by Al Maxey

Issue #354 ------- July 7, 2008
I saw old Autumn in the misty
morn stand shadowless like
silence, listening to silence.

Thomas Hood {1799-1845}

A Sectarian Shroud of Silence
Revisiting Legalistic Patternism's Confused
and Conflicted Hermeneutical Principle

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), an Anglo-Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who served for a good many years in the British House of Commons, once observed, "There is a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue." Yes, the Scriptures state we are to bear long with one another; after all, being fallible by nature, we each try the patience of our fellows. If every foolish action elicited an immediate sanction, would any of us remain unscathed? And yet, we must acknowledge, persistent folly should never be long tolerated, as such foolishness left unchecked and unchallenged soon escalates within a society, damaging the intellectual and spiritual fabric of the whole. In a powerful and masterful example of scathing irony, Paul rebukes the Corinthian brethren for "suffering fools gladly" [2 Cor. 11:19, KJV]. I fear we, the disciples of Christ, far too often do the very same, and with similar disastrous results. There does come a time (sooner rather than later) when a fool and his folly must be faced fearlessly and firmly by those whose focus is Truth. God's Word provides us this advice: "Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes" [Prov. 26:5]. We should heed this godly instruction far more than we do.

Let me hasten to declare at the very beginning of this present study that not all foolishness is being willfully promulgated by godless fools. We are all living proof, myself included, that at times in our walk with Jesus Christ we most likely have held to some rather foolish notions. You and I are fallible creatures; none of us have arrived at perfect perception. Thus, we each fall far short in our perceptions, our practices, and, yes, even in our preaching. This does not necessarily make us fools (although some may well be), nor does it make us false teachers (though some may well be). Nor does it make us evil, godless creatures. It simply means we are human; we are finite; we are fallible. Sometimes we are simply blinded to certain truths. There may be any number of reasons for this, ranging from an obstinate refusal to consider any other explanation than our own, to an innocent lack of awareness. Thus, simply because someone may have a foolish perception does not necessarily mean they, as a person, are a fool. That goes much deeper than some of our mistaken beliefs and practices, just as being a "false teacher" goes far deeper than merely having embraced a false teaching. After all, who among us has achieved 100% perfection of perception with regard to all Truth? If you have failed to perceive even one eternal Truth correctly (and I imagine that applies to each of us), then you have embraced a "false teaching." Does this make you a "false teacher"? Of course not. Otherwise, we would ALL be "false teachers." This particular phrase, as employed in the pages of the New Covenant writings, goes much deeper than one's beliefs and teachings ... it goes to one's motivation; it has reference to the nature of one's heart [see: Reflections #123 --- Focusing on False Teachers: Scriptural Fact vs. Sectarian Fallacy]. The same is true with regard to one being a "fool."

There is a lot of foolishness being promoted within Christendom today, and my own faith-heritage (Churches of Christ) certainly has its fair share (and sometimes I fear it may have the lion's share). Although some of this nonsense is truly being promoted by godless fools, I'm nevertheless convinced that most of it is simply the result of a woeful ignorance among the people of God. Misconceptions have been handed down from one generation to the next for so long that they have simply come to be perceived as divine decree. A part of my purpose in life, and in my ministry, is to challenge my beloved brethren to THINK. Or, to employ the wording of the apostle Paul, "examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good" [1 Thess. 5:21].

As an example of what I believe to be a case of astounding foolishness on the part of some who have elevated personal preferences to the status of divine decree, I would refer you to an article that appeared on page 29 of the July, 2008 issue of Christian Chronicle. The article is titled "Teachers Quit Over Music Document," and it was written by Ted Parks. The gist of the article is this -- Columbia Academy, which is a Christian school located approximately 45 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee, asked five of their teachers to sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" regarding certain convictions. This academy "requires all faculty members to sign a contract 'preamble' that includes references to worship." In other words, the "powers that be" at this academy, among other things, believe that a cappella singing is God's exclusive expectation for the church. At the Maury Hills Church of Christ there was scheduled a Good Friday service during which there would be some drama skits performed; also a musical group, which would use instruments. This was a special event, but all regular worship assemblies of this congregation were conducted a cappella. Nevertheless, it was felt by the academy that the teachers must not participate in this event or they would be in "breach of contract." School President Barry England met with the five teachers who apparently had some desire to attend this event, or who were members at that congregation. "Two teachers signed the agreement, England said, and will return." A third teacher quit and went to another school to teach. Alex Domkowski, who taught math and physics at the academy for 27 years, and who is an elder at the congregation in question, resigned rather than sign the document. England stated, "While it is not at all my desire or intent for Columbia Academy to force its convictions and opinions on others, it is also my desire for Columbia Academy to be able to maintain the beliefs that the founders of the school held as important." It is somewhat revealing to those of us looking on when the overriding concern seems to be for what the founders of the school believed and held to be important! Perhaps we should be seeking to determine God's view of what truly matters before we begin insisting our brethren sign creedal manifestos, and then issuing sanctions against those who will not bow to our dogma.

