"Individual or Collective Action, Which?


     When I was a young man, I focused on doing a lot of work in the south in an area that was replete with what we call institutionalism.  Many local churches were (still are) using their treasuries to support many things for which they had no biblical directives or authority, such as colleges, homes for unwed mothers, homes for the aged, etc.  First, the scriptures do distinguish between individual and collective action.  Paul wrote:

"16: If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (I Tim. 5: 16).

     The "any man or woman" constitutes individual action as opposed to "...Let not the church be charged...."  The collective action seen in the case of "the church" involved the treasury of the local church.  When the individual members contributed of their means into the treasury and then the treasury is used, the use of the treasury clearly constitutes collective action. Since this seems to be a highly complicated matter and hard to understand today, allow me to present a simple illustration:

     "John Doe out of his money gave one hundred dollars to the Save a Child Foundation versus Save a Child gave one hundred dollars to a family."  Notice how that in this illustration, there is both individual and collective action.  John gave, is clearly individual action, but when Save a Child gave, this is indisputable collective action.  John is an individual and Save a Child is an entity, having its own President, board of directors, treasury, and organizational structure.  IRS certainly recognizes the differences between individual and collective action and so does the Bible, as seen (I Tim. 5: 16).  The Bible so recognizes the difference between individual and collective or aggregate action that in the case of I Timothy 5: 16, one is required (individual) and the other is disallowed (collective).

     Again, the foregoing is simple and easily established, both in logic and practical application.  However, man has a way of muddying the water.  Observe:

     "It is true that John giving to the Save a Child Foundation is individual action, but John also functions within Save a Child as do a number of John's friends.  Even though John and his friends are functioning within the structure of an entity and the treasury of the foundation is activated, John and his friends are still performing individual action."

     Under the caption of, "TRUTH LECTURESHIP: What It Is & Is Not," Ron Halbrook wrote:

"1. The Guardian of Truth Foundation exists as a business because of the interest of individual Christians to provide Bible teaching materials.  In offering these Bible lectures or lessons, we are acting together on an individual basis to teach the truth of God's Word as other Christians may do at any time and place they can find such an opportunity."

     In Ron's material, "Let The Church Be The Church," he stated:

     "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."

     Again, notice the rationalization:

"… In offering these Bible lectures or lessons, we are acting together on an individual basis to teach the truth of God's Word…. 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" (Ibid.)

     So, the G.O.T.F. is nothing more than some Christians forming an entity in which to sell books and make money.  But as "individuals," they also coincidentally, "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"

     Ron has resurrected the old doctrine that notwithstanding the presence of a structured entity or institution, having a charter, treasury, president, and overseeing board, the Christians who function in this climate and milieu are simply acting as individuals and not involved in corporate or collective action.  Ron and the promoters of G.O.T.F. want us to see just individual Christians, Ron Halbrook, Mike Willis, etc., in a business for profit institution (selling printed material) and not a society or entity of Christians who are functioning collectively through and in the corporate structure to do the work of the local church.

     The just noticed logic involves the confusing, juggling, and substitution of the players and the incorrect assignment of consequent action.  When extensively working with those in what we call "institutionalism," it was common to hear, "It is true that where I am a member, they (treasury) give to Boles Home, but since I am an active member of the church, this is really just our individual action.  Therefore, the church is not doing it, but we are."

     The Bible abounds with principles, distinctions, and functional definitions. Consider the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:

"1: But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2: And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3: But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4: Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."

     Notice that before anything was done with the possession, it belonged to Ananias and Sapphira.  After liquidation, the part they retained continued to belong to them (vs. 4).  However, when they placed the "certain part" at the apostles' feet, that portion no longer remained their possession, but became part of the "treasury" indicated by "...laid it at the apostles' feet." Thus, we observe two different conditions.  Also, these two different conditions have entirely different rules, if you will, and structures governing them. The contributed "price" ceased being their possession, subject to their desires and use, and became the possession of the treasury at the apostles' feet, subject to the rules and disposition of the apostles, simply stated.  Involved in this circumstance, any action rendered by Ananias before his contribution was individual action, but any action performed that involved the treasury became collective action.

