Finding Liberty in Silence

 

I.         It was one of those interesting coincidences. I received two correspondences dealing with separate issues, but both seeking justification in the same manner.

            A.        In attempting to justify the use of instrumental music, Gary Mattingly, a preacher for the Christian Church wrote: “First and foremost, we must see that there is a fundamental difference in the hermeneutics (this is the interpretation of Scripture) between the two groups. The non-instrumental brethren see the ‘silence of the Scripture’ to be prohibition. If the Scriptures do not have a ‘thus saith the Lord’ on a subject, then, to this group, we must not do it. They feel that the New Testament says nothing about instruments, therefore, they should be refused in worship. We, within the Christian Church / Church of Christ, use a hermeneutic that says for the most part, if there is silence in Scripture, we can use liberty on the subject. If the Scripture does not say ‘thou shalt use an instrument in worship,’ we find this a liberty. We can use it or not use it. This is the underlying cause for our differences today in the instrumental issue. You must see this clearly before you can talk about this further. This is a must to see!”

            B.        In attempting to justify the operation of a dining hall in church buildings, James Johnson wrote to me saying, “I have no problem with a church building having any or all of the above [a long list which included kitchens and dining halls]. You, however, believe that anything we put into practice must have a ‘thus saith the Lord.’ I say we are permitted to have all of the above because they have absolutely nothing to do regarding our salvation. ... My point is, God gives the leadership of the local church the latitude to decide or make decisions in discretionary or judgmental matters (Hebrews 13:17). It is fine for brethren to choose not to have a dining facility. It is, however, a false position when brethren, who do not have a dining facility, try to elevate their opinion to the level of law. Again, it is an opinion or judgment call because the Bible does not deal with having or not having dining facilities ...” (sightly edited for spelling and grammar)

            C.        I found the similar vein of reasoning fascinating.

                        1.         Both state that their position is not found in the Bible.

                        2.         Both complain that their opposition demand a ‘thus saith the Lord’ which they believe is unnecessary.

                        3.         Both find the liberty to implement their practice in the silence of the Scriptures.

II.        The method of reasoning leaves the gate wide open for all sorts of innovations

            A.        The Scripture is silent about making Groundhog Day a religious holiday.

                        1.         Should we find liberty in the Scripture’s silence to add a holy day to our calendar?

                        2.         The Bible is just as silent about Easter and Christmas as it is about Groundhog Day, yet most denominations find the latitude to add these celebrations, which in their mind have absolutely nothing to do with our salvation.

            B.        Come to think of it, where can I find the Catholic practices of the papacy, the priesthood, the confessional booth, the burning of incense, lighting candles, the counting of beads, or infant baptism?

                        1.         Even the Catholic Catechism acknowledges that these practices did not exist during the time the Bible was written.

                        2.         Why do these men who desire instrumental music or dining facilities oppose these Catholic practices if the silence of the Scriptures gives liberty. Would they say that their opposition is elevating an opinion to the level of law?

            C.        Observe the phrase Gary Mattingly used “for the most part”

                        1.         Even Mr. Mattingly realizes there must be a limit to the liberty he claims.

                        2.         The problem is that his limits are arbitrarily placed.

                                    a.         The things I want is liberty

                                    b.         The things you want is prohibited

III.       God is not silent about the silence found in His Law

            A.        Jesus instructed his disciples to teach all things that he had commanded them - Matthew 28:20

            B.        Whatever is done, must be done with the Lord’s approval - Colossians 3:17

                        1.         In other words, whatever we do we must have a ‘thus saith the Lord.’

            C.        Warnings about exceeding what was taught

                        1.         Paul warned brethren to mark those who work contrary to the doctrine we had learned - Romans 16:17

                                    a.         The word “contrary” is from the Greek word para which in this case means going beyond the limits.

                                    b.         The limits are the things which we have learned.