The Board of Directors of Columbia Academy singled out these five teachers (none of the other staff members were similarly approached) and insisted that these affix their names to a document that states, in part, "The undersigned teacher agrees that he will not promote, participate in or place himself under the leadership of those who do promote or organize a worship assembly of the church which includes the use of musical instruments." Interestingly, about 40% of the student body at this academy are not even members of the Churches of Christ. Can you just imagine the awful message this is sending to these students? It's a message of religious exclusivism and condemnation. By trying to regulate the private worship experiences of their teachers, forcing them (at the risk of losing their employment) to sign a document stating they would never associate with any congregation, or even place themselves under the leadership of said congregation, that felt anything other than a cappella expression was acceptable, they seek to impose their personal preference as LAW upon the private lives of others. This is unconscionable! "Agree with us, or get out!" Brethren, this is sheer foolishness ... and, frankly, that's stating it mildly. It is a return to the days of the Inquisition. What's next? Spying on people to see where they worship, and how often? Checking the version of the Bible they carry? Doing a chemical analysis of the contents of the Communion cup? Shades of Orwell's 1984 and "Big Brother" loom before us. God help us!! No wonder discerning disciples are abandoning legalistic congregations in droves. These groups are diminishing in number daily ... and good riddance, in my view! They have been a blasphemous blight upon the precious Body of Christ long enough.

Unfortunately, much of the foolishness we daily perceive in Christendom, and within our own faith-heritage especially, can be attributed to the faulty hermeneutic of CENI (command, example, necessary inference) and its twisted sidekick "The Law of Silence." I have been seeking tirelessly to expose and refute the fallacy of this interpretive methodology for years, as have an increasing number of other scholars and spiritual leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement, and yet we still witness this sad foolishness paraded before us far too frequently ... and by individuals one would think should know better. Yes, we are meeting with success. This hermeneutic is being rejected more and more when people dare to take a good, hard look at it in light of some valid challenges. Some, however, will probably cling to it as long as they have breath within their mortal bodies. To abandon it, and to embrace a more responsible hermeneutic [see: Reflections #126 --- Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology], will immediately expose a great many of their cherished convictions for what they actually are: Tradition rather than Truth. Some, quite frankly, know this only too well, and thus they cling to a faulty hermeneutic rather than face the much needed changes that are occurring all around them.

In the June, 2008 issue of the Gospel Advocate [vol. 150, no. 6, p. 32-33] one will find an article written by Jimmy Jividen, who is the minister for the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. I have a great deal of respect for Jimmy, and believe him to be a good, honest, sincere disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. This brother has authored seven books, including one titled "Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures," so he is certainly quite familiar with the topic at hand. He is also a subscriber to these weekly Reflections, as are a great many of the noted leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement. This, of course, does not mean they all agree with me on every issue, but at least they are willing to expose themselves to various lines of thought within the movement, and for that openness I commend them. Bro. Jividen is no fool; he is an intelligent, devoted child of the Father. However, I must take strong issue with his remarks in his article, as they reflect the very interpretive foolishness of which I have been speaking. The title of his article is "The Silence of Scripture."

The so-called "Law of Silence" is one of the foundational tenets of legalistic patternism. If these people are deprived of the "principle of prohibitive silence," as well as the "authority of assumptions and inferences," which they draw from select examples or selective reading of isolated texts, their entire theology crumbles to dust right before their eyes. Therefore, they will fight to the death to preserve the power of the prohibitive nature of biblical silence. What they fail to perceive, however, is that this is a fallacious principle. Genuine biblical silence -- those areas where our God has truly said absolutely nothing whatsoever -- is NOT prohibitive. It is neither prescriptive nor proscriptive. Silence neither commands nor condemns. It simply signifies God has chosen not to express Himself on the matter one way or the other. Thus, to assume such silence is prohibitive is just as unjustified as the assumption it is permissive. In point of fact, it is neither. In the face of genuine biblical silence one must determine if said attitude or action is either approved or disapproved by God via a series of pointed challenges to said attitude or action in light of various principles and precepts God has revealed in Scripture. Is God glorified by it? Is it consistent with His nature? Does it work contrary to any of His expressed expectations? Does it benefit the brethren? Does it help bring the lost to the Lord? Mere silence alone does not mean one may do as he/she pleases in the matter. Nor does it suggest that said attitude or action is forever banned. It means we need to use good judgment, rendered in light of God's expressed will and with consideration for both saved and lost souls and the furtherance of His cause. In some cases, said attitudes or actions may be deemed inappropriate; at other times they may clearly be just the opposite. To declare, however, the "principle of prohibitive silence" is just as wrong as to declare the "principle of permissive silence." Genuine biblical silence does neither. This is one of the primary flaws in the hermeneutic of the legalistic patternists.

