By Ron Halbrook
If you have not read Joe Neil Clayton’s Thunderous Silence Of God, brother you are missing a real treat. Much that we read brings tears to our eyes like those of Jeremiah for the drifting of God’s people. No one asked us to write this commendation; we cannot help writing it in these troubled days. Those who read The Thunderous Silence Of God will rejoice with renewed spirits.
Brother Clayton tells the stories of both history and scripture with clarity. His book was published in 1972 by Cogdill Foundation; no finer work on unity and fellowship has been seen by us, though the book came out before the current controversy broke into the open. The book is modestly priced and should be widely circulated by gospel preachers, elders, and parents. It not only will revive your spirits, it can do untold good if put in the hands of the young. We received our copy from a widow who is a Christian and full of good deeds; her kindness will be remembered! Her example should be often repeated in these days.
Chapter One, “Slighting a Slogan,” reveals the disillusionment James DeForest Murch (conservative Christian Church), W. Carl Ketcherside, and others have experienced. Brother Clayton refers to “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent” as the restoration “slogan,” from the standpoint of modern church history. “I am persuaded that the motto reflects the clear teaching of the scripture in regard to the principles by which the Word of God must be interpreted and applied.” But many are “straining against the leash” of restraint imposed by recognition of the impact of the thunderous silence of God. Since many call for a re-examination of the slogan, Brother Clayton proposes to accommodate them.
First our author shows that Thomas Campbell in his slogan and the elaboration of it in the Declaration and Address unquestionably viewed “the New Testament” as “a perfect model” for the church (Chapter Two: “Removing . . . the Rubbish of Ages”). Such an approach to authority and unity has been called “naive” by modern liberals, but Brother Clayton marches us through the Declaration and Address showing that Campbell admirably set forth such a view without apology. What is stated on the first page of Chapter Three (“A Limit to Toleration”) is truer now than when it was written. That is that many have claimed to see in the Declaration “the broadest sort of base for toleration of innovations.” Such claims are being made right now by promoters of the new unity movement! In the last half of the 1800’s, men like W. K. Pendleton and Isaac Errett tried to make out a case for the “permissiveness of silence” from the Declaration and the Bible. Modern proponents of “the broadest possible fellowship . . . by the present factions of the Restoration Movement” have equally misused the document. Brother Clayton ably discusses these ideas, giving attention to the “Essentials versus Non-essentials” dodge and “Nadab and Abihu on Essentials.”
Under “Delusion or Dishonesty?” (Chapter Four), the inconsistencies that have sometimes characterized those who espoused the principle of The Thunderous Silence Of God are presented. Men like Lard and McGarvey wavered in practice though not in theory. But thrill to the writings of men like Jacob Creath, “Your conventions stand upon precisely the same footing that the one now in session in Rome does-that sects, creeds, infant-sprinkling, organ grinding in churches . . . stand upon . . . as another advocate for all these innovations says, ‘They are not expressly forbidden nor commanded.’ Neither is Romanism nor Mohammedanism.” (!) In “From Heaven or From Men?” (Chapter Five), the scriptural argument for the thunderous silence of God is admirably set forth, with notice too of T. Campbell’s statement ” ‘Union in Truth’ is our motto.” Ketcherside’s twisting of such passages as I Corinthians 1:10 is disposed of. The proposition that “the specific approbation of Levi served also as a specific prohibition of Judah” is established, and Chapter Five is worth the price of the book!
Chapters Six (“The History of a Principle”) and Seven (“The End of the Matter”) are a clear call to see our responsibilities regarding the principle of Divine Silence. All through history men have had to choose-Zwingli, David, Balaam, . . . and us. Since all men will not recognize this principle any more than all men will accept any other part of God’s will, we must accept “controversy as a part of the task” instead of giving up just because controversy arises . . . like some are doing right now, we might add. The selection of Colossians 2:8 at the end was certainly timely since we are now seeing men spoiled by philosophy and vain deceit in regard to the thunderous silence of God.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:28, p. 10
May 16, 1974