by Al Maxey

Issue #456 ------- September 16, 2010
Stupidity is nature's favorite resource for preserving
steadiness of conduct and consistency of opinion.

Walter Bagehot {1826-1877}

Silence Before the Bench
The Failure of Legalists to Discern
the Significance of Specificity vs. Silence

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) once observed, "I had the greatest respect for the authorities of my day --- until I studied things for myself, and came to my own conclusions." Freud's insightful remark may have any number of applications in our individual journeys through life, however it holds special significance for me as I evaluate the daily experiences of far too many disciples within Christendom relative to their perceptions of Truth. I am afraid that many of my beloved brethren have embraced what has come to be known in theological circles as "hand-me-down truth." In other words, they've accepted as "established fact" the personal and party perceptions and preferences of their religious forefathers. Rather than carefully and prayerfully examining each aspect of their faith and practice in light of God's inspired revelation, they are content to regurgitate the rigid religiosities of their revered predecessors, which is nothing less than a recipe for sectarianism and factionalism and continued isolationism. Needless to say, there is great danger in an unexamined faith.

One of the hermeneutical tools of an element within our Stone-Campbell Movement that has been handed down through the generations and embraced thoughtlessly by those with tendencies toward legalistic patternism is the so-called "law of silence" (or "law of exclusion"). This is one of the most fallacious, and inconsistently applied, interpretive devices ever foisted upon God's people. It's led to more theological confusion and fratricidal feuding than just about anything else that old serpent the devil has ever devised. Yet, the legalists cling to this tool for dear life, even in the face of overwhelming evidence exposing it as an absurdity. I am convinced that the primary reason most disciples within our fellowship (Churches of Christ) refuse to surrender it is because it is the ONLY weapon in their arsenal available to them to "prove" that the use of musical instruments as either accompaniment or as an aid to singing in a "worship service" is sinful. Literally, if one takes away their "law of silence," one completely removes their entire argument for their position on this issue!! Thus, they don't dare surrender it, as they would then be forced to surrender one of their major distinctives (non-instrumental/a cappella) that, within their own minds, characterizes them, and them only, as "The One True Church," with all other believers being hell-bound digressives and apostates. This is why, almost without exception, every time the legalists come after those of us who challenge their dependence upon this "law of silence," they will insert some comment about musical instruments or make some accusation that all we are attempting to do is "bring a piano into the church building." Their "law of silence" is inextricably linked to their dogma regarding the instrument (and for those even more rigid in their theology, it is linked with multiple cups, Sunday Schools, fellowship halls, homes for the aged and fatherless, Christian colleges, and countless other "digressions"). Thank God for the "law of expediency," which allows legalists to pick and choose what areas of biblical silence to ignore!!! What lunacy!!

I have written extensively over the years on the fallacies of this so-called "law of silence," and have dealt with every conceivable passage they have lifted and twisted in their desperate effort to lend credibility to their humanly devised interpretive tool. These many in-depth studies can be read online by going to my Topical Index and selecting those articles listed under the headings of "Law of Silence," "Patternism," "Musical Instruments" and "Requesting Legalism's List." I would also suggest a study of Reflections #261 -- The Law of Expediency: A Reflective Examination of Legalistic Patternism's Loophole. Every time that I write an exposť on the failings of this false teaching, I have received a flood of emails, letters and phone calls from those who still cling to this "law." Some are extremely ugly (as may be witnessed at the close of the current "Readers' Reflections"), while there are others who seek to show me my "error" in a more loving, rational manner. Frankly, I appreciate the latter group, as I believe they are genuinely desirous of serving God to the best of their understanding and ability, and I believe they have a genuine concern for one who differs with them on this matter (just as I have for them). The former group I have no use for whatsoever, and will not hesitate to expose them at every opportunity, as per the command given in Eph. 5:11 -- "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them."

