Expedients in Religion

 Expedients in Religion
(by  Bob Pulliam)

Expedience is a very important area of authority (religious, or otherwise). An expedient is "A means that hastens or eases a task." But something is not a lawful scriptural expedient just because it makes a task easier, or accomplishes it more quickly. In this lesson we will look at the criteria for determining whether or not an expedient is valid, and examples from the scriptures.

Expedience Does Not Establish Authority for a Practice...

Some people try to make expedience a fourth way of authorizing (i.e. Command, Example, Necessary Implication, and Expedience). The logical result of this would be the authorization of anything that is perceived to expedite a matter. In past cases, the answer to this subject becomes clear... Uzzah was not really struck by the Lord, for expedience was the authority used by David for moving the ark. Noah could have used Pine trees if they were closer and in more abundance. Certainly, both of these statements are false, for expedience is not a means of authorizing.

Four Criteria for Determining a Valid Expedient...

The Area in Which the Expedient Is Used Must Be Lawful...

Robbing a bank may be a faster way to fill the treasury; but it is also a sin! Women preaching to the general assembly has been justified on the grounds that they can be more sincere and convincing in the pulpit. Such an expedient would be desirable in an age when convincing people is exceptionally difficult. Such, however, is unlawful (I Tim 2:11 - 15). We could attract large crowds to services if we declared ourselves a nudist church, and removed our clothes at the door. Attracting people to hear the gospel is very desirable, but public nudity violates clear principles of modesty and shamefacedness (Gen 3:21; Mt 5:28; 18:6f; I Tim 2:9). An expedient, then, must first be lawful.

Specifics Must Be Honored...

When God specifies something, we must do it! An expedient is a choice (e.g. build a baptistry, or use the pond out back); but when God specifies, there is no choice! It is important, then, to remember three things in regard to this:

If God specified something, then it is not a matter of expedience.
We cannot add to what God has specified, in the name of expedience.
We cannot subtract from what God has specified, in the name of expedience.

Past examples clearly illustrate this. Noah was told to build the ark with gopher wood. The type of wood was not an expedient, for God had specified what was to be used (Gen 6:14). The Israelites were told that the Levites were to carry the ark of the covenant on poles. This was not an expedient, for they had to transport the ark the way in which God had specified (I Chron 15:12f).

Such principles must be observed by us as well. God specified that we are to sing in worshiping Him (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). We have no choice but to do exactly what God has specified. Specifying the kind of music (i.e. vocal), excludes every other kind (i.e. instrumental) of music. We understand that if God had wanted both, He would not have excluded one by specifying the other!

It Must Be Done to Accomplish God's Work...

As we consider authority for matters of God's work, we must acknowledge that the expedients used have to accomplish God's work. There are many good works in this world (blood drives, scouts, community counseling programs, etc.); but such are not authorized for the work of the church just because they are good works. The church is given three areas in which it is authorized to endeavor (evangelism, edification, and benevolence). This point is really a focused aspect of the point on honoring specifics. God has specified the work of the church, and therefore, an expedient should fall within that work.

It Must Not Cause Stumbling in Others...

Matters specified in the scriptures cannot take this matter into consideration. Such things must be done. If someone tells me that I shouldn't practice baptism because it would cause them to stumble, I cannot stop. God commanded such, and I cannot be dissuaded by the scruples of others when the course is clearly specified. Matters of expedience, however, are matters of choice, and must be used judiciously with others consciences in mind.

Here are a few examples of expedients:

Matter Authorized


Not Authorized

 Baptize Believers
(Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Rom 6:3f)
build baptistry in building Sprinkling / Pouring; infant baptism
(Eph 5:19; Col 3:16)
books; number of songs; pitch; leader Instrumental Music
 Give as Prospered
(I Cor 16:1f; II Cor 9:7)
pass plate; put box in foyer Bingo; Rummage sale; bake sale
 Preach the Gospel
(Mk 16:15; II Cor 11:8)
radio; TV; newspaper; P.A. system teach English; missionary society
 Relieve Needy Saints
(Acts 6:1 - 7; Ii Cor 8 & 9)
money: food; clothing non-saints; separate organizations
 Elder's Oversight
(I Pt 5:1 - 4; Acts 20:28)
delegate authority; number of meetings one elder only; oversee the work of another church
 Lord's Supper
(I Cor 11:23 - 26; Acts 20:7)
 number of containers passed; time on Sunday; placement in service Coke and Hot Dogs; Tuesday evening


The proper use of expedients in authority is vital to serving God in a lawful way. In some cases, God has given no latitude for choice (we must do things just as He has specified). In other cases, God has given His word a generality that permits the use of appropriate expedients. We must be very careful to discern between the two.