SILENCE CAN BE SINFUL

 

The apostle Peter was concerned that Christians could not or would not defend their beliefs about Christ and about Christian living. He knew Christians in every age would encounter opposition in their devotion to the cause of Christ. He urged them: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). I must ask each of us: "Do we have the knowledge and the courage to tell our friends, neighbors and family members why we believe the Bible to be the word of almighty God, what people must do to become members of the New Testament church and our reasons for supporting the moral values the scriptures teach? Can we give a Bible answer for the kind of government the church must have and the worship God demands in the Christian era.

 

Edmund Burke served in Great Britain's parliament from 1765 until his death in 1797. The World Book Encyclopedia (Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1966) says "Burke never hesitated to speak his mind on the major issues of his time" (volume 2, p. 593). Bill Bright and John N. Damoose's book, Red Sky in the Morning (Orlando: New Life Publications, 1998), quotes Burke as saying, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" (p. 220). Burke's brilliant and appropriate observation has provided great inspiration to men and women to change our world for the better. Over and over, Burke's words appear in volumes dealing with a Christian's obligation to oppose evil of all kinds, including gambling, beverage alcohol, sexual immorality and pornography.

 

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.'s book, Beyond Doubt: Faith-Building on Questions Christians Ask (GrandRapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Comnpany, 2002), discusses at some length the impact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had on our nation. He quotes these powerful word from one of Dr. King's speeches: "I fear the silence of the churches more that the shouts of angry multitudes." Dr. Plantinga offers the following prayer: "0 Lord our God, we confess the cowardice that has so often silenced us in the face of evil." He prayed that we might be bold in declaring God's justice in all the reaches of our lives (p. 167).

 

The apostle Paul wrote of the great abuse he had experienced as a gospel preacher. "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair: persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." Such opposition from God's enemies would have silenced many professed Christians of Paul's generation and no doubt does silence many in our day. But only death could keep Paul from preaching what he believed. He explains: "But having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore I have spoken; we also believe, and therefore we speak" (2 Cor. 4:8-9, 13). Paul was addressing his responsibility to preach Christ Jesus the Lord as the Savior of the world, but his words apply to every phase of our lives, including our obligation to discuss all spiritual and moral issues. If we believe abortion, pornography, homosexuality, gambling, using beverage alcohol and other drugs are contrary to the will of God, can we remain silent without bringing the curses of God on our heads?

 

In 2002, the International Gospel Hour published my book, Silence Can Be Sinful. My book has done very well for the Gospel Hour. In fact, we have just republished it a few weeks ago. My book has chapters on abortion, hate groups in America, civil disobedience, gambling, psychic detectives, destructive businesses and homosexuality. If the Lord allows me to live long enough, I plan to publish four more books on the same topic. I am convinced, as I emphasized in my book, that failure to speak out against evil—all evil—is sinful. I agree with someone who wisely observed: "Silence can be golden, but sometimes it is just plain yellow."

 

Several months ago, I received a letter regarding my book, Silence Can Be Sinful.  My correspondent's letter begins: "I want to say that I enjoyed your book, Silence Can Be Sinful, but one thing I would like to clear up. In your first chapter, you said that 'Christians may also sin by being silent. Are you saying that a Christian is 'anti' because they are silent all the time? Well, I want you to know that that is not true. Please know that I am not mad or anything like it, but silence is part of God's word.'" I am grateful for the letter. I shall make myself as clear as I am able.

 

I know that "silence is part of God's word"—a truth I have preached for more than sixty years. I have time to give you just one example. The Mosaic covenant required that priests come from the tribe of Levi. But since the Old Testament did not say, "You shall not select priests from Simeon or Judah or Benjamin," what could possibly be wrong with choosing priests from those tribes? After all, according to Korah, Dathan and Abiram, men from the tribe of Reuben were just as holy as men from Levi (Lev. 16:1-3). Those three rebels must have reasoned like many modern theologians: "Since God was silent on whether priests could come from tribes other than Levi, it must have been all right to have them from other tribes.” Does the silence of the Old Testament concerning the other tribes mean that God opposed having priests from Reuben or Judah or Benjamin?

