That Human Institution
In the days of the Apostles no human institutions or societies existed to do any part of the work of the churches. We do not read of them in the New Testament and therefore it would be but an assumption to consider that they were needed or existed. Our faith in the Son of God and our knowledge of all the good works that characterize the new life in
Christ is built upon that which is written; not upon that which is assumed. John said, " . . . these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31). Paul informs us that the scriptures completely furnish us unto "all good works" (II Timothy 4:17). Therefore, it would be a sign of wisdom on our part today if we would heed the scriptural admonition to " . . . learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other" (I Corinthians 4:6).
What Is It?
A human institution is one which man decides to establish. He decides what it will be and what it will do. He formulates all the by-laws and regulations and he is completely free to decide in what ways it is to be supported. Anytime he decides changes need to be made he is at liberty to make them to suit him. Any persons he chooses to be a part of the organization and any he decides to reject are at his discretion and in his decision there is no fear of violating any Divine law since this is Man's institution, organized and regulated solely by his authority and law. It can operate under a board of directors, and a company' a corporation or be under a one-man rule. Either would be perfectly in order. Should he want to terminate its existence and close its doors, this is in his power to effect.
As for its activities, the human institution can do anything its creator decides it should do. It may propagate Christianity or Communism; teach biology or the Bible; care for animals or children; publish religious materials or Newsweek. The work it accomplishes may relate to the secular or sacred and be good and evil, but its status as a human institution is not changed. It is a human institution, not because of what it does or is, but because its creator was man.
These institutions have a right to exist and be supported: this is not the point of disagreement.
Point of Disagreement
That which has always produced the questions, gendered the disagreements, and resulted in divisions, has been the involvement of another institution which is Divine in the support of these humanly created organizations. The Divine institution, which seems to get involved every two or three generations, is the Church which God organized under elderships into local churches.
Man is head over all things to his human institutions, but God has given Christ to be " . . . head over all things to the church . . ." (Ephesians 1:22). The two are separated by creatorship and authority.
Thus, this article does not question the right human institutions have to exist but it questions the churches and their scripturalness in using their treasuries to build and maintain these human institutions.
All Human Institutions Involved
The objection is not against the church supporting any particular institution, but against the support of ALL humanly devised, humanly regulated and humanly activated institutions. It matters not whether it claims to be a profit or non-profit organization. It is of no consequence whether it is manufacturing clothing for the naked, building hospitals for the sick' motels for the strangers, restaurants for the hungry, missionary societies for the lost, benevolent institutions for the destitute, or providing education, religious or secular, for the unlearned. Thousands of human institutions are doing good works for the well being of humanity and the improvement of society. If you could prepare a complete list of those doing good and not promoting religious error, the churches could maintain them all if it could maintain any one of them. No other consistent conclusion can be drawn. If you have been taught, and perhaps believe at the present, that you can support from the churches' treasuries institutions doing some of the above good works but not all, which ones are you going to exclude as unscriptural and on what basis are you going to justify the others? Where will you draw the line?
These are the questions for which we seek scriptural answers and have not seen them. Sometimes the human institution is established and then churches begin receiving letters or representatives asking for support financially. Thus this question: On what grounds do human institutions feel justified in calling on God's Divine institution, the church, for support?
On other occasions certain churches or church have taken the initiative and then called upon other churches to support it. Thus this question: Why do the Divine institutions, the churches, feel a need to volunteer the establishment or urge the establishment of human institutions of any kind?
The Money Problem
One continual plea from human institutions today is the great need they have for money. I have no doubt some need money to meet the purpose for which their creator established them; but so do the churches need money to do the work their Creator established them to do. Both could use more financially than they have available. But furthermore, are the needs men have undertaken to satisfy in their organizations better and of greater urgency and importance than the needs of humanity that God in His wisdom is able to see and for which He has provided through the churches under the oversight of the elderships? An honest answer to this, even from human wisdom, will show where the money should be used.
But apart from which has the greater need, consider the income of each. From their very nature the means of support of human organizations are numerous. Their treasuries can be replenished daily from farm and other business incomes, from individual contributions and from personal charges to those whom the institutions are aiding. The Lord's churches have one income on one day of the week. If the needs of the churches were only equal to the needs of the institutions, the churches should be the ones calling on the institutions for aid and financial assistance. What would you think if this sort of a reverse took place? If the institutions can call on the churches for support and if the churches can scripturally give it, why cannot the churches call on the institutions for support? Immediately, everyone has the answer! Quickly and scripturally with the pattern as is given in I Corinthians 16:1-3 and II Corinthians 8 and 9 the answers to this unscriptural practice would be given. Everyone knows how the churches are instructed to receive their contributions and when. All are ready to give scripture for the method of income but when it comes to expenditures that is a different matter. If you will search your Bibles, you will find just as much scriptural authority f or the churches receiving money from human institutions as you will find for them sending money to the same institutions. The same authority that clearly teaches the manner of income for churches, just as clearly teaches by example and commands how it was used and is to be used. Why will intelligent men accept what the scriptures teach for the one and completely ignore them for the other? Will someone show the scripture or scriptures authorizing the churches establishing and supporting any human institution?
Their work is not greater than the work of the churches and their financial need is not greater than the need of the churches. So reason alone should indicate the place the money should remain to be used by the churches for the work they are divinely inspired to do. With the many sources of income they have and with some of them loaning money to others, these human organizations should be ashamed of their continual appeals to the churches. The scriptures grant no authority for such activity nor does common sense permit it anywhere else.
