What Does Silence Teach?

When engaged in discussions of the Bible, we often hear the statement, “But the Bible doesn’t say we can’t!” Supposedly this proves that if something is not specifically condemned in the Bible, then it is acceptable. People will go to all sorts of lengths in use of the silence of the Scriptures to prove their pet doctrine is acceptable to God. What we should instead be asking is, “Does the Bible say we can?”

We need to remember that silence has never authorized anything. It does not authorize your child to do that for which you gave no permission, nor does it authorize us to do something for which God has never given permission (Heb. 7:14). Yet it seems that even people who understand this principle are still intent on using selective silence of the Scriptures. By selective silence I mean, one will use silence of the scriptures to condemn those who might practice something with which they disagree, such as those who use instruments of music in worship, but then argue from silence of the Scriptures for something they want to do or teach.

An example of this might be found in the wedding feast at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). It is argued by those who might want to approve the use intoxicating beverages, that history teaches us wine (of the intoxicating type) was used extensively by the Jews and others in their feasts. The next point in the scenario is that Jesus turned water into wine. Therefore, because the Scriptures do not refute the conclusion, Jesus must have approved of the use of intoxicating beverages. Although I did not put it in such terms, the scenario equates with what is called a syllogism. A syllogism is defined as, “an argument of a form containing a major premise and a minor premise connected with a middle term and a conclusion.” It is also defined as “an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.” If you look closely at the claims made by those making the argument above, you see the subtle deceptiveness in their argument. They reason from silence of the Scriptures and say that Jesus made intoxicating wine out of the water. The Greek word is “Onios”, a generic word that can or cannot mean an intoxicating beverage. Just because the English word “wine” appears in this passage does not necessarily indicate an intoxicating drink. And there is nothing else in the passage to indicate that the people were, in fact, intoxicated. Therefore, their argument is flawed.

Another place that people like to argue from silence of the Scriptures is found in the discussion of divorce and remarriage. The reasoning goes something like this; divorce was well entrenched and quite rampant among the Jews of Jesus’ day. When Peter and the rest of the apostles preached to the multitudes on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), some of those who heard the message were obviously in this situation. Therefore, some of those who obeyed the gospel must have been divorced and remarried (this would be the minor premise). They obeyed the gospel and were not told they needed to dissolve that relationship after becoming a Christian (the connecting statement). Therefore, we should not tell those who are in unscriptural marriages to sever the relationship (the major premise). Once again, as with the previous example, we find that something is being argued from the silence of the Scriptures. When we look at Acts 2 & 3, we find nothing said one way or the other about the marital relationship of any of those 3000 that obeyed the Gospel. For all we know from what is said, they may have all been single. To conclude that some were in a second or third marriage is arguing something that is not stated in the Scriptures. To say that, even if some were in that position, they were not told to sever the relationship is also arguing something that is not addressed in the Scriptures. Therefore, we cannot use the silence of the Scriptures to approve unscriptural marriages.

The Scriptures tell us what God deems necessary for our salvation. Has He told us everything that was said or done by Jesus or the apostles? No, He has not (Jn. 21:25). Has he told us everything we need to know? Yes, He has (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3). To try proving something from what God has not said is to “whittle on God’s end of the stick,” and place oneself in the position of God. “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).

Salvation Is Not By Chance

Ever flipped a coin to make an important decision? What are the odds of making the right decision by doing so? Most would say it is 50/50. But research has proven that a coin has a 51 percent chance of landing on the side it started from. So, this means if you start with heads up, there’s a slightly bigger chance that a coin will land with heads up. Therefore, the result is not totally random. Yet, some people seem to be “flipping a coin” regarding their eternal soul. These people go through life taking a chance by not making the proper preparation. They are gambling with their souls.

Consider, if there were a coin (which there isn’t) with Heaven as heads, and Hell as tails. Would you be willing to “flip” this coin to determine your eternity? Some probably would try it and “hope” the coin landed with heads (Heaven) up. But this was not God’s plan for the determination for the eternal home of the souls of humanity.