Yet, one can understand why they must have it so. They lose the force of their objection to various "denominational" practices if they lose the force of their "Law of Silence." Instrumental accompaniment to singing in a worship assembly is a perfect example. They believe this to be a practice disapproved by God for His church today. Why? Silence! God did NOT say we could. There you have it. All wrapped up and tied with a bow. The early disciples did NOT employ them (as far as we know). End of discussion!! Therefore, this "silence" prohibits their use ... forever. Indeed, they will go so far as to declare that if people use instruments as an aid or accompaniment to their singing in the assembly, then these people are no longer Christians ... in fact, they are headed straight for hell. We must sever fellowship with them. They are apostates. If you think this is extreme, then just go back and read again the case given above where the five teachers faced losing their employment if they even considered any association with an event where instruments were employed. For these hardened legalists, the use of instruments is a life or death, heaven or hell, choice. And they largely appeal to silence as their justification for this. For example, Bro. G. C. Brewer (a noted leader in the Stone-Campbell Movement, and my cousin, by the way -- his mother was a Maxey), in the June, 2008 issue of Gospel Advocate (which is a reprint of an article he wrote many years earlier), wrote, "Who will give us scriptural authority for instrumental music in the praise of God? That is what we are pleading for -- a plea for a passage! Who will give us the chapter and verse? A cry for a citation!" [p. 19]. One could just as easily ask for the passage that even remotely hints that God disapproves of such use. These are the wrong questions, however, and they clearly reflect a misguided approach to establishing authority. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the power of this "principle of prohibitive silence" in the thinking of these brethren. Can't find the verse where God says to use instruments? Well, that proves it -- they are wrong. No, it merely proves He said nothing about it. All else is merely human assumption.

But, let's direct our attention back to Bro. Jimmy Jividen's article in the most recent issue of Gospel Advocate. Notice his following statement: "Jesus Himself taught this principle of prohibitive silence. When He was tempted to fall down and worship the devil, He answered by quoting Scripture: 'Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve"' (Matthew 4:10, ESV). The Scripture Jesus quoted was from Deuteronomy 6:13. It was not an explicit statement that prohibited worshiping the devil; it was a positive teaching that stated who was to be worshiped. It excluded all others -- including the devil. 'You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him' (Deuteronomy 6:13, NASB). Jesus understood the prohibitive silence of Scripture" [the Gospel Advocate, June, 2008, p. 32]. Can you spot the fallacy of this tenet? It is so obvious that even a first year student of basic logic could discern it. And yet, it seems to utterly elude those who have bought into the foolishness of this particular humanly devised hermeneutic. Brethren, it is not silence that prohibits in this account ... it is specificity. God spoke; God specified ... this isn't about silence. What prohibited Jesus from falling down and worshiping Satan? The fact that God was silent? Of course not. God specified: Worship ME ONLY. It is the specific spoken command of God that excludes, not silence. Indeed, when God speaks, silence does not exist. If I tell someone to go to the store and buy a gallon of 2% white milk, what would prohibit him from returning with a quart of grape juice? Would it be the "principle of prohibitive silence"? Because I was silent about grape juice, it was thereby prohibited? Of course not. It was due to my specificity. Grape juice was prohibited not by silence, but by the simple fact that I had specified 2% white milk. The force of exclusion was in the specificity, not in the silence. Now, one might wonder why such a distinction is so vital. It is vital because if the legalists concede this point, they have just lost the ability to exclude those practices they regard as "godless innovations," and as such they lose the very basis for their continued isolation from and condemnation of other believers and their practices. The walls of separation will come down and they will be faced with fellowshipping those they previously regarded as apostates. This is a change they fear with all their being, and they will flee for the hills before ever admitting the fallacious nature of their hermeneutic. To do otherwise places their very existence at stake ... and they know it.

