Shelby G. Floyd
From the beginning of the restoration movement, those who respected God and his word have also respected the silence of the scriptures. It was evident from the beginning of the movement to restore New Testament Christianity, that if one were to obey God, one must respect the silence of God’s word as well as the commandments. This is a Bible principle, for the apostle Peter said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4: 11). This simply means when the Bible speaks, man is permitted to speak; but when the Bible is silent, man is obligated to remain silent.
The Silence of the Scriptures Must Be Respected
In commenting upon this great principle, one of the restoration historians stated very clearly what this means,
Thus the silence of the Bible was to be respected equally with its revelations, which were by Divine authority declared to be able to ‘make the man of God perfect and thoroughly furnished unto every good work.’ Anything more, then, must be an encumbrance. Anything less then ‘the whole counsel of God’ would be a dangerous deficiency. Simply, reverentially, confidingly, they would speak of Bible things in Bible words, adding nothing thereto and omitting nothing given by inspiration. They had thus a clear and well defined basis of action, and the hearts of all who were truly interested reechoed the resolve: ‘Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent’” (Robert Richardson, Me-moirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume 1, p. 237).
Nadab and Abihu Did Not Respect the Silence of God’s Word
Some people have the idea that one may bring into the worship and work of the church anything that is not specifically condemned in the Bible. However, this principle will open up a Pandora’s Box for all sorts of human opinions and innovations, which would clearly be wrong. The Bible clearly teaches that it is sinful to presume upon the silence of God’s word. For example, the priests Nadab and Abihu, who were the sons of Aaron, “offered up strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not” (Leviticus 10: 1). Because of their sin in going beyond what was written, God punished them with fire from heaven (Leviticus 10: 2). It was not necessary for God to state that they should not use any other fire after he had already instructed them specifically which fire they were to use on the altar. Nadab and Abihu did not respect the silence of God’s word; neither did they respect what God had said concerning their work of officiating as priests of God.
The Judaizers Made Laws on the Silence of the Apostles
In Acts, chapter 15, we have the record of certain men which came down from Judea, to Antioch in Syria, and taught the brethren that unless they were circumcised after the Law of Moses they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas had no little dissension and disputation with them, after which it was determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other, would go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders concerning this question. After quite a bit of discussion, the apostles reached a unanimous decision that the Law of Moses with all of its ordinances was not to be bound upon the Gentile people who had obeyed the gospel of Christ. Therefore they wrote letters to the churches, a portion of which says: “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” —to whom we gave no such commandment—” (Acts 15: 24 NKJV). The Judaizing teachers, then, were clearly wrong in their contentions, for they were acting without authority. They were making laws where God had made none. They did not respect the silence of the scriptures, or the silence of the inspired apostles. They were not speaking as the oracles of God.
Instrumental Music in Worship is Based on the Silence of the Word
It is sad that today some have brought instrumental music into the worship and work of the churches upon the basis of the silence of the scriptures. It is true that the Bible did not say “Thou shall not use instrumental music in your worship.” But it is also true that the Bible commands worshippers specifically to sing. If we respect God’s command to sing, then we must equally respect his silence concerning any other kind, of music.
Paul said to the Ephesians, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5: 18-19). Paul forbids the Christian to be filled with wine, revelry, and the songs of drunken feasts; but he positively enjoins upon his readers to be filled with the Spirit. They would be filled with the Spirit when they were influenced by his revelation of truth and righteousness. When one is filled with wine, he acts and talks like a drunken man; when one is filled with the Spirit he acts and talks like a spiritual man. A spiritual man talks and acts like this: he speaks to other people in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and he sings and makes melody in his heart to the Lord.
The New Testament Command is to Sing
When the New Testament speaks concerning music, it always says to sing. But concerning instrumental music there is absolute silence. Therefore, let us respect the silence of the scriptures as well as the commandments of the scriptures.
Several years ago in a sermon, N. B. Hardeman said concerning instrumental music,
For about three dozen times in the Old Testament instruments of music are mentioned in connection with the worship of God; but when you turn to the New Testament, not three dozen times, not even one time, is it thus mentioned, showing beyond the possibility of a reasonable doubt that while it prevailed throughout the days of David and subsequent thereto under Judaism, at the very institution and inauguration of the Christian dispensation and of the church of the living God it was purposely left out. Therefore the silence of the Scriptures regarding it certainly ought to have some moment and some weight upon those who rely upon the New Testament (N. B. Hardeman, “Instrumental Music,” Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 2, pages 268-269).
Let Us Learn to Not Go beyond What is Written
Let us respect the silence of the scriptures,
Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another (1 Cor. 4: 6).
This scripture sums up entirely the premise upon which the argument that I have made for respecting the silence of the scriptures, as well as when the scriptures speak to us plainly and specifically. Those who want to restore New Testament Christianity must heed the following motto:
“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”
—Thomas Campbell, Restoration Leader
Copyright © 2007, 2014 Shelby Floyd All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd