• Silence of the Scriptures means freedom: We must be clear concerning what we mean when we seek Bible authority in all matters of faith. Some have misunderstood the following statement concerning this theme: “Speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.” If one sets aside grace, and subsequently views his relationship with God to be legally established, then he will not understand the meaning of this statement. Neither will he understand that we are saved by grace through faith (Ep 2:8). On the contrary, some will be thinking that we are saved by law through grace, and our faith (trust) in our own meritorious obedience to law.
It is true that we should speak when the Bible says this or that about the will of God. By faith, we seek to obediently follow His instructions. However, when the Bible says nothing about a particular matter, then there is freedom. We thus keep our silence in judging others concerning their unique choices to carry out the will of God in their lives. We keep silence in the matter of choice that each person us has in reference to carrying out the intent of the instructions of God. We are not judges of one another in areas where the Bible gives no instructions.
For example, it is a clear mandate of the word of God to take care of orphans and widows. This is indeed a matter of the will of God in our lives (Js 1:27). This is where the Bible clearly speaks. When Christians care for orphans and widows, therefore, they are implementing in their lives a ministry that has the authority of the word of God. They are walking by faith in the instructions of the word of God to care for orphans and widows. We usually have no problem in understanding this point.
However, how each Christian would fulfill the mandate concerning orphans and widows of the law of liberty is a matter of choice. There is silence concerning how to implement our individual care of orphans and widows. Some Christians may want to take orphans and widows into their own homes. Others may want to support a married couple who is gifted in the ministry of caring for either orphans or widows. How we individually fulfill the mandate to care for orphans and widows is a matter of freedom. The law is to take care of the orphans and widows. The liberty is in how each one of us fulfills this law in our lives. If we are caring for orphans in a certain manner of our own choice, then we cannot make judgments concerning how others may fulfill the same law. In the area of silent, there is freedom. We must always strive to guard one another’s freedom to implement the law of God in our lives.
Having authority in matters of faith, therefore, does not mean that we must have a law for each method of how we carry out in our individual lives that which is required by a clear mandate of the word of God. If we concluded that we must have a scripture (law) for each method of how we carry out in our lives that which is required by a specific law, then we run into problems, if not hypocrisy. For example, suppose one seeks to obey the commandment, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mk 16:15). This is a clear mandate of the word of God. When we go and preach the gospel, we have Mark 16:15 as the authority behind our efforts to carry out our responsibility to preach the gospel.
Now how each one of us goes into all the world is a matter of freedom. Some may go personally, by acquiring a “missionary visa,” boarding a boat or airplane, and then going to a specific country. Others may turn on a computer and go into all the world through the internet. Others may pick up a phone and make a simple phone call to someone with whom they are trying to preach the gospel. We know of one woman who baked bread, and then went to the neighbors in her village, knocked on the doors, and then asked the occupant, “Can I talk to you about the Bread of Life?” When there are no specifics given in reference to accomplishing a Bible command, then there is freedom. Each disciple has the freedom to determine how he or she would go into all the world.*
When we examine some examples in the New Testament, many people become quite confused concerning biblical authority. In fact, some become very inconsistent in their understanding of the word of God. As an example to illustrate the point, there was a time in the first century when there arose a great need among some of the disciples in Jerusalem, especially among those who had traveled to Jerusalem in order to sit at the apostles’ feet to be taught (See At 2:41). Fortunately, these visiting disciples came into an environment where the grace of God had caused a great deal of thanksgiving (2 Co 4:15).
“Now the multitude of those [in Jerusalem] who believed were of one heart and one soul. And no one said that any of the things that he possessed was his own. But they had all things in common” (At 4:32). This was the character of those disciples in Jerusalem who sought to be as Jesus who gave up heaven and came into this world. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:5-7). This is the principle that defines the character of a disciple of Jesus. This is the foundation upon which each Christian carries out the word of Christ in his or her life.
When Jesus saw our spiritual need, He gave up heaven. He gave up being on an equality with God. We must now return to Jerusalem to those who responded to this gospel mission of the Son of God. Luke, the historian, wrote of the Jerusalem disciples, “And great grace was upon them all” (At 4:33). When grace is upon us, marvelous things will happen. This grace will cause us to do those things that are not natural according to the worldly life. In fact, the disciples of Macedonia, “in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty, abounded in the riches of their liberality” to contribute to the saints who were afflicted with a famine in Judea a few years after the incident about which we are discussing in Acts 4 (See 2 Co 8:2). The extremity of the grace of God that worked in their hearts was magnified when Paul wrote of the Macedonian disciples: “For I testify that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Co 8:3).
