By Wayne S. Walker
In a previous article we began a discussion about how the Bible says we should act when it is silent on a particular subject. The article had nothing new to say. These things have been proclaimed by faithful gospel preachers and believed by faithful Christians for years. However, they need to be brought to our remembrance from time to time, especially in view of more recent controversies regarding the subject. We began that study with Hebrews 7:14. “For it, is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” God had specified that priests under the Old Testament were to be of the tribe of Levi. The law of Moses was silent concerning approval of priests from any other tribe. Consequently, even Jesus himself could not have been a priest on earth since he was of the tribe of Judah. The author’s argument in context is that for him to become our High Priest there had to be a change of the law.
Application of this principle was made to some problems that have arisen among brethren over the years. We saw that while the Bible does not specifically mention certain methods of assembling, singing, and giving, it is not silent about the doing of these things themselves. Therefore, we do have authority to use any expedient methods of doing them which do not change the nature of the command or violate any other teachings of God’s word. On the other hand, God is not silent regarding the kind of music he wants us to use in praising him. He specified singing. Any expedient way to help us sing falls within the general authority to do so. But anything that would add another kind of music or change the nature of the command is indeed a matter of Bible silence and silence does not give consent according to Hebrews 7. In this article we want to make further application of this principle to some other problems that have bothered members of the church.
An argument is often made that there are some churches of Christ who believe that the Scriptures are silent on having divided Bible classes in the church building and on using individual communion cups. Since we go ahead and practice these things on which, presumably, the Bible is silent, why can we not also have instrumental music or other such things on which the Bible is also silent? Again, equivocation is the basis for this argument as well, and the problem is the result of a misunderstanding of generic authority (see chart).
|What God Said:||This Includes:||Silence:|
|Teach Christ’s Commands
|Drink the Cup
(1 Cor. 11:23-26)
The Bible says to teach Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:18-20). It nowhere specifies a particular place or arrangement. Some would affirm that the only arrangement authorized is when the whole church is come together in one place. However, this is merely assumed and cannot be proven from Scripture. The use of graded Bible classes with literature expedites the generic command to teach Christ’s commands. Of course, teaching human doctrines instead of or in addition to Christ’s doctrine changes the command and thus cannot expedite it. The Scriptures are silent in telling us to do this and, in fact, forbid our doing so.
The Bible tells us to drink the cup (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Obviously we do not drink the literal vessel, so “the cup” must stand for the contents which we do drink rather than the container itself. Nowhere is there a specific statement as to the number of containers. Individual communion cups are expedients to following a generic command. We are still doing nothing but drinking “the cup,” regardless of how many containers we use. But using water or cola changes the command. These are not expedients and the Scriptures are silent on them. And when God says nothing, we are not at liberty to act.
So the Bible, in reality, is not “silent” regarding Bible classes and individual communion cups. While they are not mentioned specifically, they are included in generic authority and are thus permissible. They neither change the command nor add to it but are merely expedients to carrying it out. This cannot be said for instrumental music, teaching human doctrines, and using water or cola in the Lord’s supper. Thus they are wrong.
However, through the years, some brethren have tried to bring other practices into the church by claiming that they are simply expedients, like the Bible classes and individual containers. In fact, there are those who have tried to establish a fourth method of determining authority. In addition to divine commands, approved apostolic examples, and necessary inferences, they have said that we can use the “law of expediency.” If it is expedient, it is authorized. I believe that it was Henry Ward Beecher, a denominational preacher, who used this same kind of argument to justify infant baptism. However, for a practice to be expedient in carrying out God’s commands, it must first be lawful itself and the thing it is supposed to do must be lawful. To put it plainly, there must be direct command, approved example, or necessary inference to authorize it. And in the area of specific authority, we must limit ourselves (see chart below).
|What God Said:||This Specified:||Silence:|
|Mission of the Church||Spiritual in Nature (Rom. 14:17)||Recreation; Entertainment|
|Preaching the Gospel||Church is Pillar of Truth
(1 Tim. 3:15)
|Benevolence||Church Helps Needy Saints
|Edification||Church Instructs Members
With regard to the mission of the church God has spoken. And he has specified that the church’s mission is to be spiritual. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). The church may do whatever is necessary in accomplishing this mission. However, God is silent regarding the inclusion of recreation and entertainment in the mission of the church. There are many fine human organizations which are able to provide for these physical needs of mankind, but God established his church or kingdom to meet men’s spiritual needs. Recreation and entertainment are not expedients to induce people to come to church services or teach them the gospel because they are not spiritual in their nature.
