Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 29, 1971

The Silence Of The Word

Jerry F. Bassett

Through the ages many people have operated on the premise that a religious practice which is not authorized by the word of God is nonetheless right as long as it is not expressly forbidden. Consequently, when such a practice is called in question they reply, "Where does the Bible say it is wrong?" In fact many of these people become very indignant with those who would question these practices. Their attitude is that since the Bible says absolutely nothing about these things there should, therefore, be no controversy about them. These people seem to think that the silence of the Bible on a given thing guarantees the right of men to introduce it into the church, while at the same time serving as a muzzle for those who are not willing to proceed without the sanction of Bible authority. To such people the silence of God means license to innovate.

This was precisely the problem with Cain. In contrast to the sacrifice of Abel, Cain's offering was not by faith (Hebrews 11:4), and since faith comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17) this means Cain's sacrifice had not been authorized by that word.

This was also the problem with Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, who died at the hand of the Lord as they offered incense to him (Leviticus 10:1-3). The reason they died was that they failed to use the fire of the altar and instead burned the incense with "strange fire . . . which he (God) commanded them not." God had not forbidden the use of this fire, but he had not commanded it either. Its use was, therefore, a failure to sanctify and glorify God (10:3).

This same problem caused Moses to lose his inheritance in Canaan (Numbers 20:7-13). To bring forth water for the people Moses was told to speak to the rock. He was not forbidden to strike it with his rod as he had been told to do on a previous occasion, but at this time he just was not authorized to do so. By presuming to bring forth water in this manner he failed to glorify God, and was not permitted to enter the land of Canaan.

This problem also afflicted certain believing Pharisees who, though members of the church, were trying to bind Jewish circumcision on Gentile Christians (Acts 15). Nowhere had the word of God condemned the binding of this act, but it was still not right to do so because it had not been commanded (Acts 15:24). In other words, it had not been expressly forbidden, but neither was it authorized. And if you think it a trivial matter to engage in a religious practice on such flimsy pretense please study Paul's remarks about these Judaizing teachers in the book of Galatians.

This was also the problem which beset Martin Luther. As this brave man worked to cast off the yoke of Papal tyranny he made the fatal mistake of deciding to reject all of Catholicism that the Bible specifically condemned, but to retain everything which was not so condemned. On this ground he continued to practice such things as the use of holy water, infant sprinkling, and the burning of incense. Further, this kind of thinking became the prevailing attitude of most of the 16th Century reformers whose work is so much responsible for the confused system of denominationalism that exists today. Brethren who scratch their heads at some of the outlandish things practiced by denominational churches need to realize that the denominationalist justifies these things by the same rule some brethren are justifying their practices, that is, the Bible does not forbid them. It would be tremendously interesting to hear these brethren try to explain to a Lutheran why church support of colleges, orphanages, and hospitals, and church sponsored recreation and kindergartens, and the combining of many local churches under the oversight of a sponsoring eldership are right because they are not forbidden in the Bible, while at the same time showing that incense, infant sprinkling, and instrumental music in worship are not also right, and by the same reasoning. Anyone who has been advocating the things mentioned above like to give it a try?

This was also the problem that overcame Alexander Campbell. In his zeal to evangelize the world he proposed the formation of a missionary society, a human organization, to be supported by local churches. This astute man, who in 1812 repudiated infant sprinkling because he could find no authority for it in the Bible, expended great effort in the 1840's endorsing and promoting adoption of the American Christian Missionary Society on the ground that the Bible says absolutely nothing about the formation of such an organization, and that since the Bible is silent on the matter men must proceed on their own judgment. Inconsistent? Indeed! But such is the plight of men who yearn to practice things which God has not authorized.

True, some scoff at the idea of a thing being wrong just because it is not authorized in the Bible, but the principle is valid. In proving to Jews that the gospel is not part of the earthly Old Testament system, the Holy Spirit himself moved the Hebrew writer to argue that Jesus could not be a high priest on earth for the simple reason that he was of the tribe of Judah, and that of this tribe "... Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood" (Hebrews 7:12-14). The law of Moses did not specifically forbid those of Judah; it simply did not authorize them to serve as priests. Concerning this tribe Moses spake nothing! Therefore, it was wrong for men of Judah to be priests.

The silence of the Bible authorizes just exactly that — silence! Consequently, when the bug to practice unauthorized things begins to bite let us check our tendency toward presumptuousness and learn to silence our mouths while trusting the unfailing, inerrant will of God. In the words of the prophet, ". . . the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk 2:20).