Friday, October 12, 2007

The "Law of Silence"

The default hermeneutical position among conservative Churches of Christ is that biblical silence is prohibitive. This is a radical position that holds if God said nothing about some doctrine or practice in the New Testament, then that doctrine or practice is excluded, and to go against this “law of silence" is to sin and risk your salvation.

The obvious example (here I go feeding the fire again), is that there is no direct reference in the New Testament to instruments in a corporate worship setting. Therefore, according to this “law of silence," the use of instruments is sinful – not just a matter of preference, but sinful! The fact that these excluded practices do not dishonor God, or prove to be spiritually harmful to the church, is irrelevant. The only concern is the contention that the scriptures are silent with regard to the practice in question, regardless of the merit or worth of that practice. Period! End of discussion! Biblical silence equates to only one thing: exclusion! I grew up with this hermeneutical stance as my default mode of thinking. But now I repudiate this “law of silence.” It is a deeply flawed way to read the Bible, it is inherently inconsistent, and it is dangerous because it is necessarily divisive. Some people will say I am being argumentative, or calling names, or feeding the fire, but it is time to rise up and challenge the absurdities of this way of thinking. Here’s an example of the inherent inconsistency of this way of thinking – the four cups of wine in the Passover. (I want to thank Al Maxey for a lot of the research on this topic.)

Exodus 12 talks about the establishment of the Passover. After specifying when it would be celebrated, and the various elements of the meal, God said to Moses, “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover” (Exodus 12:11). Just three verses later the people of God are informed that it was to be celebrated “as a lasting ordinance.” God was very specific as to what He wanted included in this memorial feast. However, God never mentioned anything to drink. The Passover was constantly referred to in scripture as a feast during which Israel would eat the meal; they were never urged to drink anything. The Bible is silent about drinking anything during this feast. So, if we were to apply the “law of silence" to this situation, we would have to forbid as sinful any form of drink being added to the Passover feast. After all, I’ve heard it taught that hamburgers and coke are “unauthorized” for inclusion at the Lord's Supper. Would consistency not require the same conclusion regarding the addition of wine to the Passover? In addition to the command of God Himself regarding the Passover, we have several biblical examples of the Passover being celebrated by Israel. In none of these Passover observances is there any mention of wine. Even in 2 Chronicles 30 (in which the people of God “ate the Passover contrary to what was written”) there is still no mention of wine being consumed. There is not a single, solitary word anywhere in the Old Testament that speaks of wine being connected in any way with the Passover.

By the time of Jesus, however, things had changed. Rather than being eaten “in haste” (Exodus 12:11), it had become customary to eat it while reclining at a table. This is how Jesus celebrated it. Another innovation was the addition of drink to the Passover as part of the ritual. Four cups of wine had been added by the rabbis to the Passover celebration. These were not just for the purpose of washing down the food,” these cups of wine were purposefully added for their spiritual significance to the feast itself. The Jews themselves admit that these cups of wine were a rabbinic tradition, and thus were not originally part of the divine commands. The use of four cups of wine during the feast had become mandatory, and crucial to the significance of the feast itself. What exactly is the purpose and significance of these four cups of wine? They symbolize the four activities of God described in Exodus 6:6-7. The four cups represent God's saving activity, one cup for each of God's sovereign acts as He fought against Pharaoh. Clearly, the use of four cups of wine during the Passover celebration was not something that was prescribed by God. It was a human addition to a God-ordained commemorative feast.

If silence prohibits, and constitutes sin, we have a problem! Jesus embraced the practice of the four cups of wine! In the gospels it seems that Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper by associating it with the third cup of wine. It was known as the “cup of redemption,” linked in rabbinic tradition to the third of the fourfold promise in Exodus 6, “I will redeem you.” Jesus associated this cup of wine with His atoning death. If the “law of silence” is valid, then Jesus violated it. If violation constitutes sin, then Jesus sinned by worshipping God in an “unauthorized manner.” Furthermore, Jesus worshipped in synagogues, and celebrated the Feast of Lights – both innovations that are not mentioned in the OT. And yet to this day people will, seriously, not celebrate Christmas as a “religious holiday” because it is not “authorized” in the NT!

