by Heath Rogers
In the previous article, we discussed the difference between general and specific authority. When God specifies something, everything else is automatically excluded. However, when God gives us a general command, we are free to choose how to fulfill that command. This is where the study of expediency must be applied.
Expediency is something that we use to help us carry out God’s commands. The word expedient is defined as something “characterized by suitability, practicality, and efficiency in achieving a particular end: fit, proper, or advantageous under the circumstances.” God gives us general commands to assemble, worship by singing, partake of the Lord’s Supper, teach the gospel, baptize believers, help needy saints, etc. The things we use to help us carry out these commands are authorized as expedients.
People have sought to justify a multitude of unauthorized things as expedients in the practice of religion. For some, the good that is done authorizes their use and there is no need to consider the matter any further. However, God has not given us a blank check with “expediency” written on it. General authority does not mean “do whatever you want.” General commands must be fulfilled within the boundaries set forth in God’s word. There are rules to using something as an expedient.
It must be lawful
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (I Corinthians 6:12, KJV). The matter of authority must be settled before expediency can be considered. We can’t go beyond what is written in Scripture (I Corinthians 4:6; II John 9-11).
The Lord commands us to baptize believers for the remission of their sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). The use of a baptistry helps us to lawfully fulfill this command. Substituting sprinkling for immersion may be convenient, but it completely changes the action of baptism (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12) and is an unlawful practice, not an expedient.
It can’t be specified
Expediency involves the right of choice within what God has authorized. When God has specified there is no choice.
God told Noah to build an ark. He was free to use whatever tools he had available, but he was not free to choose the materials. God specified gopher wood, which excluded any other kind of wood (Genesis 6:14).
God has specified vocal singing in our worship (I Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Hymnals and pitch pipes can be used to help us carry out the command to sing. Using instrumental accompaniment completely changes the type of music that is being offered to God. A piano or organ can’t be used as an expedient because God has specified singing.
It must edify
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (I Corinthians 10:23, KJV). To edify means to strengthen or build up. We are not allowed to do anything that will tear down and destroy one another’s faith.
Peace and unity in the local church are important and must be maintained (Ephesians 4:1-6), but never at the expense of God’s will. When God has given a specific command, it must be obeyed, regardless of what brethren think. However, when God has given a general command, we are free to choose how to best fulfill that command, but we are not free to choose ways that will threaten or destroy the unity of the local church.
It can’t offend the conscience of a brother
“Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (I Corinthians 10:32, KJV; see also Romans 14:13-23). This is a rule that governs the exercise of our personal liberties, but it also applies to congregational use of expediency. A method or practice becomes unlawful when it causes a weak brother to violate his conscience and believe he has sinned.
Matters regarding specific authority are easy to understand. The choices granted with general authority can pose problems. There are rules to follow in properly fulfilling God’s commands. Sin and division in the body of Christ occur when unlawful practices are justified as expedients. It is important that we understand how to employ expediencies in lawfully carrying out matters in general authority.