Proposition 5: Where the Bible is SilentNovember 9, 2005
Thomas Campbell’s fifth proposition states:
That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can any thing more be required of christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.
This proposition addresses how Campbell felt we should handle the silence of the scriptures.
1) If the scriptures are silent about precisely how to perform some command or ordinance, no mortal has the authority to legislate the missing specifics and bind them upon anyone.
2) No mortal has authority to create new commands or ordinances which are not specified in scripture.
3) Nothing outside the New Testament may be introduced into the faith or worship of the church
4) Nothing outside the New Testament may be made a term of communion among Christians
Items 1), 2), and 4) are fairly non-controversial at face value. Item 3) hints at a class of practices that have divided thousands of congregations. Examples of items that have been introduced into worship which are nowhere mentioned in the New Testament include pianos, organs, and the like; individual communion cups; incense; statues and images; creeds; and probably many other things. The results upon Christian unity have been catastrophic.
There are a couple of ways one could view this. One might consider that these situations prove the wisdom of Campbell’s proposition. If the non-biblical items had not been introduced, the churches might still be together. Or, one might point to these situations as proof that the proposition was fatally flawed. By saying we may not introduce anything new into worship, perhaps we paint those who do so as heretics–in effect, setting up a man-made rule which is destined to lead to division. But introducing such a rule actually would be in conflict with item 4) since it makes the “introduce nothing new” rule a term of communion among Christians.
Often Mark 7:1-13 is used as a proof text for the “introduce nothing new” rule. However, if the new things being introduced are not “rules” (ie not mandated, but introduced as discretionary) does Mark 7 apply? Is there any other passage that would support “introduce nothing new” in a discretionary matter? Does the New Testament truly teach that we may not introduce anything new into the worship service? I wonder.
The entire series: Comments on the Thirteen Propositions of Thomas Campbell