By Forrest D. Moyer
III. On Authority And Expediency.
A. We have, I believe, sustained the fact that everything authorized for God’s church is in the N.T. We must have book, chapter and verse for everything we do religiously. Problems, however, arise in the realm of expediency – that is, in carrying out God’s orders in ways that are decently and in order and without violating God’s order.
1. God’s teaching, whether to the individual or to the congregation, authorizes everything that is necessary to obedience to the command. For example, we realize that the command to baptize authorizes water in which to baptize. The command to assemble authorizes a place of assembly. The command to sing authorizes the words that we sing.
2. May I suggest that there is no such thing as a “law of expediency.” There are expedients because there is law. Where there is no law, there can be no expedients.
a. The Bible is not “silent” regarding the words of a song – it authorizes them whether written in a book or projected on a screen. The expedient is authorized by a Bible command.
b. The Bible is not “silent” regarding a place of assembly – it authorizes a place of assembly by the command to assemble and by the fact that early Christians assembled in “places.”
c. The Bible is not “silent” regarding a congregation’s “means” of giving aid to the saints in need. There are adequate examples of this in the practice of the early church. It is silent concerning another organization’s receiving contributions from churches to do this work for the churches.
3. Thus, general authority includes the ways and means of obeying the command (understanding that these ways and means do not violate God’s order).
a. We must take care lest we violate an order of God in our claim that something is expedient. Beyond doubt, David thought that his bringing the ark on a new cart pulled by oxen was an expedient way of carrying it. After all, other parts of the tabernacle were carried on wagons (Num. 7:3-8). But David sinned by putting the ark on the wagon. The reason is stated in Num. 7:9: God gave no wagons to the sons of Kohath because theirs was the service of bearing on the shoulders. Again, there was an absence of authority for wagons. They could not reason that it was expedient.
b. We cannot use the idea of expediency in any area that violates an order of God. For example, we might reason that it is expedient in our society today for women to preach or lead in public prayer. They might be quite effective in doing so. Yet, such would violate an established order of God as stated in 1 Tim. 2:8-12.
c. Instruments of music cannot be classified as expedient because they are not a part of God’s order and are not in any way necessary to our obeying the command to sing. They are an additional kind of music and are without New Testament authorization. The kind of music God authorized is singing. Words from a book or on a projector expedite our obedience to God’s command and are not another kind of music. Instrumental music is another kind. It is without authorization and cannot be expedient.
d. The local church is a body of people that is authorized to support gospel preachers (Phil. 4:15-16). It might be expedient for a messenger to deliver this money in person (2 Cor. 11:9) or for it to be delivered by the mail service. There is no violation of the oversight of elders in so doing. But the missionary society cannot be classified as an expedient because there is no authorization for the church to donate money to any other organization of any kind. The missionary society is not authorized in the New Testament and is not in any way necessary to our obeying the command to take the gospel to the world. I most emphatically believe that men like David Lipscomb and a host of others were biblically right in their opposition to the missionary society.
e. Benevolent societies among us cannot be classified as expedients since there is no New Testament authorization for the church to donate money to another organization. Benevolent societies are not authorized and are not necessary to our obeying the command to give aid to saints in distress. The church uses expedients when it provides a house or the care necessary for its needy saints such as the widows of 1 Tim. 5:16. Donating money to another organization is not an expedient. That organization must use expedients itself such as a house or the care necessary for those put in its charge.
B. The truth is that before anything can be expedient, it must not in any way violate God’s order. It must be in the realm of that which is authored by God. Therefore, anything that the church does must be authorized (authored) by the Lord in the pages of the New Testament. Will any of our brothers disagree with this?
Brethren, we must get down to the brass tacks of application of Bible authority. We are here today because we recognize that there are differences between us on some vital issues. The way for us to be united is for us to discuss and resolve these differences. The only way we can is by the application of Bible authority to our practices. Now we all recognize each other as brethren, and we truly do love one another. But however great our love may be, that alone does not solve the problems any more than love alone will solve problems that may arise between husband and wife. The problems have to be addressed.
A. We must allow the New Testament to teach us what the work or function of the church is. Are we not agreed that the church has an obligation to carry the gospel to those lost in sin? Are we not agreed that the church has a responsibility in edifying its members? Are we not agreed that the church has a responsibility to aid saints in distress?
However, many congregations have gotten involved in providing recreational facilities for their members, their children and others. But can the church scripturally provide for the recreational activities of its members and of the community? Can we spend the money from the church treasury for facilities for recreation. I am sure that we would agree that money collected by the church can only be used for that which is its work. A church building is but an extension of the money given into the treasury of the church. Thus, it is a legitimate question to ask, What did God assign the church to do?
B. Can we choose for the church to function in other areas than that set forth in the New Testament? Remember the principle: from Heaven or from men!
1. The early church sang – can we choose to play? Is such from God or is it authored by men?
2. The early church had the Lord’s supper on Sunday. Can we choose some other day of the week to observe the Lord’s supper? Is some other day from Heaven or from men?