Jesus embraced and utilized the four cups of wine, he worshipped in the synagogue, and he celebrated Hanukkah. Jesus demonstrated that innovation and addition are not necessarily wrong if that to which they are added is not negated or replaced or diminished by the addition. In other words, the four cups of wine in no way negated, replaced or diminished what God had prescribed in the Passover. The things which God commanded continued. The same is true with singing. By the addition of musical instruments, one does not, in any way, replace, negate or diminish the heartfelt expressions of devotion by those singing. Singing continues to occur. It still comes from the heart. It is time for this “law of silence” to be cast aside, and for rational minds to approach the task of biblical interpretation and application in a more serious and humble manner.


jenn said...

Thank you, Charles, for saying so eloquently what I have been wanting and trying to say for a long time!! You ROCK!!

Dr Bill said...

Enough said!

Ryan said...

Brilliant! I really enjoyed reading this. As you know I have no problem with "the instrument" being used in worship.
Air tight, logic argument.

Charles North said...

Wow. THANK YOU! I'm "eloquent," I "rock," I have the final word in a centuries old debate, I'm "brilliant," and "logical." I'm going to CVS for some humble pills - really!!!

Steve said...

I agree totally with your view of biblical silence. We can not use it to enforce a prohibitive “law.” For one we are not under the law anymore because Christ has fulfilled the law and we are now in Him. And also, if that were the case most Churches of Christ would be condemned for any number of the following: Sunday Morning Bible classes, Wednesday night meetings, Ladies retreats, Family retreats, 4th of July ice cream socials, and the list goes on. We also can’t use biblical silence for personal agendas to push how we feel onto other Christians. We can’t use it to make up whatever tickles our fancy.

As your wife so wonderfully made statements concerning elders, I summarize of course; how it is their charge to make Godly decisions concerning how best, in their thinking, the congregation they lead (part of the body) can best worship God. She speaks with wisdom as does the wife of noble character Proverbs 31:26. (Note: wouldn’t it do us all good to listen to our wives a little more, but that’s a whole other topic.)

Autonomy was given to the local churches, authority to decide how best to lead that church through Godly wisdom was given to the appointed elders. Are these men infallible? Of course not. Is it within their authority to decide what the best order (pattern) of worship will be for the congregation they lead? Of course it is. Could the pattern be incorrect? Yes, because it is a replica made by man from instruction given by God. No attempt by man, whether from the right or from the left, can get the copy correct. That is why the veil was torn from top to bottom and we no enter the real temple through the body and blood of Christ. Not some earthly copy man has made. And that brings me back to my original point – Love. Love for each other is what makes it right.

The famous love chapter comes to mind as I go into my objections of your writing. We tend to pull this chapter out and let it stand on its own, which it can do very well. But we must remember that this chapter was written to a church that was full of division. This chapter was written to bring an arguing divisive church back together to worship in a pleasing manner toward God and an edifying manner toward fellow members.

So with division in mind I ask; how can you call rational minds to approach “this task” when you use phrases such as “it’s time to rise up and challenge” as if you are calling a troop to war. This has been my point from the start. If you recall I stated, “My worship to God did not include an instrument.” Have I once tried to force my opinion of how the body should worship God? I do not believe I have. If so I am in the wrong. What I have tried to and apparently failed to do is show both sides are divisive. Both the left and right have moved away from the love Christ intended us to have for each other and through that love have edifying assembly with each other as Paul was instructing us to have through his letter to the Corinthian Church. You can’t call using silence as prohibitive divisive then turn around and rally those to your cause with a call to “rise up and challenge.” That’s talking out of both sides of your face and being exactly what you speak against – divisive = creating dissention or discord.

With love I ask you look at the whole picture different. It’s not about my way or your way. We can’t just agree to disagree because that resolves nothing and soon we will be back at other ends of the spectrum. We can’t demand our way for that is selfish. We must do everything to keep the peace and come together in love.

Ben B said...


Pardon my interruption here, but I can't help but wonder why you thought Charles was trying to directly contradict you. I thought that he was referring to those who are actively dividing churches according to items such as instruments, and he was calling us to take a stand against the "dividers". In contrast to those "dividers", it seems you are taking the position that each man should worship as he feels God leads him; this is reinforced in your last post when you said:

"If you recall I stated, “My worship to God did not include an instrument.” Have I once tried to force my opinion of how the body should worship God? I do not believe I have. If so I am in the wrong."

