EDITORIAL - The Silence of the Scriptures

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

The horse upon which nearly every innovation has invaded the sanctity of Christ's Body has been "the scriptures are silent regarding it; there is no scripture against it." Thomas Campbell first worded the terse and concise cliche, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." C. L. Loos said of this maxim: "it was brief and clear as an aphorism, in thought and form a bold maxim, suited to become the watch cry of religious form" (in The Reformation Of The Nineteenth Century, edited by J. H. Garrison, p. 36).

After having successfully used this scriptural concept as a watch cry for restoration for half a century, it then became the stone, upon which the Ship of Zion crashed and broke into pieces. Brethren by 1850 had come to disagree upon what the silence of scriptures required of them. W. T. Moore, writing in the above cited work, posed the question confronting brethren in the 1850's and shortly thereafter like this: "In the organization and development of a religious society after the New Testament model the question was asked, What shall be our attitude toward modern expedients about which the Scriptures are silent?" (pp. 279, 280)

Please notice that W. T. Moore very adroitly seeks to move in another organization (a missionary society) as being but a "modern expedient." The scriptures were not silent regarding organization for the church. Congregational organization explicitly was taught. But there was no scripture for such human missionary organizations which the liberal W. T. Moore sought to justify by calling them "modern expedients."

One group of brethren maintained that the silence of scripture must be respected, just as the oracle of Scripture must be honored. Moore said, "Good brethren" now wrote volumes to prove the use of instruments of music in churches to be a violation of the gospel, or at least of the respect we should have for the silence of the gospel." (p. 280).

One of the leading brethren with whom those of us in the Churches of Christ would have greater affinity wrote in the 1865 Millennial Harbinger: "We cannot by any possibility know that a certain element of worship is acceptable to God in the Christian dispensation, when the Scriptures are silent in reference to it. To introduce any such element is unscriptural and presumptuous. It is will worship, if any such thing as will worship can exist" (p. 282 of The Reformation of the Nineteenth Century). And it has been on this ground that those of us in the Churches of Christ in the past have cast our lot.

But the "silence of Scripture" crowd won the day back then, until Moore could say in 1901, "and with few exceptions the churches have become progressive and aggressive, ready to employ any expedient that will contribute to one sublime purpose - the conquest of the world to the cross of Christ, holding that the silence of the Scripture gives us liberty in the use of means that are not out of harmony with its spirit." (p. 286, 187)

The distinguishing characteristic of the digressive brethren a century ago was that they held that "the silence of the Scripture gives us liberty. . ." This has been precisely the same ground upon which the liberal brethren among us today have predicated their stance. They' have sung the little ditty, "The scripture has told us to do it, but did not tell us how" until they have convinced themselves that they can improvise nearly any kind of alteration of the spiritual Tabernacle "which the Lord pitched, not man" that they see fit, so long as God has not specifically forbidden it and so long as some preacher will dignify this human innovation by calling it a "modern expedient."

The "There is no scripture against it" and "It is an' expedient" arguments are the quicksand upon which the Christian Church denomination was built, and yet these are precisely the same sinking sands upon which our liberal brethren now are building. W. T. Moore said that these progressive and "aggressive" churches (faithful preachers of old called them "digressive") soon were ready "to employ any expedient that will contribute to one sublime purpose..."

Moore meant that they were ready to employ any gimmick or institution that some well-known preacher would call an "expedient." Our misguided brethren today have committed themselves to the same delusive premises. It is inevitable that they will gradually transform the churches that have been sold this "line" into denominational bodies. The further down the road of "the silence of scripture" that these brethren travel, the further from the truth they will become, and the less likely will be their return to the solid rock foundation of God's Word. For some reason, mankind seems bent on making the same mistakes, over and over again.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 36, pp. 3-4
July 22, 1971