Over the years, I have tried to work hard at communicating truth in ways that are pretty simplified. The goal is not to be condescending (that means talking down to people… just kidding!), but I know that simplification runs the risk of sounding that way. Even so, I’m a believer in getting down to the nuts and bolts of an issue, finding the logical base from which we operate, and then building back up from there. 

One of these areas has been in the realm of how we talk about authority issues. Years ago, it became clear to me that acronyms like CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) were more than likely to be misunderstood, not because the terms used are no good, but because of all the baggage various people bring to the table with these terms. Bring it up, and watch people go to town with the abuses and complaints. I suspect that much of this has to do with the experiences people have had within various churches. That’s understandable. We all come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and should avoid projecting what we’ve gone through to everyone else. I admittedly have not experienced much of what I see complained about. That doesn’t mean the problems weren’t there, but I do cringe when something gets generalized to all, especially if my own experience has been different. 

What I have tried to do is find the more fundamental ways in which all communication everywhere works. I’m not a defender of specific terminology here (“say it this way or you are unsound”). I am, however, a defender of an observational process that is common to all people. This is why I have generally opted for the terms “tell, show, and imply.” I believe these capture the essence of all communication. If we are going to express our will to others, we will tell them what we want, show them what we want, and through what we tell and show we will imply things that we expect people to get. I have yet to know of any other way to do it. When it comes to understanding God’s will, we are really just looking for that same kind of communication. How else has God communicated to us but through telling us what He wants, showing us what He wants, and implying things He wants us to get? That’s foundational. Why would it even be controversial? 

What I’m talking about here is also pretty broad-based. “Telling” includes talking, commanding, stating, and anything else that involves words coming out of the mouth of the communicator. “Showing” includes providing examples, acting out, or anything else that involves that involves someone essentially indicating, “look here, I want you to see something.” Many of us as kids participated in “show and tell” days in elementary school, so it’s not at all foreign to us. 

Granted that implications and inferences are sometimes difficult, we still need to recognize that they are a part of all communication. I have concluded that inferences are probably the most significant part of all communication because anytime we make an application of something to ourselves, we do so by some form of inference. If we remember that an inference is a conclusion we draw based on given information, that should not surprise us. We all do it, and we all ought to learn how to do it well. There are many ways that people go wrong in the reasoning process (i.e., fallacies), so we need to be very careful. 

My purpose has been to strive for better understanding in order to make better applications and have better conversations, not to draw everyone’s conclusions and force some kind of lock-step conformity (as if I could do that anyway). I believe we can better understand and apply if we recognize that what we are talking about here is an observational process, not a systematic hermeneutical process. Recognizing and observing how communication works is not the same as creating a systematic template that we then force onto Scripture.

Instead, we are talking about a base-line for observing how that communication comes to us. That is, before we can make any application of God’s will, we need to know what we are first looking at. Is it a command? Is it for us? What kind of example is this? How are we to make the applications of what we see? That God tells, shows, and implies is, I believe, undeniable. I have to be able to know what I’m looking at before I can draw any conclusions about it. Who is He telling? What is He telling? What does that mean? 

It appears to me that one of the reasons many have reacted so harshly against CENI is that they have seen it used as a systematic template that is supposed to solve all authority matters. Because it hasn’t solved all those problems, and in some cases has created more problems, it is seen as a failure. Then we begin creating more rules about exceptions, and on we go digging in deeper with a systematic template. After a while, we have “our system,” and this becomes the standard for anyone who is “sound.” That’s not good. 

People see CENI used as a “hermeneutic,” like it is some finalized method of Bible study that excludes vital matters like context, genre, and anything else that might effect how we view particular passages. When used that way, it will always be incomplete. If “systematic template” is what people mean by CENI, then I agree it is problematic. I have tried to call out such abuses over the years. I’m not saying I’ve always been consistent or helpful, but my intent has always been to understand God’s will and help others to that end. 

We can avoid many problems if we understand that we are talking observational process from which to begin our Bible study instead of a systematic template for all of Bible study. The observational process is information-gathering. By itself, that’s pretty informal. When I gather information, I’m trying to get all the data on the table so that I can draw reasonable conclusions and make informed decisions. Does it need to be so complicated? 

What we should never allow ourselves to do is fall prey to the proof-texting style of drawing conclusions. So much of what we see in Scripture are overarching themes and umbrella concepts, which should help us in seeing comprehensive pictures about how God has worked among His people. We should not be applying arbitrary rules that lead to inconsistent conclusions and applications. At the same time, we should not, as the saying goes, throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can’t deny what is foundational for all, and we should give the benefit of any doubts when brethren use terminology that expresses ways in which we gather our information rather than just assume they are trying to force a systematic theology. 

I don’t doubt that there will be more to come. If you made it this far, go get a piece of fruit. And thank you for listening. Please give my implications the benefit of the doubt. 

Doy Moyer