     I am reminded of the old saying, that what goes around, comes around (cp. Eccl. 1).  I am now observing some of my brethren confused by the same twisted thinking of those with whom I dealt regarding the variant of institutionalism of the sixties.

     The "new institutionalism" among us involves brethren organizing themselves outside the local church organization to preach to the lost and edify the saved (God has provided the local church for Christians to collectively work, I Tim. 3: 15, etc.).  Unlike the institutionalism of yesterday, the issue that split churches by those who insisted, "We have a right...," these brethren today do not solicit monies from the treasuries of local churches. However, they have formed human institutions and foundations, having their own treasuries, board of directors, etc. in which to corporately do the work God has assigned to his collectivity, the local church.  They act upon the silence of the scriptures reasoning, "God has not said we cannot have our privately supported institutions!"  The fact of the matter, though, is God has specified the local church with its elders and treasury to collectively do the work of preaching (cp. I Tim. 3: 15).  Hence, to form other entities is to act without authority and reject God's plan (cp. Heb. 7: 14).

     In an apparent effort to escape having to do deal with the fact that God has provided His collectivity (the local church) for Christians to collectively function, I have observed the return of the "logic" of yesterday, now, among us (I shall substitute neo-institutional terms):

"It is true that where I am a Foundation member, they (treasury) collectively function in preaching the gospel, but since I am an active member of the Foundation, this is really just my individual action.  Therefore, the Foundation is not doing it, but we as individuals are."

     There is no essential difference between the local church and the Foundation; in that both are entities, having their own structure, oversight, and treasury.  When Christians function within the local church to preach the gospel (treasury, elder oversight, etc.), simple individual action is no longer the case, but collective action is observed.  When Christians act within the framework of a Foundation or other entity to preach the gospel (treasury, oversight, etc.), individual action is no longer the case, but collective action is seen.

     To argue that, "While I am functioning within the framework of an organization, it is really I and only I, performing individual action" is ridiculous and illogical.  When we apply this thinking and rationale to the Christian performing within a Foundation (treasury, oversight, etc.) to preach the gospel and do the collective work God has assigned to his collectivity and thus contending that such is really individual action, it becomes unscriptural.

     How can the promoters of privately supported missionary societies, this is what they are, now, using their new logic and argumentation, stand against the "old institutionalism?"  If it is the case that individuals functioning within the milieu of the Guardian of Truth Foundation (treasury, oversight, etc. used to preach the gospel) is truly just individual action, then why would not individuals performing within the framework of a local church that contributes to human organizations not be simply individual action?  See where such convoluted thinking can and does take us?  The rationale of the promoters of the "new-institutionalism" is illogical, inconsistent, and anti-biblical!

     One sad matter is that many of the our brethren who have now taken up the privately supported missionary society concept were once sound, conservative, at least ostensibly so, preachers who would not tolerate error, at least, some error, on some subjects.  We are now observing history in the making.  As these men become more exposed and desperate to find some semblance of justifying argumentation, they shall become more overtly ridiculous.  In an effort to justify their foundations, they childishly try to find and assign fault, usually employing slander and misrepresentation against those who challenge their unscriptural practices.  "Those who oppose the Foundation do not believe two Christians can teach the lost the gospel, unless they go through the local eldership," say they.  How foolish and what a stretch! They further charge, "Those who oppose privately funded institutions to preach the gospel do not believe two Christians can form a business and together work therein for profit." Apples and oranges and irrelevant comparisons, that is what such allegations constitute.

     I am saddened to now have to re-fight the same old battle I fought when a young man, now among my own brethren.  What is the real core issue, anyway? After all the dust settles, the veneer stripped, and all the extraneous is removed, it all comes down to brethren who are not satisfied with only collectively working through the local church, but demanding their own institutions and foundations, even at the expense of division the disruption of unity among God's people.  As usual, we are not dividing over what is
taught, we all can agree that the local church is observed as being the milieu in which first century Christians collectively functioned (I Tim. 3: 15, etc.).  We are dividing over some pushing and demanding the right to what is not taught, privately funded missionary societies (Heb. 7: 14)!