Eternity is not a gamble

Eternity is not a gamble or a “flip of a coin.” God desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). He has delivered a plan whereby man can have the salvation of his soul. In Acts 11:13-14, as Peter was making his defense to the Jews, he said, “And he (Cornelius, JC) reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” This means that Peter was bringing the Lord’s “instruction” as to how Cornelius and those who heard those Words could be saved.

If heads on the coin is “saved” and leads to Heaven, the other side must be “lost” and leads to Hell. If action, (hear, believe, repent, confess Jesus as the Son of God, being baptized “into Christ”, and then remaining faithful) leads ultimately to Heaven, we can surely grasp that failure to obey, and inactivity (no action) is to be lost. Perhaps this is the idea being conveyed in 1 Peter 4:17-18 where he says, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?

We should not take a chance

Could this be why Peter and the eleven, on the day of Pentecost were given words to direct the lost into the kingdom? Acts 2:40 shows this to be the case. The following verse shows how those that believed and received the words responded and what benefit they gained as a result. They were, according to verse 47, “added to the church”. They didn’t take a “chance.” They acted according to the word of God.

This requirement for action is not just applied to the lost. Those who have been saved by the blood of Christ in baptism, are also required to continue the “work” to remain ready for eternity. The Spirit had Paul remind the folks in Philippians 2:12 of this great need when he wrote, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Then, the Corinthian brethren in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10 are told, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

The parable of the lost sheep shows Jesus’ purpose for leaving Heaven and coming to live as a human. He said, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11). And all are aware of God’s great love in allowing His Son to die on Calvary’s cross (John 3:16). But some don’t seem to be understand when Jesus died on that cross, He provided the means for salvation. Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). In Matthew 11:28 we find Christ saying, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” No, friend, salvation is not a coin toss, nor is it by happenstance. One of two outcomes will occur, and this outcome is up to you. A person will be saved by doing what God teaches through His word. Or they will ignore God’s teachings and be lost for eternity. Make your choice today and do what God requires. The salvation of your soul is not left to chance.

Does It Matter What Road We Take?

When preparing to take a trip you get down the map to search out the best route to your destination. You pick the route that best suits your purpose. It seems many people have the same thought process when it comes to choosing a church — “We’re all go to the same place, we’re just taking different roads to get there,” they say. The question that must be answered is, “Can you really make that assumption according to God’s word?

Jesus indicated there were only two roads. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, “…the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Yes, there are different roads, but according to Jesus only one goes to Heaven, and it is narrow.

The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, immediately pointed out that her people worshipped differently from His (John 4:19-20). But notice, Jesus did not reply that both roads led to the same place — He said that one road was right and the other was wrong (John 4:22), and that if she wished to please God, her worship must be “in truth” (John 4:24).

In Acts 15:1-31, the apostles disputed with some who believed in Jesus but taught error about what was necessary to be saved. Instead of concluding that there were different roads, they gave notice to the churches that one road was right and the other was wrong.

The idea of “different roads” is a “Red Herring” used by many to avoid a discussion about different religious teachings and practices. After all, many say, does really matter if you are sincere? Indeed, it does. The Bible says that there are doctrines that God hates (Revelation 2:15), and that some doctrines are of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). Taking heed to doctrine is necessary for salvation (1 Timothy 4:16, 2 John 9), because obedience to God’s “form of doctrine” is what makes one free from sin (Romans 6:17-18). Even many who believe in Jesus are on the wrong road because they do not obey (Luke 6:46, Matthew 7:21-23).

Men may choose their own way, but that doesn’t make it right. Only God’s way is right. The “different roads” philosophy has led churches to abandon the question of what is right, and instead accept a wide diversity of belief. But we should not be ashamed to say that some beliefs are right, and others are wrong, because that is what God says (Proverbs 14:12). If people are on different roads, we must conclude they are not all headed for Heaven.

