Silence is Consent
The Silence of the Scriptures doctrine is not entirely unique to the Campbell Church of Christ, but it is one doctrine that clearly defies logic. This doctrine teaches that everything that is not explicitly requested in the Bible is forbidden. As well, all explicit requests in the Old Testament are annulled by the New Testament. In essence, this doctrine teaches that if the New Testament says neither Yes or No, the answer is No.
This doctrine is primarily in regards to the prohibition of musical instruments in worship, but also prohibits missionary societies, and church support of other institution, such as orphanages, retirement homes, and colleges. Throughout the Campbell Church of Christ, the prohibition of musical instruments in worship is largely followed; however, adherence to the other prohibitions varies a great deal.
The large adherence to the prohibition of musical instruments in worship is odd since the New Testament is not silent on this topic. Ephesians 5:19 says, "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," and Colossians 3:16 says, "as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Both of these verses specifically request psalms. The original definition of the word psalm is the striking or plucking of fingers on a stringed instrument. Eventually the definition evolved to singing to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, and later, to the accompaniment of other instruments. Ephesians 5:19, and Colossians 3:16 specifically request the use of musical instruments in worship; however, they also request "hymns and spiritual songs," so if Silence of the Scriptures was a true Christian doctrine, singing a cappella would also be acceptable.
In addition to ignoring the specific request for musical instruments in worship, the slogan that accompanies this doctrine contradicts the actions of this doctrine. The slogan that accompanies the Silence of the Scriptures doctrine is, "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent." Yet, the Campbell Church of Christ is not "silent where the Bible is silent." Where the "Bible is silent" the Campbell Church of Christ speaks by saying "No!" A more correct slogan would be: We speak where the Bible speaks and speak again where the Bible is silent by saying "No!"
The very idea of interpreting silence as condemnation is illogical, and is actually contrary to the precedence set in many legal systems. The overwhelming precedence is that silence can only be interpreted as consent. The phrase that is used is, "Qui tacet consentire videtur (He who is silent is understood to consent)."
One of the most famous, and unusual, cases is Sr. Thomas More's silence concerning the heresy of the Act of Supremacy by King Henry VIII of England. Everyone knew that Sr. Thomas did not agree with the Act of Supremacy, but by carefully remaining silent, he was not convicted of treason until his opponents resorted to perjury. Legally, St. Thomas More's silence could only be interpreted as consent, even though it was obvious that his silence was only hiding his condemnation. It is an unquestionable fact that silence can only be interpreted as consent.
There are two types of biblical passages that Campbell Church of Christ members use to support their interpretation of silence as condemnation. First, they take passages were God is not silent and claim that He is silent. The other type concerns God's displeasure with someone's motives, which the Campbell Church of Christ interprets as displeasure with the action resulting from these motives. With each passage used by the Campbell Church of Christ to support the interpretation of silence as condemnation, God is either not silence, or is displeased with ill motives.
The following are some examples of such passages:
In Genesis 4:3-5, Cain and Abel brought offerings to God. God was pleased with Abel's offering "of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions," but God was displeased with Cain's "offering of the fruit of the ground." The Campbell Church of Christ teaches that although God did not say not to offer the fruit of the ground, His silence did not permit it, which is why He was displeased. However, God was not only silent concerning an offering of plant life, but was also silent concerning an offering of animal life. In both cases God was silent; therefore, according to Campbell Church of Christ reasoning, God forbid both offerings. This is not true, and God did accept Abel's offering of animal life, even though He was silent concerning such an offering.
A correct interpretation of Genesis 4:3-5 does not concern itself with the nature of the two offerings, but the motive behind the two offerings. Abel's offering was from the firstlings of his flock and the fat portions. This means that Abel was offering the best parts to God, and indicates that Abel's offering was full of care and thought. In contrast, Cain's offering was only some of his produce, which means he did not take the time to give the best of his produce to God. It was not the nature of Cain's offering that displeased God, but the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the offering.
The Campbell Church of Christ teaches that God did not tell Noah not to use cedar, pine, oak, or any other kind of wood to build the ark, but His silence did not permit it. In reality, God was not silent. In Genesis 6:14, God specifically commands Noah to use gopher wood. If Noah used any other type of wood, he would be disobeying God's specific command. God was not silent concerning what type of wood Noah was to build the ark out of.
In Genesis 11:1-9, God confused the language of the people and scattered them. The Campbell Church of Christ teaches that God did this because His silence did not authorise the people to build a tower to Heaven. Truthfully, God was not concerned with the actual tower, but the egotistical and arrogant motives of the people, which would lead them away from God.
God devoured Nadab and Abihu with fire because they offered unholy fire before Him in Leviticus 10:1-3. The Campbell Church of Christ teaches that although God did not say not to offer unholy fire, His silence did not authorise it. However, God was again not silent in this case. In Exodus 30:9, God said, "You shall offer no unholy incense thereon."
The Campbell Church of Christ teaches that, in Numbers 20:7-13, God did not say Moses should not strike the rock twice, but His silence did not authorise it. The striking of the rock is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Moses did not "tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water," as God had commanded him. Moses was not punished for striking the rock, but because of his lack of faith in God.
In addition to these examples, Campbell Church of Christ members cite many other passages that they believe supports their interpretation of silence as condemnation, but are merely misinterpretations of Scripture, and a departure from logic. True silence can only be interpreted as consent, and to truly remain silent means to pass neither consent nor condemnation.
All Scripture quotations are from: The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition of the New Testament. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1965