Concerning one aspect of the church’s mission, preaching the gospel, God has again spoken. He specified that the church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The church is the only institution specifically designed by God to do this. (This statement is not intended to deny the right of individual Christians, whether singly or together, to fulfil their personal responsibilities in proclaiming the truth.) Any expedients which would enable the church to carry out this work would be within the realm of that which is lawful. However, the Bible is silent about a union of congregations in a missionary society which then does the work. The missionary society is not an expedient way to preach because it is not the church acting as God ordained it.
In reference to the work of benevolence, God has specified that the church is to help needy saints. We have one example of this in Acts 6:1-6. This is what God has spoken. But there is an area of silence. God has not spoken about church sponsored benevolent homes taking care of needy saints, nor has he spoken about churches helping the poor nonChristians with their physical needs. You can read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation and you will not find one shred of precedent for benevolent institutions supported by churches for the general benevolence by churches. These are not expedient ways of carrying out the work of benevolence because they are not doing what God specified.
There is another area of the church’s work – edification. As to this work, God has spoken and he has specified that the church is to instruct its members. Ephesians 4:11-12 says that God gave certain gifts to the church – apostles and prophets to reveal the word, and evangelists, pastors, and teachers to proclaim the word, “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ” (ASV). Ephesians 4:16 goes on to say, “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes the growth of the body [church, WSW] for the edifying of itself in love.” God is silent about a church or churches setting up an independent organization, such as a Sunday School Society or a “Christian” college, to provide edification for its members. (This statement is not intended to deny the right of individual Christians to establish a school, separate and apart from the church, as a business enterprise to teach both secular and religious subjects.) Therefore, such church-supported entities are not expedient means to edification because they are not the church acting as God intended, since God specified that the church is to edify itself.
The fact is, when God has given specific authority for what he wants done, whom he wants to do it, and how he wants it done, we have no right to generalize that something else will do and then call it an expedient. This principle holds true whether one is considering the mission, work, worship, organization, message, or behavior of the church. When God says to do something, we must do what he says. We may use whatever expedients are necessary to accomplish it. However, when God says nothing, we have no right to act. God said nothing about priests from any tribe other than Levi. Using men from Judah, Benjamin, etc., to serve at the altar would not have been an expedient method of offering sacrifices because it was different from what God specified.
How, then, can we solve the problem of what to do when God says nothing? First, we must realize that God has spoken to us and that the Scriptures are a complete revelation of everything that God wants us to know. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If it is a good work, so far as God is concerned, he has authorized it in the Scriptures. If it cannot be found in the Scriptures, then it is not a good work in God’s sight.
This is the only conclusion possible if we accept the Bible as God’s final word.
Therefore, we must understand that what God wants us to do has already been bound and loosed in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. It will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:17-18, NASB). The same promise made here specifically to Peter is also made to the other apostles in Matthew 18:18. When the apostles preached God’s word, they did not speak off the top of their heads. They proclaimed what God had previously bound and loosed in heaven. Thus, we have no right to bind or loose anything other than what God has plainly revealed in his word through the holy apostles and prophets.
And, finally, we must remember that the curse of God rests upon all who would add to, subtract from, or change his will in any way. “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19; cf. Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:5-6). Those who sought to add priests from other tribes when God said nothing about them had to face his wrath. And those today who add things to God’s word, such as instrumental music, when God has said nothing, will have to answer for violating this passage. I would not want to be in their shoes at judgment for anything in the world.
Very simply, when God says something, we must do i We must have the attitude expressed by young Samuel “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:9). But when God says nothing, we had better do nothing with regard to that particular subject. This principle can also be illustrated from Acts 15:24. In the discussion over whether the Gentiles must be circumcised, the apostles and the elders of Jerusalem said, “We have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘You must be circumcised and keep the law’ -to whom we gave no such commandment.” Now, the apostles and elders had not said, “You must not go and preach that the Gentiles must be circumcised.” They simply gave no commandment to do it.
Did the fact that the apostles had given no such commandment, that they were silent on this matter, that they had not said, “Thou shalt not preach circumcision,” give these false teachers the right to proclaim their doctrine? Certainly not! And when we cannot find authority in God’s word for a belief, a teaching, or a practice, we have no right to accept it as true and we had best leave it alone. When God says nothing, we have no right to presume upon his silence and we have no liberty to act. May those who truly want to be his people here upon the earth and desire to go to be with him in heaven when this life is over learn this lesson well.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 15, pp. 456-458
August 3, 1989