Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 14, 1957
NUMBER 40, PAGE 4-5b

The Silence Of The Scriptures

Keith Thompson, Owen Sound, Ontario

Are we at liberty to do anything in religion which is not expressly forbidden in the scriptures, or are we bound by what is written? Are we bound to do only that for which there is a "thus saith the Lord" either by expressed statement or approved apostolic example?

Secret Things Vs. Revealed Things

A most important passage in this connection is found in Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." From this please note: (1) "Secret things belong unto the Lord." (2) "Those things which are revealed belong unto us." Hence, according to God himself, there are two classifications; everything in one classification belongs to God; everything in the other belongs to man. Man is out of place in attempting to teach on things God has not made known.

We can speak firmly concerning things God has revealed, but we are not to speculate concerning that which is not revealed to us. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that Christ is coming a second time (Matt. 24:3146), but nowhere does it tell at what time or date he will return. We can confidently assert the fact of the coming of Christ, but of the time of that coming we can say nothing. William Miller said that Christ would come in 1844. He did not come then. When the Lord has not revealed a matter, it is sheer folly to act as if one understands it. The sincere man will heed John's words, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son." (II John 9.)

Of course, if God has referred to a matter in one passage and explains it in another, it is our duty to give that explanation. For example, the ninth chapter of Acts relates how Saul of Tarsus was brought to the Lord; however, the same incident is related in the twenty-second and twenty-sixth chapters. It would be unthinkable to withhold this additional information in studying Saul's conversion.

Take an example from Old Testament history. Israel was required to keep the passover feast in the first month of the year. (Exodus 12:2-6.) On one occasion certain men could not keep the Passover because they were "unclean"; so they inquired of Moses what should be done. Moses had an unexcelled opportunity to give an opinion; it was a matter about which God had not spoken. Did Moses believe that those men could therefore do as they pleased? Assuredly not. Instead, he told the troubled Jews, "Stay ye, that I may hear what Jehovah will command concerning you." (Num. 9:1-8.) Jehovah authorized such persons to keep the Passover in the second month. (Num. 9:9-12.) Where God has spoken, we have a right to act; where he has not spoken, we have no right to act. We must learn to respect the silence ofthe scriptures. A refusal to recognize this teaching will lead to confusion and division.

"Beyond The Things Which Are Written"

Concerning the silence of the scriptures Paul wrote: . . . . that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written . . ." (I Cor. 4:6.) What is written (in the scriptures, of course) should be the basis for all our practice; where the scriptures stop our practice must stop. We are not allowed to do anything in worship or service to God which he has not authorized. Even though God may not have specifically forbidden an act, his silence (failure to authorize) in the matter forever makes it unacceptable. Consider these illustrations:

When our Lord was on earth, he condemned the Pharisees for washing hands as a religious act. (Mark 7:1-13.) Surely there is no wrong in the mere act of washing hands — especially if they need it. Why then did Jesus condemn the action of the Pharisees? He condemned it as a religious act because it was done in the absence of any command of God for it. Their error was in directing to God an act of worship which he had not authorized. This principle still remains true. No man's religious service or worship will bring him Divine favor if he offers unauthorized service. Such action is going "beyond that which is written."

King Saul disobeyed God's command to destroy the Amalekites and all their property. He spared their king and the best of the sheep and cattle. He excused his action on the ground that he intended to offer the animals to God as a sacrifice. But the prophet Samuel said to him, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." (I Sam. 15:22, 23.) No kind of service man may render to the Lord is acceptable unless the Lord himself authorizes it.

Let us apply this principle of truth to some of the religious practices of our day. (1) Instrumental music in worship. Were there no other objections to the use of instrumental music that might be urged, the mere fact that God has not authorized its use in the New Testament is sufficient reason to refuse it. (2) Burning incense as worship. Nobody would argue that there is anything morally wrong with the burning of incense. Yet the New Testament contains neither precept nor example for this practice in the church. (3) Sprinkling babies. Countless babies are sprinkled with water as a religious rite each year; yet there is not one verse of scripture that authorizes such a practice. In the absence of any command, or example, no person can practice infant sprinkling with Divine approval.

Space is too limited to mention all the multitude of things which are practiced in religion without God's authorization. But we plead with each reader to examine his own religious beliefs and practices. Where you find that you are doing something which is not called for by God, discard it. Respect the silence of God's word, as well as its pronouncements. Do only that which God has authorized; do nothing for which there is no authorization.