The Silence of Scripture or Freedom in Christ?

The motto was “speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent.”  Its has a long history in my church tradition.  It became a rule for interpreting the New Testament which was viewed as though it was a legislative law establishing a once-for-all fixed pattern for the way the church was to worship and be organized. I don’t know about you but I find it a bit ironic that this motto–which can be found no where in scripture and yet calls for silence where the Bible is silent–has held such sway over the way the Bible was read.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Christians who believed this motto was biblical, did so because of their love for God.  But the truth is, this motto and the form of legalism it created has helped effect much division and that for a movement which began in pursuit of unity among all Christians.  Instrumental music in worship, Bible schools, multiple communion cups, orphan homes, paid/located preachers, and so on…

All of these issues have been the catalyst for division in churches and among Christians.  In each case, the opposing side claimed that those supporting ________ had no biblical authority to do so because ________ was found nowhere in the New Testament.  All because of a motto that became a rule.

So given the fact that this motto cannot be found in scripture, where should we place it?  Among human traditions?  I’m afraid so and it’s time to call it what it is, a “…deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this word rather than on Christ” (cf. Col 2.8).*  And indeed it is since it has been this motto more so than Christ which has determined the way Christians served God.

Here is a video of Rick Atchley, Preaching Minister of The Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX demonstrating the fallacy of this motto and the hermeneutic of silence it instructs:

My intention with this post is not to be unnecessarily critical but to stand up for freedom in Christ!  “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle!  Do not taste!  Do not touch!’?” (Col 2.20-21).


* All scripture is taken from the New International Version, 2011.

18 responses to “The Silence of Scripture or Freedom in Christ?

  1. CoC Doctrine Rex

    I’ve seen a lot of slick preachers in my day, and this is one of them. Although, I do believe that he believes what he is preaching, and it appears obvious that you also believe and teach what he is preaching, These guys have been building their rhetoric and thinking over years; and it saddens me to see how quickly people jump onto it, and are so entertained and amused by this slick presentation; which utilizes some truths, but is mainly filled with holes, half truths, foolishness and nonsense.

    let me conclude with this thought: What would you say to the first century Christians in heaven? Would you tell them that they had it all wrong?

    Grace and Peace,

    Donald D. Cole, NJ

    • Don,

      I’ve edited your comment (my blog, my prerogative).

      Have you actually gave consideration that some, including myself, have read books and listened to preacher/teachers making arguments that will refute what you believe here to be error and have come to the conclusion that such views are wrong? It is rather funny to hear you make an accusation of someone using smooth rhetoric…just what do you think the motto “speak where the Bible speaks…” is? It’s rhetoric too and there’s nothing wrong with it, as no person can communicate without it.

      In answer to your question “What would you say to the first century Christians in heaven? Would you tell them that they had it all wrong?”

      Of course not. What I am saying is that some of the views we have been taught to believe about and regarding the first century Christians are wrong.

      Grace and Peace,


  2. …one must go back one step further; where is sola Scriptura in Scripture?

    • No worries, though I believe in the primacy of scripture, I’m not a defender of ‘Sola Scriptura’ since I believe most Protestants utilize tradition, reason, and experience as well (whether they are aware of it or know it as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral or not). But…I’m not a defender of ‘Sola Fama’ (tradition alone) either.

      Grace and Peace,


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  5. Rex, thanks for bringing this video to my attention. I’ve often used “building ownership” to discuss how we get around silence when we want to.

    • But “building ownership” falls under that exception clause to the rule called “expedient” (which is another case of something not mentioned in scripture). Just goes to show how subjective the objective rule really is.

      • Right. When someone uses that objection, which is usually something like, “Well, we’re commanded to meet, and we need somewhere to meet, so…,” I point out again that we have no command or example to own property. Likewise, we’re commanded to sing–but we’re not commanded to sing four part harmony (which could be viewed by some as entertainment), nor do we have commands or examples for song leaders or even congregational singing. It’s really hard getting people to see these inconsistencies.

  6. Rex, It is interesting to note that what you edited out was a logical and fair and honest debate. I would think that if you were going to edit out something, it would be what you chose to leave in. What you deleted was the respectful commentary. Why are you reluctant to show the other side to your commentary? p.s. I have to type this in the dark, black letters against a black background. And even then, you are probably goibg to delete it anyway.

    Grace and Peace,

    Donald Cole

    • Don, what I deleted was for two reasons. First, I was trying to retain the heart of your actual disagreement and your one question but eliminate some of the length which simply was just a rehearsal of arguments that I, for sure, and many other readers on this blog have heard before. Second, the last part of your comment regarding Rick Atchley struck me as having an accusatory tone which neither helps nor is necessary. So that is why I edited.

      Grace and Peace,


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  8. I’ve used this saying myself, but not to justify any errant Bible teaching, but rather to combat it when dealing with people who have a very legalistic, rigid view of scripture.

  9. The one thing I would take issue is with is Pastor Atchley’s saying there are no liberals in their movement as if all liberals view opposite of the church. That’s just not true.

  10. If one were to investigate the root of liberalism seriously, I think they would find that much of what we today call ‘conservatives’ are little more than ardent liberals. It is a liberal idea to vanquish tradition and the voices of those who have gone before us in a vain effort to achieve our modern notion of freedom and autonomy, and all under the guise of possessing objective unvarnished truth.

    That said, Rex, I find myself with one foot in both camps here. While I agree with Atchley and find what he is saying amusing, his message still leaves us where he started: both sides pick and choose. It still seems to me like we need a better hermeneutic to apply what the bible does say to our world today. Without a reasonable rule to follow I think we will just continue to gravitate toward what we already believe to be true. Some will think instruments are bad and then work out a rationale to back up their beliefs; others will be okay with instruments and likewise work out reasons to justify their claims. Both sides will garner teachers to scratch their itching ears.

    It seems like it is not much a matter have having the wrong answers as it is asking the wrong questions. I think perhaps the best place to start in reorienting our thought is here: (old but good)

  11. History will show, and is showing that the binding of silence as a mandate of prohibition has never caused true unity, only division. This is a form of legalism that, until repented of, will continue to divide God’s flock. An argument from silence is never an argument that has any merit because it is void of evidence from Scripture, and this leaves room for only arbitrary traditions and conclusions from men.

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