Distinguishing Expedients From Requirements

By Don Partain

Church A meets on Thursday night instead of on Wednesday night as most others do. Church B partakes of the Lord’s Supper on Tuesday instead of on Sunday as most others do. Both Church A and Church B are doing things not practiced by the majority of other churches of Christ. Yet, Church A does not sin in meeting on Thursday instead of on Wednesday, while Church B does indeed sin by partaking of the Lord’s Supper on Tuesday instead of on Sunday. The difference? Church A is simply using an expedient not widely practiced by other churches, while Church B is “going beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

The problem some in the brotherhood seem to have is failing to distinguish between a practice that is sinful because it is without scriptural authority and a practice that is simply an expedient that differs from what most other faithful congregations use. Church C has a singing every fourth Wednesday of the month, while Church D has a literal prayer meeting every fourth Wednesday. Church C has never been questioned for having a monthly singing night. But Church D has indeed had to defend its right to have a monthly prayer meeting. Why the difference? Because monthly singings are well established expedients, while monthly prayer meetings – though also expedients – are rarely conducted by churches of Christ anymore.

So, it would be helpful to understand just what an expedient is, and what its relation is to practices the Lord has required, whether by direct statement or command, by apostolic example, or by implication of these. Basically (and ideally), an expedient is an advantageous or profitable method of carrying out the Lord’s directions. The Lord directed us to assemble on Sunday to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). So, each congregation examines its own situation, then determines what time of the day, on Sunday, it would be most spiritually profitable to assemble to partake of the Lord’s Supper – whether it be 6:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m., etc. The time of the day is a matter of expediency. And any time of the day is scriptural, regardless of the fact that most churches partake of the Supper around 11:00 a.m.

In the same way, the Lord directed us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in our worship to him (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). So, we must sing (not use instrumental music) and we must sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (not secular songs) in our worship. But, whether we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in unison (for example, chanting them, as many early Christians did), or in 2-part harmony (for example, having the men sing one part and the women, a harmony part), or in 4-part harmony (as most churches in our country do today), etc. is all a matter of expediency. Any style, as long as it is orderly and reverent, is acceptable – whether or not most other churches today use it. Each congregation must simply determine which style (or styles) of singing would be most spiritually advantageous for it to use.

We all recognize that several names or designations for the local church are scriptural: “the church of God at ________” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the church of Christ” (Rom.16:16), “the church of the __________ in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:1), “the church of the Lord” (or “the Lord’s church”) (Acts 20:28), etc. Basically, any designation that describes our ownership by God or Christ and describes our location is scriptural. Which particular designation we use is a matter of expediency; that is, each congregation must analyze its own situation and determine – without interference or pressure from outside brethren – which designation is most expedient to use.

A key point: local church expedients are primarily just that – local in nature; they are not primarily brotherhood matters. If Church A determines it is expedient to meet on Thursday night rather than on Wednesday night, outside brethren might disagree – and even discuss why they believe Wednesday night would be more expedient. However, they must not treat Church A as unsound or “going liberal” simply because it uses an expedient not used throughout the brotherhood.

Can you distinguish between a requirement and an expedient?

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, p. 659
November 1, 1990