 

The author of Hebrews discusses the principle of silence I am discussing with you. He argues very plainly: "For the priesthood being changed, it is made of necessity a change in the law also. For he of whom these things are spoken pertains to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar" (Heb. 7:12-13). The "he of whom these things were spoken" was Jesus Christ. Does the author of Hebrews mean that Christ could not have been a priest under the Jewish covenant because he came from the wrong tribe? If you have any doubt about that, the inspired author of Hebrews should settle that doubt forever. Please listen carefully. "For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah: of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning the priesthood" (Heb. 7:14). Since Moses said nothing about priests' coming from the tribe of Judah, what could possibly be wrong with having priests from that tribe? Is the author of Hebrews arguing that we must respect the silence of the scriptures? In other words, if God does not authorize an act of worship, we have no scriptural right to practice it. That is the reason faithful churches of Christ do not use mechanical instruments of music in the worship of the church. That is also the reason we do not observe the sabbath and engage in the burning of incense and such like. There is absolutely no scriptural authority for these practices.

 

But is God so picky that he will not approve of such insignificant activities? What lesson did God intend to teach by including in the Old Testament the story of Nadab and Abihu? These two men were the sons of the Aaron, the older brother of Moses, and the very first high priest in Israel. Moses accused them of offering strange fire on the altar. And what was "strange fire?" The King James Version identifies "strange fire" as fire that the Lord commanded not (Lev. 10:1). The English Standard Version calls it "unauthorized fire." But surely the Lord would not punish Nadab and Abihu for offering "unauthorized fire," that is, fire concerning which the Lord was silent, or would he? Moses explains what occurred: "And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:2). Failure to honor the silence of the scriptures is a serious offense against God, as the story of Nadab and Abihu teaches.

 

I have been preaching and lecturing for many years on the topic, "Silence Can Be Sinful." But I am not alone in speaking on that and similar topics. In 2001 Tom Minnery, vice president of Public Policy for Focus on the Family, wrote a book with the title, Why You Can't Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.). Ken Connor and John Revell wrote an excellent book with the title, Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty (Nashville: Ginosko Publishing Co., 2004).   One brief paragraph from this book gives insight into what the authors are trying to accomplish. "When God's people know His basic moral standards for civil government, and when they have the legal opportunity to influence their civil leaders accordingly, and when they fail to do so (resulting in rampant civil sin), they themselves sin" (p. 40). Rod Parsley's book, Silent No More: Bringing Moral Clarity to America... While Freedom Still Rings (Lake Mary, FL: 2005), quotes Elie Wiesel, the famous holocaust survivor, as saying, "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation." He also quotes Winston Churchill as affirming: "When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber" (p. xiii). I mention these three books to show that I am not too far out in left field. Silence in the face of great evil is cowardice.

 

In a number of books I have read since the publication of my book, I have taken special note of other authors' concerns about the silence of good people. I shall mention some of those books and what they say about the sinfulness of silence. Vivien Spitz, the youngest court reporter at the Nuremburg trials in Germany, has recently published a book with the title, Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans (Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications, 2005). In the dedication of the book, Spitz observes: "In genocides there are perpetrators. There are victims. There are silent bystanders." She asks, "What is the culpability of the silent bystander who is indifferent to evil" (p. 6)? She quotes Mr. Justice Robert H. Jackson as saying, "The wrong which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated" (p. 293).

Elwood McQuaid's book, Persecuted: Exposing the Growing Intolerance Toward Christianity (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), writes of the terrible persecution professed Christians suffer in the Sudan. He explains that the Sudan "stands as a primary horror story of the persecution of Christians." Yet, according to McQuaid, "relatively little has been said about it in the media or political circles." He asks, "Why are Christians, and in particular American evangelicals, silent, indifferent, or uninformed regarding this devastating scourge on fellow believers" (p.68)? McQuaid has an entire chapter devoted to the question, "But why the silence?" He asks, "While the blood of the saints is wetting the earth on so many fronts the world over, why the deafening silence coming from both camps" (p. 123)? By the expression, "both camps," McQuaid means the older generation and the younger generation.

 

Dick Morris, a well-known political consultant and an analyst for Fox New Channel, has written a number of books on political and social themes. One of his books, Off With Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business (New York: Regan Books, 2003), expresses great concern about the political and social situation in our nation. He quotes David Clennon, star of the CBS series The Agency as affirming, "The moral climate within the ruling class in this country is not that different from the moral climate within the ruling class of Hitler's Germany" (p. 136). Dick Morris asks, "Why don't the viewers of The Agency deluge CBS with protests and force this man who doesn't know the difference between Bush and Hitler off the air? Why do they remain silent and let him get away with this kind of outrageous comparison" (p. 138)?

