“Speaking Where The Bible Speaks...”
by Allan Turner
(Ronnie Milliner, a gospel preacher, published a book in which he identified preachers among conservative churches of Christ who he thought were going liberal. In his book, he quoted a line from this article and presented it in a way that indicated I did not believe in trying to speak where the Bible speaks. Milliner, his friend, John Welch, and the Faith & Facts bunch have made a career of taking brethren out of context, all the while, protesting vociferously that they are the ones really being misrepresented. Although this article was written years ago, it still speaks to current problems among churches of Christ.)
When we make our plea for the restoration of New Testament Christianity, if we are not careful, we may easily develop an attitude of arrogance and intolerance which could backfire on us. Our plea for a return to the Book is perceived by some as a plea for a return to a time when only the pure gospel was preached and there were no doctrinal problems in the churches. But when was that? From the very beginning, the church of Christ has been plagued by strife (Philippians 1:15,16), false teachers (II Peter 2:1-3), perverse and destructive leaders (Acts 20:29f.; Jude 4), the preaching of a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), divisiveness (III John 9,10), and servants of Satan (II Corinthians 11:13-15). The churches at Pergamos and Thyatira were condemned for tolerating false teaching (Revelation 2:12-29). The Christians at Sardis gave the appearance of being alive, but were really dead (Revelation 3:1-6). Although such a state was certainly not ideal, a reading of I Timothy 4:1-5 and II Timothy 3:1-5 make it clear that such would be a continuing problem in the churches.
Furthermore, one cannot read Matthew 13:24-30 without understanding that Satan has been—and continues to be—quite active in the Lord's church or kingdom. The true and the false, the child of God and the child of Satan, the righteous and the unrighteous can all be found among those who identify themselves as Christians. This, of course, causes serious problems even today. People in search of New Testament Christianity are looking for the perfect church, and being unable to find one, they are giving up their search. This is terribly unfortunate. Ironically, many are eventually going to be eternally lost because they are unable to find a congregation of perfect people perfectly practicing perfect New Testament Christianity—a group, incidentally, that would immediately become imperfect the moment they added themselves to it.
The Word, Not Perfection, Is The Key
What these individuals ought to be looking for is a group of people who are teaching the doctrine taught in the New Testament, even though they may not be doing everything perfectly. Now please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I believe it is important to be a doer of the Word. In fact, it is the Word of God and one's obedience to it that allows one to be free from sin (John 8:32), and not one's finding of a perfect group of Christians to which he may join himself. No one has ever been saved by his perfect doing, nor will one ever be. One is saved, and thereby made perfect, in Christ, not by perfect doing, but by the grace of God bestowed upon all who will willingly render obedience to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:9; Colossians 2:10). One is saved by exercising faith, trust, and reliance in Christ (Romans 5:1), not a group of people.
Churches of Christ should certainly manifest the teaching of the New Testament and ought to be trying to do everything they understand the Bible to be teaching, but anyone who thinks churches must be perfect before they can wear the name of their Lord are very much mistaken. When one is looking for New Testament Christianity, one must learn to put the emphasis where it belongs; namely, Jesus and His Word and not the imperfections in the lives of Christians.
Christians Are Affected Too
Unfortunately, some Christians are as confused about the significance of imperfection as are those who think New Testament Christianity no longer exists because they are unable to find a perfect church. Some, worshipping in local congregations where there may be glaring imperfections in some of the members, have become discouraged and have quit the church and become totally disillusioned with Christianity as well. In other words, because some are less than ideal—and aren't we all?—these people quit trusting in the One who has proven Himself to be absolutely perfect. It's a shame that some will quit the Lord for that which in others is but a reflection of themselves. Quite frankly, this is the ultimate hypocrisy.
Seduced By A Slogan, Some Claim Perfection
Then there are those who wrongly think themselves to be absolutely perfect. These mouth slogans such as: “We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent.” Several generations have now been taught this haughty and arrogant philosophy and instead of remaining “Christians only,” they have evolved into the “only Christians.” [This is the quote Milliner used.] In other words, according to these people, unless one is taught by one of their preachers and baptized in one of their pools, then he could not possibly be a member of the church belonging to Christ. People like this are no longer interested in the need for a continued emphasis on the restoration of New Testament Christianity. They are absolutely and totally correct in every facet of their work and worship together. After all, they speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent. Consequently, how could they possibly be wrong? Such thinking has caused these people to become narrow and bigoted, steeped in traditions and practices which, in turn, have become the acid tests of orthodoxy. The man-made slogan, “We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent,” has progressed to the inevitable, “You must do it the way we do it or you are wrong” syndrome. When this attitude becomes prominent in a people, the only objective standard for determining orthodoxy (i.e., God's Word) becomes secondary to group consensus and is, therefore, quite irrelevant. Among such people, what the church teaches and practices is much more important than what the Bible says or doesn't say.
A case in point is the battle over institutionalism that raged in the fifties and sixties. A minority of God's people began to question the scripturalness of the churches' support of orphan homes, old folks homes, etc. Asking for the book, chapter and verse that authorized such practices, the answer in many cases was, “This is the way we have done it for years,” “This is the way our fathers did it,” “This is the way we've always done it,” etc.
Brethren, have we so soon forgotten that group consensus is not the objective standard for what is right or wrong? Are we now willing to involve ourselves in that which we criticized others for doing? Will we make our practices the test for orthodoxy or will we continue to subject our practices to the objective standard of God's Word?
Arrogance Breeds Complacency
How much good has been subverted by a thoughtlessly arrogant man-made slogan? It is a well-known fact that arrogance breeds complacency. Among many churches of Christ today there is a complacency that has produced doctrinally sick and spiritually dead churches. Would it not have been healthier if those before us would have read “If a man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11), and said: “Lord, we will try with all our heart. We will try to speak where the Bible speaks, and we will try to be silent where the Bible is silent, but in doing so we will not forget that we are totally dependent upon the grace You have so bountifully bestowed upon us” (cf. Ephesians 2:8,9).
Humility Destroys Arrogance
Such humbleness and contriteness will cause us to constantly examine ourselves so as to determine whether or not we are in the faith (II Corinthians 13:5). Furthermore, the inculcation of pure doctrine into pure hearts leaves no room for arrogance and bigotry; it leaves no room for an erroneous concept of justification by perfect law-keeping. Instead, it produces an attitude which is manifested by the statement: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended for Christ Jesus. Brethren I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). Brethren, it is this attitude that will keep us awake in Bible study and alive spiritually. This attitude coupled with God's grace produces a “living unto God” (Romans 6:10,11) that will allow a man to say at the end of his life without any arrogance at all: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).
May we ever do all within our power to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent, and may we teach and live in such a way that, in spite of our imperfections, our Heavenly Father will be glorified and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be honored.