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Frank Jamerson

The proper attitude toward the silence of God has become a problem with many in interpreting the Scripture. Some believe that "silence gives consent," while others believe that authority gives consent. Which attitude does the Bible teach?

The very nature of revelation answers this question. Paul wrote, "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" (1 Cor. 2:11). He went on to say the things of God have been revealed "not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (v. 13). Just as a man cannot know what pleases me from silence, he cannot know what pleases God from silence. If we could have known it from silence, He could have remained silent! But He spoke His will, because we could not otherwise know it.

In previous articles we studied the attitude of Jesus and the apostles toward God's word. The doctrine of the Judaizers was based upon the silence of God. After showing, from precept, example and necessary inference, that Gentiles could be accepted without circumcision, a letter was sent stating: "Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying 'You must be circumcised and keep the law' - to whom we gave no such commandment - it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:24-26). The Judaizers had been speaking where God was silent, therefore without authority for their doctrine.

According to some advocates of the new hermeneutic we do not need pattern authority for what we do and some even say "instrumental music is neither scripturally allowed nor scripturally forbidden." The Bible is also silent about whether we should have a Pope, pray through Mary or observe the Lord's supper on Saturday.

What should be our attitude toward the silence of Scripture? There are two examples in the book of Hebrews that show the Holy Spirit's answer to this question. In Hebrews 1:5-8, the writer makes an argument for the unique deity of Christ based upon God's silence. "For to which of the angels did He ever say: You are My Son, Today I have begotten You?" The answer implied is that God never said that about any angel. "But to the Son He says: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter or Your Kingdom." We know from revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, and we know from silence that angels are not! Later, the writer said concerning Christ, "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" (Heb. 7:13,14). His necessary inference from this silence was, "For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law" (Heb. 8:4). According to some of the non-Spirit led teachers today, the writer should have said since Moses said nothing either way about priests from Judah, we cannot know whether or not Jesus could be a priest on earth.

Leaders in the Reformation Movement had different attitudes toward the silence of Scripture. "Luther said we may do what the Bible does not forbid. Zwingli said what the Bible does not command we may not do, and on that account he gave up images and crosses in the churches…Organs in church also were given up. The Lutherans love to sing around the organ. The Zwinglians, if they sang at all, did so without any instrument" ("The Thunderous Silence of God," Joe Neil Clayton, p. 70).

Thomas Campbell coined the phrase "Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent." This is based upon 1 Peter 4:11, but also upon other clear teachings of the word of God. When Campbell made that statement: "A Scottish bookseller, Andrew Munro, a rather sentimental person, was the first to break the silence. 'Mr. Campbell,' he said, 'if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism.' Campbell replied: 'Of course, if infant baptism be not found in the scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it'" ("The Search for the Ancient Order," Earl West, Vol. 1, p. 48). The Campbells, and others who were dissatisfied with denominational doctrines, determined to leave anything not authorized in the New Testament and go back to the Bible and build according to God's pattern. The advocates of new hermeneutics have become dissatisfied with the restrictions of God's pattern and have begun the cycle back to denominationalism. One talented young man who spoke in the Nashville exchange between institutional and conservative brethren (Dec., 1988) said, "command, example and necessary inference, and generic and specific authority is Greek to me." After he returned to the institutional church in Dallas, and was fired by the elders, he drew his followers out and started his own sect. When brethren do not know how to establish Bible authority, they drift further and further from the pattern, even though they had traditionally done the things authorized in the New Testament.

One brother, who no longer believes this statement, said: "If we are not silent where the Bible is silent, it matters not what we speak nor whether we speak at all." If the Bible is true, that is true! The apostle of love said: "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (1 Jn. 2:3,4). In his second epistle, he said: "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). We cannot abide in the doctrine of Christ if we do not know how to establish New Testament authority. It is sad to see brethren become dissatisfied with the New Testament pattern and call it "just the church of Christ tradition." It has been my experience that once this root of bitterness springs up it is nearly impossible to remove it. They become bent on changing a congregation or destroying it, and often they completely leave anything akin to New Testament Christianity.

                       Copyright Midway Church of Christ 2014    This page last modified July 03, 2014