3 Reasons You Must Understand Expedients

Wes  —  September 27, 2012
  • Sumo

One of the most important, but least understood, principles for determining God’s will is that of “expedients.” I believe one of the greatest causes for disagreement, division, and debate in the church is a misunderstanding of the expedient principle. Here is my simplified definition of, and three reasons you must understand, expedients.

First, what is an expedient? Simply put, as it applies to Scripture, an expedient is a method or a tool used to obey God’s instructions. When generic instructions are given, an expedient must be employed to obey the instructions.

Here is an analogy to help everyone better understand. If the only instructions a father gives to his son are, “Bake me a cake.” There are elements of that instruction that are completely generic. For instance, nothing was said about what kind of cake should be baked, what sort of ingredients ought to be used, what utensils should be used for the batter’s preparation, or where the cake should be baked. In order to properly fulfill the instructions, several expedients must be employed.

We must understand that expedients are discretionary, necessary, and authorized.

  • Expedients are discretionary because it is up to us, as Christians, to determine (within the confines of Scripture) what the best tools and methods are for fulfilling God’s instructions.
  • Expedients are necessary because a true generic instruction cannot be fulfilled without the use of an expedient.
  • Expedients are authorized because they are necessarily implied in generic instructions. If the instructions themselves came from someone with authority, like God, the expedients needed to fulfill them are authorized.

Here are a few examples from Scripture of generic instructions and possible expedients used to fulfill those commands.

  • “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) – How shall we go? Expedients: a car, a bus, a plane, a horse, a camel, etc.
  • “not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:25) – Where shall we meet? Expedients: a house, a building, under a tree, etc.
  • “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16) – How shall the congregation know the words to the songs? Expedients: song books, PowerPoint, memorize the songs, etc.

Therefore, a place to meet and worship is discretionary, necessary, and authorized. It is up to each autonomous congregation to decide where is the best place to meet. If a congregation decides it is best, given their particular situation, to meet under an oak tree in the middle of town, they are authorized by God to do so. If they decide it is best to meet in a church building, the church building (as an expedient) is authorized by God.

Now that we understand what an expedient is, we need to understand some principles concerning their use:

1. We have to know the difference between expedients and essentials – We have to know why we’ve “always done” this or that. Have we always done this simply because it is has been the expedient way to fulfill God’s instructions, or is this an essential part of God’s instructions? For instance, there is a difference between a songbook and a piano. A songbook is an aid in helping us to fulfill God’s instructions to make music by singing (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). A piano is an entirely different way of making music from singing; therefore instrumental music can never be an expedient for making music God’s way. A cappella singing is not an expedient to making music; it is the essential fulfillment of God’s specific instructions on how to make music.

2. We have to know when to turn loose of expedients – An expedient is simply the best tool or the best method, given the current situation, to fulfill God’s instructions. But, because situations are always changing, expedients must by necessity change as well; every expedient has an expiration date. If we, in the church, hold onto an expedient after it is no longer the best way to fulfill God’s command, we run the danger of binding our traditions as doctrine (Matthew 15:9).

3. We have to allow others the freedom to choose their own expedients – By definition, an expedient is discretionary. If it is truly an expedient, one congregation (or individual) has no right to bind a certain expedient on another. For instance, a church sign is an expedient. It is a tool used to fulfill God’s instructions to welcome visitors into our assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:23-24). However, it is discretionary whether or not we make use of a sign or what the sign has on it. As long as what is put on a sign is biblical, one congregation has no right to insist that another congregation designate itself in a particular way (or at all). Furthermore, expedients are highly dependent on culture and situations. Paul traveled by boat in his day; that would not be particularly expedient for me today. Therefore, what may be expedient for one congregation (given the culture where they are) may or may not be expedient for another congregation.

I truly hope this has been helpful in some way. But, maybe it has been confusing. If so, please ask your questions or make your comments below in the comment section. And always remember…

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams