By Morris W. R. Bailey
In this, my final article in the series under the above heading, I propose to point out that handling aright the word of truth requires that we
Respect The Silence of the Bible
The gospel system of redemption is the great theme of the Bible. Existing in promise in the partriarchal age (Gen. 3:15; 12:3), and in prophecy during the Mosaic age (1 Peter 1:10, ,11), it reached perfection in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Concerning the great salvation, the writer of Hebrews said: “. . . which having at the first been spoken by the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard” (Heb. 2:3). The allusion to “them that heard” refers to the apostles and other inspired men through whom the New Testament revelation was given.
Revelation having reached its culmination in “. those things which now been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel .unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven . . . .” (1 Peter 1:12), it follows that no new truth has been revealed since the death of the last inspired writer. While there have been various claims of modern day revelations, all such are proved false when weighed in the light of Jude 3, where the writer tells us that “the faith was once for all delivered to the saints.” We, know the force of the expression, “once for all.” It means, for all time.
From the foregoing observations we conclude that whatever the New Testament revealed in the first century is all that it reveals now. What therefore it authorized then in the matter of the work and worship of the church is all that it authorizes now. What it left out of the work and worship of the church then, is excluded now, and for the same reason. For if God did not want it then, He does not want it now.
The Attitude Of The Reformers
While the reformers of the sixteenth century dealt the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3) a devastating blow, from which he never fully recovered and did much toward removing the theological rubbish that had accumulated during the dark ages, it is now obvious that few of them had a clear conception of the boundaries of scriptural authority.
It was a difference in attitudes toward authority that led to a parting of the ways between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer. Luther’s attitude toward scriptural authority for a practice may be paraphrased in these words: “We may practice in religion, anything that is not specifically forbidden.” On the other hand, Zwingli’s attitude was: “We may practice only that which is specifically authorized.” Unfortunately Luther’s influence overshadowed that of Zwingli, with the result that Luther’s concept gained wider acceptance, and to a greater or lesser degree influences Protestantism today.
The Restoration Movement And Its Slogan
When the Campbells, Thomas and his son Alexander, with Barton W. Stone and others appeared upon the scene early in the nineteenth century, they found a sadly divided religious world of denominations subscribing to differing creeds, and ruled by different forms of government; and those denominations, in turn, divided into a number of branches. They recognized that this was a far call from the unity for which Christ prayed (John 17:20, 21) and the plea of the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:10). Thus they began an appeal for a return to the ancient order as taught by the apostles of Christ and practiced by the disciples of the first century. Their observations led them to conclude that much of the cause of division was not over what the Bible teaches but over matters concerning which the Bible is silent. It was under those circumstances that Thomas Campbell delivered the famous Declaration and Address, in the course of which he announced what has come to be known as the slogan of the restoration movement.
A slogan is a concise, yet comprehensive, statement of the aims or purposes of an organization, or movement. The statement of Mr. Campbell that reveals the aim of the restoration movement is this: “We will speak where the Bible speaks. We will be silent where the Bible is silent.”
Since the inception of this slogan, much has been said and written about it, as to its implications, and how literally its author intended for it to be construed and applied. Some who claim to be a part of the restoration movement have adopted a silence-gives-consent attitude and see no inconsistency in their use of instrumental music in worship, even though the New Testament is silent about it. Their position is that it is permissible since the Bible does not forbid it. Others have carried the matter further and maintain that the silence of the New Testament on instrumental music in the worship forbids any voice being raised in opposition to it.
It is obvious that even Campbell himself did not immediately realize the implications of the slogan, nor where it would lead him. But, step by step, as he came to see that some of the things which he practiced were things concerning which the Bible is silent, he abandoned them. One of these was infant baptism. Thus, it is obvious that Campbell construed the slogan to mean that we are at liberty to practice only what the scriptures authorize by command, approved example, or necessary inference.
Some have objected to the use of the word, slogan, on the ground of “worldly” connotations. While it is true that slogans are often used to express worldly aims, I see no objection to using the word as expressive of a worthy aim, as is the aim of those who seek to return to the Christianity of the first century. I do suggest that for a slogan to have validity as the statement of aim of religious movement should meet some well defined criterion.