There is a reader from the state of Georgia, a minister of the gospel who comes from a long line of well-known leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement (you would instantly recognize the name), who is a good example of the former type of respondent to my writings on the place of true biblical silence in our understanding of God's inspired Word. He and I have had a number of discussions over the years, and they have always been rather cordial and respectful. We most certainly do not see eye-to-eye on this matter, yet I regard him as a dear brother-in-Christ. I pray he sees me in the same light. Following my most recent issue of Reflections -- It Never Entered My Mind: The "Law of Silence" and the Trinity of "Proof-Texts" from Jeremiah's Prophecy -- this brother emailed me this brief and to-the-point observation: "I agree. Those passages have nothing to do with 'silence.' I have never used them in that sense, although I have plenty of other very good passages to support the arguments from silence." Well, you know me!! I couldn't let that last statement go unchallenged. I immediately wrote and asked him to share with me those other passages from the Bible (of which he claimed to have "plenty"). Several days passed ... no response! I then sent him a second request for those "other passages." About four hours later he wrote me back. The latter half of his email asked me my opinion of "potato chips and Coke for the Lord's Supper" and, you guessed it, instrumental music. The first half of his email provided me with the "other passages" -- all three of them: (1) Noah and the gopher wood of the ark, (2) Nadab and Abihu, and (3) the priesthood of Christ Jesus as discussed in Hebrews 7:14. Again, the "holy trinity" of proof-texts for the "law of silence" ... EACH of which, of course, have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with genuine biblical silence. Rather, they deal with God's specificity -- a distinction that, for some unknown reason, the advocates of this hermeneutical device (the "law of silence") simply cannot grasp (or, perhaps, dare not grasp)!! Nevertheless ... long, heavy sigh ... let's look at each of these once again.

Noah and Gopher Wood

God commanded, "Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood" (Gen. 6:14). "Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did" (Gen. 6:22). "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household" (Hebrews 11:7). Perhaps you are wondering, after reading the above few passages, how someone could find validation for their so-called "law of silence" from this account. They are indeed creative, however. They maintain that since our God was silent about any type of wood other than gopher wood, that His silence therefore prohibits and excludes all other types of wood. Thus, if Noah had chosen mahogany instead of gopher wood, he would have been in violation of God's silence.

But, is that really true? Was it God's silence that Noah would have been in violation of, or was it God's specificity? It is obviously the latter. It is not God's silence that excludes mahogany as a suitable wood for the construction of the ark, it is God's specificity that excludes mahogany. God was NOT silent in this example. He had spoken. He had specified. He had commanded the use of "gopher wood" (whatever that was; though Noah seemed to know). Therefore, this brief historical narrative has absolutely nothing to do with God's "silence." When God SPEAKS, there is no SILENCE.

Now, if righteous Noah had decided that he was going to use pine wood to make a scaffolding to aid or assist him in the building of the ark, that would have been acceptable. After all, God said nothing about scaffolding (genuine silence). If Noah had wanted to use mahogany to build a table for the ark, that would have been a matter of indifference to God. He was silent about tables that might accompany the ark as it floated upon the flood waters. Things that Noah might use as either aids or accompaniments to this venture were left unspecified; God was totally silent about them. He SAID nothing either for or against them. Thus, they were left entirely to the responsible judgment of Noah himself. They were neither proscribed nor prescribed; genuine silence does neither.

The "law of silence" dogmatists will point to this narrative as "proof positive" that the use of musical instruments in the public worship of the church, as either aids or accompaniment, is a soul-damning abomination. And how do they arrive at this revelation? Because, they declare, God said to sing (just like He said to use gopher wood). Therefore, His "silence" about anything else forever excludes all else as "sinful." What these proof-texters fail to perceive, however, is that the specificity of Scripture excludes and prohibits only that which would negate, replace or invalidate that which is specified. It does not prohibit or exclude anything which would merely aid or accompany one's compliance with that which is specified. This is just common sense, as well as a valid principle of interpretive logic.

Disciples use a great many things biblically UNspecified to aid them in their singing of songs, hymns and spiritual songs. Song books with musical notation are held in the hands and before the eyes of those singing. Thus, they are singing and reading at the same time. Is reading excluded because God was silent about it? Some say so. After all, they argue, God never said "sing and read." As bizarre as it may seem, there are actually a few who insist our singing must be from memory (from the heart and mind), and that reading from song books while singing to God is "unauthorized" by the "law of silence." Others make the same argument with respect to song leaders, four part harmony (oh, the furor that erupted over that), PA systems to amplify voices, pitch pipes, projection of songs onto a screen, tapping of feet during singing (which constitutes a percussion instrument, in their thinking), moving the head in time to the rhythm (which they say constitutes dancing), words written by all of those horrid, godless "denominationalists," and instrumental accompaniment of any kind to aid those who are singing. In all of these cases, however, singing still occurs. The "command" is NOT negated or replaced or diminished or invalidated in any way at all (although, in reality, no commands are given in the Ephesian and Colossian passages with respect to singing; in fact, the passages are not speaking of a "worship service" at all, and the statement about us "singing and making melody in our hearts" has GOD as the audience, NOT our fellow believers -- see: Reflections #454).

