"Let The Church Be The Church!" - A Review
The summer of 2004 marked a new open phase for Truth Magazine and the Guardian of Truth Foundation. The foundation became more overt in its religious intentions and efforts when it had its "First Annual Lectureship." This gospel meeting was conducted by the foundation in an effort to edify saints and teach the lost. While the foundation does not solicit or accept monies from churches, with the lectureship it clearly progressed from being an alleged secular foundation run by and comprised of brethren for the purpose of making money. It officially and overtly placed itself into a privately funded entity status that affords and encourages Christians to pool their resources in working through a human organization to teach and preach the gospel, an organization in addition to and separate from the local church, which God has appointed to afford such pooling and organization for Christians to collectively preach the gospel (I Tim. 3: 15, see addendum). It was apparent to all that have been following the emergence of the new Guardian of Truth Foundation that groundwork for the new and bold religious undertaking was prepared by board member Ron Halbrook. Ron began anterior to the lectureships by publishing an article titled, "Let The Church Be The Church!" One publication was in the Gospel Truths magazine (September 24, 2004 issue. J. T. Smith, the editor also published a rebuttal by Jere Frost in the same issue). I shall at this time attempt to succinctly review Ron's material.
I shall begin my review by pointing out the essential incongruous nature of Ron's article. In simple parlance, the title does not fit the contents. Judging from the, "Let The Church Be The Church!" title, one would expect to read how God has assigned certain work to the organization that He has provided through which Christians are to collectively work under the oversight of elders (I Tim. 3: 15, Acts 14: 23, I Pet. 5: 2ff.). However, the thrust of Ron's material is to promote a human institution in which brethren have pooled their resources acting as a local church in preaching the gospel. Hence, the whole material is characterized by deceit, in my view.
Author Ron Halbrook states a number of truths with which I readily concur (most errorists will mix some truth in their presentation of error and this is what Ron did, 2 Pet. 2: 1ff. The expression "privily shall bring in" in Second Peter 2: 1 is from the Greek pareisaxousin. Para means by the side and eis indicates entrance and direction. Hence, error is often introduced by the side of the truth). Consider some:
"Christians must be active, faithful members of the local church .The church does some things the individual does, but is not an individual .The church does some things a business does, but is not a business organization. Both churches and businesses need money to operate, but the church depends upon the freewill offerings of its members and not upon selling goods and services, investments, and other business strategies . ("Let The Church Be The Church!," Gospel Truths, pg. 1 and 4).
Ron supplies more substantive comments when he wrote:
"Individuals may act alone or in concert to form and conduct legitimate, legal businesses .Churches may simply purchase goods and services from businesses for their own use in fulfilling their work" (Ibid., pg. 5).
Ron indicates more openly the direction in which he really wants to guide the reader when he wrote:
"Businesses conducted by Christians sometimes make Bible study materials available to customers or invite a preacher to teach weekly Bible lessons for interested employees. Several Christians have combined their funds to rent meeting rooms at motels for gospel preaching in places where the true gospel is unknown ." (Ibid., pg. 5. The observant reader will notice that what Ron is suggesting is not tantamount to Christians forming an organization with a president, board of directors, treasury, etc. through which to collectively preach the gospel, which is what Ron is laboring to promote in his material).
Consider the rationale used by Ron Halbrook to promote the Guardian of Truth Foundation functioning as a local church:
"In the course of conducting our business, members of the G.O.T. Foundation often pray together and even pray with other people with whom we have dealings, especially in praying for God's wisdom and blessings upon our endeavors. We discuss God's Word together and with others, especially regarding its proper application to our work. As circumstances permit, we create and utilize opportunities to teach people the truth and God's Word and we do everything possible to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully. Such studies have been conducted for the staff writers of Truth Magazine from time to time. The Truth Lectureship makes it possible for other interested individuals to share with us in such studies. By inviting people to read Truth Magazine and to visit our web site , we hope to better acquaint them with the goods and services of our bookstores and to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully" (Ibid.).
When I have asked brethren who were involved in organizations as to the authority for such organizations preaching the gospel, they would typically reply by saying, "We are selling and providing a service for Christians and churches." When further probed, they would answer by saying, "No, we as an organization are not doing the work of the local church, we are simply in business to make money and if we did not make money or charge for our service, we would not offer it!" With the advent of Ron's material, there is no longer the, " if we did not make money or charge for our service, we would not offer it!" argument. Again, writing about the Guardian of Truth Foundation Ron stated:
"As circumstances permit, we create and utilize opportunities to teach people the truth and God's Word and we do everything possible to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully."
