JOHN 20:30-31 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
PROV 22:28 “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”
Isaiah and Micah both reveal that the path of God is the way of divine instruction. That explains why David pleaded with God in the 25th Psalm, verses 24 and 25, “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou [art] the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”
Perhaps it was the prophet Jeremiah who spoke the most plainly about forsaking the old paths of God. As a spokesman of God he said, “Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways [from] the ancient paths, to walk in paths, [in] a way not cast up; To make their land desolate, [and] a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.” (Jer. 18:15-17)
God pleaded with the people to stay in His paths. “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk [therein]. Also I set watchmen over you, [saying], Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.” (Jer. 6:6-7)
For centuries the failure of people to clearly understand Bible authority and the silence of the scriptures have been at the heart of religious rebellion. The lesson is ancient. The burden to teach everyone, including an upcoming generation, remains. And brethren, in too many instances, our homes and congregations have failed to give proper instruction so the Truth can be preserved from generation to generation. In too many cases members of the Lord’s Church have failed to study and apply the scriptures properly.
Deut. 11:19 “And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”
197 years ago, on September 7th, 1809, Thomas Campbell read his landmark statement concerning his desire to restore New Testament Christianity. In the opening remarks of his “Declaration and Address”, Campbell used an expression that was first born in the scriptures. “We speak where the bible speaks, and are silent where the bible is silent,” he said.
JOHN 20:30-31 “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
What can we prove, religiously speaking, by the things Jesus did that aren’t recorded? Do you suppose there is anything at all that we can prove by the unrecorded deeds done by Jesus?
There is absolutely nothing we can prove by the things that aren’t recorded. The question of every age seems to be, “Why can’t we do this or that?” You fill in the blank for whatever it is that men want to do. Repeatedly we hear the question, “What’s wrong with it?”
Within the past year I’ve observed disturbing comments made by young people on their blogs – their website diaries, if you will. These young men and women are in our brotherhood. These are not young people who belong to a denomination.
One young lady writes how she can’t figure out why there’s a fuss about young ladies teaching younger children in a group Bible study class at the congregation where she worships. The congregation where she worships fails to comply with God’s pattern for scriptural worship. The congregation maintains they’ll never stop their “group studies” because of all the good they accomplish. Like them, this young lady fails to understand God’s pattern for scriptural worship and God’s plan for the home to teach children.
One young man writes about his love of Texas Hold ‘Em poker and how he’s won hundreds of dollars. He says he knows some don’t approve, but he just doesn’t get it. What he doesn’t get is God’s teaching against covetousness.
One man writes how he sees nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas, having a tree and hanging lights on your house. He fails to understand the influence of pagan ceremonies coupled with the apostate church’s drive to destroy the Gospel of Christ.
Based on the numbers, most people want to fabricate their own religion rather than submit to the commandments of God through Jesus Christ.
COL 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
What is God’s answer to the meaning of His silence? In order to find the answer we need to examine the bible.
First, let’s examine some Old Testament examples. We’ll begin by looking at a scene as the children of Israel are fleeing from the Egyptians. They’re on the banks of the Red Sea and already the moaning has started.
EXO 14:10-14 “And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
These verses set forth a precedent about the silence of God. Moses instructs them to “stand still” and “hold your peace.” In other words, stand still and shut up.
While they’re waiting for God to break His silence, they have to wait. They weren’t to trudge headlong into any course of action until they learned what God wanted them to do. They couldn’t presume to know the answer. They had to wait for God to provide the answer.
How long were they supposed to wait? Until God spoke on the matter.
Today, we should follow their example. We refuse to do the thing in question without God’s permission. We shouldn’t start practicing something without God’s permission. But, sometimes people figure out what they think is a good, move forward with that idea, then wait to see if anybody raises a stink about it. That’s not how Christians ought to make decisions.
We have God’s complete revelation. There’s no need to wait for God to speak today. We only need to wait until we know what God wants. HEB 1:1-2 “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;”
If we can’t find the answer in God’s word to authorize a thing, then we must not do it. When God is silent, the answer is simply NO.
Now what happens if we go ahead with a thing while we try to gain an answer from God? Well, we’re acting without permission and we’re not merely waiting. Nor can we be acting in faith. ROM 14:23 tells us that whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
When we go ahead and jump into a thing before we understand what God’s will is we soon forget the need for God’s authority and God’s permission. Every time we disregard God’s authority and His word, we lose a little more patience to find the authority before we proceed. That’s when we get away from God. Eventually we’ll begin to think the thing (whatever it may be) is authorized somewhere in the scriptures. It must be or we wouldn’t be doing it, right?
If we jump headlong into actions that are not God authorized, we’re likely to attempt justification based on our assumptions that they are authorized. Or even more likely, we might assume God really doesn’t care. Some misunderstand the silence of God as God’s indifference. We must be submissive to God’s word, rather than seeking to fulfill our own wishes.