So in Jerusalem in reference to the needy, Luke recorded, “Nor was there any among them who lacked, for as many as were owners of land or houses [in Jerusalem] sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:33,34). This is what these disciples did in reference to fulfilling the needs of the needy. This is where the Jerusalem disciples worked in the area of silence, for there are no commands in the New Testament that one must sell his or her house. And if one would sell his house for Jesus, there is no mention of real estate brokers who would sell one’s house. The silence of the Scriptures on how the house is to be sold is in the realm of freedom.
This is an example of how the Jerusalem disciples allowed the grace of God to cause thanksgiving in their hearts. But would this example by which they fulfilled the needs of others be binding on all Christians for all time in reference to giving? Must we all sell our houses because of this example? Add to this what John stated: “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him?” (1 Jn 3:17). Those disciples in Jerusalem saw their brothers in need, and thus they were so loving that they sold their lands and houses in order to carry out their love to take care of those in need. As the Philippian disciples, they worked in the area of the silence of the Scriptures in order to accomplish the principle of loving their brethren.
But we need to go deeper into this point in order to possibly see some of our hypocrisy in reference to how we apply “Bible authority.” For example, we say that we love our brother. However, some will say they cannot give because they have no money. But they will go home to a house that they own. If we seek to have Bible authority in all matters of faith (love), then certainly we should follow the example to sell our houses and lands in order to take care of those brothers we love, but are in need. Before one starts proclaiming an arbitrary principle of “Bible authority,” then he or she should reconsider some of the examples of the New Testament. Simply because we read in our New Testaments how the early Christians decided how they would carry out the principles of commandments of God does not mean that we should respond in the same way. Their examples, therefore, did not become laws for the church. The examples of obedience by the church in the first century did not establish laws for the church throughout the centuries. If this were true, then the church has as much authority to establish law as the word of God. This is exactly what happened to the Jews by the time Jesus came into this world. “The fathers” had established law that the people had to obey (See Mk 7:1-9). Of this situation, Jesus said, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:7). We must think about this for a moment.
The preceding thoughts should have by now brought us to a better understanding that the examples of the early Christians only give us illustrations as to how we can respond to the commands of God. The examples in themselves do not constitute any laws. Though the example of the disciples’ selling their houses and lands in Jerusalem in order that they carry out the principle to love one’s brother, such does not become “authority” that we do the same today in order to respond to the law of God according to “biblical authority.” We can do the same, but the example of the early disciples on that particular occasion never became a commandment that should be bound on the church throughout the world.
We must keep in mind that the historical incident of Acts 4 probably took place about three or four years after the events of Acts 2 when many of the disciples first obeyed the gospel. By the time of the need arose in Acts 4, they still owned their houses and lands. Therefore, becoming a Christian did not mean that one had to automatically sell his house or land. There was something behind the selling that is not discussed in Luke’s historical account of the matter. We would also assume that no one sold his house out from under his family, and then began living on the streets as a homeless family.
We would assume, therefore, that those disciples who sold their houses and lands in Acts 4 did so out of choice, not mandate. They had the freedom to sell or keep. Biblical authority in matters of faith, therefore, does not mean to bind where God has not bound, even though an example to carry out a principle of the law of liberty is recorded in the New Testament. If one does not understand this, then he will end up being a hypocrite if he does not sell his own house or lands.
Maybe we need to add some specific examples to illustrate further the preceding. On more than one occasion, we have had people argue that only a Christian can baptize a person into Christ. Since we have examples of only Christians baptizing people in the New Testament, then we assume that we have “authority” for Christians only to baptize people into Christ. But such a position (“doctrine”) is not only “unbiblical,” but also quite impractical. And, maintaining such a belief assumes an erroneous doctrine.
Nowhere in the New Testament is the doctrine of “baptismal authority” taught. If it were, then think of all the confusion, if not questioning this would cause among all those who have been baptized into Christ for the past two thousand years. Think of all the background checking that would have to be made in order to validate those who baptize others, for if one was not himself baptized by a Christian, then his supposed “baptismal authority” would be invalid. If the one who was baptized, was baptized by one who had not been baptized by someone who had not been baptized by a Christian, then his own baptism would not be valid. Anyone whom we would baptize would also be baptized with an invalid baptism, for our baptism was not performed by one who had been baptized by one who had “baptismal authority.” If the one who baptized us, was baptized by someone back in history who was not baptized by a Christian, then we could assume that there would be no valid baptisms today, for everyone who has been baptized throughout history had no idea that the one who baptized our forefathers had been baptized by a Christian. Does this all sound senseless? It does. And so the doctrine of “baptismal authority” is senseless.
