Stan Cox


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The Simple Gospel

Generic and Specific Authority (8)


Editor's Note: This article is the eighth in a series of articles dealing with the subject of Bible authority. The articles are short, as they first were printed in the local bulletin I edit. Feel free to reprint them if you find them helpful. However, credit must be given to Billy W. Moore's class book A Study of Authority, as the articles follow closely the material found in that good book.)


A study of authority reveals that it can be categorized in two ways, Generic authority, and Specific authority.

By Generic we mean "general, opposite to specific" (Webster's). So, Generic authority is inclusive. It includes all the methods or ways in which the thing authorized may be accomplished.

In contrast, by Specific we mean "precisely formulated or restricted; specifying or explicit" (Websters). So, Specific authority is exclusive. It only includes that which is expressly stated or specified.

On the surface, this may seem to be rather confusing. In reality it is a matter of simple common sense, and can readily be determined. Perhaps the best way is to illustrate the principle with an example from Scripture.

The Ark

God's instructions to Noah concerning the building of the ark serve to establish the principle.

In Genesis 6:14-16, God told Noah,

"Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks."

Certain aspects of God's instructions were generic in nature. Little was mentioned regarding building techniques, etc., and Noah had the authority to exercise discretion in this area. However, he did not have disrection regarding the building material; gopher wood was specified. He did not have discretion regarding the dimensions of the ark, 300 cubits by 50 cubits, by 30 cubits were the specified dimensions. The ark was to have 3 decks, a door, and a window. There was no room to excercise discretion, because God was specific in his instructions. If Noah had changed the dimensions, or used a different type of wood, it would have been an act of disobedience. It would have constituted rebellion against God.

Congregational Singing
A Relevant Application

In Ephesians 5:19, Paul wrote, "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." This passage, together with Colossians 3:16, gives instructions regarding how Christians are to worship God musically.

Paul's instructions have some generic characteristics. For example, there is no indication as to whether the songs are to be sung in unison, or using four-part harmony. The passage leaves to our discretion whether we will memorize the notes, or use sheet music and read the words and notes. So long as we do not violate any law of God, we have discretion in these areas as we fulfill God's command.

Song books, pitch pipes, shaped notes, these are all "aids" or "expediencies" that are authorized within the generic command to sing!

However, there are specifics in Paul's instructions as well. First, the singing is to be congregational: "speaking to one another." The command is given to every Christian. We are to exhort one another, not to sit passively while others sing to us (choirs), or while an individual does the singing (solos).

Second, the types of songs to be sung are specified as well. Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. Secular music (for example, Patriotic songs) have no place in Christian worship.

Third, the type of music is specified. We are to sing, not play. Singing is specified. Since instrumental music is another kind of music, it is excluded. We have no more authority to add an organ to our musical worship, than Noah did to add a fourth deck to the ark.

Using an instrument can not rightly be called an "expedient", because authority for it is not found in the general command to sing. It is, rather, a different kind of music, and would constitute an "addition" rather than an "aid."

The use of the instrument is not authorized for New Testament worship. When God commanded Christians to worship musically, he specified sing. When Christians worshipped musically in the New Testament, every time we find that they sang. To play is from man, not God, and constitutes rebellion against His will.

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