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The Divine Hermeneutic

Silence Never Authorizes
Larry H. Fain


The primary difference between the Christian Church and the church of Christ that resulted in the division that remains to this day had little to do with the issues of the Missionary Society and the musical instrument. Though those issues were the lightning rod that effected the division, the real issue was the difference in view toward Bible authority and the silence of the scriptures. The same is true in the case of the institutional apostasy of the 20th Century. Identical attitudinal differences remain. These differences are highlighted by a very simple question asked by someone or some group wanting to justify some religious practice. The question goes something like this, "Where does the Bible say I cannot do it?" Such an inquisitor has usually already decided their course of action. They just want to have God's word behind them if at all possible. Legitimate biblical support is not always necessary if they can frame an authority search by appealing to negative authority, what the Bible does not say. Generally, however, the Bible does not say you cannot do whatever you might think you want to do. The problem is that the one seeking negative authority is asking the wrong question. We ought to be asking, "Where does it say in the Bible that I can?"

Let us get some Bible passages on the table for our consideration:

(1 Peter 4:11), "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

(Colossians 3:17), "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

(Matthew 7:21-23), "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

(Ephesians 2:8-10), "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

(Hebrews 8:5), "Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”

(2 Timothy 3:16-17), "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

If a serious and sincere Bible student were to apply all these verses together, one would realize that Bible authority is positive. Before we act, before we speak, we must have permission to do so. If we speak, we must speak as He did. Paul adds action to the speech demand and requires of us that we act by the authority of Christ. How do we know what to do or to say unless He tells us? Those cited by the Lord in Matthew 7 thought they were acting with divine approval, but they were not. The consequences for such an error are eternal and devastating. Saved people are indeed saved by the grace of God. "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8).  Noah was given the opportunity to be saved. That was grace. The opportunity he had was wrapped up in the requirements surrounding the construction and filling of the ark in exactly the way he had been told, “according to the pattern.”  "Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did" (Genesis 7:5). "And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him" (Genesis 6:22).  Yes, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, but that grace was fulfilled in what Noah “did.” God prepared works for Noah. Paul affirmed that God prepared works for all of His workmanship to do. How can we possibly know what those works are unless he tells us? Do we know good works as God keeps silent? We can only guess what He wants when He remains silent. Likewise, if we consider 2 Timothy 3:17 and Ephesians 2;10, “good works” are those revealed to us by God. They are revealed in the scriptures. They are not in some secret world of silence. “Where does it say I can’t?” becomes and remains a moot and utterly ridiculous question.

These passages present a logical case for demanding positive authority for everything we do. It is a good case, even convincing, in my humble view. If this were the sum total of all revelation on the subject, I would still contend that it is sufficient to demand positive authority for all we do in our service to God. And what is it that we do not in service to God? Is there an aspect of our lives in which we can ignore His word? These things, however, are not all God had to say about the type of authority we must seek and indeed must have in order to be pleasing to Him.

Consider these passages:

(Leviticus 10:1-2), "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD."

(Hebrews 7:12-14), "For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood."

These very familiar statements reveal a great deal about our topic. God understands language. He could have said what He did in these two passages in any way He desired. The facts are that God dictated the source of priestly fire and he dictated the tribe of the priests. In these two texts, He could have identified each fact from a positive perspective by simply citing the law in each case. However, He chose to do what He did by appealing to silence. The fire of Nadab and Abihu came from a source of which God had spoken nothing. It was, therefore, not authorized. Jesus was born into a tribe, Judah, of which “Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.” For Jesus to be a priest, there had to be a change of law. His priesthood was not authorized by Moses speaking nothing. The priesthood of Jesus was authorized under a new law. Never was there approval of any action by God not saying anything.

The language required to gain approval by silence is overwhelming. Nowhere in the realm of human communication do we seek or gain approval by silence. God’s chosen means of communication is His word, not His silence.  "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).  Also,  "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12).  Paul could not nor can we preach that which we have not heard. It is obvious we cannot hear God’s silence. Nor can we produce faith through silence. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). We must have the word.

What is the application? The restoration plea was to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” What does that mean? It is not hard. We can only speak that which we can read for ourselves in the Bible. We cannot make any assumptions about what the Bible does not say. Illustrations of violations involved here include certain moral issues. “Where does the Bible say I can’t dance?” Though the dance is not specifically identified as a sin, lasciviousness is. “Where does the Bible say I can’t gamble?” It does not say that, but it does tell us how to work and be industrious and provide for ourselves and our families and not to covet. Is there a gambler that does not covet that which he or she did not earn? Covetousness is sin. These are simple issue to resolve if we approach the scriptures honestly.

The more troubling issues regarding silence involve those things which affect the church on a broad scale. Instrumental music in worship; the local church providing social recreation; the building and maintaining of fellowship halls; the sponsoring church arrangement; partaking the Lord’s Supper outside the assembly of a local church; all of these issues are supported with an appeal to silence. “Where does it say I can’t?” The appropriate response is as stated before, “Where does it say you CAN?” Provide book, chapter and verse and then and only then do we have divine approval.

If you ever get to the point where you are looking for a specific prohibition against something you want to do, it probably does not exist. Be content to seek out only what the Lord has revealed. We have enough to do in His service without dreaming up some new idea. If you ever get bored and think you have godly service mastered, let me suggest the twelfth chapter of Romans. Read it diligently and often. When you have it mastered, please let me know. I need you working with me. May God bless us all as we seek only His revealed will.

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