So, from my view, it seems to me that you and Charles are agreeing, except in regard to what to do when some believers attempt to "divide" the church. Charles says we should not allow those with the "law of silence" in mind to dictate worship practices. In effect, he is saying we should stop those who are attempting to divide us. (IMO, those who are attemptin to divide us would be groups who take out full page ads in well-read Christian publications attempting to "draw a line in the sand" about certain traditions).

I would not have placed you in that group of dividers, but you say that Charles is wrong in asking us to stand up to the dividers. What should we do then? Remain silent? Observe the division taking place and continue to wonder why we are rebuked for wanting to worship in a way we perceive to be holy and appropriate?

I don't see Charles' post a rally to war. I see it as a clarification of a cloudy point in this Church of Christ we have constructed.

I remember many times in my youth being asked why we didn't have a piano at my church, and my response was one of sadness directed at the other person. I felt bad that they were "so deluded" that they could not see that instruments were sinful. I think that is the very attitude Charles is saying we need to stand against and eliminate.

Thanks to my own study and seeing essays such as this one by Charles, that answer has changed. Now I am able to joyfully say that many aspects of worship are commanded by God, many are inspired by something biblical, and yet many are purely Traditional. Our church has a Tradition of a cappella music, but worship is a many-faceted will look different for each believer, and that is OK.

As long as the point is to glorify Him and the intention is pure and holy ANY worship should be welcomed by believers.

Charles North said...

I HATE division in the church! Some of my earliest church memories involve splits. Unity is our prime directive - "make EVERY effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Like many other ministers in Churches of Christ I am actively engaged in the process of restoring unity between the fractured bodies of the restoration movement - which is why the issue of instrumental music is front and center. I am painfully aware that the majority of folks in mainline Churches of Christ still will have no fellowship with those who use instruments because they believe it is a sin.

So here's the problem. If we could have our own opinion on disputable matters and leave others alone that would be fine, however, my position is that singing a cappella is a wonderful expression of worship, but I also believe that using musical instruments is an equally valid expression of worship. How do I move closer to the traditional Church of Christ position? These are not 2 equally valid claims. There is nothing in almost 2000 years of Christianity that says music in worship is a salvation issue. This is an issue that raised its head in the American Restoration movement within the past 150 years. It has caused massive division and heartache. The traditional Church of Christ position is unscriptural, contrary to the thrust of 2000 years of history, necessarily divisive, and thus it is sinful. To say that I am being divisive by standing against this position is the definition of irony.

I have entered the fray with great reluctance. I am not martyr material! I have been in full-time ministry for 10 years now, and I have constantly looked the other way, I have let stuff go, I have been patient, but I cannot do it any longer. I have seen and heard too much! I have hurt too much! Last month a preacher was invited to give a series of lessons at the church where I used to preach. Here's a sampling of what he said: "These organ grinding churches will, in the lapse of time, be broken down or wholly apostatized. And the sooner they are in fragments, the better for the cause of Christ." You can hear "amen" in the background on the tape. To wish division on the body of Christ over a non-essential practice is heresy!

Coincidentally, I have been reading and studying Galatians. What strikes me is Paul's anger - no, rage - at those who would pervert the gospel. He even gets in Peter's face because of his refusal to eat with Gentiles when Jews were present. He calls this attitude a denial of the "truth of the gospel." To lead people to believe that a practice is wrong when it is not wrong, or to add extra requirements to the gospel vis a vis salvation is to pervert the gospel. Paul would write a letter today that would eviscerate the traditional CofC position!!! Plus, Jesus called the Pharisees "sons of hell."

Steve said...

First things first – I must apologize to Charles and Holly. It dawned on me about midnight last night that I had gotten so caught up in expressing my view point that I had not acted in love towards you and Holly. I should have apologized to Holly instead of soliciting her support and encouraging a point of conflict between the two of you. It was never my intention to divide a man and his wife through my comments. I’m hopeful this did not form a serious divide between you two, it still bothered me as I lay in bed. Please accept my sincere apologies if I have caused any undue conflict or disagreement in your home.