A Work of the Church
Many of those a hundred years ago and many today seek to justify churches making donations to human institutions by reasoning that these organizations are doing the work of the churches. If that were the case, WHY are they doing the work God has given the churches to do?
Does this mean that, (I) the churches under the oversight of the elders are not able to do the work God has given them to do; or that (2) the churches are not doing their work with sufficient speed and effectiveness through the organization authorized in the Scriptures, or that (3) God did not specify and indicate precisely, the institution and organizational structure through which His work was to be done?
If number one is a sound justification and the churches are not able to do the work God gave them to do, then perhaps the rest of God's work is not complete either. Ephesians 3:9-11 says that God planned from all eternity the church and Ephesians 1:22,23 says the church is the "fullness of him that filleth all in all." When you think about the folly of such a statement, it is almost unbelievable that a child of God would cast such a reflection against the wisdom and planning of God. When men begin their defense of human institutions upon such a premise as this it is very likely that what they are claiming that the churches are supposed to do, but cannot do, is not a work of the churches at all. God never gave his churches a work to do that they could not do or else His commandments are grievous and John denies this (I John 5:3). Furthermore, if God did give the churches work to do which they could not do and the human institutions today fulfill this need, what did the churches do before the institutions existed? The first one to start after the day of Pentecost was about 100 years ago. How did the churches do what they could not do for the first 1800 years of its history? The churches had the same commands all that time and God expected the same of them during these many centuries. Could the churches not do all their work even in the first century while the apostles lived and were directed by the Holy Spirit?
Could perhaps number two justify church support of the human institution? Some have been reasoning that the churches are not doing the work they are supposed to be doing with sufficient zeal and growth. This may be true, but the trouble is not with the organization God ordained. It is with the people in it and if you sincerely want to correct this problem then help stir up the people. To establish other institutions to aid a perfectly good and divine organization that can do its own work is foolish. Even if this is done you still have not solved the problem. In fact you have made it worse; for, if the people were lacking zeal and activity to begin with and you begin doing the work they are responsible for in some other way, which will only encourage their laziness.
To establish a human organization because of the churches' laziness would be more justifiable than changing the giving from Sunday to each time we meet, on the grounds that more money is needed and we would get more by changing God's arrangement.
Also remember, if the institutions you have in mind establishing are made up only of Christians, these Christians are all in local congregations somewhere, and if they are sluggish there you likely will have human institutions also just as inactive and sluggish.
When you attempt substitutions for what God has ordained you are playing with fire just as surely as was Nadab and Abihu, and eternal death is just as certain.
Is number three true? Did God not indicate the organization and the officers through which his work was to be done7 If God did not indicate the institution through which His work was to be done then it all can be done through human institutions and none of it has to be done through the local congregations. It could all be put under boards of directors and carried out in their ways in humanly established, regulated, and activated organizations.
Or, all the Lord's work could be carried out through one gigantic institution with fingers and smaller institutions throughout the world. I hope no one is ready to accept the consequences of such an argument as would lead to this end.
In the New Testament there were only local congregations under elders. With this arrangement and no other organizations, Paul wrote that the Gospel had been " . . . preached to every creature which is under heaven . . ." (Col. 1:23).
Not a Work of the Church
Same try to make it very clear that the institutions of which they are a part or which they are defending are not doing the work of the churches. If this is the case then, the churches have no right building and supporting them. That which is not a work of the church cannot scripturally be done by it. If it cannot do the work under the oversight of its own eldership and in its own structure, how could it possibly send money to another institution that is not even established by God to do a work that it admits is not even the work of the churches to begin with.
What are we left with? If you want the churches to support human institutions, regardless of what they are doing, you will first have to decide in your mind whether they are doing the work of the churches or not. If they admit they are not, you can easily see how the churches could not have anything to do with supporting them. If you believe these human arrangements are doing the work of the churches, do you believe in the church's inability to do its own work and that Cod did not enable it to accomplish the work He gave it to do. It is hard to believe you could come to that conclusion after studying such scriptures as Ephesians 3:8-12. God planned the church from all eternity and you can rest assured. He did not establish an incomplete and insufficient body and organization to do His work.
Some confuse the issue by making it appear that establishing another institution to do some work is the same as buying services. If that were true we could build and make donations to Electric Companies, Printing Establishments, Contracting and Building Companies, Telephone Companies, etc. Who is ready to begin sending a regular donation of $50.00 a month to the closest hospital simply because the church can pay for services at the hospital when someone in the congregation is sick and in need of help financially? Can the churches purchase a farm to raise grapes and make regular donations to it simply because there is and always has been a need each week for a bottle of grape juice? Like many "churches" among the denominations, we could soon be operating at a profit.
Institutionalism is the problem; not some particular institution. We are still seeking for the scriptural authority for the churches to build and maintain any human institution through which it can do its work or a work that is not its own.
And besides this, are the accomplishments they have been able to make in the field of good works under the claim of expediency sufficient to have wrought the havoc and destruction in the body of Christ that has resulted over the past 100 years? Is it even sensible to destroy the Divine with the Human? And yet that is the way it has always been. May the Lord help us alter that course and stand with Him, His Work, and His organization for accomplishing His Will among men.
Truth Magazine, IX: 2, pp.10-13