"Human Institutions, an Unimportant Issue?"
In the forties, fifties,
and even into the sixties, churches of Christ were
battling the issue known as "institutionalism." This issue pertained, at
first, to churches sending monies (from their treasuries) to various human
institutions such as orphanages and homes for widows and even later,
building and maintaining such institutions. Many verses were ignored and
slaughtered in the process, verses such as James 1: 27, which clearly
show visiting the orphans is an individual responsibility, not the work of the
church, and I Timothy 5 that teaches the primary responsibility of providing
for parents and grandparents belongs to the children and grandchildren,
not the local church (see addendum 1). The list
of supported institutions soon grew to include
colleges and missionary societies. If churches could support and build
orphanages, why not colleges, they reasoned."Would it be
scripturally allowable for brethren to form a missionary society, having its
president, board of directors and treasury through which to preach the gospel,
support preachers, and send out preachers, with the
proviso that this "Reach the Lost Foundation" (R. T. L. F.) did not solicit or
accept monies from churches (just individuals)?"
Some who stood opposed to
such institutionalism took the position that if
members wanted to privately support and even build these institutions, this was
their choice and there would be no opposition offered (addendum 2).
Hence, the view that a human institution such as a missionary society may
preach the gospel, just as long as monies from churches were not used was
fostered and became the neo-institutionalism among us today.
In my life, there have been
two periods, based on my observation as an amateur
historian, in which those who believe in the institution preaching the gospel
system has plainly emerged, in the seventies and in this century.
Some among us say, "Why all the fuss, this is a non-issue." I
contend that the private support of institutions such
as the Guardian of Truth Foundation to preach
the gospel through its organizational structure and under its board of
directors, president and with its treasury, is a violation of basic Bible
authority (see addendum 3). I say this because as far as organization and
entity structure is concerned, we only read about the local church under
its elders and by its treasury collectively preaching the gospel (cp.
Acts 13: 2f.). Consider what I believe to be a parallel in logic and Bible
God has stipulated that vocal
music be used in praising Him (Eph. 5: 19). When God has specified, man has no
choice if man is to please God (cp. Heb. 7: 14). God has stipulated that
as far as entity function is concerned, the local church is to preach the gospel
(cp. I Tim. 3: 15). When God has stated what and
how the gospel is to be presented, man has no choice. To
thus build human foundations in and through which to collectively preach
the gospel is a basic violation of Bible authority. If we can thus effect
this violation, why not commit and practice other
violations, disregarding what the scriptures teach in
other areas as well? Some foundation promoters have
even told me, "Don, we believe our foundation can do a better job of
preaching the gospel than local churches are doing!" These
entities, moreover, functioning as aberrant local
churches, have been a perpetual source of politics,
cliques, and divisions among us, saying nothing of the fact that there is no
authority for their existence (performing as local churches).
In one debate that I had on
the privately supported missionary society issue, I asked the following question
of my disputant and he honestly answered it:
'Yes, if it were
possible for a missionary society (MS) to function without
interfering with the work of local churches.'"
God has not been silent
regarding the collective preaching of the gospel, He
specified the local church with its elders and treasury. Where, then, is
the authority for brethren going outside the local church structure and creating
their own entities to preach the gospel? I
submit that there is no authority for such. This private support of human
organizations to preach the gospel and edify the saved is not only initially a
violation of Bible authority, but it has the potential for seriously belittling
and even deprecating the local church and its work. Yet, we continue to be
told that this matter is of no concern. Some are even saying that to
discuss such is "stupid," "senseless," "pointless," "worthless," "faithless,"
and "fruitless." Consider a recent statement that appeared in a magazine
published by brethren:
discussion is profitable - some are stupid and senseless; pointless and
worthless; faithless and fruitless.
Such skirmishes among
brethren include... the right of a secular institution to furnish an
occasion for folks to be taught in the Bible, and countless others. Matters of
individual determination must not be bound or pressed to the disruption,
disturbance, or division of brethren! (John Isaac Edwards, Back to Basics,
Concerned reader, we have
observed the progression of liberalism for decades. We are now seeing the
women's movement among these "churches of Christ" in which efforts are being
exerted to install women as preachers and elders in churches. When asked
about the authority for such practices, some of the present generation reply:
"We have no authority, but neither did our predecessors in the matter of church
supported colleges, hospitals, etc."
How long will it be before we
are told regarding some issue that even the promoters
of human organizations to play church believe is wrong, "We have no authority,
but neither did our predecessors in the matter of privately
supported missionary societies to collectively
preach the gospel." I have lived long
enough to know even from observation that once one unscriptural
practice is tolerated and defended and those who oppose it are viewed as
trouble-makers who must be silenced, it is just a matter of time before
additional issues are introduced and more vigorously justified. The
simple fact of the matter is: We are told how
the gospel is to be collectively preached (I Tim. 3: 15). To ignore God's
specification and insert our own (human entities to
preach the gospel under the oversight of the organization) is rejecting God's
will. If we can do this in one area, I, again ask, why not in other areas?
(Col. 3: 17.)
There could be areas in which a local church, assuming the
circumstance of children and grandchildren is not present, may assist a
widow by helping to pay a hospital bill, for instance.
However, churches building human institutions such as
homes for the aged and widows is not tantamount to a
church buying a service from a human institution.
There could be an area of judgment that could and perhaps
should allow for individuals privately contributing to and even building
various institutions that are only supported by individuals.
Perhaps Christians see the need for a college that
would offer a moral alternative (usually even this has
grown into a local church type environment, some even of the mentality that the
Lord's Supper could be offered). However, if they want to establish a
college to preach the gospel and to serve as a church of Christ seminary, such
has crossed the line and become such that is without authority, even if they
restrict it to individuals.
This issue is not about individual Christians preaching, such
as was the case in Acts 8: 1f. or even two Christians teaching another
(Acts 18). Also, this issue is not whether or
not a church may purchase time from a radio station so
it, the church, can preach the gospel. The solution to the privately
supported missionary society problem is not to have a church with its elders
assume the oversight of the human institution (Herald of Truth arrangement, it
is understood that both individuals and churches send to the Herald of Truth).
The answer to the problem is for brethren to be satisfied with God's simple
arrangement: The local church with its oversight and treasury being the
means for Christians to collectively preach the gospel with and in such
organizational structure (I Tim. 3: 15). These entities also foster
their own brand of fellowship and doctrinal compromise among their members.
When asked about certain board members who are known for teaching certain false
doctrines the standard defense is, "We are not a local