I am still working this out in my life as well. My first human reaction when I saw more than Charles’ comments directed in my way was to go back to my old self. The fight or flight kicked in as I perceived an attack coming, this time from reinforcements. Then I reread the comments, realized it’s not about just me and gave God the glory that more have joined our discussion.

I believe we are getting closer to zeroing in on the point and not circling the drain. I really do hate computers, even if they are the handiest thing since the shirt pocket. There are no intonation keys on this keyboard. I agree we seem very close to the same view point. Here is where I am coming from. When I see phrases like “rise up and challenge” or “eternal hostility” they look a lot like “draw a line in the sand.” Having served in the Army and being raised in the Church, conflict is not new to me and it takes on certain sounds. If I have misunderstood your intention I apologize. I am just as sick of God’s people biting each other’s heads off as the next guy; I can’t stand it no matter what side of the isle it comes from. I am sure there are people that have more claim to this than myself, but as far as Church conflict goes my first experience was as a young man over thirty years ago, my father was the pulpit preacher/youth minister for a rather small Church of Christ in New Mexico. I stood in the shadows as my father was nearly disemboweled by a woman who thought dad was sending the Church to hell for placing a trophy case in the foyer to display the Church men’s softball trophy they won that season with the help of the youth group boys. It mattered not that the materials and labor to build the case were donated. I watched my dad plead with a young Christian to return to the faith as she condemned him and the church for preaching against her lifestyle, she had taken a razor knife and cut out of her Bible all the verses that spoke against her. I had a grown woman in the Church come up to me and say I can’t believe your parents let you read that man made version of the Bible (the NIV), and I quote, “if the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me.” I’ve been attacked by elders that were stirred up by a brother that I biblically took a problem to; I’ve had false accusations of child abuse brought on me for taking a woman’s concerns to the elders about the strict right stance of the Church and those accusations came from the woman that I thought I was helping. And the list goes on and on and on.

The problem is we are human. You and I both can see the absurdity in all these cases. Maybe it’s just me; maybe I have this sign on my forehead that says show me your conflict I want to be a part of it. I’ve looked I can’t see it. So it has to be the fact that we are human. You are absolutely right that preachers like the one you had visit are wrong in condemning others, we where all baptized into one faith and no one but God has the right to condemn us if we are still in that faith.

I am neither a pansy nor a hippie. [NOTE: preceding wordage was used for a lack of better terms; I mean no offense to the flower population or their avid supporters that were raised in the sixties and seventies.] In reference to my “my worship” comments I did not advocate a willy nilly approach to worship. Notice the comments concerning elder authority and the pattern given by God. There must be order in the assembly for proper worship or we end up like the Churches Paul wrote to; getting drunk while we wait, not waiting on others, hopefully you see my point. It is my understanding that the elders have been given the authority to discern what the proper means of worship are for the congregation they lead. Refer back to other posts made by me; you will see that I understand that some of the decisions by elders and the pattern of worship can be wrong. I do not disagree on the point that other forms can be just as good as long as they are done out of our faith with reverence to God to give Him the glory and to build up our brothers and sisters. We must also take into account Paul’s words “everything is permissible but not everything is constructive.” Look at Nadab and Abihu they offered up the wrong fire to God and were killed for it, yet their replacements got the ceremony wrong and lived. It was not the articles or means of worship that Nadab and Abihu got wrong it was (my understanding here) their attitude in approaching the worship. If you’ll notice right after their deaths Aaron is told that he and his sons are not to enter the tabernacle drunk or having drunk fermented drink. Why is that there, it seems out of place. This must refer to the state in which N&A came to offer the wrong fire. This speaks volumes about being right in our approach to worship not right in our means of worship.

Should we roll over and play dead or just ignore the situation? No. We can work through our home congregations to dispel wrong thinking through peaceful talks and loving our brother as Christ loved us (some times – I am not naive). Will it work all the time? No. Why? Because some people are just bull headed. I should know I was that way and still am to some extent. As long as there are people on this earth there will be conflicts. Even though it should not be this way in the Church we must remember that it too is made up of people. Yes Christ condemned the Pharisees, but he never gave up preaching to them and we see that some began to see things His way.