Nadab and Abihu

If I had a dollar for every time those who promote patternism have resurrected Nadab and Abihu to bear testimony to the deadly consequences of "innovations" in worship, I could have retired years ago. "Remember Nadab and Abihu!" has been the mantra of rigid religiosity for generations. Those who oppose eating a meal in the church building will quickly cry out, "Remember Nadab and Abihu!" If the teens should happen to clap during a song in the "worship assembly" they will all, and very quickly, need to be reminded of two sons of Aaron "on fire for the Lord." If we support an orphan out of the "treasury," or use more than one cup in the Lord's Supper, or employ four part harmony in our singing, or any one of a thousand other "insidious innovations," we are quickly warned that we're treading the same path as Abihu and his wicked brother Nadab (a name that means "liberal" in Hebrew; a fact some radicals have virtually taken as a "sign from God" of His preference for conservatives over liberals). I have dealt in some depth with the sins of these two in Reflections #63 --- Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of their Fatal Error, and I can assure you that it had nothing to do with a transgression of God's "silence."

Leviticus 10:1
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron,
took their respective firepans, and after
putting fire in them, placed incense on it
and offered strange fire before the Lord,
which He had not commanded them.

They made an offering unto the Lord God which He had not commanded them. Well, there you have it. Proof positive that silence prohibits. The Lord God had not commanded this particular offering .... He was silent about it .... thus, when they transgressed this "law of silence," God zapped them with a cosmic Zippo. So, all of you who choose to sing with instrumental accompaniment had better beware!! "You're next!" Are such people correct? Was the transgression of Nadab and Abihu that they broke this rigid "law of silence," and that they paid for that violation with their lives? Of course not. Once again, "silence" has nothing to do with this narrative. In reality, their sin was multi-faceted. Through careful exegesis of the biblical text one can determine several fatal errors they committed before their God (each of which is discussed fully in the above referenced article). These were:

  1. Unauthorized entry into the Holy of Holies to offer incense.
  2. Failure to show proper reverence for the Lord God.
  3. Intoxication.
  4. Offering "strange fire."

With regard to the issue of divine "silence," however, we need to notice the last of the four above listed transgressions. What exactly was this "strange fire" of which the text speaks? The answer is --- it was fire (or, more correctly: burning coals) which was not taken from the brazen altar, but rather from some other source. In other words, it was burning coals taken from a source other than the one SPECIFIED by God. When ceremonial worship was first instituted among the people of Israel, victims on the brazen altar were consumed by fire sent directly from heaven. This was considered "holy fire;" fire which came from the very presence of God Almighty. The people were commanded to keep this fire burning at all times. The offering of daily incense was to be burned in censers using ONLY the coals taken from this particular fire, and no other. Leviticus 16:12-13 commands that Aaron (the High Priest) "shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony."

Thus, Nadab and Abihu presented an offering before the Lord that only the High Priest was commanded and authorized to make, and they presented this offering in a location (the Holy of Holies) where only the High Priest was authorized to enter!! They used coals taken from a source other than the one specified by direct command from the Lord, and they did so because they were drunk! Saxe and Jensen cite this as "no light offense," but rather as an action that constituted "flagrant disobedience and presumption" (Studies in Leviticus). These two sons of Aaron were in direct violation of several specific commands of the Lord God Himself. This was not a case of transgressing "silence." This was a case of doing the exact opposite of what God had commanded them to do. It was not silence that was violated, it was specificity. They replaced, negated, and invalidated what God had specified. This was not a case of using something as an aid or accompaniment in their obedience to what was specified. This was a case of voiding what was specified by substituting something else in its place. This is a vital distinction that the proponents of the so-called "law of silence" seem incapable of comprehending. The sin of Nadab and Ahihu was a willful, malicious, irreverent replacement of what God specified with something they themselves chose instead. They violated direct commands of deity, rather than violating His silence.

