“SILENCE OF THE SCRIPTURES:” A SHOPWORN MYTH

This article was originally written by W. Carl Ketcherside in 1983.

One thing which protects most of our myths within the restoration movement is the inborn and irrational fear of what would happen to us if we surrendered them. So we conceal them beneath a camouflage fabric which may, in the end, prove more harmful to us than the myth. Let me provide you a good example related to the shopworn myth about “the authority of silence.”

When anyone questions it he is immediately bombarded with all of the things which will happen to us if it is repealed. Irresponsible individuals will introduce burning of incense, sprinkling of holy water, and phylacteries. G. K. Wallace once described a man coming to the assembly with a sheep draped over his shoulder to offer as a sacrifice. This was his method of combating the use of instrumental music in public praise. It is time to pose a few queries.

I have very serious doubts that all of the dire things predicted would be brought forward in “the restoration movement.” If they were it would be as the result of ignorance of our relationship to God under the new covenant. How are we to deal 8F562A14-08A0-4F2C-ABE5-E5F5B21B92F7with such ignorance? We realize that only voluntary ignorance is a sin. Involuntary ignorance never is. What is the remedy for ignorance? Is it the devising and imposing of pseudo-sacred laws such as “the authority of silence?” Is it not rather instruction in the way of the Lord more perfectly?

But suppose those who trust in such things refuse to be taught? We have done all we can do if we instruct them according to the revealed will. Learning is a slow process and requires much patience. I think it is this which motivates us to formulate creeds and to legislate rules. They circumvent the need to teach by drawing an arbitrary line of fellowship. We can then hibernate with those who agree with our opinions and are subject to our spiritual whims.

The early saints were bothered with such problems as eating of meats and keeping of certain days. It is interesting to remember that not once did the apostle Paul pull “the law of silence” upon them. The fact is that never once in the sacred scripture is this law, which has become so much a part of our vocabulary, ever mentioned. If it was one of the laws of God it was never invoked by one of his spokesmen. Circumcision was introduced and was one of the most divisive threats ever faced by the church of God. Paul dealt with it very simply by pointing out that “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” That would settle most of our divisive problems if we quoted it and believed in it.

The imposition of creeds has been the bane of the Christian faith. These simplistic approaches to communion of the saints are intended to cut through the red-tape and specify the will of God. Inevitably they have been divisive as men have refused to bend the knee or genuflect before them. The so-called “Authority of silence” is such a creed, dreamed up by a clerical caste and saddled upon the people of God. One of its chief sins is that it interposes itself between a man and his Lord. It subtly separates us from Jesus Christ. Instead of repairing to Him to learn the infinite truth He came to reveal, it forces us to study the distillations of “great men” among us to secure the formulae by which to understand what the Perfect Teacher instructs us to believe.

The truth of heaven is eternal and boundless. Who could think of shutting it up in the few lines of an abstract creed, or confining it in a handful of propositions sifted out of the beautiful whole? As well might one try to bottle the rain which falls from the firmament, or can the snow which descends from the clouds. It would be like trying to capture the free winds which blow across the universe and separate them into properly labeled parcels. The faith of God cannot be reduced to a system by the finite minds of puny men. It cannot be defined and measured out as if it were a product of human manufacture. “The wind bloweth where it listeth.”

Men seek to protect themselves from the thoughts of other men. They devise restricting ideas and pass them off as the will of God. By claiming the authority of heaven for their statements they seek to bend other free souls into conformity with their methods. But words are only rude hints of a Christian’s mind. “Out of your bellies shall flow living water.” And the rushing torrent cannot be confined or dammed by any generation. “The waters will overflow the hiding place, the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies.” Instead of trying to control men by passing laws we should teach them to associate as free men under Jesus.

Recently, in correspondence with a brother, eminent within his sect, and highly regarded by thousands as a respected teacher, I asked him for a scripture which taught “the authority of silence.” He cited only one. It was Hebrews 7:14. “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.” I have thought about this arbitrary usage a great deal. Why did this man, who holds many meetings and professes to be a teacher of the unlearned resort to this passage. I am forced to the conclusion that it was merely because the words “spake nothing” occurred in it. He ignored the remote context and purpose of the entire letter, and the proximate context of the chapter, and his eye fell on the expression “spake nothing.” Out of this thin filament he spun the tenuous thread that has disturbed saints, divided the church and destroyed unity.

We ought to be ashamed to live and afraid to die. We twist the scriptures to our own destruction. And we do it to uphold the traditions of our fathers who were often good but ignorant men living on the frontier. Was Christ not a priest under the law merely because Moses spake nothing of the tribe of Judah? Was it not rather because God said to Aaron, “You and your sons shall keep your priest’s office . . . and you shall serve . . . I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift” (Numbers 18:7). Was it not because God had spoken rather than because of what he had not said, as Uzziah learned to his shame and his subsequent death? And was it not because God had designed a greater priesthood for Jesus than that of the tribe of Levi?

What would happen if we were to repeal “the law of silence” which we have settled as a pall upon the churches? For your information, a lot of places have already done so. They have not said they were doing so, for seldom do we admit that we have been wrong. It causes us to lose face. But there is a conspiracy of silence about “the law of silence.” No more are there labored and tortuous sermons on it. People are becoming free. Occasionally, an imported preacher who comes in to “hold a gospel meeting” unwittingly gets on the theme and belabors it. But he is flogging a dead horse. And he finds an apathetic response. The hearers have outgrown him in their thinking. While I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, I’d like to predict a lessening of tensions as time moves on. Lord, hasten the day!

This is what happens when succeeding generations outgrow preceding ones. It is impossible to remain shackled to the past. The nerveless fingers on the skeletal hands of our fathers reaching from the sepulcher must relinquish their grip upon us. We escape from the ghosts of the past and are better for having done so. It is not enough to justify a thing to thinking men and women, by saying, “We have always done it this way.” Time gives no sanction to error. We do not sanction wrong by repetition. John F. Kennedy said to the United Nations General Assembly, on Sept. 25, 1961: “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” We can never have the unity for which our Lord prayed by conformity.

There comes the moment when a still small voice must be raised in questioning. I think that moment has come.

It was Thoreau who wrote: “No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.”