Friday, July 06, 2007

Vice and Virtue

How much of what passes for virtue is simply lack of appetite for vice?


Alden said...

Franklin, that's positively profound. A lack of appetite could, of course, result from being completely fulfilled in our relationship with God, but also could simply be a lack of interest in life itself.

Again, profound.

Franklin Mason said...

I have wondered about this for many years. We condemn alcoholics; we tell them to quit. But I doubt that we know just how strong the pull of drink is to them; and I suspect that if, at this moment, we were to experience the same desire as do they, we would surely drink. And yet we congratulate ourselves on our sobriety. It may be a sobriety with little merit.

Dane Parker said...


I wanted to comment specifically on your post re: the CoC’s stance on musical instruments. I too have grown up in a Church of Christ and, like you, after questioning the “silence argument” can no longer accept it as valid doctrine.

I have found that there are at least a few ways of disproving the doctrine. You have focused specifically on showing the Church of Christ to be inconsistent with it. This works well since if everything must be authorized (either explicitly or through necessary inference) then anything and everything that is not authorized in such a manner and used in the assembly must be considered prohibited. But then, whence pitch pipes, or as you mentioned cushioned pews, or the countless other items the Church of Christ employs?

The tactic that I’ve also found quite effective is to simply take members of the CoC back to the precedent laid out in the Bible and show them that, contra their assertions, every example given in the Bible where someone violates a prohibition or is penalized by God is punished because he, she, or they violated a command. And of course, commands are not silence and therefore such examples cannot be used to prop up the notion that silence itself is prohibitive. Thus the question to ask them is, Where does the Bible give an example where someone is punished because they violated prohibitive silence?

The all-important point here for them to recognize is the distinction between prohibitions by silence verses prohibitions by command. For instance, the Church of Christ often tries to make the following parallels: (1) Just as it would have been wrong for Noah to use another wood that God was silent about other than the gopher wood commanded, we cannot use musical instruments (which God is silent about) in addition to singing. (2) Although Uzzah’s intentions were noble, God was silent about the way he handled the ark and he died as a result; therefore silence is prohibitive. Or, (3) Hebrews says that the Moses “spoke nothing” about a priesthood from Judah, which tells us that silence is prohibitive.

However all three examples fail because all involve a command of God, not his silence. Namely, in terms of (1) any wood other than gopher wood would not by definition have been gopher wood, which would obviously be a failure to fulfill God’s command. (2) fails to recognize that regardless of how Uzzah handled the ark, in good or bad faith, he still touched the ark (!) which violated an explicit command. (3) is virtually the same thing as (1), in that when God through Moses specified that the Levites “of all the Israelites” were to be the priests, then to be of any other tribe would by definition prohibit you from taking part in the priesthood! Thus it’s only by the logical preclusion inherent in the Mosiac command -- not silence -- that gives the phrase “Moses spoke nothing” its force.

When I point this out in my correspondences with my Church of Christ friends, they all (thus far) have responded only with silence. After all, if the Bible tells us that God only prohibits something when he tells us (logically or otherwise) that its prohibited, then clearly it is adding commands to Scripture when you start prohibiting things that God has not; an ironic fact for the CoC member! :o)

Anyway, sorry to be so long winded! It’s late, and I hope my post made sense!

Best regards.
Dane Parker

Franklin Mason said...

Thanks for the comment, Dane. I think that what you say is sensible. I concur.

I would understand if the cofC were to council caution about the introduction of practices not explicitly endorsed in Scripture. But when it sets us silence as a negative command - a command not to do - then as you say, I think they've made a deep mistake.

The question will then arise: if silence on x is not a command not to do x, how are we to decide whether x is permissible if Scripture is silent about it. Here we must trust the Spirit and its work in the Christian community; I do not think it possible that, when the whole of the Church, or the greater part of it, comes to agree about a certain matter after long deliberation, that it could be wrong. To suppose otherwise is to suppose that we've been abandoned by the Spirit.

This, I take it, is the view of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Consent of the church after long deliberation guarantees truth. A strong claim, I know; but I don't know how we can get around it.