Pages from the Past
"Is This Spiritual?"
I fear that the question, "Is this Scriptural?" does not enter the minds of all who claim to be Christians only, and to be guided by the Word, as seriously as it should. It often appears that the deed is done or planned and then an effort is made to prove it Scriptural. Some have said the church is the only institution through which a child of God can work Scripturally, using Eph. 3:21 to support the idea. It is claimed also, that any religious organization smaller than the local church is too small, and any one larger than the local church is too large, to be Scriptural. If that is correct, we certainly ought to carefully consider some work that is being done, as to whether it is as God wants it or not. A good work could be done, not in the right way, and God be displeased. A missionary society might do a good work, and a work of the church, and souls be saved, and yet neither the church nor God would get the glory. So we should be careful to see that what we do is done in God's way.
Is it Scriptural to have a society other than the church, or a societv in or of the church, through which to preach the Word? Would it be Scriptural for a congregation to form a missionary society of or in itself and send men out, calling for other congregations to work through it to spread the gospel? Would it be right to call it "the missionary society of the church of Christ?" It might be organized on the field where the work is to be done. Many souls might be saved and congregations established, and done in a businesslike way. It could be kept under the direction of the elders and not assume authority, and yet stir interest in mission work. Is it wrong just because it is organized in a business-like way?
Suppose four men should say, "We will organize to do mission work." One would be the treasurer and secretary, another would be the preacher, another would be the song leader, and the other would look after the tent. Interest would grow, and churches that wanted to help would send money, and such growth could come that an office or permanent place might be needed. When would it cease to be Scriptural? Would it be wrong to give it a name? Would it be Scriptural to fasten it on the church and make calls through the papers and by personal visits to congregations for it? Should we call it a part of the church and feel obligated to it? When would it cease to be Scriptural, or would it be Scriptural to even start? Is a thing wrong just because it might lead on too far? Well, suppose it did not go too far, would it be wrong? Paul had a company with him in his missionary work, and churches sent to him. Surely he shared with all who needed. Yet we read of no organization. How did they get along without it? Must we follow their example, or can we act differently and be Scriptural? We have progressed in travel and methods. Can we also progress in practice and principle? Where did all these organizations start, anyway? Did we borrow them from the Bible or from the denominations?
Would it be a good idea for the church to organize a hospital? We might reach many by such. Why not have a, real church of Christ university? We could surely get much teaching done. Why not have a church of Christ health resort? In fact, if we can have one organization other than the local congregation, why cannot we have any other that will do good? Is the number limited to Bible schools, orphan homes, old ladies' homes and clinics? Why not have a missionary society and send calls out for money to keep up the good work? There is a sad need of preaching in mission places: It is a God-given work. Will it be better done by organization? If so, why is it wrong to have a missionary society and right to have the other organizations. If it is Scriptural for one congregation to be placed under the elders of a congregation to do a work of the church, why would it not be right to place any other organization under the elders of a congregation to do a work of the church ? If we organize to do a work and then disband the organization, and that makes it Scriptural to so do, why not organize a missionary society to hold a meeting at a place and then disband it when it is over, and organize again for another meeting? Is it Scriptural if you disband every time and do not make it permanent?
Brethren, I fear that the church is liable to get top-heavy with organizations. God surely gave a plan which, if followed, would be pleasing to him. The church ought not to be burdened with the things which we have in some places. If some brethren want to teach tile Bible, let them do it; but do not fasten your Bible school on the church and try to make the church feel duty bound to support it as a part of the church or a child of the church. If some want to build an orphans' home, old ladies' home, or a clinic, let them do so; but do not bind it on the churches as a part of the church or as a child of the church. If the church desires to help you out in the work, do not try to impress the idea that such is the church. So far as I know, the church, as such, has no organization but the local congregation. If I am not right, then I should like to be corrected. I fear the church in its purity and simplicity is being largely forgotten and some other organizations are demanding attention and talk. I feel sure that God wants all the work done that is being done to care for the helpless, teach the ignorant, and spread the gospel, yet I believe the church is the only organization that should and can do it. If not, then our God made a failure in giving his plan to man. Let us give glory to the Lord in his church, uphold it, speak of it, and not exhalt the side issues of man's organizations. Study and decide.
(Ed. note: The above appeared in the Gospel Advocate in 1929, showing opposition to church support of human institutions is not something new. Yet, that note of warning then was drowned in the flood of human institutions to follow.)
Truth Magazine IV:12, pp. 14-15