CHANGES IN WORSHIP (Part 3: Matters of Expediency)

In discussions on biblical authority as mentioned in last week’s article, matters of expediency inevitably surface. Why? When a member of the church tells someone that their instruments are not mentioned in the Bible, and therefore, such instruments should be banned because there is no biblical authority for them, several respond with the observation that microphones are not mentioned in the scripture, songs leaders are not mentioned in scripture, nor song books, or PowerPoint, but the churches of Christ use them. Why object to instruments just because they are not mentioned in scriptures when the churches clearly use other objects not explicitly mentioned in scripture? The member of the church could rightly say that such objects fall under matters of expediency, but an individual that has no study or background in matters of expediency would simply see the churches of Christ as picking and choosing when something isn’t biblical per their convenience. Understanding the difference between something being unbiblical versus a matter of expediency becomes the turning point in the deliberations.

Paul wrote in his letter to Corinth, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). Paul had numerous liberties as a Christian. However, he would not use all of his “lawful” liberties if it meant that they would hurt the edification and growth of the church, so all things might have been lawful for Paul but not all things were “expedient.”

Expedient means “Literally, hastening; urging forward. Hence, tending to promote the object proposed; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances” (Webster). In Paul’s illustration from chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians, he could have eaten meats offered to idols, but the consumption would not promote, hasten, or expedite the growth of the church because it was offensive to many of the members. Christian teachers have the right to eat meat, buy goods from venders who may support ungodly behavior, but if the church takes a grave offense to such buying or eating, then the Christian teacher should abstain. People in general refuse to learn or open up to people that offend them. God requires His servants to be gentle and considerate of their brethren’s weak conscience for this reason (Rom. 14:1-23).

In the context of authority, an act or tool is considered a matter of expediency when there is a command, but there is no consistent example or defined details in the Bible as to how the command is to be performed or completed (read that again, just so it sinks deep). Items or tools of expediency would include song leaders, song books, or song projectors to help the congregation sing in unison that they might lift up “their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24). Another matter of expediency would be a plane or a car to aid Christians in evangelism that they might “go” and “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). While God does not directly command the use of these tools, He likewise, gives no specific command in HOW to sing “with one accord” or “go” and “teach all nations,” so God allows liberties in this area that Christians might expediate the command. When a general command is given, everything embraced within that general command is authorized (unless a specific thing is expressly prohibited). When a command is specific, only that which is specified is authorized. Everything else is automatically excluded. Such a principle is otherwise known as the law of exclusion. If something is not automatically excluded by a specific command, then it falls under a matter of expediency.

It cannot be a matter of expediency if (1) the tools or actions offend the brethren’s conscience, (2) violates a command of God, (3) adds or takes away from the doctrine or five acts of worship, (4) if the tool or act distracts people from the purpose of the original directive, or (5) if the first-century Christians consistently obeyed a command in all the same way, which provides authority by implication. If all Christians followed a command in the same way to the same end, then Christians today must follow the example in like manner without adding or taking away from the example.

Denominationalists today have attempted to change worship with instruments in singing, choirs, praise teams, or dramatic skits and justify the changes in worship by claiming they are matters of expediency. Many claim instruments in the song service help the members enjoy it better or stay focused longer. However, instruments in worship and the like are not to be held in the same regard as song books, microphones, or song projectors. Why? There are no consistent examples in scripture or detailed commands in how Christians are to sing “with one accord” (Acts 4:24). To the contrary, there are detailed commands as to how Christians are to sing and where they are to put the melody.

Recall Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Likewise, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Christians must sing “with one accord” as mentioned earlier, they must sing “to the Lord,” they must sing “teaching and admonishing,” they must sing “with grace in your hearts,” and they must sing with the “melody in your heart,” which implies a metaphorical melody “in the heart” not a literal melody on an instrument. One cannot make literal melody with an instrument “in the heart.” The heart is to be the instrument of the Christian in psalms of worship. To use instruments as a matter of expediency would be to violate parallel commands of God, which means that instruments in worship cannot be a matter of expediency. Simply, the New Testament provides Christians with the general command to make music and then a specific command is given to a particular instrument, the heart, which would exclude all other instruments. Man-made instruments are not a matter of expediency.

While the difference between something being unbiblical and something being a matter of expediency will take some thought and study to fully comprehend. The study certainly opens one’s eyes to so many misconceptions of hypocrisy. What initially appears to be hypocrisy on the surface, may not be hypocrisy when one studies the context.  

Leave a Comment