Within his article, "The Silence of Scripture," Jimmy Jividen continues --- "One of the clearest illustrations of the prohibitive silence of Scripture is to be seen in the story of Nadab and Abihu. They were struck dead by God because they offered 'strange fire' that God had not commanded. God had instructed that the offering of incense was to be with fire taken from the brazen altar. Nadab and Abihu presumptuously offered fire that God commanded not. When God tells man what to do, it excludes all of the alternatives man might devise" [p. 32-33]. Bro. Jividen is right -- when God SPEAKS, man is to OBEY. This is not about silence, therefore. It is about disobeying that which God has spoken with great specificity. Notice Jividen's own words: "When God TELLS man what to do, it excludes ..." So, where is the silence in this?! The prohibitive force is not in what God did NOT say, it is rather in what He DID say! This isn't about silence, it is about specificity. For a much more complete analysis of this entire tragic event, I would refer the reader to Reflections #63 -- Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of their Fatal Error. There is a lot more involved in this biblical account than one might at first believe. However, it most certainly is not "one of the clearest illustrations of the prohibitive silence of Scripture," as Jividen asserts. Far from it. It IS one of the clearest illustrations of the importance of obedience when God speaks and specifies, however.

Bro. Jimmy Jividen further observes that the prohibitive nature of silence is illustrated in Hebrews 7:14. This, and other "passages, reveal that the silence of Scripture is prohibitive" [p. 33]. The passage noted informs us that our Lord was descended from the tribe of Judah, "a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests." Well, there you have it, folks!! Moses was silent regarding priests coming from the tribe of Judah, or any other tribe, for that matter. Thus, we find the "principle of prohibitive silence." Or, do we?! What we actually find is that God specified that priests would come from the tribe of Levi. Thus, men out of Judah weren't excluded because of God's silence, but rather because of God's specificity. God had spoken; this was not a matter of silence. Time and time again these people make this error, one so obvious and blatant that it befuddles even the most casual observer. One is left somewhat stupefied as to just how they can be so blinded to the fallacy of their argument. Little wonder that discerning disciples wag their heads and mock those who continue to appeal to such foolishness in an attempt to substantiate what amounts to sectarian exclusivity. Little wonder that the world is not attracted to such an appeal, and little wonder that more and more of our number are turning away. It is time to wake up, brethren, and to realize that this faulty hermeneutical principle is destroying any effectiveness we might have with those seeking to know the Lord. If we want to draw people to the saving Light, we had best quit hiding it under a bushel basket of traditional tenets "substantiated" only by human assumptions drawn from things never uttered in Scripture. Even our children are seeing through this nonsense.

The actual purpose of Jimmy Jividen's article (at least this is how I perceive it in light of the fact that the June, 2008 issue of Gospel Advocate was devoted to the Instrumental Music issue) was to try and prove that the use of instrumental accompaniment is a violation of God's silence. He made the following declaration in the concluding paragraph of his article, "The prohibitive silence of Scripture excludes such things as the use of instrumental music in worship ... and a multitude of other presumptuous practices that are without scriptural authority" [p. 33]. The entire article was written for the purpose of making this final statement, and yet the premise upon which his conclusion is based is utterly fallacious. For one, God is not even genuinely silent about this matter in either the OT or NT writings. He has spoken. Second, it is just as "presumptuous" to declare silence proscriptive as it is to declare it prescriptive. It is, in fact, neither. The sooner we accept this fact, the sooner we will all cease appearing foolish to those around us. I have written very extensively on this matter of the so-called "Law of Silence," and I would invite the readers to please take the time to carefully and prayerfully examine this body of biblical evidence, which may be found on my Topical Index page under the headings "Law of Silence" (20 articles), "Patternism" (21 articles), "Requesting Legalism's List" (6 articles), and "Musical Instruments" (11 articles).

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Amen, Bro. Al, to your last issue of Reflections -- "Immersed By One Spirit." You have done the church a great service by pointing to the vital importance of our immersion by the Spirit of God into the one ... and only ... Body of Christ.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, When Paul writes of there being "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism" [Eph. 4:5], is he referring to water baptism? Or, is he referring to the immersion into Christ by the Holy Spirit as you have described it so well in this essay? I think it is the latter.

From an Elder in Texas:

Brother Al, "Immersed By One Spirit" was a great essay. Is it any wonder that if one regards water baptism above the sacrifice of Christ and all that it symbolizes, including the gift of the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the unique role and power of the Spirit in unifying and transforming of one's Christian walk, many will make the grace of God and saving faith a work of personal justification?!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, I was really enthusiastic about reading "Immersed By One Spirit." This has been a topic of interest to me for years. Most folks -- not just Church of Christ folk -- really don't have a clue about it. But to me, baptism by the Holy Spirit ties up a ton of loose ends. It gives Christianity a ton of credibility. Your article was a really good step.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, I am in total agreement with you on your last Reflections ("Immersed By One Spirit"). I have always felt that the various positions held by religious leaders and teachers of all denominations and sects fail in the face of what Jesus really taught: that the fellowship we are called into is big enough for all believers, and is not just limited to those who happen to agree with me. I am convinced that God judges the heart of the one who responds to Him, and that there is no "magic formula" for gaining admittance to heaven. Imagine the surprise that many of my brethren will experience when they see folks from every persuasion admitted to heaven along with them!! Will all people be saved? Of course not. But those who believe and obey will, and this will include multitudes from the dreaded "denominations."