                        2.         A similar warning is given in I Corinthians 4:6

                        3.         II John 9

                                    a.         Transgresses - goes beyond the limits

                                    b.         Does not abide - does not stay within the limits

                                    c.         What are the limits? The teachings or doctrines of Christ

            D.        We must stay within the things taught to us by the Apostles - II Thessalonians 2:16

                        1.         No one knows the mind of God, but God himself - I Corinthians 2:9-11

                        2.         We cannot presume to know something that God has not revealed.

                        3.         Robert Richardson once wrote, “The silence of the Bible is to be reverenced equally with its teachings, and that to intrude into things not seen and not revealed, evinces that vanity of a fleshly mind as much as to misinterpret and pervert the express statements of the Scriptures.”

                        4.         When man takes the opportunity to add to God’s word because God was silent on a matter, he alters the meaning of what God has said - Galatians 1:6-10.

            E.        Take a look at the Jewish Christians who went out teaching that the Old Law was still binding - Acts 15:24

                        1.         They were not rebuked because the apostles told them not to teach these things.

                        2.         They were rebuked because they were given no such commandment.

                        3.         In other words, the apostles were silent on the matter and that silence was a prohibition!

            F.        While we are not under the Old Testament laws, still there are things we can learn from them - Romans 15:4

                        1.         When God gave laws, they were not to be altered by men - Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:32-33; 12:32

                        2.         What is a person doing when they use the silence of God to authorize a practice?

                                    a.         They are adding to God’s word

                                    b.         If they did something God told them not to do, then they would be breaking a commandment. In other words, they would be removing that commandment’s authority, or subtracting from God’s word.

                                    c.         The prohibition from adding to God’s word was a commandment to respect the silence of God!

                        3.         Proverbs 30:6 - Do not add to God’s word

                        4.         A person who does not speak according to this word, it is because they lack righteousness - Isaiah 8:20

            G.        This is why Peter told us to speak as God spoke - I Peter 4:11

                        1.         How does a person speak as God?

                        2.         By limiting his words to the words of God – neither adding things that God has not said nor removing things that God has said.

IV.      A person who justifies an action by the silence of God implies that God did not tell us everything we need to do to live righteously.

            A.        The additions are call righteous, but they are not found between the covers of the New Testament. Therefore, they are saying there are righteous things outside of the Bible.

            B.        Yet Paul said that Scriptures contain everything to make a man completely equipped to do every good work - II Timothy 3:16-17

            C.        Peter said that God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness - II Peter 1:3

            D.        If it is not in the Scriptures, then:

                        1.         It is not related to godliness.

                        2.         It doesn’t pertain to a godly life

                        3.         It is not a good work in God’s sight

                        4.         In other words, it is a sin!

            E.        We can only make a choice in matters when God gives us a choice. We cannot claim the right to choose for ourselves.

V.        Long have we used the claim “We will speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” Let us continue to respect the silence of God.



First and foremost, we must see that there is a fundamental difference in the hermeneutics (this is the interpretation of Scripture) between the two groups. The non-instrumental brethren see the ‘silence of the Scripture’ to be prohibition. If the Scriptures do not have a ‘thus saith the Lord’ on a subject, then, to this group, we must not do it. They feel that the New Testament says nothing about instruments, therefore, they should be refused in worship. We, within the Christian Church / Church of Christ, use a hermeneutic that says for the most part, if there is silence in Scripture, we can use liberty on the subject. If the Scripture does not say ‘thou shalt use an instrument in worship,’ we find this a liberty. We can use it or not use it. This is the underlying cause for our differences today in the instrumental issue. You must see this clearly before you can talk about this further. This is a must to see!

Gary Mattingly



I have no problem with a church building having any or all of the above [a long list which included kitchens and dining halls]. You, however, believe that anything we put into practice must have a ‘thus saith the Lord.’ I say we are permitted to have all of the above because they have absolutely nothing to do regarding our salvation. ... My point is, God gives the leadership of the local church the latitude to decide or make decisions in discretionary or judgmental matters (Hebrews 13:17). It is fine for brethren to choose not to have a dining facility. It is, however, a false position when brethren, who do not have a dining facility, try to elevate their opinion to the level of law. Again, it is an opinion or judgment call because the Bible does not deal with having or not having dining facilities ...

James Johnson (slightly edited)