By Don Partain
An expedient is a spiritually profitable or advantageous method for carrying out the Lord’s instructions to us. To be a true expedient the practice must first be lawful – that is, it must lie within the scope of direct statement/command, apostolic example, or implication of either of these. Then, too, it must not cause any to stumble (1 Cor. 10:23f), must be spiritually profitable (though not necessarily convenient), and must be selected with consideration for the feelings and needs of all concerned.
Several years ago, members of a large congregation were wanting to use an overhead projector to aid in teaching and preaching. But for no real reason, the elders refused. When the leaders of another large church were considering a change in Sunday evening meeting times from 6:00 to 4:00 for reasons of expediency, several members threatened to pull away. Many more examples could be listed to illustrate the difficulty many brethren have when it comes to accepting expedients they are not used to.
What are some reasons for such resistance?
1. Ignorance about how to test the scripturalness of a practice. In other words, members are not confident in their ability to establish scriptural authority for a practice. This lack of confidence produces a kind of paranoia about any practice they are riot used to. So, such brethren simply cling to whatever expedients they have traditionally used (thus, placing their faith in their tradition). Or, they also look to expedients practiced by churches they consider faithful (and thus, place their faith in the practices of these churches). The unhealthiness either of relying upon church tradition or relying upon other churches’ judgment as to what is scriptural should be obvious.
Forty years ago, we were stressing the need to teach brethren how to establish scriptural authority so that they could recognize the unscripturalness of institutionalism. But we have still another reason for such teaching – namely, so that brethren will also know how to recognize what is scriptural, whether it has been traditionally practiced or not. Thus, they would not be found condemning (or at least shying away from) perfectly scriptural practices just because such expedients are unfamiliar to them. And, on the positive side, they would be able to take advantage of the benefits these expedients could afford them.
2. Complacency and laziness. As he anticipated one of the hindrances to replacing the Old Covenant with the New, Jesus made a very astute observation on human nature: “And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough'” (Lk. 5:39). In a word, having settled into one way of doing things, we do not want to go to the trouble of changing and having to re-adjust. It’s just too much trouble of changing and having to readjust. It’s just too much trouble to do things differently from the way they have been done – even in cases where doing them differently would be better. It just requires too much thinking. It’s the law of inertia operating in the church – “a body at rest tends to remain at rest.”
Having done things the same way over and over, we no longer have to think in order to do them. We can pray the same prayers, sing the same songs – and in the same order, and mumble the same remarks before the Lord’s Supper. Easier to worship. Yes. But edifying? “In spirit and truth”?
3. Making commonly used expedients into law. When we limit ourselves to using only the same expedients year after year and decade after decade, we tend to promote our expedients to the status of law. That is, we begin to think that all other congregations should use the same expedients we use – not adding to or taking from them. Thus, we begin to bind where God has not bound. In fact, this was one of the errors of the Pharisees Jesus exposed. Over the centuries, they had come up with a number of religious practices as expedients to their religion. Some of these traditions were in themselves unlawful, such as, “Corban” (Matt. 15:5). But others were, in themselves, at least innocent. For example, there was nothing wrong with washing one’s hands before eating. And there was certainly nothing wrong with observing the sabbath’s day journey restriction. But what was wrong was that the Jews began to bind these traditions as law. We see this as the Pharisees and scribes rebuked Jesus for not requiring his disciples to wash their hands before eating bread (Matt. 15:2). Yet, we dare not denounce these Jewish leaders, and then turn around and do essentially the same thing ourselves!
4. Denominational thinking. In order for an expedient to be acceptable to them and beyond suspicion, it must first have been practiced by most other congregations. In effect, an expedient must be “standardized” by the brotherhood before it can be totally acceptable to them. On this basis, many brethren (at least in the past) prima facie rejected any translation other than the KJV. Here in Missoula, the church uses a notebook collection of hand-written songs in addition to using a standard hymnal. Most of these songs contain lyrics straight from Scripture, and they are sung in an orderly and reverent manner. Yet, because this collection has not been standardized by use throughout the brotherhood, some of our visiting brethren (including a preacher’s wife) have expressed at least serious concern. Such brethren do not understand local church autonomy. Rather, they think of the church as a collectivity of congregations governed by an unwritten, yet real, set of rules that tell us which expedients we can and cannot use. Such thinking is indeed denominational.
Have any of the above hindrances kept you from considering expedients that could prove to be more edifying to your congregation?
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 10, pp. 296, 301
May 16, 1991