Can convenience overrule Scripture?

by Michael E. Brooks

“But he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?'” (Mark 2:25-27).

My wife Brenda has expanded her menu and cooking technique over the last several years of travel in South Asia. In order for us to eat some of our favorite foods here she has had to learn innovative ways of cooking with propane gas (we have always had electric stoves in the U.S.) and without an oven.

This trip she has begun to make biscuits and has even baked a cake. She puts a heavy iron pan over the gas burner to distribute the heat, then a covered skillet on top of that to cook on both sides and brown the top, “Dutch oven” style. The results have been delicious.

Improvisation is a useful talent. When one doesn’t have all that is needed, it is essential to make do with what one does have. There is often “more than one way to skin a cat” and those who can use their imagination can often find a way to do the apparently impossible.

There are areas even in Christianity where God allows us to improvise. Naaman the Syrian wanted to worship the God who healed his leprosy, but could not regularly visit Israel for that purpose. He took two mules load of dirt from Israel back to Syria so he could be reminded of God’s presence (2 Kings 5:15-17).  This apparently was approved by the prophet Elisha.

Jesus cites the incident of David’s eating the showbread, to which he was not entitled, because it was the only food available.  In this instance we are not told whether God actually approved of David’s action. The point Jesus made is that the Pharisees accepted what David did but were quick to condemn others who did similar things. The Pharisees’ hypocrisy is the focus of Mark’s account, along with Jesus’ authority to authorize what man cannot.

And that is an essential point. It is one thing for inspired men, or Jesus himself, to make exceptions to God’s laws. It is quite something else for us today to improvise without authorization. Some things cannot be changed.  Some commands do not permit exception.

Some time ago a man was talking with me about an incident on the mission field. A congregation was meeting on Thursdays because of customs and schedules in their area. The question was, “Can they observe the Lord’s Supper during those meetings?” I was asked my opinion on the matter. My response was, “First I would make absolutely sure that meeting on the First Day of the Week is impossible. Only then would I consider doing something differently than we read about in Scripture.”

Note that even then I did not commit to improvising, but simply stated that until such was absolutely required I would not even consider it.  As long as I can do what is taught in Scripture there is no possibility of doing anything else.

David and Jesus made adjustments in their practice from necessity, and were perhaps guided by inspiration and, in Jesus’ case, his own divine authority. We may be able to justify some improvisations on the basis of necessity. But not just for our convenience, nor for our desire to do something different.  As Peter wrote, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).

2 thoughts on “Can convenience overrule Scripture?

  1. The only way that it would be impossible to serve the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week would be if there were no first day of the week.

    And the only way to follow Scripture and serve the Lord’s Supper on Thursday would be if Thursday was the first day of the week.

    I’m not sure I understand how “customs and schedules” would prevent disciples of the Lord from following the Master and meeting when He says to eat the Lord’s Supper. There are 24 hours (1440 minutes) in the first day of the week and they are all prevented from gathering for 10 minutes or less to fulfill the Lord’s instruction to remember His death. The only other practice they would need to do would be to take up a collection on the first day of the week. They would not need to sing songs, they would not need to preach a lesson, they would not need to pray (except to bless the bread and fruit of the vine). It is hard for me to believe that they could not follow this instruction.

    Allowing a change in the Lord’s instruction here, without His approval, is the type of reasoning that leads people to sprinkle instead of immerse. Or to add instruments (can’t carry a tune in a bucket) rather than sing. Or to have choirs (let the pros do it) rather than speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

  2. I hope I never have to meet this delemma! Meeting twice each week would not be a problem,but it seems that taking communion would have to be on the 1st day of the week. Of course, that requires meeting.

    The churches of Christ have always interpreted the scriptures to mean by example to meet and have communion on Sunday, the first day of the week. God did not say NOT to do these on another day of the week, but He did not say, “Don’t use machanical instruments,” in worship me either.

    A congregation that alters what commanded or a set example is grave danger of changing other things, also. It just gets to be so easy.

    Prayers for your dilemma.

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