The Authority of God’s Silence

I vividly remember when, at the age of eleven, I learned a valuable lesson on authority. My father gave me some money and instructed me to purchase a loaf of bread at the local grocery store. He specified bread, and mentioned nothing else. When purchasing the bread, I decided to take the leftover change and buy some candy. My lesson on authority began when dad asked for his change, and at that point I became aware of the prohibitive nature of dad’s silence, and that I cannot presume to add other things to his specific command.

Specified Truth vs. Man’s Assumption

The lesson I learned is a valid principle in respecting authority. It is a principle all recognize and apply in life. However, with many, it is lost when dealing with what God commands. Scripture is clear regarding what our attitude and response toward God’s instruction should be: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). God warns not to add to, take from, or in any way alter His word (Revelation 22:18; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9). We must “learn not to go beyond the things which are written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). So, when God gives a specific command, man can’t presume to add other things He is silent about. It disrespects and disobeys His authority. To reply, “God didn’t say not to …” won’t wash with Him, anymore that it would have with my dad.

The Argument From Scripture

The prohibitive nature of God’s silence is clearly seen from an argument made in the book of Hebrews concerning Jesus’ priesthood: “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law” (Hebrews 8:4). Why couldn’t Jesus be a priest on earth? The answer is found in Hebrews 7:14 — “For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah, as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests.” God’s law through Moses specified Levi to be the priestly tribe. By stipulating the tribe of Levi, it was not necessary He then list the remaining tribes to declare these can’t be priests. The fact that God “spake nothing” concerning priests from the tribe of Judah was His authority prohibiting it.

Old Testament Examples

When Noah built the ark, God had specified to make it with “gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14). Noah responded “by faith” (Hebrews 11:7), obeying all God commanded him (Genesis 6:22), so we shouldn’t wonder if the ark had any oak or poplar in its construction. With God’s specific instruction, His silence (“he spake nothing” about other kinds of timber) was prohibitive or forbidden. Noah didn’t amend God’s demands, but instead he obeyed them. When we understand the importance of this, we’re not puzzled over God’s pleasure with Noah.

Also, our grasp of these things should neither cause confusion about God’s displeasure toward His priests, Nadab and Abihu, when they used “strange fire before Jehovah” in offering incense (Leviticus 10:1-2). God specified where the fire must come from (Leviticus 16:12); His silence toward all other options was to be respected. Nadab and Abihu’s failure in this regard constituted doing that “which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:2).

It’s No Different Today

Man’s faithful service to God now is no different. We are under the authority of Christ (Colossians 3:17). In view of our responsibility to submit to His authority in the New Testament, we want to briefly consider two present-day practices in religion. First, instrumental music in worship. Second, church-sponsored recreation and entertainment.

Instrumental music in worship is a widespread practice in many religious groups today. Yet, an examination of the New Testament reveals that in the nine scriptures which address music in worship, God stipulated we are to “sing.” While the advocates of instrumental music in worship may not think it a “big deal,” and wonder what all the fuss is about, we who oppose this practice consider it an important issue because it addresses man’s attitude and response to divine authority. God “spake nothing” in the New Testament about instrumental music in worship, and His silence here carries the same force as when He “spake nothing” about Judah being a priestly tribe. Consequently, man shouldn’t assume to add it. God said “sing” and His silence regarding anything else is prohibitive. The oft-heard response, “But there was instrumental music in the Old Testament,” dodges the issue because we are not under the Law of Moses now (Colossians 2:14). We’re under law to Christ (Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 9:21).

The second concern is the emphasis in religion today on activities which are, by nature, recreational and entertaining. These activities are incorporated into their “religious” work and worship. In these religious groups are found church-funded kitchens, dining facilities (called “fellowship halls”), and church-built gymnasiums. In their desire to appeal to the masses, they use these facilities to promote games, meals, concerts, etc. Their focus is on making religion “fun” (one area denomination unashamedly promotes itself as “the fun church”). They may call these things religious work, but, as the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck!” The emphasis on the spiritual, relating to saving souls from sin, has been sacrificed on the altar of fun.

Jesus didn’t come to promote an agenda of fun and entertainment, but to seek and to save those who are lost in sin (Luke 19:10). He accomplished this by offering Himself for our sin on the cross (Ephesians 1:7). By His blood He purchased the church (Acts 20:28), and by His authority as our risen Savior He commissioned the church to the spiritual work of taking His saving gospel to a world lost in sin (Matthew 28:18-19; 1 Thessalonians 1:8). God’s people are raised to “heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) — a spiritual realm, in His kingdom. Their work and worship together constitute having “fellowship” (sharing in, joint-participation) with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and fellow Christians. God’s people work toward the furtherance of the gospel — the word of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:8), the “word of His grace” (Acts 20:32), “the word of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18), God’s power to save (Romans 1:16). They worship “in spirit and truth” to give adoration, glory, and praise to their Creator and heavenly Father. “Fellowship” should not be reduced to mere attempts to entertain through carnal appeals to the flesh. God specified in the New Testament the spiritual work and worship of His church, and He “spake nothing” concerning the use of enticements in an appeal toward recreation and entertainment. Christians should not conform to the allurements of the world, but rise above it through a spiritual transformation (Romans 12:1-2).

An Expedient?

Regarding both practices mentioned above, there is a common response made in the attempt to defend them. We are told that they are “expedients” to do the Lord’s work. An “expedient” is an aid or help used to accomplish a desired end. It is said that instrumental music in worship “sounds better” or that it helps the singers to keep the proper tune. Also, “fellowship halls” and gymnasiums are said to be “expedients” to do the work of the church. However, the apostle Paul teaches that “expedients” are applicable only with regards to what is first proved lawful by God’s word (1 Corinthians 6:12). Concerning “expedients” the question to be considered is whether or not the thing seeking to be expedited is what God wants in the first place. Only God’s word determines that, and when we respect what His word teaches we are able to see the difference between true expedients in accomplishing His will and additions to His will. God has specified to “sing” rather than play an instrument, and God specified the spiritual work of His church through the gospel instead of through carnal appeals. It should, therefore, be evident that the practices under question are not expedients but additions, and on that basis must be rejected.

Dan Richardson