Early in the history of the Restoration movement, Thomas Campbell coined the plea, "Let us speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." This commitment to the authority of the Bible has been a unique strength of the Lord's church. Wise men of the past have stated that if the time ever came when we surrender this commitment and became unconcerned about speaking as the oracles of God, from that time onward it would make little difference what we speak, or whether we speak at all.
It pains me to realize that many have lost sight of (or perhaps never understood) this Biblical principle of respecting not only the spoken will of God but also His silence. In the past, churches of Christ were known as "people of the Book" who listened to and obeyed what they read in God's word. This is a noble and good quality which must never be abandoned. It is this unwillingness to compromise the proper place of Scriptures that has distinguished churches of Christ from the churches of the world.
So, what does this "Restoration motto" mean? What does it mean to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent? The answer is not as simple as it may appear at first. Although Campbell may have been the first to articulate the motto in this form in 1809, its essence existed long before he did. However, he was the first to apply it not just against Roman Catholic traditions but against Protestant creeds and confessions also. There are four primary interpretations of this motto which I will begin elaborating on at this time.
VIEW #1: We speak where the Bible speaks and do not protest [are silent] where the Bible is silent.
Those who support this view are often those who shake their finger and misapply passages like Matthew 7:1 ("Judge not, that you be not judged") so that it conflicts with other verses like John 7:24 ("judge with righteous judgment"). Friends, this view is simply not correct. There are doctrines and behaviors concerning which the Bible is silent against which we should and must protest. We will prove such to be the case this week.
VIEW #2: We speak where the Bible speaks and neither affirm nor deny [are silent] where the Bible is silent.
Those who advocate this view would be likely to make a statement like this: "Unless there is clear New Testament teaching, we cannot insist that people do certain things, nor can we insist that they not do certain things. If we affirm or deny, we would be speaking where the Bible is silent." Although this view has its supporters, I do not believe it harmonizes with Scripture. We will expose its flaws in our coming lessons.
We will consider the remaining two views in our next lesson.