 

In the Introduction to my book, Silence Can Be Sinful, I list and discuss briefly some of the excuses Americans give for not speaking out against the evils that are destroying so many lives. I shall list those excuses and examine each one. It is not unusual for someone to argue: "I would speak out on abortion, gambling, pornography, beverage alcohol and homosexuality if I just knew what to say." Jane Chastain, America's first woman sports broadcaster, has written an excellent book with the title, I'd Speak Out on the Issues: If I Only Knew What to Say (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1987). Chastain furnishes a number of valuable suggestions regarding every Christian's responsibility to be informed and to use our voices in making a difference in our world. Following are some of the chapter headings in her book: "Do I Dare Get Involved?", "How Do I Get Started?", "Can One Person Make a Difference?" Unless we make an effort to oppose evil and to support good, our nation will continue to deteriorate morally and spiritually. God will hold us accountable for failure to speak for God and against Satan.

 

There really is no excuse for not knowing what is occurring in our world. For example, if you want to speak out against gambling, numerous good books exposing the stupidity of gambling are readily available. Larry Braidfoot has a law degree and a Ph.D. in Christian ethics. He has testified before congressional committees in several states that were thinking of legalizing gambling. His book, Gambling: A Deadly Game (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985), is one of the very best on that topic I have ever found. Norman Geisler with Thomas A. Howe published an excellent book with the title, Gambling: A Bad Bet (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990). Ignorance is not an excuse for not speaking out on evil.

 

Tragically, there are people and there always have been who just do not care enough to use their time and talent to oppose the destructive practices that prevail in our nation. Isaiah, the eighth century B. C. prophet in Israel, describes some of the conditions that prevailed among the Israelites about 150 years before the Babylonian exile. "Woe unto them who rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the work of his hands.... Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them who are mighty to drink wine: who justify the wicked for reward; and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him" (Isa. 5:11-12, 21-23)!

 

Were the Israelites not concerned about the moral situation in Israel? God commanded Isaiah: "Now go, write it before them in a tablet, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever; that this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord: who say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things (or pleasant things), prophesy unto us deceits (or illusions): get out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One in Israel to cease from before us" (Isa. 30:8-11). Has not the prophet Isaiah well described the so-called "positive thinkers" of our day?

 

One the chief reasons many in our day—including some who call themselves "Christians"—remain silent is because they are thoroughly confused about right and wrong. Did you know, for example, that the majority of Americans do not believe there are any absolutes? If there are no absolutes, then nobody has absolute authority to condemn any kind of behavior. The ethical confusion in some modern churches— including some left-leaning churches of Christ—reminds us of the tragic conditions in Isaiah's day (about 750 years before our Lord was born). Isaiah wrote: "Woe unto them who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet" (Isa. 5:20)!

 

Moral turpitude prevents some in our day from speaking out against modern sins. There are millions of Americans who are not going to speak out against ungodly and destructive behavior because they are addicted to pornography or to beverage alcohol or to sexual immorality. When men and women engage in immoral activities—either for pleasure or for profit—they seldom, if ever, join in crusades to curb those activities. Do not Christians sin when they remain silent on immorality?

 

Finally, some Christians and other moral people are silent because they are afraid. When Elijah vigorously condemned the behavior of Ahab and Jezebel, is it possible the great prophet was afraid? We have no way of knowing since the Bible does not tell us. But it would be remarkable if Elijah did not experience some fear. He knew Ahab and Jezebel hated him enough to kill him. But regardless of any fear he may have had, he did not hesitate to reveal to them God's word. And what about the prophet John the Baptist? He told Herod that he had no right to have his brother Philip's wife (Mt. 14:3-4). His uncompromising preaching cost John his life.

 

I make no claims for having always preached what I should have preached and the way I should have preached it. I know I have made many blunders. For that I have sought forgiveness. But I have worked to prepare myself to preach what I honestly believe I should preach. I strive to preach the whole counsel of God because I know God demands it. I also know that churches are not going to be faithful if they do not know and obey the truth. I take seriously Paul's admonition to Timothy: "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). I want to go to heaven when I die and I want to take you with me.

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

 

Back to Home Page

Back to Transcripts Titles