In August, 1994 I had the opportunity to engage in a public debate with Mac Deaver on the limits of church benevolence. In his efforts to justify the church building hospitals, soup kitchens and gymnasiums, brother Deaver gave us his rule of interpretation: "All passages which authorize the performance of an act based upon the peculiar ground of one's being a Christian are passages which apply with equal force both to the church and the individual Christian." During the debate those at my table referred to this "rule" as "Deaver's Law" (we did not know what else to call it).
Those who have studied the matter of general benevolence realize that Deaver's Law is just a variation of the old "Whatever the individual can do the church can do" argument. Brother Deaver realizes that there are some things the individual can do that the local church can not do, such as starting a business enterprise. However, he claims that those things an individual performs on the "peculiar basis" of his being a Christian are things the local church may engage in. He then argues that benevolence to non-Christians is a thing that may be done on the "peculiar grounds" of being a Christian, and therefore the local church may grant benevolent aid to non-Christians in the form of church owned hospitals, soup kitchens and some forms of entertainment.
In this article we are going to establish at least one religious activity an individual can do on the "peculiar basis" of his being a Christian, and yet that same activity would be unscriptural for a local congregation to engage in. The individual Christian is authorized upon the "peculiar grounds of being a Christian" to observe special days of worship "to the Lord" (Romans 14:5,6), and yet the local church is prohibited from observing "days and months and seasons and years" (Gal. 4:10,11).
In the fourteenth chapter of Romans, Paul spoke of matters of conscience when he said: "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things, for one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks." (Rom. 14:1-2, 5-6).
Over a century ago Moses Lard expounded upon this passage in his commentary on Romans: "At the time when Paul wrote, it was customary for certain Christians to esteem one day above another. This they had, and they still have an absolute right to do, whether the day were a Jewish sacred day or a Gentile sacred day, a Sabbath or a first day of the week, a Wednesday or a Thursday; and no one was at liberty to pronounce them wrong, or in any way to interfere with them. And what was then the liberty of Christians is their liberty still. Had we Jewish Christians among us now, and did they choose to esteem and treat the ancient Sabbath as better than any other day, no one among us would have the right to move a lip against them." (A Commentary On Romans, p. 416).
Mac Deaver's father, Roy Deaver, LL.D., Ph.D., Th.D., served as moderator for his son at the debate. In his commentary on the Roman letter, the elder Deaver said: "Many hold that this passage refers to Jewish brethren, who, after becoming Christians, continued to hold certain days and feasts prescribed by the Law of Moses. However, it seems clear that there is no exclusive reference to Jewish brethren, and neither is there reference to days prescribed by the Law of Moses. We must keep in mind that Paul is here discussing matters of indifference-matters right if done, and right if not done if a man desired to set aside 'Thursday' as a special day for study and prayer, he had the right to do so; but he would not have a right to try to force someone else to do so The brother who esteemed one day above another did so with a view to being pleasing to the Lord. He did what he did because he thought such was pleasing to God." (Romans: God's Plan For Righteousness, pp. 542-545). Roy Deaver believes the man observing these special days is doing so "with a view to being pleasing to the Lord" (sounds a lot like he is doing it on the "peculiar grounds" that he is a Christian).
R. L. Whiteside explained Romans 14:5 in these words: "'Let each man be fully assured in his own mind' as to whether he will or will not devote any other day to study, meditation, and prayer. Concerning this the Lord has bound no one, and concerning such matters no one should seek to bind his notions on others. It is therefore evident that the leaders of a church could not adopt these Jewish holidays and demand that all the members observe them. The Judaizing teachers had got in their work among the churches of Galatia, which led Paul to say, 'Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain' (Gal. 4:10,11). If the leaders should set any such days to be observed by the church, the members should not submit to such an arrangement. 'Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day' (Col. 2:16)." (A New Commentary On Paul's Letter To The Saints At Rome, p. 269).
On the second night of our discussion, Mac Deaver gave his explanation of Romans fourteen: "The days of Romans fourteen have to do with doing things that are optional, not prohibited. The ones in Galatians four and Colossians two were prohibited! And so he says, 'Well, if an individual Christian can observe a day, so can the church.' Yes, in days optional, they can. What do you think we are doing right here tonight? What are we doing right here tonight? What are we doing when we have a gospel meeting? What's the church doing about 'days'? We're not even going to have this session during regular periods of worship. What are we doing here on Monday and Tuesday and Thursday and Friday? When congregations set up lectureships and meetings? He said if an individual Christian can the churches can too. Right, in days that are optional, not in days that are prohibited." Mac went on to explain that the Christians in Acts 2:46 who continued "daily with one accord in the temple" were observing days in accordance with Romans fourteen.
On Tuesday evening, Deaver asked, "Can congregations set aside days for worship, for study, for discussion? We do it all the time. We may do it on an annual basis, semi-annual, monthly, whatever, so that it even becomes a custom or tradition and I say if an individual, according to Romans fourteen, sets aside a day for private devotion on the peculiar basis that he is a Christian, the church can too! We can't impose it on another congregation."
Notice what brother Deaver is now teaching about the observance of days. He believes that any day an individual Christian might set aside for private devotion is a day the entire congregation could come together and observe as a group. Up to this point we will give him a point for trying to be consistent in his application of Deaver's Law.
If, according to Deaver, a local congregation may observe special days of worship as per Romans fourteen, we wanted to know if a local congregation could observe Christmas and Easter. On Thursday evening of the debate, I submitted a written question to Deaver which asked, "May the individual Christian, upon the peculiar grounds that he is a Christian, observe Christmas as a holy day according to Romans fourteen?" He replied, "No, not with the world as it now observes it. If it is scriptural for an individual Christian to observe Christmas as a holy day, the church can too." Mac Deaver believes the Lord's church can observe Christmas and Easter, as long as we don't observe like the world does! He wants us to observe Christmas in a scriptural manner (he just forgot to tell us how that could be done).
Going into the discussion on Thursday evening, Deaver was willing for a local congregation to observe special days of worship, as per Romans fourteen. He put Wednesday evening Bible classes, debates, gospel meetings and lectureships into the same category as Christmas, Easter and Lent.
If brother Deaver had taken the time to read from his own father's commentary, he would have learned that it is the weak Christian who is observing the days in Romans fourteen, not the strong brother. His father wrote: "'One man esteemeth one day above another' This would be the attitude of the weak brother 'another esteemeth every day alike.' This attitude evidently correspond to the 'strong brother.' (Romans: God's Plan For Man's Righteousness, pp. 542, 543).
I guess I've had it wrong all these years! I thought those brethren who assembled on Wednesday night for Bible classes were stronger in the faith than those who only attended on Sunday morning. But, according to Mac Deaver, those who assemble on Wednesday night are the weak brethren -- the strong brethren are at home watching TV! And what about gospel meetings? I guess only the weak ones show up while the strong brethren are out fishing. Let's not forget those who attend a week-long debate during a hot spell -- these must be the weak brethren; the strong Christians must be at the shopping mall. This might explain why the good brethren who endorsed brother Deaver at the Schaumburg church of Christ failed to attend the debate when it was held in their own building! They were just too strong to attend. They just had a handful of weak folks show up to keep an eye on the building.
I think we have seen the end of "Deaver's Law." Our esteemed brother is going to have to come up with a new "law" to authorize the church building hospitals and gymnasiums. He can't find authority for such in the "perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25).