Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 8, 1968
NUMBER 39, PAGE 1-2a

The Doctrine Of Expediency

Roy E. Cogdill

Men have sought to justify a multitude of things by the claim that they can be practiced as expediencies. When there is no authority, generic or specific, for a thing that people want to do they think it still can be justified as an expedient. The idea seems to be that the end justifies whatever means will accomplish the thing that we think to be good whether it is authorized or not. Let us look at what the New Testament scriptures teach about the matter of what is expedient.

1. In order for a thing to be expedient it must first be lawful (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23). If a thing does not come within the scope of that which is authorized, if there is no precept, approved example, or necessary inference in the scriptures which authorize the practice, then there is no divine authority for it. The unauthorized is unlawful — prohibited — and is therefore sinful. Such would involve going beyond the Word of the Lord (II John v. 9-11) and is consequently beyond the realm of faith (II Cor. 5:7; Romans 14:23.)

The silence of God must be respected. We cannot know that a thing is the will of God or have any assurance that it is pleasing to God unless the Holy Spirit so testifies (I Cor. 2:10-13.) When we have no assurance that a thing is pleasing in the sight of God, to practice it is presumption and God has always condemned presumption as sinful. Consider the Old Testament examples of Cain (Gen. 4), Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1-2), Uzzah (II Sam. 6:6-7), and Uzziah (II Chron. 26: I8-21.)

2. In order for a thing to be expedient it cannot be specified. When God specifies there is no choice but to obey or disobey. In matters specified, faith demands obedience. The realm of expediency then is the realm of those things authorized by generic authority but not specified. Expediency involves the right of a choice of the exercise of human judgment in the realm of those things included in that which God has authorized but not specified.

(a) We have no choice as to the kind of music we will use in worshipping God — that is whether it will be vocal or instrumental, for God has specified and the kind of music specified is "sing" and is therefore vocal. Whether we sing bass, alto, soprano, or tenor is a matter of choice. Either is lawful because neither has been specified and all come within the scope of that which is authorized.

(b) God commands to dip (bapt) — bury (Romans 6:3-4) in baptism. We have no choice as to the action of baptism for it is specified and it must be a burial and resurrection, a washing of the body with pure water (Heb. 10:22). So also has the element been specified — it is water (Acts 10:46-48) But we do have a choice as to whether we shall be baptized in an artificial pool or natural pool or running stream.

In all other matters it is so. When God specifies men have no choice but to obey or disobey. If God has not specified and the thing is included within that which is taught or authorized generically and is therefore lawful, then the choice has been left to man and judgment or expediency controls.

(c) The day for the observance of the Lord's Supper in obedience to the command, "Do this in memory of me" has been specified. The church in the New Testament day met on the first day of the week "to break bread." "Breaking bread" in the assembly of the saints meant the communion with the body and the blood of Jesus in this memorial institution (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 10:16). But while the day has been specified the hour on that day has not and is therefore left up to the saints and their choice or judgment as to the most expedient hour for assembly.

3. In order for a thing to be expedient it must edify (I Cor. 14:26). If a thing be a matter of choice or expediency — human wisdom or judgment — but its practice in the church of the Lord tears down and destroys by creating disunity, dissension, and division in the body of Christ, it is sinful and wrong. If God commands it must be done in spite of the consequences (Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:29). But if it is a non-essential — God having left the choice to human wisdom — and we demand or enforce that which destroys the peace and unity of God's children, we sin. All of the seeming good accomplished by such a course would not overcome the wrong done by it.

4. In order for a thing to be expedient it must not offend the conscience of a brother (I Cor. 10:32). This rule governs only in matters of expediency — where God has not specified — where the liberty of a choice by human wisdom or judgment is permitted by the divine will. The passage and others teach that we are to forego and sacrifice a matter of personal liberty — a non-essential matter — rather than lead a brother to sin by violating his conscience in partaking of that which he believes to be wrong (I Cor. 8:7-13).

5. In order for a thing to be expedient it must not be an addition to that which God has specified. It is a rule of interpretation that when a thing is specifically authorized, such specifying eliminates all other things of the same kind or class — coordinates. This will in no wise work to eliminate those things generically included in that which is taught but it will eliminate everything of the kind or class.

(a) Christ commanded "drink this cup" (I Cor. 11:25-28.) The cup is the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:27-29). We have no choice as to the element for it has been specified and if we elect to put with it orange juice, or add milk to it, we have added to the Word of the Lord and therefore have sinned (II John 9:11). But the number of containers for this "fruit of the vine" or "cup" or what kind has not been specified and therefore the choice is left to men.

(b) We are commanded to "sing" in the worship of the Lord. Whether or not we use a song book or lights and seats is a matter of expediency. If we use all of these we have still just been singing. But if we employ the use of mechanical instruments of music and "play" on them, we have not just been singing but we have added an element of the same kind or class — "playing" — and have therefore transgressed the commandment of God.

(c) The church is commanded to "teach the word of the Lord." The particular method of teaching, publicly, privately, or in classes, orally, by the written page, or on the radio or otherwise is purely a matter of judgment. But we cannot exercise our judgment in what to teach. It must be sound doctrine — "no other commandment" — (I Tim. 1:3-4; I Tim. 6:3-5; Gal. 1:6-8) or we stand condemned. But when it comes to the organization through which this teaching is to be done collectively, then again we have no choice. God has not left the organization through which we shall do what He has commanded the church to do up to our judgment or choice. He has specified the organization — it is the local church made up of saints, bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). When we build a missionary society or human organization to do this or any other work committed to the church, we add to the word of God and are guilty of presumptuous sin.