Sponsoring Elders and Institutionalism (1)
Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia
Let The Denominationalist Speak Out Against Them
As a former Seventh-day Adventist, I have kept abreast of the chang s, developments, and problems within that denomination. But what has this to do with the above-titled subject? Very much in many respects. I will bear this out during the course of this article. I will deal with sponsoring church arrangements such as Herald of Truth and the World-Wide Radio TV program of the church in Monroe, Louisiana. I will also deal with Campaigns For Christ in connection with this to prove that such arrangements are gross departures from the original New Testament patterns for the organization and work of the church.
I want to approach this subject from an entirely different standpoint. I will use quotations from an Adventist minister and a few other quotations from other sources to prove that what is true among Adventists is true also among liberal churches of Christ. First, I wish to deal with the back-ground of Adventism, its problems, and then apply the same principles to the issues at hand: sponsoring churches and institutionalism. It will be interesting to note that the arguments of many Adventists against their organizational structure and their institutions, strike at the very heart of the principles involved in the current issues among churches of Christ.
Adventism, as a formal denomination, is a little over 125 years old. Its church organization and institutions date back to the late 1860s-70s. The very thing that early Adventists pioneers thought would make them a strong, progressive denomination are now seriously challenged and brought under heavy attack by many of their leading ministers, religious professors, even among their most high-ranking colleges. Their hierarchal system of church government, their great institutions, are under attack because many now see them as a serious threat to the well-being of the denomination and detrimental to the growth and strength of that denomination. As we observe these things, let them be a strong, forceful lesson to liberal churches who are practicing the very things that many Adventists are opposing among themselves.
I have a book entitled Judged By The Gospel by Robert Brinsmead. Many Adventists denounce and disclaim him as a true Adventist because he dares to challenge and criticize the very foundation of Adventism. Doesn't this sound familiar among liberal churches who strongly denounce those who oppose the hierarchal system which they seek to maintain and expand?
Be that as it may, what Adventists think about Brinsmead, the significant fact is that many leading Adventists theologians and churches are beginning to join him in voicing the same concern and views which Brinsmead has and for which he is opposed by the hierarchy of Adventism! Of course, it is but little wonder that the main leaders of the General Conference and their institutions oppose these men vigorously. This comes as no surprise because the General Conference is the foundation of Adventism and their institutions are the main pillars of support of that structure.
As I said, I wish, therefore, to take a different approach to the issues involving sponsoring arrangements and institutionalism. I will take quotations from Judged By The Gospel and apply them to our current issues. I will use quotations of others when dealing with institutionalism, but this work will be my main source of information. As I quote from his writings, I will clearly show the exact parallel between what he is opposing among Adventist and what we have been opposing for over thirty years among the liberals. Therefore, as Mr. Brinsmead forcefully and precisely attacks the principles of hierarchism and institutionalism among the Adventists, this will serve as the strongest indictment of these systems among liberal churches because his arguments and principles against Adventism are precisely the same in principle against the practices among the liberals.
Quite naturally, you may understand that I do not believe that Mr. Brinsmead is a sound, scriptural minister. But the fact in my point is, that even a denominationalist, who espouses false doctrines, can see the error of the false system of the Adventist structure. If an Adventist can see these things as being unscriptural, why can't our liberal brethren, who claim to know the Scriptures, see the very same evils among themselves?
I have several reasons for doing this. First, to show our liberal brethren that if this is wrong among the denominations, then our brethren are borrowing denominational methods and practices which are just as unscriptural.
Furthermore, I am actually more concerned over liberalminded "conservative" brethren caught up in this grace/fellowship/unity idea. This is becoming a plague that is dangerous to the positions we have held, and teachings we have done concerning these issues. Some of our conservative brethren are becoming more sympathetic (even defensive) toward the liberals. In fact, a number of brethren among us are sowing the very seeds of liberalism they have opposed for so many years. They are beginning to practice the same things they claim to oppose.
So I am really more concerned over our conservative brethren who, either are more sympathetic toward the liberals' views in their grace/fellowship/unity movement, or are in reality practicing the very same thing.
While on this subject of grace/fellowship/unity, let me just make a few brief observations, or ask some simple questions.
1. Just how can they have fellowship or unity with liberals and still claim to be sound?
2. Fellowship is a two-way affair. Will the liberals fellowship them while they oppose them? Then how can the conservatives fellowship them if the liberals will not?
3. In order to prove this grace/fellowship/unity idea as sensible, and make it work, not in theory, but in practice, then they have to face certain conditions.
a. They will have to believe the liberals are wrong, and thus cannot seek to fellowship them.
b. But if they seek fellowship/unity, and since the liberals will not fellowship them if they oppose them, then those of the grace/ fellowship idea will have to relinquish their convictions and defend the liberal views. They can't "have their cake and eat it too."
c. Thus they have two choices. Either they have to abandon their grace/fellowship/unity concept to remain sound, or they will have to abandon the truth and join in with them in their unscriptural practices to achieve their aims in their fellowship goals. You simply cannot oppose unscriptural things and have fellowship with those who insist on practicing them. But if our brethren want to have fellowship with the liberals, they will have to "jump the fence" on their side because it is all too obvious that the liberals will not give up their practices and will not fellowship conservative brethren who differ with them, no matter how much conservative brethren want fellowship and unity.
d. Supposing a conservative brother asked for the opportunity to hold a meeting at Highland (Abilene) and preach against sponsoring elders/churches. Would they allow him to do this? The answer is quite obvious. But on the other hand, would any conservative brethren allow the preacher at Highland to come to them for a meeting? In fact, would a conservative church ask any liberal preacher to come for a meeting and preach his liberal views? If any church would, they would be guilty of what John wrote: "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deed" (2 Jn. 10-11). "Partaker" means he is in fellowship and is just as guilty by fellowshipping the false teacher as the false teacher is guilty himself.
In reality, our brethren who seek fellowship, or "unity in diversity" not only have an unscriptural position, but an unrealistic, impossible objective, one that simply cannot work - if they truly want to be identified as sound or conservative.
Before I continue with the issue of hierarchism and institutionalism, I want to point out a very important and significant point. Both, hierarchism, or sponsoring elders/churches and institutionalism are of Catholic origin. Mr. Brinsmead points this out very emphastically in his book. Are we aware of the fact, as pointed out in Brinsmead's charges against Adventism that the very same is true among churches of Christ? The fact that liberals teach "the plan of salvation" (baptism, etc.) has no bearing upon the fact that these two points of issue, i.e., sponsoring churches and institutionalism are of Catholic origin, therefore Roman Catholic in nature, structure and function. According to James 2: 10, it does no good to teach scriptural baptism, vocal music in worship, etc. if the church itself has borrowed the Catholic form of structure in organization and work. This being so, they may as well abandon their beliefs about salvation, the work of the church, for these are meaningless because of their Catholic structure.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 6, pp. 177, 183