I have no solution for this problem. I know it weighs heavy on my heart and the hearts of several others.

I share this with you only because it speaks loudly to me and I think it gives a good understanding of how the church should be. From December 2003 ‘til March 2005, I was on the other side of this world in a huge conflict called the Iraq war. While I was there I saw the ugliness that man has to offer each other, but at the same time I saw the greatness God has to offer us. I was very fortunate to attend a small Church of Christ that met in a mechanic yard. And I must say that was the best Church I have ever attended. I’ve been in some of this world’s most elaborate houses of worship but nothing could compare to that worn out stucco, one room shed. We did not have power point presentations, paid song leaders, instrumental music or even air conditioning for that matter. Our singing was never on pitch and it reverberated off the walls to the point it nearly hurt your ears. We were not dressed in our Sunday best, but the same sweaty uniform we had on during patrol the night before. The preachers were not preaching school grads. But our worship was awesome. We wanted it to go on forever, not out of a want to skirt our duties but out of a longing to be together with our brothers and sisters in Christ; the one safe place. And it did not stop at the door. It was a 24/7 worship, the way God intended. We praised God in the little things such as seeing kids kick a soccer ball and getting through the gate at the end of a mission. One brother worked the main gate to our post. He knew every time I left the camp and when I was coming in. He would search my entire convoy until he found me to make sure I made it back safe. He was a Yankee from New York and me a good ole Texas boy, but one in Christ. We would search each other out after missions, after attacks and after chow. We gave to orphanages and those in need. We studied the Gospel with Muslims. We presented Christ to a dark and ugly place on earth. We were a greatly diverse group from all four corners of the world yet we were one in the Faith and one in Christ. During that year and a half we never argued, not once. You might think that it was because we didn’t have time to get to know each other or didn’t get comfortable with each other. But I tell you I know some of them better than I do my brothers that I’ve gone to Church with for years.

I ask myself why that Church was any different from the rest. One man tried to tell me it was because of the circumstances you were in over there. Was It? Was it war or was it true love like Christ’s. Sure there is a big difference when you sing I Fly Away and can hear a fifty cal booming outside the door. But was it really the ever presence of the end or was this how Christ described His body: as one. Paul tells us in plain words in Ephesians; that we are at war folks. There may not be tanks rolling through your neighborhood but we are at war. And when at war it takes all troops working together to win. Napoleon I believe was the one that said divide and conquer. He got it right out of Satan’s hand book, for that is what has been happening in the Church since it conception. It was not meant that way. It was meant to bring all those in Christ together to gain victory over evil, better yet death. We can not win if we are divided.

You’ve made claims that it is only the right that is dividing. I still stand firm on the position that that is not true. I left a Church in December 2003 that was one of the most loving I had been a part of; and came back to it in tatters from bickering from both sides. After making every attempt from the stance of tenderness, peace and understanding, even with a little anger thrown in, I had to make the hardest decision of my life. I had to take my family and walk away from that place. I still love those people there and pray for them always. But for my family and me we could no longer be a part of a battle from within.

I don’t have all the answers. I never claimed to. We do what we can with tenderness and love to persuade others to come to a mutual understanding. When that does not work we leave it to God. Isn’t it His in the first place.

I know I have talked in circles and more than likely not made a very good point or any point at all. But I pray good has come from what God has placed here.

Charles I belive you are on the right path. Don't get frustrated and fall victim to the devil's schemes. You're not alone, many of are tired of arguing. If the devil can get us to approach our brother in hostility he has done what he set out to do. Keep the Faith. And when we fight the fight lets fight the right enemies, as i do not see you as my enemy I pray that I am not yours. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but aganst te ruler of this dark world.

Sorry so long I had a lot to say but feel I have said little.

Charles North said...

Steve. It's okay. Thanks for reading and commenting, and especially for sharing all those experiences. I can relate (sadly)! God bless man!!!

Kerrie said...

As an aside to the original post material/discussions, what an awesome testimony of being Christ's church in Iraq. Thank you for your service and thank you for being open about your experiences there.