Law and Expediency

Bryan Vinson, Sr.
Tulsa, Okla.

The apostle Paul relates law and expediency to each other in both the sixth and tenth chapters of First Corinthians. He says, "all things are lawful but all things are not expedient." All things are lawful but not all things edify, or build up." I Cor. 10:23. Thus is readily discernible the truth that before a thing can possibly be expedient, it first must be lawful. Hence, to talk properly of a given thing being expedient, it first must be established that it is lawful. With many, it is feared, that if a thing is found to be expedient, it is by virtue thereof, lawful; that is, its lawfulness is established by its expediency rather than its expediency being first found to be lawful. This is reasoning on the principle that the end justifies the means, which is by far and large the principle of reasoning that governs the religious world. But Paul also said: "If a man strives for mastery yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully." Beecher's defense of infant baptism was to the effect that it was like an ox yoke, "it works."

This mode of thinking reflects a basic disregard for the authority of Christ as revealed by the apostles in the New Testament. It gives to one's faith and practice such looseness that permits all sorts of innovation to intrude. We have long denied and opposed such a licentious mode of reasoning, and it is lamentable that so many among us today are succumbing to this influence. A great deal of attention and study to this subject is merited and even urgent. We are hearing it said that it doesn't matter how you do a thing in religion, but what matters is doing it. At this point, however, those who thus speak will be unwilling to abide by their logic. Given sufficient time though, and some of them will be agreeoble to any conclusion their reasoning leads to. Look at the Christian church today, and compare it with what they were a generation ago. Then they did not accept sect baptism or sprinkling; today it is a common thing. The things they once defended as mere expedients have become law with them, and without accepting them as law, no fellowship is extended. With them those questions which formerly were matters of expediency have become law-their law. Conversely, those matters formerly regarded by them as matters of law (law of induction into the kingdom, for instance) have become matters solely of expediency.

But what is expediency? An expediency, within the framework of Revelation, is but that way, means or method of doing that required by law and within the law. It is styled an exped.iency because it facilitates or expedites the accomplishment of a given task or the performance of a divine commandment. For instance, a baptistry may well be an expedient because it facilitates the obedience to the law or command to be baptized. If there was not first the command to be baptized, there could be no fitness in regarding a baptistry as an expedient. Likewise, if there was not first the law to observe the Lord's Supper, there could be no expediency attaching to the individual communion tray and cups. There can be no expedient way to do an unlawful thing. There may be inexpedient ways of doing lawful things, but such would not render the performance unlawful or unscriptural. The very statement of Paul's which introduces this subject here implies that the inexpedient, as digtinguished from the expedient, is also lawful.

Then when brethren make a test of fellowship of that which they appraise as an expedient, they, in fact, transform it from the character of an expedient to that of law. No mere expedient is justly a bond of union and communion, nor a just basis for determining the point of fellowship or dis-fellowship between brethren. In the final analysis the determination in any given instance of the expediency or inexpediency of a practice is left to the spiritual judgment of those in the church. Practice m a y well demonstrate a given thing or practice to be inexpedient which was originally thought to be expedient. In any case the judgment exercised is to be that which rests on a knowledge of the scriptures, not the wisdom of this world. Many things may be wrongly judged by the wisdom of the world as touching the point of expediency or its lack. An ignorance of the law of Christ leads to an improper ascription of power and force to the exercise of expediency. With such, expedients become law. We come to think that be because a thing works, either with the denominations or ourselves, that it has the approval of God. But such can only be the case when the expedient is within the framework of Divine law.

Finally, the oft-heard statement that, the present co-operative programs of activity today, which have become so prominent among us and is causing much concern, are but expedients in fulfilling the law of Christ as set forth in Mk. 16:16 and James 1:27 deserves some sober thinking by all of us. If they are merely expedients, the proponents are without justification in proscribing and "marking" brethren who do not employ these expedients. To do so is to make an expedient a law -the law of God, in fact. Then, and only then, when thus regarded, can brethren be criticized for not subscribing to and supporting them. A very fine article touching on the "Monarchy and Democracy of Church Government" has appeared in the current issue of the Gospel Advocate. Its reasoning is excellent, but resting on the reasoning is the assertion or assumption that these present centralized operations are just expedients, hence justly determined by human judgment. That is exactly the category the Digressive place the Society and Musical Instrument in. Are they wrong? If so, then at least we are justified in thinking that our own brethren today may be wrong. If they are willing to concede that they may be in error in thus affirming, surely they should be willing to hear us and bear with us; whereas if they are right, we are wrong and need to learn better. From every viewpoint, then, forbearance and patient treatment should prevail while endeavoring to teach one another the will of God. This can only be done by an unbroken fellowship. Are these matters in dispute properly expedients? Or are they contraventions of Divine law? While endeavoring to ascertain the answer thereto, we should forego creating and fostering any cleavage in the ranks of God's people.

Truth Magazine I:11, pp. 16-17
August 1957