A Continued took at the Issues
In the June 1965 issue of Truth Magazine, Brethren Dudley Ross Spears and William E. Wallace urged us to "take a second look at 'the issues' and perhaps return to the fight over the real issues that are still before t h e church." The "real is- sues" are defined by them as the controversy over the right of local churches "to pool their work and resources to do a work that is common to them all" and "institutionalism. "
Their sentiments are generally representative of those who have by pen and debate borne the brunt of the battle over these issues. Some of us who have been accused of changing "the discussion and point of controversy" to "side-issues" have been hesitant to contend with them in print because we love and respect them so. They have fought long and hard to prevent all of the churches from going into apostasy. In the early fifties, while some of us kept our swords in their scabbards neatly displayed over the mantel as we were "still studying the issues," they used their swords to fight the giants of institutionalism. Because of their devotion to duty many of us now live in houses we have not ceiled and eat from vineyards we have not planted.
Therefore, it is certainly with no accusations of softness, no question of soundness, and no ill will that prompts this review. It is only because conscience demands some word.
At first glance as we attempt to take a second look, we get the impression that an attempt is being made by some to determine for the brotherhood just what "the issues" are. Institutional leaders view the responsibilities of churches in a collective arrangement; perhaps some anti-institutional leaders are trying to lump all issues into a collective package and say, "Here are the issues we fight and nothing else." One danger is as great as the other. "Issues" are determined when false positions are advocated and someone is bold enough to oppose. There would be no issue over "limited benevolence" unless someone was advocating unlimited benevolence. Some who have never advocated it have allowed it simply because they have not opposed it. In an effort to make terms concrete let it be said that "unlimited benevolence" is the practice of using treasury funds to relieve the physical needs of non-saints.
Our second glance reveals the blame for "changing the issues" is misplaced. Bro. A. C. Grider affirmed a negative proposition to the effect that "It is contrary to the scriptures for churches of Christ to build and maintain benevolent organizations for the care of the needy . . ." He commented, " . . . all can see that the point at issue in the matter is whether or not churches of Christ can build and maintain benevolent organizations. But, you know what? I debated Woods three nights on this proposition and I debated Totty three nights on this proposition and NEITHER OF T H E M EVER ADMITTED THAT THIS WAS THE ISSUE! " Brother Grider wrote further:
"In my first debate with Totty I tried to hold to the idea that the church was to support orphans. I argued (and rightly so) that the church was fully equipped to do any and all of her work without the aid of benevolent organizations. I wanted to affirm that but T o t t y wouldn't deny it. While I completely whipped Totty, I didn't make it plain enough for the audience to grasp it. When I met Woods I took the position that the church was to assist ONLY SAINTS. Such was my position in the last encounter with Totty. That it stood up is evidenced by the f a c t t h a t NEITHER OF THEM will meet me any more. I have been criticized by brethren for taking this position. Yet they AGREE that I am right!" "Some of my brethren are saying we shouldn't let the liberals push us into discussing who the church can help. They say that has nothing to do with church support of institutions. The liberals haven't 'pushed' me into anything. I debated them THREE times on church support of institutions and they spent ALL of their time discussing WHO the church could help. If I had DODGED the question of who the church could help I would have DODGED their arguments. I decided to meet them on the question of WHO. I met them and they stayed met. In fact they refuse to be met again! Other brethren can sign to discuss support of institutions and let the liberals actually discuss WHO is to be helped. As for ME, I will sign to discuss AND I will discuss WHO THE CHURCH CAN AND CANNOT HELP.''1
Our third glance reveals that we are charged with causing the rise of the unscriptural programs while we discussed the "side issues." Bro. Wallace does "not advocate or defend using the Lord's money to assist aliens" but Bro. Spears is evasive on the point. He does not "know of any local church . . . who are presently or plan to engage in a general program of benevolence," --yet he cites examples of such when he asks us to "witness the rise of 'Church of Christ Clinics,' 'Church of Christ Hospitals,' 'Homes far Un-Wed Mothers,"' etc. Our preaching against use of treasury funds for support of non-saints (including orphans) IS NOT THE CAUSE of these programs! Rather these "evidences of wholesale apostasy that has its roots in the practice of some local church caring for a non-Christian" have come about because too many, too long have considered them just a "side-issue."
In 1937 Brethren Rue Porter and Carl Ketcherside debated the institutional questions in respect to orphan homes and colleges. Both took the position that the church had the responsibility to care for orphans, -- they differed only in the question of local church treasury versus institutional care. The truth of the matter is both were wrong in their basic assumption. "Obviously it would be superfluous to discuss HOW to do that which God has not even charged the church with doing."2
A final glance suggests that Brother Spears, if he does not "believe that it can be universally and totally applied, that 'only baptized believers or needy saints can scripturally be relieved by local churches"' needs to cite the scripture that authorizes local churches to relieve non-saints. His example of the Arkansas brethren sounds a little like "the 'pore' little orphan on the doorstep." To answer his question, we say that if they or anyone else takes money from the treasury to provide food, clothing, shelter, etc. for non-saints, they do so without scriptural authority, and to the extent that any violation begins "a movement toward apostasy," they do so. That is not what this "dear reader" thinks about it only; it is what the scriptures teach! His example concerning the church where he labors (real or hypothetical, we know not) proves nothing. If that action took place where we worship, it would split the local church. There are too many brethren who believe such an action is without scriptural authority.
We too plead with our brethren to keep looking at "the issues" as they arise and oppose them on the basis of scripture and not on the basis of what "the issues" have been "the past fifteen or twenty years."
Truth Magazine IX: 11, pp. 5-6