In the struggle for independence, our forefathers pledged “life, fortune and sacred honor.” They did so as an expedient way to bring about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This lead to a country founded on freedom never before known. We treasure these freedoms that brave men and women died to obtain. But long before this nation came into existence, Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). There can never be real political freedom without spiritual freedom, and Jesus knew it. The really strange thing, to this writer, is that some people, having been set free, unaware of what they are doing, go back into slavery.
“…therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Some of the Christians in Galatia were trying to go back to the law of Moses, from which the death of Jesus had set them free (Gal. 3:19-29). By going back to the old law, they were cutting themselves off from Christ and His blessings: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). I would feel very confident in stating that leaving Christ was not their intent, but that, in effect, was the result. Christ promised them freedom, but they, by going back to the old law, refused it.
Religious Division Looks For Expedient Way Out
Rom 6:18 tells us, Jesus came that we might be “freed from sin.” He did this by His death on the cross (Rom. 5:6-10). Jesus not only makes us free from the guilt of past sins; He also makes us free from the practice of sin as we follow His will. That is why Paul wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom 8:1-2). But there is another freedom that was important to Jesus, and it should be important to us also. That is the freedom from man’s creeds.
At the time Jesus lived, Jewish religion was divided into “sects” (what we would call denominations today). There was the sect of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Essenes and probably others. Each of these had their own particular beliefs, which were different from the others. For example, the Sadducees did not believe in spirits, neither angels nor the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:8). In order to record all their conclusions and have them available to help others follow what they believed, Jewish scribes put their beliefs into what they called “The Talmud.” It contained much of the Old Testament scripture along with commentary of the learned lawyers (doctors of the law) (Lk. 5:17). It all seemed very innocent. They believed certain things, so they wrote them down. On the surface, that seems simple and harmless enough. But it became a disaster.
An Expedient Way?
The Jews were always looking for a reason to discredit Jesus because of what He taught. On one occasion they observed His disciples eating with “unwashed (impure, NASV) hands” (Mark 7:2). They criticized Jesus by saying, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” (Mark 7:5). The law didn’t require a Jew to wash his hands before eating. But their “creed” did. Regardless of their reasoning, they were legislating where God had not.
Jesus response came from the prophet Isaiah. “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8). Was there anything wrong with washing their hands before eating? Of course not! But there was a great deal wrong with taking what seemed a good idea, and making a law or rule of it, and requiring others to follow it. That is precisely what the Jews were trying to do.
Looking for Unity
I don’t believe there is any question that the Jews, when they made their creed, were sincere in trying to help people understand God’s will, at least in the beginning. But there was an inherent flaw in their reasoning, and in the reasoning of all whom would make a creed today. They seek to place the thoughts and ideas of man on the same level with God’s word. Even if their intentions were good, their explanation of what God meant could not take the place of what God said. In that same sense, every creed of man falls into the same category as that of the Jews. They “make void” the word of God.
In the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, there began a movement in this country among people in many different denominations to find a basis for unity. The conclusion; the principle thing separating believers in Christ were the creeds written by men. Each denomination had its own, different from the creeds of the others. Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, John Smith, Walter Scott and dozens of other men like them, felt it was necessary to “go back to the Bible.” Some of these, in their zeal to explain their new beliefs, put them into creeds! Fortunately, they quickly saw the error of that and determined the Bible alone would govern them. The decision was made that no man-made set of rules, or creed, would be allowed.
We fail to learn from the past, and thus we see the same thing happening in churches across the land. What we see is people expressing their views as to how worship services should be run or what they believe and expecting those meeting with them to abide by these “creeds.” However, the concept that the end justifies the means is a concept most people operate under. As with the past creeds, it is done with the assumption that doing it this way is an expedient. While, as with past creeds, the things these creeds contain may not, in and of themselves be wrong. But, it is a problem of making law where God has not.
Let us look at what determines a thing to be expedient
In order for a thing to be expedient it must be lawful.
The apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor 6:12). Later on in the same letter he says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor 10:23). In these passages Paul teaches expediency must come within the realm of that which is lawful. If something is not within the scope of that which is authorized; if there is no precept, approved example, or logical conclusion in the scripture to authorize the practice, it has no Divine authority.
For a thing to be expedient it cannot be specified.
When God specifies there is no choice but to obey or disobey. In matters specified, faith demands obedience. Expediency in human wisdom involves the right of choice within the realm of those things included in what God has authorized. To go beyond that which is specified or offer a substitute is to add to what God has said instead of aiding obedience to His word.
For a thing to be expedient, it must edify.
Paul understood this (1 Cor 10:23-33; 14:26 ). If something is a matter of choice or expediency (human wisdom or judgment) and its practice would tear down and destroy what God would have built up by creating disunity, dissension and division in the body of Christ, it is sinful and wrong. If God commands it, we must do it no matter what the consequences. But if it is non-essential (God having left the choice to human wisdom) and we demand or enforce that which destroys the peace and unity of God’s children, we sin. All of the seeming good we might accomplish by such a course would not overcome the wrong done by it.
A thing must not offend the conscience of a brother if it is to be expedient.
Paul wrote, “Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor 10:32). We are taught to forgo a matter of personal liberty instead of leading a brother to sin. He sins by violating his conscience in partaking in that which he believes to be wrong (1 Cor. 8:7-13). If a method of doing something in the Lord’s church is a matter of expediency, we cannot force upon the consciences of others those things which our judgment may approve but which are contrary to their understanding and which, appear to them to be wrong or sinful without sinning ourselves.
An addition to God’s word or a substitution for God’s way is not an expedient.
Remember, an expedient must first be lawful. Every addition or substitution is relying upon human wisdom, and as such is unlawful. Such is not a matter of expediency, but is transgression of God’s will. Expediency involves the right of choice within the realm of that which is authorized in the New Testament. It is not a course of authority within itself.
If we apply this test to creeds, regardless of their purpose, we will find they do not pass the test. Therefore let us abandon every creed and simply rely on the Bible for our direction in our service to God.
Editors Note: Some of the information as to establishing expediencies is taken from “Walking By Faith,” by Roy Cogdill.