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, Now you have gone and done it to me -- you have challenged the way I've always understood a couple of passages of Scripture about baptism. Thanks!! It makes me view those passages using baptizo in a way that I hadn't thought of before. And I like the challenge! What's more, after thinking about it, I think your viewpoint makes more sense than my tired old traditional viewpoint. Thanks, brother!!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, I think you are right on target with this study of 1 Cor. 12:13. I agree that we cannot dismiss the importance of water baptism in response to the Gospel call. But, by the same token, neither can we dismiss the tremendous work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Body of Christ. Jesus prayed for unity. He died for unity. He expects unity. It only makes sense that the Holy Spirit would be instrumental in making unity happen. In a recent Bible study we were reading from Acts 2, and it seems to me that the "apostles' doctrine" was NOT some codified listing of laws or practices. Rather, it would seem they taught about Jesus. They focused on the person of Jesus and relationship with Jesus, NOT some new set of rules to replace the faulty ones the lawyers were teaching. Woe unto us, for too many of us have exchanged the grace and mercy of God for the commandments and traditions of men. Thank you, Al, for your continued challenges that make us think, and make us look to Jesus.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, When I wrote to you recently explaining my beliefs about Jesus' true intentions when He instituted the Lord's Supper I really thought I had come up with something no one had ever before even considered. I expected that some would accuse me of blasphemy and the rest would simply be shocked at my insinuations regarding this "sacred act." I did not suspect that you would have similar beliefs, but only hoped that you would at least read what I had to say about the subject. I can't tell you how happy it made me when I found out that you and I were on the same page regarding this issue. You wrote such a wonderful Reflections article on this -- "Examining Eucharistic Expectation" -- which makes an excellent case for why we believe as we do concerning the Lord's Supper. But then, as I read the responses of your many readers to this article (which was in the readers' section of your last issue of Reflections), I was further surprised that so many of them already shared our beliefs on this matter! I was genuinely amazed that apparently there are many others within the church who are reading the Scriptures carefully and throwing off their shackles -- even regarding one of our most important rituals. Good grief, Al ... maybe, just maybe, this "ship" can be turned around after all. Please keep up the good work, brother!!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Bro. Al, You will never know the impact your writings have had on the recipients of your wonderful Reflections. They have helped me understand things that were always so gray for me. Thank you! Also, I have ordered your book Down, But Not Out.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, I have read some of the attacks you are receiving, and I just want you to know that we are for you! It is sad that pride and not reason rules some of the most unkind people in the church. I pray for them. I want you to know that we all need you to continue your fight, and continue telling us about God's grace!! Thanks!

From a New Reader in Missouri:

Brother Maxey, I find your Reflections that I have read so far to be refreshing. Please add me to your email list for these weekly articles. I was raised in a multi-cup church, but have attended worship with mutual edification, non-institutional and one cup churches. I have long felt that the brethren stopped short in the Restoration Movement. We all need to continue to search the Scriptures and continue to strive to unify the Body of Jesus in order to become more like the NT church. I am troubled by all the name-calling between the various divisions of the Lord's Body. I have seen a lot of history in my lifetime, and the one thing I hope to see one day is the unification of the church. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

From an Elder & Physician in Texas:

Brother Al, I am in the process of teaching a class at church about the marks of a mature Christian. The final topic we are looking at is "Faithful in Commitments." Of course, that includes faithfulness to our spouses. In preparation for this class, one of the sources I have studied is your book Down, But Not Out. I found it to be well-written and very helpful, and I am in complete agreement with your conclusions regarding God's ideal wish for marriages and how the church should relate to those who have been divorced. I was particularly interested in your discussion of Matthew 5:32 regarding the fact that the Greek word moicheuthenai should be translated in the passive voice rather than the active voice. This makes such a huge difference in the meaning of the text. It's an important point. I know enough Koine Greek to be able to follow and appreciate your argument ... and I agree with it. Again, Bro. Al, thanks for the scholarly and grace-filled work that you have produced. It has been helpful to me, and I believe it will prove helpful to those whom the Lord has given me responsibility to shepherd.

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