"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.

     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 authority:

     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:

"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)?"

'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:

"Not every 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, January 2007).

     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.)

Addendum 1:  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.

     Addendum 2:  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.

Addendum 3:  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 church."