3. The early church took care of its needy members. Can we choose another organization to do this work and receive donations from the church? We are not talking about the means such as a place or food. We are talking about the organization that provides the means. Is a human organization authored by God or by men?
C. Is there a way by which we can be united and yet do all the work effectively, as well as scripturally? If I didn’t think we could, I wouldn’t be here.
1. First, let’s look at supporting gospel preachers throughout the world. This is something in which each one of us is interested. We want to see the world taken for Christ! Can such be done without forming a missionary society – a separate organization from the church? Yes, it can be done. Can such be done without our forming a sponsoring church kind of arrangement through which churches funnel their funds?
Yes, it can be done. How? Let us look to the Scriptures for the answer since there is no other place for us to get a proper answer.
a. Did N.T. churches support gospel preachers? Yes, 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:15-16.
b. How did they do so? They sent support to the preacher! (Same verses)
c. Will any brother deny that it is scriptural (authorized by the Scriptures) to send support directly to the preacher? When brother W.W. Otey debated J.B. Briney on the missionary society issue, they discussed this issue. Briney defended the society by saying:
“Now, is there any objection to those small congregations cooperating with each other? I ask my friend how small congregations that are not able to send a missionary each are to cooperate? How are they to take part in this work? Now, the society provides for that” (Otey-Briney Debate, p. 199).
Brother Otey replied:
“How can a church that can give but ten dollars work without working through a society?” “Now, my friends, we are going to tell you exactly what the Word of the Lord says about it. We are going to turn to Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi … Phil. 4:15-16… Now, who sent it? Was it some great missionary society or organization? Oh, no, but the church in Philippi, sent directly to Paul, the man in the field. Could the weak church now do that? That church did it” (Ibid., p. 280).
d. The same answer can be given today. Brethren, we believe whole heartedly in congregational cooperation. The church in Cayucos where I preach helps currently in the support of eight gospel preachers other than myself. Other churches are also helping in the support of some of these preachers. We send directly to the preacher. This is being done throughout the world. Will it get the job done? Yes. Is it scriptural. Yes. Can we unite on this? My answer is yes. Can we unite on a missionary society? No. Can we unite on a sponsoring church arrangement? Not unless we see God’s authorizing such a practice in His word. Brethren, we want to do everything that God has authorized us to do.
2. Can we take care of all needy saints without forming a human institution to do it? Yes. The local church can provide the means in caring for the needy saints. Such was done in Acts 6. If the care was provided by a human organization, it would still have to provide the means of such care. The question is which organization shall provide the means? We would do well to ask, “Why were human institutions called into existence in the first place?” Was it because we read of such in the Word? Or was it because men decided for such? Are they authored by God or by men?
a. In the Otey-Briney debate, Briney made an appeal to prejudice as he sought to defend the societies in their care of aged preachers and little children by speaking of “. . the dear little orphans, under the fostering care of these institutions, and there because the hearts of good people have moved them to make an arrangement like this. (Ibid., pp. 272-273).
b. Otey replied: “I am not denying that it is right to care for the aged preachers. That is not the question. It is not what you do, but the organization or channels through which it is done . . . My opponent’s position is that God has authorized people to organize such institutions as these societies through which to do it. That is the issue between us” (Ibid., p. 257).
c. “1 Tim. 5:9. What institution or organization is in view here? The one body of Christ, the church” (Ibid., p. 274).
d. We can respond exactly as brother Otey did. Let the church do its own work without donating money to a human institution.
3. Whenever a work or obligation is one that belongs to individual Christians rather than the congregation, then let individuals do it in whatever way they see fit without infringing upon the work of the congregation. Paul set forth this principle in 1 Tim. 5:16. “Let not the church be charged” in matters that belong to the individual.
a. If brethren want to build a college in which they teach Bible classes along with arts and science, let them do so. But it is not the function of the church and we need to keep the church out of the college business.
b. If brethren want to get involved in recreational activities for themselves, their children, or others, let them do so as individuals, but keep the church out of the recreation business.
4. The church can do its own work of preaching, edifying, maintaining worship, and aid to saints in distress. We can spread the gospel to the whole world. We can be united, but only if we seek for and follow the authority of the Scriptures in all things.
Conclusion: The church of our Lord can spread like wildfire without societies, machinery, or central headquarters. Brethren, we have a message; it is the greatest in all the world and fills the greatest need of the world. Let us diligently work to lay aside all our differences and join arm in arm in the greatest conflict that this world has ever known. Let us march shoulder to shoulder fired with the zeal of discoverers. Let us preach God’s message with love for one another and for our -fellow-man and with a sincere desire to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. ” Our hearts can beat in spiritual unison. Let us cry “Back! Back over the commandments and doctrines of men! Back to the worship ordained by God! Back to the truth in its original power and simplicity! Forward – back to Jerusalem!”
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 9, pp. 265-266
May 7, 1987