Jesus and Hebrews 7:14

The reader from Georgia parades before our wondering eyes -- Oh, how they adore this passage -- Hebrews 7:14. "For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests." Well, there you have it, folks. Moses "spoke nothing" -- the "law of silence." Since Moses said nothing about priests coming from Judah, therefore and thereby any person from Judah was excluded from being a priest. Silence prohibits. It's as clear as day!! What these people can't seem to grasp is that it is not silence that prohibits, but rather specificity. Men from Judah weren't prohibited from serving as priests simply because Moses said nothing about it, they were prohibited because GOD SAID that only those from the tribe of Levi would be chosen to serve as priests. Thus, it is the specificity of God that is prohibitive here, NOT the silence of Moses. Why these people can't comprehend this simple principle of logic is puzzling. Yet, some will write, "The Jews clearly understood that the silence regarding Judah and all the other tribes was prohibitive." No, my friend, that's not what they understood. They understood that God had specified that those from Levi only would serve. "Silence" has nothing to do with it. One man declared as much by saying, "The old, Mosaic Law was not silent about who was to serve as priests, but was silent about any other Israelite tribe serving in that capacity." The Law was NOT silent? Hmmm. He also wrote, "No other tribe except Levi had the authority to serve as priests and every Jew understood this." As he stated, God "was not silent" (his own words). Thus, God had spoken; God had specified. So what is the perceived basis of authority here? Yup!! You guessed it. What God didn't say, NOT what He did declare. Completely logical, right?! Frankly, this is one of the most ridiculous, ludicrous hermeneutical tools ever cooked up by mortal man, and people ought to be utterly embarrassed to even admit they embrace it. A mere child can grasp the illogic of it, and yet these patternists apparently can not. Again, it's puzzling.

Why is it so critical that the prohibitive nature of this "law of silence" be established in the minds of men? Because it is THE argument employed by the traditionalists to "prove" that God disapproves of instrumental accompaniment to singing in a corporate worship setting. Take away this argument, and these people have nothing by which to declare their personal preference to be the "will of God." Almost every time you see a patternist drag out this law of silence you will soon discover that the sole purpose is to condemn instruments. It's all they have! It is an act of desperation. They can't relinquish this "law," for to do so would leave them powerless to condemn all the "denominations" for their "innovations." They would be forced to admit that the preferences and perceptions of others were just as legitimate as their own, which would spell "defeat" in their minds, rather than opening doors to greater fellowship with God's other children. Guy Orbison wrote, "We continue to hear the old argument from some who want to use instruments of music in our worship assemblies that 'The Bible does not specifically forbid our using instruments, so we have the right to use them.' It is true that the Bible does not specifically forbid our using instruments. Yet, the use of instruments falls within that category about which God has said nothing." Hmmm. Well, so do church buildings, multiple single-sip serving "cups" of Welch's unfermented grape juice in a tray, Sunday School, VBS, four part harmony, song books ... shall I go on?! If, in fact, silence is prohibitive, as these people claim, then they are certainly not consistent in the application of this principle. "Well, that only applies to certain things about which the Bible is silent." Oh, really? Which ones? "Well, uhhhhh, the ones WE say it applies to." In other words, if they do something about which the Bible is silent, that is okay. But, if someone else does something about which the Bible is silent, and this happens to be something they don't do, then it is SIN.


My friend and brother from Georgia closed his email to me by stating that he simply wanted "authority" for all he did within the assembly, "as per Col. 3:17. 'In the name of' is a phrase that must mean something." Yes, brother, it does ... but not what you think it does!! I have dealt with this fallacy in great depth in Reflections #325 -- An Attitude of Gratitude: A Reflective Study of Colossians 3:17. I would plead with this dear brother to carefully consider what this passage actually teaches ... and what it doesn't. As for his question on "potato chips and Coke for the Lord's Supper," I have dealt with this previously in several in-depth studies, all of which may be accessed on my Topical Index Internet site under the heading "Lord's Supper." I have also dealt extensively with it in my new book One Bread, One Body (I still have a good supply on hand, and will sell signed copies at a price greatly reduced from what the publisher and book stores are asking; plus, I pay all shipping costs -- what a deal).

As some may have already guessed, the reader from Georgia, to whom I refer above, is Bro. J. D. Tant, who serves as the preacher for the Roswell Church of Christ in Roswell, Georgia. Brother J. D. Tant is a few years my senior, I believe, and he is a member of a very well-known family in Non-Institutional Churches of Christ. His father was the late Yater Tant, who passed away on March 3, 1997. Brother J. D. (which stands for Jefferson David) wrote a glowing tribute to his father --- Yater Tant: A Man for His Season --- which you really need to read. Although I've never met Bro. Tant, he and I have corresponded for a number of years. He has long been a subscriber to my Reflections, and he will periodically comment on my articles. At times he will express appreciation for something I have written, and at other times he will take exception to my teachings. But, he has always done so with love and tenderness and respect. I appreciate him far more than he probably knows, and regard him as nothing less than my precious brother-in-Christ. Do we differ on some doctrines and practices? Yes, we do. However, as I have often said --- you do not have to be my twin in order to be my brother!! David and I have "locked horns" on the issue of "silence" before, and you may read about this exchange in Reflections #401 -- You're A Good Little Dogma: Passing Along to Future Generations the Dreary Dogmatisms of the Past. It is my fervent hope and prayer that David will receive my current thoughts in the same spirit with which they are given: in deep love and respect for a dear brother with whom I happen to differ on a matter that I believe has divided the One Body far too long. May God bless us both in our journey toward greater understanding and application of His Word.

