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Will The Real Legalist Please Stand Up!

It is a familiar, oft repeated scenario: Someone suggests that something is wrong because it is unwise or unauthorized or within the silence of God, and immediately a charge is leveled that the person is being a bigoted, judgmental, legalist—binding where God has not bound. I think something important is missing in this line of thinking.

A lot has already been said by others about not binding the ideas and traditions of men. It's a needed, but not new, warning (Matt. 15:9). A lot has already been said by others about our need to obey the revealed will of God in all aspects. It's also a needed, but not new, warning (2 Thess. 1:8).

One of the greatest struggles in balancing these two not mutually exclusive Biblical concepts is in the area of silence or uncertainty. Some silence or uncertainty may be due to an individual's ignorance of the Scriptures. He or she just hasn't found it in the text or understood it yet. In some cases, Scripture gives us some information but not enough to know something for certain or reach a reasonable conclusion. And there are times when there simply isn't anything in Scripture about a subject. So, when we aren't sure from Scripture (due to silence, vagueness, or ignorance), what must we do?

Begin by remembering that silence isn't always silence. We rarely have what I'll call "silent silence" in Scripture. For example, crack cocaine isn't mentioned at all in the Bible, but the Bible isn't silent on self-control and sober mindedness, principles which recreational use of crack threatens and violates. We are often told that the Bible is silent concerning church buildings, however the New Testament's information concerning church assemblies necessarily implies a place—meaning that there isn't "silent silence" concerning church buildings (places for assembling). Other examples can be given, but I think you see the point. "Silent silence" only occurs in Scripture when there is no authority for or information about a matter from which we can make applications, draw conclusions, learn wisdom, etc.

Of course, sometimes "silent silence" does exist in Scripture. Moses' provided some age-lasting advice for such situations in Numbers 9:8. Moses was asked what those should do who were prevented from keeping the Passover. Lacking revelation on this, Moses replied, "Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you." Is not this the response throughout Scripture concerning "silent silence"? Is not this the very purpose of Scripture?

Now look at this a different way. What is someone really saying when they insist on an answer for, "Where does it say it is wrong?" or "Where does it say not to?" or "Where is it totally forbidden?" Are they not saying they will only accept something as wrong if a law specifically says it is wrong? Must there be a legal system to spell out everything not to do? Must there be a specific commandment forbidding a thing before it should be avoided? These people demand laws, legal systems, and commandments. "I will only be controlled or stopped by laws, legal systems, and commandments." Who is the real "legalist" when it comes to God's silence?