When we look at Exodus 14 we find “why can’t we?” questions being asked by the Israelites. They were in effect saying, “Why can’t we go back to Egypt?” Even though they were slaves, they enjoyed the food of Egypt more than the manna of God. In verse 13, Moses tells them to stand still and wait for God to give them instruction.
EXO 14:15-18 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.”
God gives Moses the answer for His people to move forward. What if no permission had been given? Moses would have kept God’s people on the banks of the Red Sea until they either died or until God intervened in some fashion.
It was God who provided the way for Israel to go. He directed them. The Israelites didn’t have the authority to direct their own steps. The scriptures tell us that it is not in man to direct his own steps. As Christians we allow God to have that dominion over our lives. Otherwise, what does it really mean to be a follower of God if we refuse to truly follow Him. You can’t follow God and refuse to obey His commands.
Another Old Testament example is found in NUM 9:1-14. God’s people are observing the Passover. This Passover brings up a question that Moses must deal with…let’s pick up the story with verse 6.
NUM 9:6-14 “And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the Passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel? And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the Passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the Passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.”
This is the first Passover since the Exodus. Verse 7 poses the question, “If we’re unclean because we’ve contacted a dead body, can’t we observe?”
Over in Numbers 5:1-4 God had already specified that the unclean were to be excluded. The question is again asked, “Does that mean we can’t observe the Passover?”
Again, the first thing was to wait. Do nothing until God grants permission.
“Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you,” Moses said.
Question: Could they observe the Passover before God spoke? Evidently, they knew better. This very day of the observance was the day the question came up. Moses didn’t tell them, “Just go ahead and participate in the Passover, I’m sure God won’t mind.”
They couldn’t presume to know God’s answer. They couldn’t dive in headlong without knowing what God’s response would be.
In verses 10-12 God gives Moses special provisions for them. Basically, they were given permission to observe the Passover one month later. They could do nothing contrary to God’s original command until God legislated. Now, with God’s authority, they know they can observe the Passover in one month.
What if God hadn’t given them any new instruction? What should they have done then? Every serious Bible student would conclude that the exclusion to participate in the Passover would have remained intact with no other provision.
Let’s examine one more Old Testament example before we move to the NT. This example is found in Deut. chapter 28-30. In these chapters Israel is at the plains of Moab just before entering the land of Canaan. Jehovah told Israel they would be blessed if they’d obey His word. If they refused they’d experience curses and captivity.
The children of Israel knew to obey God. They knew what God had already revealed to them. Moses told them, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (Deut. 29:29)
What Moses said centuries ago is still relevant and true. The secret or silent things provide no instruction for action on our part…any more than they did for the children of Israel waiting to enter the land of Canaan. The revealed things of God belong to us and are useful for our lives.
God told Israel, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Deut. 12:32)
The problem is that some men fail to realize that God created this principle. Man didn’t create it.
Let’s move to the New Testament and find more examples.
Go back almost 200 years to the statement made by Thomas Campbell to speak where the bible speaks and remain silent where the bible is silent. This wasn’t some new, original idea on Campbell’s part. It was bold perhaps, but unoriginal.
Mr. Campbell uttered these words at a private meeting in a home, to a group of people considering a return back to the scriptures. Needless to say, a hush fell over the room. Andrew Munro, a Scottish bookseller broke the silence. “Mr. Campbell, if we adopt that as a basis, then there is an end of infant baptism,” said Munro. Campbell’s reply was, “Of course, if infant baptism be not found in the scriptures, we can have nothing to do with it.”
These men realized that silence didn’t authorize action. Only God’s revealed word can do that. The restoration movement was based on this notion, founded in God’s revealed word. If we don’t cling to that Truth then digression is sure to follow.
The Hebrew writer gives us several illustrations to show how we are to react to God’s silence. HEB 1:5 “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?”
No angel had a right to claim to be the Son of God because God had not given the honor to any angel. He gave the honor to Christ and Christ alone. Do you suppose an angel could have assumed to be the Son of God by using the same argument some men today use: He didn’t tell me that I wasn’t the Son of God? That would be ridiculous.
HEB 7:14 “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.”
The principle of silence is at work again. No tribe, other than Levi, could claim the right to the priesthood because God said nothing regarding priests coming from any other tribe.
In both of these examples God specified. He specified that Jesus was His Son. That excluded all others. God signified that the tribe of Levi had the rights of priesthood in Old Testament days. By specifying that, He excluded all other tribes.
These illustrations show us again the proper principles of bible interpretation. When God is silent we have no right to act!
ACTS 15:24 “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:”
Luke reveals some men went out from Jerusalem teaching that Gentile converts to Christ had to be circumcised and keep the Old Law. ACTS 15:1 “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
This controversy created quite a stir. The brethren from Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to confront this issue. When the apostles and elders at Jerusalem wrote the letter to the Gentile brethren, they told them there was no such instruction given! They had no authority for what they taught.