We can certainly take this sensible reasoning into another area in reference to baptism in order to emphasize the point that some are quite inconsistent in reference to their understanding of Bible authority. We were recently asked if a woman could baptize someone. Again, many would resort to the fact that we have no example of women baptizing in the New Testament. Nevertheless, some are quick to extend the doctrine of “baptismal authority” to “male baptismal authority.”
We have already stated that if there were an example on these matters, then the example does not establish a law. And because there are no examples on who has the right to baptize another, does not mean that we can make a law where God made no laws. We are under the law of liberty. This means that we have freedom where there is silence on this matter.
Some seem to forget that in obedience to the gospel (baptism), the emphasis in the New Testament is on the one who is baptized, not on the one who does the baptizing. Legalists always get confused on these matters. Their zeal to establish a law in order to have biblical authority moves them into violating that about which Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty [freedom] by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” There are those who seem to be agents of entanglement in many matters where there is silence. In order to satisfy their desire to set aside the grace of God through law-keeping, they are willing to use the silence of the Scriptures in order to bring the disciples into the bondage of their own imagined laws. Where there are examples and silence, they seek to insert law in order that they might boast about being “biblical.” And by inventing a supposed law, they arrogantly claim to have biblical authority in all matters of faith.
Unfortunately, such people are often full of hypocrisy in reference to their legal system of religion. They will bind on the consciences of the disciples their presumptuous “laws,” but will at the same time print and distribute Bibles for which they have no biblical authority. They will board an airplane to go into all the world to preach the gospel, but have no biblical authority for traveling by airplane. They will print and distribute literature for which they have no biblical authority, but at the same time make a judgment concerning one who wants to obey the gospel by a woman doing the baptizing. The truth is always axiomatic that a legalist can never be consistent in reference to his legal religiosity. Legal bondage always blinds. Grace always frees.
So we are reminded again of what the Holy Spirit wrote, “You are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). We are not under law keeping in order to save ourselves. This simply means that we are not looking for some law whereby we can say that we are “biblical.” We are looking for the principles of the law of liberty, knowing that we cannot keep law perfectly in order to save ourselves. The legalist is on a search for law in all matters of obedience, and for this reason, it is difficult for him to understand how he is under grace. Because he is so strict to discover some law in order to self-justify himself before God, he has forgotten that our obedience is a response to the grace of God. For this reason, our obedience is not confined to carrying out a specific law, but gives authority to all that we do in response to the grace of God.
Being under grace means that the silence of the Scriptures on how we implement our response to grace in our lives is a matter of choice. Grace opens the door to freedom in order that we may make our individual choices as to how we would respond to Jesus. It opens the door concerning a multitude of ways and means by which every disciple can express his or her faith. Those who walk by faith are not restricted by law-keeping, but are set free to express their thanksgiving to God for what He did for them through the cross. It is for this reason that grace is good news because it sets us free from the restrictions of our own religious inventions. We have the freedom to sell our houses and lands if we are in the position to do so in order to express our love for our brothers. We have the freedom to keep our houses and bring needy brothers and sisters into our homes. We have the freedom to preach gospel meetings, though such is nowhere found in the New Testament. We have the freedom to print and distribute Bibles, though such is nowhere found in the New Testament. We have the freedom to even build a place of assembly, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. We have the freedom to have Sunday schools for our children, and Vacation Bible Schools for the community children, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. We have freedom to have song books, though such is found nowhere in the New Testament. Grace simply results in our freedom to serve God according to all our talents.
If we feel that we must have biblical authority for everything that we do in responding to the grace of God, then we are quite hypocritical when we judge others who do not walk according to our own self-imposed rules. Therefore, our exhortation is that one must be very honest with his or her own beliefs and behavior in reference to these matters. We must always keep in mind that if we seek to approach the gospel as a legal system of law, then we will end of with a religion. And religious people have endless debates with one another as to which group has the most correct systematic theology. Because religious people end up debating one another in reference to all their rules, there is little sense of contentment among strick religionists. We must never forget what someone correctly stated, “Religion pacifies, but never satisfies.”
[End of series.]