The issue of the privately funded missionary society. God has assigned the collective or corporate work of edifying the saved, teaching the lost and when there is the circumstances, relieving the physical needs of saints to his organization, the local church (Eph. 4: 16, 2 Tim. 4: 2ff.; I Tim. 3: 15; I Cor. 16: 1, 2). We read of no other organization through which Christians pool their resources (treasury and organizational structure) to perform this work. To thus reason that Christians may form other organizations to do the work of the church is to ignore what is expressly taught and to fallaciously reason based on the silence of the scriptures ("even though it says what to do, it does not say not to do the other," see Hebrews 7: 11-14). God has his organization to afford collective work and his entity is overseen by qualified men called elders, not a board of directors!
A number of neo-institutional brethren have now openly and aggressively embraced the position that as long as the church treasury is not involved, they may form privately funded organizations that do the work God has assigned to the local church. Observe Ron Halbrook's reasoning:
" an individual should not attempt to serve as 'a missionary society,' taking donations from churches ."
Notice how Ron uses the apposition grammatical stance as expressed in the participle, "taking donations from churches". In fact, Ron repeatedly uses such construction:
"Families must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. For instance, a family should not attempt to serve as 'a missionary society,' taking donations from churches .For instance, a camp should not attempt to serve as 'a missionary society,' taking donations from churches in order to teach the Bible and other subjects to its participants .For instance, a business should not attempt to serve as 'a missionary society,' taking donations from churches ." (Ibid., pg. 5).
The matter of proof for privately funded missionary societies. Ron, who is usually a book, chapter, and verse preacher, attempts to thus offer Bible authority for his Guardian of Truth Foundation now openly functioning under the mission statement of preaching the gospel to the lost and edifying the saved:
"Consider other examples. Athens bible School in Athens, AL and Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL have taught Bible classes, conducted daily devotionals, and presented Bible lectureships through the years ." (Ibid. pg. 6).
As mentioned, these neo-institutional men previously contended that they sold a service and thus justified their organizations. Ron retains a little of the old rationale:
"Businesses which produce or market Bibles, songbooks, tracts, magazines, and books occasionally provide complimentary samples or give away outdated and damaged materials in an effort to disseminate the truth" (Ibid.).
Keep in mind that Ron and many other proponents of privately funded missionary societies have now dropped the above claim. Again, hear Ron:
"As circumstances permit, we create and utilize opportunities to teach people the truth and God's Word and we do everything possible to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully. Such studies have been conducted for the staff writers of Truth Magazine from time to time. The Truth Lectureship makes it possible for other interested individuals to share with us in such studies. By inviting people to read Truth Magazine and to visit our web site , we hope to better acquaint them with the goods and services of our bookstores AND (emphasis mine, dm) to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully" (Ibid.).
What is wrong with brethren pooling their resources and forming privately funded missionary societies, edification orders, and relief for needy saints organizations? In the first place, God has told us what organization to use, the local church. I remind all of the simple hermeneutic rule that when a specific is supplied, all that constitutes a different matter is excluded and is to be viewed as an aberrant. In the second place, such organizations as the Guardian of Truth Foundation and Truth Magazine are conducive to brotherhood politics and cliques. Matters that they think should or should not constitute issues are often decided within these groups. If a preacher is not physically joined to one of these groups then, "If you are not with us, you are against us, and we will destroy you and force you out of preaching," as I was told when I was a young preacher.
What is the bottom line? The bottom line is brethren need to respect the teaching of God's word and cease playing church. Preachers who experience excessive job insecurity so much so that they have to form their cliques and organizations, need to simply get out of full time preaching. Moreover, "Let The Church Be The Church!" and let Christians be satisfied with pooling their resources in the local church circumstance to collectively preach the gospel. (Related material to study is: "Institutionalism and Church Supported Orphanages" "The Society System" and "Privately Supported Missionary Societies, etc. Exchange")
Addendum: This review is not denying individual action (cp. I Tim. 5: 16). Also, the review is not addressing two Christians concurrently teaching another, etc. The material is focusing on Christians forming an organization with full entity structure and a treasury through which to preach the gospel. Other than the local church, there is no observed teaching either in precept, example, or necessary inference for privately supported missionary societies. The neo-institutional mind-set of many today thinks one can be a member of such an entity as the Guardian of Truth Foundation or even Truth Magazine as a staff writer and still only individually function. Alas, such thinking is patently flawed.