This is an important phrase… “To whom we gave no instruction.” The word “instruction” is taken from the Greek word translated “commandment”, “command” or “authorization.” Since no instruction had been given to support these claims, the teachers had no right to teach it. They were false teachers. Silence didn’t authorize them to teach these things. Rather, according to Luke’s narrative, it prohibited it. The apostles didn’t support their “liberty,” as some might call it, to teach this unauthorized doctrine.
1COR 4:6 “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.”
The ASV renders the verse this way, “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written…”
Paul applied these things to himself and Apollos. The real problem at Corinth wasn’t over Paul, Apollos or Cephas, but it was over the divisions that had developed with the church. Paul never attempted to get people to be his disciples. Rather he always admonished people to follow him as he followed Christ. These sects in Corinth were headed by some of their own teachers within the congregation. The problem was one of arrogance and superiority displayed by some of these teachers.
In Paul’s second letter, the problem evidently became more severe. Chapters 10-13 of 2 Corinthians deal with this problem. We must never exalt men, not even apostles, above Christ. Those of us who teach or lead must not exalt ourselves, or allow ourselves to be exalted above the apostles or what is written. We have to always be submissive to the authority of God, through His Son Jesus Christ.
Submission is at the heart of this problem. The Corinthian brethren were not in subjection to God’s authority or to apostolic authority granted by God. That got them in trouble. It’ll get us into trouble, too.
Paul plainly warns against going beyond what is written. That same message comes out in 2 JOHN 9 “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
John warns us to abide in the doctrine of Christ. If we don’t, we don’t have Christ. The original Greek word for transgression is translated “too far,” and means “to go ahead, to progress.”
Did the Israelites go ahead in a course of action while standing on the banks of the Red Sea? Did they go ahead and allow defiled men to observe the Passover? Did tribes other than Levi go ahead and push themselves into the priesthood? In every case, to go ahead would have meant violation of God’s word.
Guy N. Woods, noted scholar, commented, “Progress is good only when it is in the direction of Christ, and not away from him; and in some matters it is far preferable to be non-progressive, particularly in not going beyond what the Lord has said.”
Authority of the scripture is found in what is said, not in what isn’t said. This principle isn’t difficult for us to understand in everyday life.
When a cooking recipe calls for 6 eggs, we understand that doesn’t mean 4 or 8. We don’t have to be told what it doesn’t mean!
If we happen to get a speeding ticket and the ticket requires our presence before a court we’ll be given a time and a date. We don’t have to be told when not to come because we’ve been told when to come. We know the day and time because they’ve been specified to us.
If our Lord’s Day morning services begin at 10am, we announce that time. People don’t come expecting the services to start at 9 or 11. The time is stated as 10 and that’s what people expect. They understand!
We all understand this concept. But when it comes to God’s word some will handle it more carelessly than they would the directions for a recipe. Certainly the fate of our eternal souls is more important than any cooking project.
Generic authority is another Bible principle that must be understood by the serious Bible student. For instance, a person says, “We don’t have authority for a building, song books, baptisteries, etc.” These things are what we refer to as “generic.” For instance, we are commanded to assemble on the first day of the week. Quite obviously that involves a place. It is expedient that the church have a place to meet and worship. The command is to “sing and make melody in your hearts.” It is expedient that we use a songbook in order to allow everyone to sing together. The songbook does not change the music type. The music is still vocal music. We’re commanded to break bread on the Lord’s Day – that is, to observe the Lord’s Supper. The bread necessitates we use some method of passing it around. We use a plate out of expedience. None of these things alters the command. We still worship, sing and break bread in a scriptural fashion.
If we break out into separate groups to have Bible classes we’ve gone beyond what is written. God’s pattern calls for worship to be done with one single assembly.
If we put a piano into our worship, we’ve gone beyond the music God speaks about. Now we’ve changed the music to a different type of music than God commanded. We’re now performing instrumental music rather than vocal music.
Without God’s authority, we have no authority. There’s plenty to keep us busy in His service. We need to focus on the revealed truth.
DEU 29:29 “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
The principle holds true today. It continues to amaze me that no one, not even the rankest liberal or so-called progressive religious people, condemn our practices as we follow the strictness of the scriptures. Our observance of the Lord’s Supper is unquestionably authorized in the scriptures. Our worship where all saints are assembled together in one place is never condemned. Everybody condones our accapella music. They condemn us not because of our practices, but because of our intolerance for theirs.
Brethren, once again we must affirm — We are the Church you read about in the Bible. We practice what that Church practiced. We believe what they believed. We teach what they were taught. We are the Lord’s Church and the gospel is fit for modern man as it was fit for 1st century men. Only men have changed. Not God. Not His Word. Not the Church that Jesus established.
ROM 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
– from a sermon delivered at Fossil Creek on Sunday, December 17th, 2006