For reasons churches of Christ have been mocked, ridiculed and blasted for what we believe is needed to establish authority. Pioneers of restoration movement like Alexander Campbell proclaimed that we should speak where the bible speaks and remain silent where the bible is silent. This tough stance against the additions and subtractions form the scriptures that man’s doctrines and traditions create was not well received by everyone then, and it certainly is not today. However, popularity with the masses should not be the determining factor as to how to interpret the scriptures. God’s word actually reveals the proper way to establish authoritative principles. One of these ways the bible reveals is a means to establish authority is the silence of the scriptures. The truth is, in some instances the silence of the scriptures is prohibitive and in some cases the silence of the scriptures is permissive. We have the responsibility to determine in which cases it is permissive and in which cases it is prohibitive. Thankfully, God has shown us the way.
To understand which is permissive and which is prohibitive we need to understand the difference between generic and specific commands. Generic commands are commands that God has commanded us to do something without specifying how, where, or when. For instance, God told Noah to build an ark. He did not tell Noah what tools were to be used to build that ark. He did not tell Noah how to fasten the boards or this ark together. He did not tell Noah where to start this building process. Nor did he exactly tell Noah the deadline for completion (outside of the fact it should be done soon as destruction was coming upon the world). The bible never reveals to us how Noah built the ark, we just know that he did. To put in modern sense, he could have used screws, nails, bolts, etc to hold the ark together. He could have used a wide variety of saws, circular, jigsaw, reciprocating, etc. He could have used hammers, screwdrivers, drills, hammer drills, etc. The important thing was the he completed the ark. On the other hand, God told Noah he had to build the ark using Gopher wood. When God specified that Gopher wood was to be used no other wood could be used to build the ark. God did not have to come out and say, “Thou shall not build the ark with pine, oak, redwood, cedar, etc.” His silence in this case was not permission to use other types of wood because he specified the type of wood that he expected Noah to use.
Another illustration which the Hebrew writer invoked the silence of the scriptures is in Heb. 7:14 “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.” And he was right. Moses never said a word about Judah and priests. God never said, “Thou shall not have priests of the tribe of Judah.” He simply revealed that priests were to originate from the tribe of Levi as Aaron was a Levite and all priests came forth from Aaron. Because God specified Aaron’s family, he never had to say who weren’t supposed to be priests. The silence of the scriptures was enough to prohibit descendants of Judah from serving as priests under the Mosaic Law.
Today, there are many things we have that the bible says nothing about. There are church building, pews, song books, personal bibles, electricity, indoor plumbing, et al. None of these things are mentioned in the scriptures. Does that mean it is wrong to use them? No. Jesus said a day was coming that it did not matter where we worshipped so long as we worshipped in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). This means that anything associated with the building (pews, electricity, indoor plumbing) are permitted because God does not care where we physically meet (in a house, in a public building, in church building, in a cave, etc). Likewise we are told to study (II Tim. 2:15). Which bible we use is up to us. We can use a personal bible, one in a church building, one in a library, an electronic bible, that is up to you. He didn’t specify how you got your hands on the word, just be certain that you do study.
However, there are many things that are used today that God’s specified command actually prohibits the use of them. Twice in Paul’s letters we are commanded to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The type of musical worshipped commanded is vocal, not instrumental. Since God specified that he demands the fruit of our lips and not the fruit of our hands (musical instruments) we cannot use them. I do not deny that musical instruments can be aurally aesthetically pleasing. But it is not about what I like to hear, it is about what God said. Since he specified singing, like he did gopher wood and a Levitical priesthood we must keep to it. We can no more add musical instruments than Noah could add oak and still be pleasing unto God. - WTK
Grinnell church of Christ
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The Silence of the Scriptures
Volume 4 Issue 3 December 16, 2012