(1) It must be expressive of something that can be shown to be necessary.
(2) It must express that which is feasible-capable of being translated into practice.
(3) It must express a concept that can be shown to be unquestionably scriptural.
In the remainder of this article I shall point out that the concept of respect for the silence of the Bible is in harmony with the proposed standard.
It Is Necessary
The necessity of respect for the silence of the Bible becomes evident when we view the chaotic conditions that would accrue from a disregard for its silence. It has been a stock argument of gospel preachers, when discussing the subject of instrumental music in worship, to point out that if the instrument can be introduced because it is not forbidden, then, of course, the burning of incense could be introduced for the same reason. And that is not the end. For once the floodgate is open there is practically no limit to what can be introduced. On that basis, who could object to infant baptism, or apple pie and coffee on the Lord’s table? And of those of our brethren who have introduced benevolent societies built and supported by the church, and sponsoring churches, we ask: What objection can you have to the missionary society, seeing that it is found on the same blank page of the New Testament as those institutions you favor? The conclusion is irresistible. It is necessary that we respect the silence of the Bible. Otherwise religious chaos is the result.
It Is Feasible
The concept of respect for the silence of the Bible is feasible in that it harmonizes with well established rules that govern human behaviour. Observe the following examples:
(1) Highway traffic is controlled by our traffic laws, and our highways are marked by various signs. On some signs the maximum allowable speed is posted. If the sign allows for a speed of sixty miles per hour, we realize that its “silence” regarding a speed of seventy-five miles an hour is sufficient to constitute a prohibition. Some signs are directional in their purpose and point to a destination. But along that highway there may be many intersecting roads. Yet no one would leave the highway to travel some sideroad just because there was no sign forbidding it.
(2) We accept a prescription from a doctor. In that prescription the doctor “speaks” concerning the medicine he wants you to take. There are hundreds of other medicines concerning which the doctor is “silent” as far as that prescription is concerned. We recognize that silence as being prohibitive of any other medicine except that which he prescribed. Who of us would allow the dispensing drugist to give us a substitute on the ground that the doctor did not forbid it? Thus the concept of respect for the silence of the Bible is one that is practicible since it follows a well recognized pattern of human behavior.
It Is Scriptural
What is most important of all is the fact that the concept of respect for the silence of the Bible is scriptural. It is something that God has required in all ages:. This is evident from the following observations:
(1) Three times in the Bible, God has prohibited any addition to His word (Deut. 4:2, Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18, 19).
(2) Early in the history of Israel, the nation was taught a startling lesson regarding God’s attitude toward any invasion of the area of his silence. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were struck dead as they prepared to offer incense. Their offense was not the doing of something that God had prohibited, but in that they “offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1).
(3) The writer of Hebrews, in the seventh chapter, recognized the prohibitive character of scripture silence. In verse 12, he pointed out that the fact of Christ’s having been made a high priest necessitated a change of law. In verse 14, he tells why: “For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests.” The law had spoken with regard to the priesthood of the Old Testament, and specifically required that the priests be chosen from the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:5-10). Concerning priests from any other tribe, however, the law was silent, and the writer of Hebrews recognized that silence as prohibiting Christ from being a priest without a change of the law.
(4) The apostle Peter said: “If any man speaketh, speaking as it were the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). To speak as the oracles of God will require that we cease speaking-be silent-when the Bible ceases to speak.
(5) As Christians we walk by faith. (2 Cor. 5:7). That faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17). Where the Bible is silent there can be no faith, since obviously one cannot believe what he does not hear.
(6) Paul warned the Corinthians “not to go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6). The apostle John said: “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God . . . .” (2 John 9). To abide not in the doctrine of Christ and to go beyond that which is written is to launch out into the area of that concerning which God has been silent. Concerning such, John said that they have not Christ, and warned his readers to have no fellowship with them (2 John 10, 11).
This ends our series which is, perhaps, much too long. I trust, however, that it has furnished us with a fresh approach to an old and much discussed subject.
Truth Magazine XXII: 10, p. 165-167
March 9, 1978