Editor's Note: This article is the ninth 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.)
In our last article we indicated that at certain times God's commands are general in their nature. Such generic authority allows room to exercise discretion.
For example, in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave his disciples instructions, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." The command to "Go", given by Jesus, is generic in nature. Jesus did not specify the means of going, so the disciples had discretion in fulfilling the command. These areas of discretion can be categorized as expediencies.
While it is always acceptable to use an expedient means of fulfilling a command of God, too often men have sought to justify unscriptural practices by an appeal to "expediency." Some will say that as long as a command or work is being done, the means by which it is done is an expediency. This is an "end justifies the means" mentality, and is not true. There are certain realities to which an action must conform before it can rightly be called expedient.
First, for a thing to be expedient, it must first be lawful! As we have already indicated, authority may be established by direct command, approved example, or necessary inference. That which is not authorized is not expedient, though men may believe it to be. To go beyond what is written it to practice "lawlessness" (cf. Matthew 7:23).
An example: Some people believe that women have a great facility for converting souls. So, they advocate as an expedient to the command to "preach" the use of women preachers. While men may believe that a woman preacher "expedites" the conversion of souls, such a practice is without law! Paul said, "And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence" (1 Tim. 2:12). We have no assurance that God is pleased with a work unless it is authorized in scripture. Unless a thing is first lawful, it is not expedient.
Second, for a thing to be expedient it cannot be specified. Remember, expediency indicates choice. God has given us latitude or discretion in carrying out his command. But, if God is specific, there is not choice. Man either obeys the specific command or he does not.
Many examples could be given to illustrate this. God specified gopher wood to be used in the building of the ark. Noah had no choice in this, he could not claim that oak or walnut was "expedient."
God specified that baptism is a burial. It is specified in the term itself, and it is stated as a burial in Romans 6. Men have sought to sprinkle or pour water over men as an "expedient", but God specified a burial. There is no choice.
God specified "singing" in New Testament worship. When a person uses an instrument, he is not using an expedient, but rather engaging in musical worship which is different and unauthorized. The instrument is not included within the scope of the command to sing. Such a substitution is unauthorized and unacceptable.
Third, for a thing to be expedient, it must edify. "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being" (1 Cor. 10:23-24).
Some will demand their "expedient" be practiced, even if it causes strife and division among brethren. We need to be careful not to let something which is a matter of choice become an instrument of division.
Finally, for a thing to be expedient, it must not offend the conscience of a brother. "Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God" (1 Cor. 10:32).
Even if I have liberty to practice an expedient, if by so doing I show contempt for my brother, and lead him to stumble, in so doing I sin. (cf. Romans 14).
Conclusion: Expediency involves the right of choice which exists within the realm of generic authority. It is not liberty to do as you will!