Saturday, January 21, 2006

Silence is Divine

Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it’s silent. This has long been my motto, but I have not always lived up to it. Like many reformation denominations, which with one mouth subscribe to the Nicene Creed, and with another mouth sing a different tune, I too have given lip service to my motto without being true to its ideals.

The motto, I believe, is a good one. If the Bible speaks on an issue, I ought to speak where it speaks, always in love, of course. But the hard part is remaining silent when the Bible is silent. That goes against my human desire to have an opinion on everything, and to feel free to share my opinion.

It’s true that we’ve been given everything that “pertains to life and godliness.” But does every question that arises “pertain to life and godliness?” If so, the Bible is silent on nothing, so why is there a need to be silent about anything?

But if the Bible is indeed silent on some things, I ought to be careful that I’m not preaching my extrapolations about the Bible’s silence in place of the Bible’s actual silence. In short, I ought to actually be silent on the issue, not fill the silence with my own human-derived rules and assumptions.

I have to allow for the fact that a question under discussion simply may not pertain to life and godliness. God’s opinion is not always binary—meaning “yes,” or “no.” Sometimes there is a third answer embodied in His silence on the question.

Filling this silence can’t be done without some fairly extensive forays into fallible human logic. For instance, the Bible is silent (in my opinion) on the issue of church-owned places of worship. We find examples of the disciples renting rooms, meeting in public places like gardens and synagogues, and meeting in believers’ homes, but we never find examples of them pooling their resources for a building fund.

So whether I insist that we can or can’t own a church building, I’m in essence speaking where the Bible is silent. I ought to simply acknowledge the Divine silence. Let every man be convinced in his own mind.

Of course, I may form an opinion and live by it. On this particular question, I believe that it is probably a matter of indifference to God, but that more genuine fellowship can be achieved by simply meeting in our homes whenever feasible. But my opinion must not be mistaken as firm Biblical exposition. If I present it that way, I am violating my motto of remaining silent where the Bible is silent.

That is what the Pharisees did when they tried to fill in all the gaps in interpreting the law for the masses. “Surely,” they thought, “if we cannot work on the Sabbath, and walking long distances is work, there must be a maximum distance one can walk on the Sabbath.” They proceeded rather logically from the letter of the law, but ended up “teaching doctrines which are the commandments of men.”

That is the danger we are in when we try to fill in all the gaps by interpolating and extrapolating God’s will from the information contained in the Scriptures. When we rely on a series of assumptions (for instance, that the Bible’s silence is evidence of disapproval), and proceed to make rules for everyone else based on our conclusions, we are indeed teaching doctrines which are nothing more than the commandments of men.

It’s so much more scriptural, yet takes so much more self-restraint to just let the silence sit there. It’s fine to develop opinions from Biblical silence. But we can’t impose our opinion of what the Divine silence means by trying to fill it with our own fallible voices.

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