A Second Look at the Issues
Dudley Ross Spears
Oklahoma City, Okla.
For the past fifteen or twenty years, "the issues" have played a very major role in the development of present day conditions within the church of the Lord. At the start, "the issues" were: (1) DO local churches of Christ have the scriptural right to pool their work and resources to do a work that is common to them all? (2) DO local churches of Christ have the scriptural right to contribute from their treasuries to a human organization set up to do the work of the local churches in the field of benevolence? From the outset till now, the "issues" seem to have changed. Now the question seems to be "Is it scriptural for a local church to provide for the physical needs of orphans or other non-members, out of the church treasury?" Or another "issue" that has arisen lately is, "Can two or more Christians combine their efforts in furthering the gospel or causing the word of God to be taught in another organization than the local church?" Many other minor questions are asked which do not pertain to the "issues" of some fifteen years ago such as, "Is it sinful to have 'dinner-on-the-grounds' or eat in a church building?" and "Is it sinful to make announcements of a social nature that pertain to the members of a local congregation from the pulpit or in the bulletin?" It seems to me that it is time for us to take a second look at "the issues" and perhaps return to the fight over the real issues that are still before the church.
One of the reasons why it is difficult to write an article of this nature, and quite frankly why this writer and perhaps others have refrained from saying anything in print, is due to the apparent ill-will that is invoked the moment you oppose those who have espoused side-issues. I say side issues because they are not pertinent to the issues that arose several years ago. The basic difference in the "issues" of latter times and the original problems is that the original problems involved brotherhood-wide projects and inter-congregational relations. The "problems" or "issues" of latter times only involve local problems or local relations, viz. "Who can the local church relieve" and "what the local church spends money for out of the treasury" and "what the local church does relative to eating in the building," etc. It is difficult to write on these matters for brotherhood dissemination because there are always those that begin to accuse you of becoming "soft" on the issues and no doubt there are many among those called "conservatives" or other names that will think that I am no longer among the "sound" brethren, but that does not move me for as Paul said, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be servant of Christ."
The basic "issues" arose many years ago over institutionalism. Institutionalism can be defined as, "The institution of plans of men whereby the local church is denied her right to function as an all-sufficient organization fulfilling her divine mission in every respect." Human institutions such as colleges were being foisted upon the brotherhood. When opposition was forthcoming, the orphanages were introduced into the picture and used from the emotional aspect of it, for they were human institutions that "stand or fall together." The point of battle changed, but the issue had not changed' being an "institutional issue" rather than a local church issue. However, when the change came, which to this writer is a radical change and completely beside the real issue, the change involved more than a change in the point of battle, it changed the issue. To change the discussion and point of controversy from which institution shall accomplish the work of the church to whom the local church will care for out of the treasury constitutes a complete and radical swing away from the real trouble in the Lord's church.
Trouble in the Lord's church came as a result of human institutionalism being imposed on brethren - it did not come and does not exist because some local church spends a dime out of the treasury to care for the needs of some orphan child or some person who is not a member (baptized believer) of the local church. I defy anyone to produce the evidence of wholesale apostasy that has its roots in the practice of some local church caring for a non-Christian. I do not know of any local church, regardless of which position they occupy, who are presently or plan to engage in a general program of benevolence. If some reader knows of it, they should produce it and expose it. However, while we have been filling pages of gospel papers ful1 of argument on who the local church assists and who it is forbidden to assist, those that promote institutionalism have gone their merry way deeper and deeper into institutionalism. Witness the rise of "Church of Christ Clinics," Church of Christ Hospitals," "Homes for Un-wed Mothers," " School of Religion" and lately, the renewed effort to put colleges into the budget of local churches. I wonder if some of us will not have to answer to God, for being side-tracked or side-tracking others from the institutional issue into irrelevant questions and allowing others to become more and more enmeshed in the throes of institutionalism, from which return is becoming a rarity.
I know that, if this article is read, there will be those who will jump down my throat over "THE PASSAGE THAT AUTHORIZED THE LOCAL CHURCH TO ASSIST AN OUTSIDER FROM THE TREASURY." While I do not believe that any local church either is or should be engaged in a program of general benevolence, wherein those in the world are relieved, neither do I believe that it can be universally and totally applied, that "only baptized believers or needy saints can scripturally be relieved by local churches." Let me pose this, not hypothetical situation, real and genuine occurrence. Several years ago, around 1937, the great Mississippi River overflowed her banks. People were driven from their homes in North-eastern Arkansas and gathered in such towns as Leachville, Manilla and Paragould, Ark. The Second and Walnut St. church provided plenty of room, clothing and food for many who came in out of the elements for shelter. They did not stand at the door, refusing admission to people on the basis of their not being "baptized believers." Question: did they violate the scriptures and begin a movement toward apostasy? Personally, I think not and have not met the man who thinks they did. What do you think, dear reader?
Another facet of the question of who the church relieves is this: If the local church at Tenth and Francis, Oklahoma City, Okla. has among those who attend the services here, one who is not a member, but who is teachable and concerned over his soul, but for some reason has not the courage to take the step of obedience into Christ, but for whom there is great hope and expectation that soon he (or she) will obey, but this person experiences a financial reversal and elders in this church determine that they will, from the church treasury, help this individual-- this will not, I repeat, WILL NOT split the church in Indianapolis, Indiana where brother Wallace preaches. However, when a human institution provides the medium of joining the work and resources of Tenth and Francis and Belmont, that will and has split the church all over the world. Why? Because it is human institutionalism versus New Testament congregationalism.
For some time, I have determined not to write in any brotherhood paper, because I have felt that if I were to write my honest convictions relative to these matters, it would further widen the breach between those who are called "conservatives." However, at the insistence of brother William Wallace, for whom I have the utmost regard and love, and due to the fact that it seems that most of the writing has been done by those who have changed the real issue, it seemed good to me to write these things, which I now send forth for your very candid consideration with prayerful hope that in some small way it might prove to be a blessing to a great brotherhood of God's people.
Truth Magazine IX: 9, pp. 11-12