By Don Partain
An expedient is a spiritually advantageous method for carrying out the Lord’s revealed will. The Lord instructed us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19) and to do so in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40). Expedients to carrying out this command would include hymn books, pitch pipes, song leaders, certain styles of singing, etc.
What qualifies a practice as an expedient? Is an expedient just any practice that seems to work – that seems to produce the desired result? Is it just whatever is easiest or most convenient for us to do?
- An expedient is first lawful (see 1 Cor. 6:12). It does not violate any scriptural principle. For example, the Lord instructed us to preach the gospel to all nations (Mk. 16:15). But using any kind of trickery, gimmickry, or force cannot be justified as an expedient – even if it yields some desirable results. Why? Because these practices violate clear scriptural principles (Eph. 4:25; Jn. 6:44,45). True expedients lie within the scope of direct statement/command, apostolic example, or implication of these. Thus, partaking of the Lord’s Supper on Tuesday night is not an expedient, since it lies outside apostolic example (Acts 20:7). In the same way, evangelistic efforts through a centralized (or “sponsoring”) church are not expedients, even though they might result in many baptisms, because the elders of one congregation are not authorized to supervise the work of other congregations (1 Pet. 5:2).
- An expedient does not lead others to sin. A practice might be lawful, yet still not be expedient (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). Eating meats sacrificed to idols was, in itself lawful. Yet, in certain situations, it was a stumbling block to weak brethren as it led them to violate their conscience. I remember a get-together of Christians at a local recreation facility where there were two pool tables. Although most of the members saw nothing wrong with playing pool in itself, and even enjoyed playing the game, we simply covered both tables with a sheet to keep from being a stumbling block to one of the families present.
- An expedient is spiritually profitable, yet not necessarily the most convenient thing to do. In fact, an expedient might involve a good bit of work and effort. The three-year Bible study plan the church here in Missoula is using is the most demanding expedient we have had for studying the Bible, since it involves work to be done on a daily basis. Yet, this plan is definitely expedient, spiritually profitable. In the early centuries, many churches found it expedient to assemble before daybreak on the Lord’s day for worship in order to accommodate members who were slaves – members who could not have attended any later. Such a meeting time was not very easy or convenient (I wonder how it would affect our attendance today!), but it was expedient.
A church of Christ in Arizona has found it expedient to devote more time to preparing for partaking of the Lord’s Supper. So they have a brief sermon in addition to a song or two preparatory to partaking. Many might find this practice not only different from what they are used to, but even inconvenient. Yet it is definitely expedient to “do(ing) this in remembrance of Me.”
- An expedient is selected out of love and consideration for all. The leaders of each church must be sensitive to the particular needs and situation of their congregation, and so, be able to select expedients that would work best for them – whether such expedients are used generally by other congregations or not. Needs will differ somewhat according to whether a church is large or small, made up mostly of elderly members or young families, mature Christians or “babes” in Christ, located in the North or the South, in a rural or urban area, etc. Effective expedients will be those that take into consideration the congregation’s particular situation. For example, a large congregation here in the Northwest, due to the various work schedules of the members, has found it expedient to provide two “midweek” study nights. For obvious reasons, though, this practice would not be expedient for small congregations. A church composed mostly of young families might find it expedient to include psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that use a more contemporary style of music, along with the standard hymns.
When serious resistance or objections are raised against using certain proposed expedients, they should not simply be forced upon the congregation. In such a case, even good expedients end up being “blasphemed.” Thus, we are defeated from the very start. We must remember that “the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit … So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:16-19). “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, p. 204
April 4, 1991