound by God and what is loosed by Him. Yet they are inconsistent. They use CENI as a means to force others to see the Bible their way, but they do not even always use CENI. That is the problem I have with them—they condemn me when I do not use CENI but they do not consistently use it themselves.

As we all pick and choose, what happens if I do not pick and choose the same command or example the CENI follower picks and chooses? I will tell you what happens. He screams, “Oh, oh, you are wrong. You are lost. You must do what I am saying because you have to follow commands, examples, and necessary inferences!” That is his battle cry. But then when he wants to ignore a command or example he says, “Well, sure, we have to pick and choose.” Now I ask you, who is being hypocritical here?

If we have to pick and choose (and we all agree that we do) and we are obviously going to pick and choose differently, then how does CENI even function? How in the world is it a faithful and true hermeneutic to follow? It appears quite capricious to me. For example, one woman chooses to wear the head covering and another woman does not. How does CENI help here?  It does not help at all. It is useless if it does not always work– it is not objective. If we are going to be subjective anyway, why do we need rules that are fickle and flawed? Is it not so we can use those rules to make everyone else accept our beliefs?

As I said, I do agree that we must pick and choose which commands and examples to obey. We have to do this as we know they do not all apply. But who gets to pick and choose for me?  Am I not the one who will stand before God and be judged for what I do? Why should I leave my eternal salvation in the hands of someone else? If someone disagrees with me maybe he is the one who cannot tell soup beans when the sack is untied. What makes him think he is smarter than I am? What makes him think God gave him some special insight that He did not give me? And most important, what makes him think I am going to bet my soul on his thinking and his Bible study? He may not know as much as I do, he may be insincere, or he may be the village idiot for all I know.

Of course, CENI defenders have answers for their inconsistencies.  They have developed numerous rules and regulations we must follow in order to figure out which commands, examples, and necessary inferences to follow. Every time I think I have all the rules memorized they come up with another one.  Somebody (a lawyer, I think) needs to put all these rules together.

The rules all sound to me like something I read in my business law class in college: If this is the case, then here is how the courts decide, but if you throw in this then it is different, unless, of course, such and such is the case, and in that event you can ignore the first thing as it is no longer applicable–well, unless you were born before 1982 and are male but if you are female then you can pass Go and collect $200, unless you are divorced and remarried and then you must go back to Start if you ever expect to get out of your mess; but if it’s impossible to do it then just forget everything I just said.

Okay, maybe I am throwing a little bit of Monopoly and divorce confusion in here, but it was a jumbled mess as far as I was concerned; and CENI is even worse. I took one semester of business law and ended up with an “A” in the course. I have been a Christian for more than forty years and still cannot get the hang of all the rules attached to the system of CENI.

I do not think the Bible is that complicated. What we need to do is just read the Book and use a little common sense. God knows our hearts. All we can do is all we can do. He is going to have to forgive all of us for our ignorance, selfishness, and downright sinful behavior if any of us make it to heaven. But fabricating some erratic plan to try to get everybody to line up with us is most definitely not the way to go, especially when we all agree that the plan is defective and it would take a roomful of Philadelphia lawyers to figure it all out–and even then no two of them would agree on everything. And guess what: as much disagreement exists among the promoters of CENI as exists among those of us who do not follow that system.

A better plan than CENI? Study and pray. And quit condemning everybody else until the only ones we think are obedient to God are “me, my wife, my son John, us four, no more.” No matter what hermeneutic we use (including the revered CENI) we will never agree on every Biblical subject. As Carl Smith and June Carter might say, “I’ve got a brain and you’ve got a brain. Let’s get together and use those brains.” God was able to make His Word simple enough that we can understand it without going to law school. So let’s stop hitting people over the head with our CENI stick. It is from man, not God.




2 thoughts on “The CENI Stick

  1. There were several false statements in this post. The first is that there is picking choosing when it comes to CENI. CENI is a portion of hermeneutics, not the brunt of hermeneutics. One has to apply CENI as a tool in the overarching hermeneutic study. There are not a lot of rules to CENI. I think that we can call agree that Commands are binding. When it comes down to examples and necessary inference, we see that both the apostles and Jesus himself taught using examples and necessary inference from the Old Testament. The problem is that some try to negate examples and inference as binding, instead of applying the methodology to the overall contextual study and word study. We understand that the New Testament is letters written to people. Within that we have to understand that certain things are incidental mentions as part of the writing process. When we look at verses like Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss the churches of Christ salute you”, would the example be binding? When we apply all of the processes of hermeneutics, to include CENI, we find that the kiss was a “cultural” greeting of this time. Next we look to see if there is a counter example to the example being studied, and we find christians greeting one another without kissing. So based on the cultural implications and presence of counter examples, the example would be incidental not one that was meant to be binding. CENI is common “if then” logic that is used in all facets of life. In law, if you are charged with a crime, the first thing the lawyer researches is the statutes concerning the law you are accused of breaking “command”, they then look to see outcomes of similar cases to see what can be learned “example”, and finally they ask what can be logically understood from the evidence “necessary inference”. There are those on both sides, that speak where the bible doesn’t speak. A good example is Timothy. There are many that claim that because the bible states that Timothy’s mother was a Jew and father was a Greek, that his parents were married. There is however no evidence that supports them being married, or them not being married, so neither conclusion is supported, and no definitive answer can be given. I suggest studying the topic outside of the paradigm that you spoke through in your blog.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Stephen! I appreciate it.

    Comparing the Bible to our legal system shows just what a faulty hermeneutic CENI is. Do you know how many guilty people go free and how many innocent are punished? I don’t know either, but we know it often happens. That’s not good enough for something as important as religion.

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