When we left off yesterday, that movement that was based around the simple idea that “where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent” had grown to be the second largest Christian group in America by the middle of the 19th century… and then the War came…
There were rumblings of distant drums in the years leading up to 1861. How should Christians view the institution of slavery? Not surprisingly, the answer to that question often depended on whether you happened to be in the North or in South. When the shooting started, so did the shouting. Many Christians in the South became alarmed and outraged when their brethren in North started coming together to denounce slavery and secession, and by the time the War finally ended tensions ran pretty high.
As the years continued, so did divisions. It seemed that there were two things that really caused problems in churches. First was the fact that old grudges over the war and the associated emotions were difficult to ignore, and second was the fact that the victorious North began an economic boom, while the vanquished South struggled in deprivation and poverty, with its infrastructure and economy in ashes. In the North, things began to change in churches. There were new ways to worship with new styles of music that hadn’t been available in prior years. There was more money for things like schools and missionary groups. In the South, people struggled to eat; new music styles and giving for schools and missions wasn’t even on their radar screens.
In time, that peculiar concept; “where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent we are silent” began to be seen in a different light in the South. The Bible doesn’t say a single word about missions groups and musical style… at least the New Testament doesn’t. If the New Testament doesn’t say you can change musical styles, and if it doesn’t say that you can establish a missionary group other than a local church sending out its own missionary, then the Bible doesn’t approve of the practice, and since the Bible doesn’t approve it, that means the Bible is silent, and if we are silent when the Bible is silent, then it must be prohibited because the Bible is silent on the subject!
As a result of this thinking, by the turn of the 20th century, our friend’s unity statement had been turned into a division statement in those regions that had been ravaged by the war. Yes, that’s right. “Where the Bible is silent we are silent” now meant to many that “silence” meant making a whole bunch of noise about prohibitions, with the inevitable result being that the unity movement was fractured, shrinking nd beginning to dwindle in numbers. Many claimed that the movement that had begun as a unity movement had been reduced to strict legalism…
That fracture continues to this day.
You might be wondering by now why I am telling you this story…
Things like this have happened n many church groups; things like this continue to happen. I approach Theology with the presupposition that where the Bible speaks I speak and where the Bible is silent, I am silent, and I take this to be a presupposition that allows for freedom and not restriction. Yes, my background is in what remains of this idea. I understand how it became corrupted, and try to avoid falling into this same trap myself, as it has occurred to me that we can learn from the mistakes of the past. No, this is not to say that I am any more enlightened than anybody else, but it is to say that we can move more in the direction of following Jesus Christ as a unified Body of Christ than we have in the past. I see it as a hopeful notion, rather than a misguided one, or as an impossible dream of the idealist. I hope others will think about it, too.
Here’s the key as I see it: Can we, as followers of Jesus Christ, resist the temptation to demand that others see every detail just as we do and follow Him in unity?
I hope that many might think about this question, and leave their thoughts so that we may engage in a general discussion around the virtual “kitchen table” so that something good might come out of a lesson that is “based on a true story.”