I am sitting the preacher’s study inside the building which belongs to the Ripley church of Christ. Yesterday was Wednesday. At 7 pm the church assembled for worship, Bible study, and fellowship. Where is the Biblical authority for the practices and places mentioned?
We rightly say that we are fulfilling the commands to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24); assemble for prayers and study (Acts 2:42); and that we assemble so that we are not forsaking the assembly for the purpose of edification and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are following the pattern to assemble frequently demonstrated by the first Christians.
Where did the first Christians assemble? They assembled in the temple (Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1; Acts 22:17), in the synagogues (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:14-16; Acts 17:17), and in their homes (Acts 2:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15). Why then do I sit in the study inside the building which the Ripley church of Christ possess?
We have a command to assemble and through examples we see the approved places for assembly. Why then do I sit in the preacher’s study inside the Ripley church of Christ’s building? Why do we gather to worship in a building which was not commanded? If silence is always prohibitive and does not allow for the creation and use of expedients, then all who have ever worshiped inside a “church building” are practicing sin.
Notice also that we have no specific authority for using song books. The use of song books customarily involves the collection of various songs written by men and women who may or not be members of the church of Christ. The use of song books also require someone to print and bind the collected songs together for distribution at book stores which are not authorized either. How then can we in good conscience utilize song books in our worship to the God of Heaven?
The most basic foundation of Bible study and preaching is the Bible itself. But where are we to find a Bible which was not produced by organizations not specifically mentioned in Scripture? The Bibles on my desk were published by United Bible Society, Zondervan, World, Thomas Nelson, Crossway, and Cambridge. These organizations are not the church and are not found or implied in the Scriptures.
There is no direct authority for church buildings, Christian education, song books, English Bible translations, or publishers. Why then do they exist? Why then do we utilize them? Here are our options: 1) we must do away with every published book, every church building, and every other organization that aids in the work of the church; 2) we can use published book, church buildings, and other organizations that aid the work of the church and not worry about Bible authority; or 3) we can affirm that we may use books, buildings and other organizations to aid or facilitate the work of the local church as long as these things do not hinder the church, replace the church, break plain Scriptural teaching, change Scriptural commands, or oversee the church.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the fact that Christians may utilize expedients as long as those expedients facilitate the work of the church. This does not mean that any expedient may replace the church. This does not mean that any expedient can change or alter a command. This paper will demonstrate that as long as an expedient aids the command of God without altering the command of God, then the creation and use of the expedient is permissible.
THINGS THAT FACILITATE IN THE BIBLE
Let us begin our study of expedients in the Bible with the interesting record of Joshua 22:10-34. First notice that the people of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at Canaan (Joshua 22:11). This altar was not specifically authorized (commanded) by God for worship. “And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them” (Joshua 22:12 ESV).
Why did they gather to destroy their relatives because of the altar? They recognized the severity of doing that which is not authorized in the service of God. Joshua 22:16-18). They said the altar made them rebel against the Lord. Joshua had previously charged them, “Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5 ESV).
The supposed law breakers responded by saying they did not build the altar with the intention of worship which would have been unauthorized and deserve punishment (Joshua 22:22-23, 29). However, they built it for the purpose of edification–to teach their children (Joshua 22:24-27). It was a teaching aid. It was not an addition to worship. Therefore, it facilitated the Lord’s commands without altering the commands or being an “innovation” in worship. This response pleased both parties (Joshua 22:30-31).
This record differs from the record of Jeroboam the Son of Nebat who made Israel to sin. 1 Kings 12:25-33 records how Jeroboam make to calves of gold for the people to worship in Dan and Bethel. The false system of worship was rebellion toward God because it caused the people to worship something other than God, it caused the people to have system of worship that God did not authorize, and it created a priestly system that was not what God commanded.
From these two examples we see that it is possible to utilize expedients which do not alter God’s commands or God’s principles, but it is unacceptable to innovate a system, object, or organization that replaces, alters, or overrules God’s plan. When the reformers of old said, “we must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent,” and “in matters of doctrine-unity; in matters of opinion-liberty; and in all things-love” they were addressing this Biblical principle of respecting God’s authority while still yet utilizing expedients.
Another example of utilizing an expedient is the use of the synagogue. The synagogue is found nowhere in the Old Testament, yet it is utilized by the Jews and Jesus himself in the Gospels and by the Christians in the book of Acts. Why was the synagogue allowed to exist? Why was it created? Where is the authority for the synagogue?
The synagogue falls into the same category as the altar in Judges 22. It was simply the creation of an expediency to facilitate God’s commands to teach, worship, and fellowship. “Most scholars support the contention that the synagogue originated in exile and in Babylonia. they surmise that it began as spontaneous gatherings of Jews for sabbaths and festivals, for communal worship and for mutual support. The synagogue owes its formation to these gatherings of the exiles.” There is a possible allusion to the synagogue in Psalm 74:8, “They have burned all the meeting places of God in the land” (NASB). Acts 15:21 may also speak of synagogues.
The synagogue was acceptable because it did not violate, replace, alter, or supersede any command or premise from God. It was a true expedient. Things that facilitate God’s work should be welcomed not labeled as heretical.
USE OF EXPEDIENTS TODAY
Today the church can utilize expedients to carry out God’s work. These expedients cannot alter God’s commands, replace God’s church, or add to God’s church. True expedients should be used so that we can serve to the best of our ability.
Song books are not commanded nor are they necessary. However, they are helpful aids to our worship services. Handouts, outlines, powerpoint presentations, “bed sheet sermons”, Bible school material, and personal note taking do not violate, replace, or alter the command to preach and teach (Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:16). They are all expedients to make teaching and preaching more effective. In the same way airing sermons or teaching a class over the internet, television, or radio does not violate the command to teach although none of those things are found in the New Testament.
What would be something we could not add to worship? Anything which alters worship, rather than aids worship, must be rejected. For example, instrumental music does not aid singing. Instrumental music alters the event completely. We are commanded to sing as Christians in the assembly and also as individuals (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13). If we add instrumental music to singing, then we have altered God’s plan.
Instrumental music was commanded by God to be used in the tabernacle/temple worship by specific people at specific times (Numbers 10:1; Exodus 25:40; 1 Chronicles 23:5; 2 Chronicles 29:6; Nehemiah 12:36). We see that the instruments were used in the tabernacle/temple, but they were never used by those worshiping in synagogues because they were not authorized. Notice how the Jews recognized that they could not alter God’s worship (use instrumental music outside specified circumstances), but they were allowed to utilize an expedient which facilitated God’s worship without altering it.
The worship of the early church is recognized to be very similar to the worship in the synagogue. Scholars agree that there were no instruments in the synagogue, in the first century church, or in the early centuries of Christian worship. Justin Martyr wrote about A. D. 140 “Musical organs pertain to the Jewish ceremonies and agree no more to us than circumcision.” He also wrote, “The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.”
Why did the first century Christians and early church not utilize instrumental music? They recognized instrumental music would have altered God’s command to sing (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16). Why did the Jews and 1st century Christians worship in the synagogue (Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5; Acts 13:14-16; Acts 17:17)? Because the expedient did not alter God’s commands.