Wednesday, May 13, 2015

HERMENEUTICS: AN EXPEDIENT VERSUS AN ADDITION TO GOD'S WORD



"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." (Revelation 22:18,19)
The warning issued in the Revelation letter against adding or taking from God's Word is echoed throughout the Bible. This is why the conscientious student of the Bible understands the challenge to shun the opinions and traditions of men. But is there a logical method of interpreting the Bible to ensure that we speak and teach only the truth? With so much doctrinal confusion, one might think it impossible to not mix in error with the truth. But more to the point of this lesson, is there a way to determine whether a practice is necessary to expedite God's command or unnecessary? Please follow the chart and see how this is possible.

There is a difference between an expedient and an addition to God's Word. The Bible warns not to take away or add to it; to do so is a sin. However, the Bible also gives commands (to assemble) without giving every detail on how to accomplish the command. These unspecified "details" are called expedients because they help to expedite the command. How does the follower of God know the difference between an addition and a necessary expedient? This has been a problem for many people.

The debate between those who justify instruments in worship and those who do not. Seeking to justify their use, some people counter that non-instrumental churches use song books for which there is no Biblical example. The fallacy is like comparing apples to oranges. An addition sets aside God's command by replacing it with another. An expedient fulfills the command without doing harm to the command. A capella churches are not being inonsistent. The graphical illustration should clarify the issue and help to better clarify the debate.

FOLLOWING THE CHART.
1. In the center of the diagram is the general command to worship. From John 4:23,24 are two items of a general nature that guide Christians in all things pertaining to worship; it must be done "in spirit and truth." If God said nothing else in the N.T. about worship, then the possibilities for worship would be the skies the limit. However, "spirit and truth" worship is just the beginning of His instruction. If God specifically states what is acceptable, then nothing can be offered to Him beyond what He has specified in the New Testament.

2. Going outward from the center of the diagram are the five specific items of worship that are found in the N.T.: singing, praying, giving, partaking of the Lord's Supper, and teaching Scripture. Beyond these five, there is nothin else to be found. But what if I wanted to introduce dancing into the worship? Would that be an addition or an expedient? The general command to worship "in truth" hinders adding new forms of worship. No animal sacrifices are allowed. No dancing. No banging a gong or cymbal. No lighting of candles or burning incense. None of these things are a means of expediting the five items. A prayer does not need incense. A lyric does not need a piano. A reverent assembly does not require a dog and pony show. So as much an instrumental music apologist might rationalize, these additions are modern inventions unknown in Scripture. But what of the song book? Surely the song book is a modern invention too not known until the printing age. But the command from God is to sing and only the songs of a specific nature that are truthful and edifying. The song book is a means of expediting the command in order that all of the church may quickly follow along and expedite the command. The song book does not add any element of worship.

3. From the diagram and connected to the five specific items of worship, the New Testament gives some details (in the gray boxes) or particulars showing how they are done. This guidance comes in the form of specific commands, approved examples, or necessary inferences. For the Lord's Supper, the church follows the example of the New Testament. There is no command, example, or otherwise for remembering it daily, monthly, yearly, or never. God said to partake of the Lord's Supper and in Acts 20 is the example where the church assembled for the purpose of "breaking bread". The doubter quickly sees what he thinks is an weakness positing that the church was assembling to eat lunch. But most people know that Christians had homes to eat in and meals were enjoyed every day, not just the first day of the week.

4. Connected to these are the "expedients" (in the thick black boxes) - not addressed in Scripture, but they are arguably necessary if the command is to be fulfilled. If I drive or walk to church, God doesn't care how I get there as long as I get there. God says to assemble and because the church met in whatever location was available, where the church assembles doesn't matter to God. Therefore, renting or buying a building is not adding to God's Word. A building is an expedient because it aids the Church in fulfilling the command to assemble. The song book is an expedient that helps the Church fulfill the command to sing.

5. Additions (in the pink boxes) are unnecessary to fulfill the God's commands. They are presumptuous and they open the door to other unscriptural practices. Because vocal singing-which is commanded in the New Testament-requires no accompaniment, a musical instrument is not an expedient; instead, it is the addition of an unauthorized form of music. Singing can be done anytime without the accompaniment of musical instruments. It is sophistry and human desire that justifies additions to God's Word.

6. When these principles are followed, the Christian can be confident that God is pleased with what he is doing. Of course, all of these things must also be done in the right spirit. We must worship God in spirit and truth.

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For more on this subject, the Christian Courier web-site has an excellent article: 'Aid' or 'Addition': What is the Difference?

2 comments:

  1. Hi Dan, I tried to come up with a devil's advocate position but the chart makes too much sense. I could have made one up, but only someone who was being dishonest with themselves could have picked an argument. You mention singing, specifically, as an example in your blog. Since that is such a particularly divisive and popular issue, I will pick an argument with you although not about song books or pitch pipes. What is the efinition of singing? Is making a joyful noise for the purpose of worship, such as humming, not singing?

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  2. Thanks for commenting. The word used in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 for "singing" means "lyrical emotion" according to Robertson's Word Pictures. To sing is to include words (lyrics) that teach and edify. Humming or whisltling may seem harmless, but these things can never be more than feel-good noise. The command means to make something more than noise. Noise may appeal to the flesh, but words appeal to the soul. God's wants "everything" to be "done for edification."
    God bless you.

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