When God Is Silent

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Those reading this article will likely agree that we should do what God says in his word. When God has given a commandment, those who love God will obey (I John 5:3). But how should we interpret God’s silence? In cases in which God has given no instruction, do we have the authority to engage in those practices?

This question is vital because, sometimes, good, sincere people will ask, “Where does the Bible say we are ‘not’ to do this?” Usually, such statements are made when someone wants to add something to worship for which there is no biblical instruction. Since there are cases in which God has been silent, some believe that God’s silence is to be viewed as authority for adding anything to worship or religious practice that is not forbidden.

However, it would be good if we would consider the following examples: When God told Noah to build the ark of “gopher wood,” did God then have to specify all the types of wood that Noah was “not” to utilize in building the ark—oak, hickory, pine, etc.? No, when God specified “gopher wood,” Noah knew that all other wood was not to be used (cf. Genesis 6:22). When God told the Israelites to offer a lamb for the Passover sacrifice, did he then have to specify all the animals that the Israelites were not to use (Exodus 12:5)? When God specified that priests were to come from the tribe of “Levi,” did God then need to specifically exclude all other tribes (Numbers 8:9-15)? No, the people understood that when God said “Levi,” this would naturally exclude all other possibilities.

Now, if we can understand this principle that is so clear from the Old Testament, I am certain that we can understand the following modern-day applications: When God says that we are to “sing” in worship, is there any need for God to state, specifically, that singing and playing an instrument is not authorized by the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19)? No, the command to “sing” authorizes singing, not singing and playing an instrument. When God says that we are to pray to him through Jesus, does God have to specifically exclude praying through Mary (John 14:13)? When God says that those who are to be baptized must be individuals who “believe” and “repent,” is there any need to specifically condemn infant baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38)? No, infants cannot believe or repent and do not need baptism. When God states that baptism is an immersion in water, does he then need to specifically exclude sprinkling and pouring (Colossians 2:12)?

All of these examples establish that God’s silence does not authorize us to add whatever we want to worship or religious practice. Rather, God’s silence prohibits. Let us resolve that we will “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.”

Mark Lindley
Ripley, MS

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