Expediency and Biblical Authority — David W. Hester

In the process of ascertaining biblical authority, one must be careful to recognize the area of expediency. The definition of the word is “the quality or state of being suited to the end in view.” As pertains to biblical matters, this is simply indicating those things which “expedite” or “speed up” a thing which is to be done. G. K. Wallace was a powerful gospel preacher and debater; he also served for many years of his life at Freed-Hardeman as a Bible teacher and administrator. His words concerning expediency are relevant: “God has commanded certain acts but these acts may be expedited. Paul says: ‘All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient” (1 Cor. 10:23). Before a thing can be expedient it must first be lawful. We could not expedite an act that is not commanded. If the act is commanded then we can expedite it” (G. K. Wallace’s Lectures on Denominational Dogmas, 155). An expedient, then, is that which is in harmony with the Scriptures—selected by the elders of a local congregation in carrying out any obligation of the church.

That being said, there is no expediency where there is no obligation. Just because someone calls a thing an “expedient” does not necessarily make it so. There must be scriptural authority for the thing which is being done. For example, John 4:24 gives the Lord’s instruction concerning worship. “God is spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” God is the object of our worship; we must worship him in the right attitude (in spirit), and from the proper standard (truth—God’s Word, Jn. 17:17). That which we do in worship must be according to the Scriptures. The music we are to make is vocal—not instrumental. That which expedites the carrying out of singing in worship (song books, PowerPoint, song leader) is according to faith, since the thing being done is scripturally authorized.

Instrumental music, on the other hand, is not authorized in Christian worship according to Scripture; thus, anything done to expedite that practice is not according to faith. It would be “expedient” in the secular world to provide a seat for someone to play an instrument in a public setting (like a concert); it would also be “expedient” to provide a stand to place lyrics, or a PA system to amplify the instrument being played. However, instrumental music is not authorized for use in the worship of the church. Thus, anything done to speed up the process of using it is not according to faith.

Wallace makes a relevant point: “The difficulty with the world is that when they come together to worship they say, ‘We will perform any act that we please. If the act suits us, we will do it.’ But, mark it, we have ordinances of divine service and God has ordained each and every act in which we engage to express the reverence that is in our hearts. Thus we are limited to the acts that God has authorized” (Wallace, 155). To put it another way: anything which is not authorized in Scripture, but used regardless, is an addition.

Expediency applies in many areas of the work of the church. Just think of some of the things which are done which fall under this area: church buildings, song books, PowerPoint, baptisteries, teaching individual Bible classes, song leaders, individual communion cups on the Lord’s Table, contribution baskets, P.A. systems, and the invitation song.

These are just a few of the items that are expedient, but not obligatory. These things listed expedite the carrying out of obligated matters. The Lord has left many things to our judgment. The elders of the local congregation oversee the work and decide what is expedient in effectively doing what must be done.

In illustrating the principle of expediency, Wallace goes on to highlight the five items of worship authorized in the New Testament—teaching, praying, giving, eating the Lord’s Supper, and singing. He then gives examples of certain expedients which help the carrying out of those actions. “God bound teaching and he loosed the method…I may write or I may speak…God bound the teaching but he loosed the grouping. God did not write a line about how to group people…God commanded us to ‘give.’…But regardless of how you take the collection the manner of taking it is an expedient…God bound the act of praying. He loosed the posture…God bound the Lord’s Supper. God bound the cup…God did not bind the container…God said, ‘sing.’…The pitch is implied and how to get it is an expedient” (Wallace, 156-67).

Knowing how to differentiate between matters of expediency and matters of obligation is critical. It is not as difficult as some would have us believe. When one is clear on what is obligated in the New Testament, it is easier to expedite those things. We cannot expedite that which is not authorized. Consider the “mourner’s bench.” This is used, as Wallace points out, to “try and pray around the Great Commission…They will just pray, pray, pray and pray until they think they have prayed around being baptized…But it still says, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,’ and you cannot use prayer to pray around the Great Commission” (Wallace, 157). Franklin Graham currently has a series of commercials running nationwide in which he encourages the viewer to pray a prayer in order to get saved, and then call a toll-free number for more assistance. The commercial and the phone number are ways to hurry up the process; however, the thing he is promoting is without scriptural authority.

Several years ago, I preached at a congregation in central Alabama where we had a television program that aired locally. I preached on that program, and regularly promoted our gospel meetings. What I did (preaching) was the obligated thing; the way in which it was done (via television) was expedient, as were our gospel meetings. When I promoted those meetings, I would always mention the fact that we would have an evening meal before each service—and I would invite everyone to come and stay for the worship service and preaching. The meals in the building were expedient. Yet, one sister disagreed. She attended an anti congregation in the area, and had watched our program. She called me and proceeded to “rip into me” for having a kitchen in the building. “Where does it say ‘thou shalt have a kitchen in the building?’” I immediately replied, “Right after the verse that says, ‘Thou shalt have a restroom in the building.’” She said, “You’re just being silly.” I said, “No, ma’am; I’m being dead serious. When you find the verse that says, ‘Thou shalt have a bathroom in the building,’ I’ll find the verse that says, ‘Thou shalt have a kitchen in the building.’” She then informed me that a restroom in the building was necessary. I immediately said, “Oh, it’s necessary. Can you find me the passage?” She then hung up the phone! Fifteen minutes later, she called again, repeating her earlier charge (to which I gave the same response), and then hung up on me again. She obviously did not make the right distinction between matters of obligation and matters of expediency.

Our brethren need to be properly educated on these matters. Far too many congregations across the country are being divided because of a lack of knowledge on how to make proper distinctions. Instrumental music is being used at congregations where once it never would have been considered. Women are teaching publicly over men and in some cases, preaching and serving as elders. These radical departures are the direct result of lack of teaching over many years. The longer those changes are practiced, the more widespread they become. It is high time for Gospel preachers to make a stand—firmly, but lovingly—on the truth and speak out against these innovations.

I teach a class every year at Faulkner University on Biblical Interpretation. It never ceases to amaze me how many young people have little or no understanding on the fundamentals of interpretation. It has been my experience that when they are taught these things, they “get it.” Patience must be the order of the day. Let us determine that we will ensure for generations to come an adherence to God’s way of doing things.

David is Associate Professor of New Testament at Faulkner University.

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