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

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One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in England:

Dear Brother Al, I was Googling for inspirational material on the OT account of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21) and I was referred to your Reflections article on this topic [Issue #303 -- The Bronze Serpent: The Curse/Cure Paradox], which was everything I had hoped for, and which also has encouraged me so much in the faith. I just wanted to say thank you for your faithful ministry. If you are still producing these Reflections, would you please add me to the mailing list?! Every blessing to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.

From a New Reader in Georgia:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections. I did a search on Google for Demas and the 2 Timothy 4:10 passage, and your discourse on this verse (Reflections #229) was a real blessing to me! Thanks!

From a Pastor in Mexico:

Brother Al, I've been following your Reflections for a while since I discovered them on the Internet by accident. This "accident" has turned into a blessing for me!! This is the first time I write to you. I am Pastor of a small congregation that I started eight months ago with seven other people. We are now 43 people. I have to be honest with you -- I do not agree on everything you write, but as you say: "You don't have to be my twin to be my brother." Thank you for sharing your knowledge with so many Christians. To your credit, I have changed some views I used to have, and this is due to your teaching! God be with you and your family.

From a Leader at New Wineskins Magazine:

Brother Al, Thanks for your continued willingness to expose fallacies in thinking and wrong-headed, wrong-hearted willfulness within the Family of God.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Al, "It Never Entered My Mind" was a very good piece! Legalistic traditions often stand in obvious contrast to the Word, when the latter is read in its proper context.

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother Al, There were some great and inspiring letters from your readers in your last Reflections. Thank you for sharing those with us. They made my day! Carry on, brother!!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, Thank you so much for exposing the ridiculousness of the legalists' use of the book of Jeremiah to further their bizarre doctrine with regard to the "law of silence." What enrages me (yes, enrages me) most of all is that these individuals actually have the gall to compare playing instrumental music in the worship of our Lord and Master to sacrificing children to Molech!! How such insanity "entered their minds" is absolutely beyond me!! May the Lord continue to give you wisdom, courage, energy and insight.

From David Brown in Texas:
[Editor & Publisher of "Contending for the Faith" magazine. The following are
excerpts from two emails he sent to several of his supporters dated Sept. 11. He
graciously sent copies to me for my edification]

"Allah Al" is one of the terrorists dealing with the Lord's church in the same way those who attacked the US nine years ago did. "Allah Al" is a vicious wolf, but not one in sheep's clothing. He wears his "wolf suit" for all the other wolves to see, for as the old rock-and-roll song declares, "He's the leader of the pack!" It is a sad thing, but it will take "Allah Al's" death before he realizes his sad, deplorable and terrible spiritual state. He is as blind as a coyote with both eyes punched out -- his heart being hardened even as was Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and for the same reason. Without the "Allah Als," life would be a bit dull, but with him we're ever reminded that we cannot become weary in well-doing, but we must continue to comply fully with all of God's Will, especially that verse hated so much by "Allah Al" and his flea-bitten pack -- Jude 3. One great thing that "Allah Al" has proven, continues to prove, and, no doubt, will ever prove, is that he serves God very well as a good strong laxative for the Lord's Body. Poor "Allah Al" continues to think that Noah and his family drowned in the flood and that the wicked, disobedient folks of Noah's day built a multiplicity of diverse boats, ships, rafts, etc., and came out on the other side of the deluge safe and sound. He is of his father the devil, and his goal is to make merchandise of the brethren. He thinks he can march into heaven no matter how disobedient to God he is, as his flock cheers "Allahu Al Akbar." He has reached that stage in his apostasy where he cannot cease from sin. There is not much "Allah Al" won't do or say, or leave undone or unsaid, if it will bring more proselytes into his flock. He will continue to glory in his shame, for that is all he can do, and all he has left to him in this life.

From Dub McClish in Texas:
[A leader in the "Contending for the Faith" faction, who
wrote the following in response to David Brown's tirade]

David, Upon reflection on your incisive note below, I suggest a new moniker for our apostate brother: "Ex-Lax Al." Perhaps "Ex-Lax Al" has been taking lessons from Mr. Obama -- or vice versa. He may have even ascended the heady heights of megalomania.

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