On Traditions

To most people family traditions are important. Afterall, they define who the family is. It is the same in the religious world. Traditions often define what a religious organization teaches and practices. In fact, there are some religious organizations that have no trouble accepting tradition over the scriptures.

Do not misunderstand, traditions are not necessarily good or bad. The Apostle Paul on at least two different occasions deals with tradition in service to God.

“Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8; see also Matthew 15:3,6).

As you can clearly see, one speaks favorably of tradition and the other unfavorably.

To understand this topic better, let’s begin by thinking about the word tradition.  Webster defines it as; “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom): a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable.” It has a neutral significance, neither good nor bad. The first and most obvious question to consider is the source of the tradition. From whom was it “handed down,” God or man? The New Testament speaks in a pejorative sense of the “tradition of the elders” (Matthew 15:2), the “tradition of men” (Mark 7:8), and the “traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).

So, we ask the question, “Can we conclude, then, that traditions from God are good, and traditions from men are bad?” It would be nice if things were that simple, but they are not. In fact, in my judgment, it would be impossible to conduct the work of God without some human input. To put that another way, the making of human traditions is necessary.

For example, God has given us very few instructions about conducting church meetings. He has told us what to do: take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, give of our means on the first day of the week, pray, sing, and study the Bible.

Yet, there is next to nothing about HOW we do these things together. Must they come in a certain order? If so, what should it be? Granted we must assemble on the first day of the week, but may we assemble at times other than the first day of the week? Is the meeting to take place indoors or outdoors? May we borrow, rent, or buy a meeting place? Is it required that our time together begin and end with a prayer? How many songs may we sing? Can we conclude with a song? Would it be acceptable to put our contributions in a box located at some convenient place in the building, rather than passing a plate or basket? Can a preacher’s sermon be interactive? I.e., could he pause at various points and ask if there are any questions? True, we must pray through Jesus, but must a phrase such as “in the name of Jesus’ be appended to every prayer? Instead of having our pews in a row, could we put them facing each other, with, say, half on one side of the auditorium and half on the other, with the preacher standing in the middle? Can we make announcements during these assemblies? Must they come either before an “opening” prayer or after a “closing” prayer? Could we ever announce anything of a social nature?

We could continue with almost limitless other examples and question. And God didn’t give us the answers to these and countless others. He does require us to meet on the first day of the week. He established the principle of decency and order in our assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:40). He forbids “a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). But beyond these things, God has specified little else about our assemblies. To make a practical observation, we can change most things about how we conduct our meetings, since we are the ones who arranged them.

The point is this leaves us mainly to our own judgment and makes it impossible to avoid some human traditions. So, getting a handle on tradition is not as simple as determining whether they come from God or man. Is there other Bible teaching that can help us in understanding the place of tradition in our spiritual lives? If the making of human traditions is necessary, can they ever become wrong? If so, when? A look at Matthew 15 and Mark 7 will be particularly helpful in answering this question.

A Human Tradition Becomes Sinful When It Breaks a Command of God

Jesus asked the Pharisees and scribes, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:3)? He had reference to their tradition of corban (given to God). In this practice, the Jews permitted the dishonoring of parents (in violation of Exodus 20:12) by neglecting them in time of need. This was done by telling them, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban (that is, given to God)” (Mark 7:11). But Jesus is pointing out that was no excuse to neglect one’s parents (it still isn’t), and to do so is to disobey God.

A Human Tradition Becomes Sinful When We Make it as Binding as a Precept of God

“The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands’” (Mark 7:1-5)?

I do not know if they were washing their hands as a matter of good hygiene (mothers demand it whether God does or not). But it became sinful when they decided to bind it as a law of God, and then judge others as unfit servants if they did not do it.

One other danger associated with tradition bears mentioning. That is contempt for each other among Christians. I believe this is the sin that Jesus condemns in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

When we speak scornfully of each other as traditionalists or progressives could it be that we are guilty of the above? It is right to study together and to try to correct errors we see in each other. It is not right to be full of contempt for each other. Contempt is only a step away from hatred.