August 19, 2018

“Our Institutions”

By Reuel Lemmons

(EDITOR'S NOTE): The following article is written by Brother Reuel Lemmons, Editor of the FIRM FOUNDATION published at Austin, Texas. There are some statements in this article with which I am not in exact agreement. But since Brother Lemmons is considered a friend to the institutions that brethren have created, his warnings might be more objectively read than would similar words from me or some other brother stigmatized as an "Anti." Brother Lemmons sometimes writes strong articles in favor of the modern institutional trend, and at other times he will write just as strong articles in opposition to modern digressions. This disposition renders him completely inexplicable, so far as I am concerned. He likes to call his position the "middle of the road." I prefer to think that he is strong on both sides! But when he writes something worthwhile, it should be read by as many as will read it. Hence, we reprint his article, even with its objectionable features, that some who otherwise may not have seen it may have the opportunity of reading it.

It seems that the brethren favoring the institutions to be supported by the church may be having some doubts as to whether they now have the ball of institutionalism rolling too fast or not. Brother Lemmons expresses concern about too many institutions being created. lf this were not surprise enough, imagine my surprise to find Brother Ralph Godfrey, Superintendent of the "Home for the Aged" at Gunter, Texas saying the same thing in the August 5, 1963 issue of the home bulletin. He says "The future may bring an increase in homes and schools until the people of the churches and the separate congregations may rebel against the call for support." However, Brother Godfrey's warning may only be a jealous concern for support of the institution which he heads. But it is a fact that brethren are founding institutions yearly. Even if such church-supported institutions were scriptural, the supply has long exceeded the need.

But now please give attention to Brother Lemmon's editorial published in the July 23, 1963 issue of the FIRM FOUNDATION.

We believe sincerely that good men can, and should upon occasion, engage in various enterprises and projects that do lend assistance to the ongoing and outreach of the church. For instance, "our" colleges. We call them "our" colleges because "our" people originated them, are run by "our" people, educate "our" children and have "our" interests. At the same time we feel there should be a word of warning occasionally against promotional schemes and projects which, as the brain-child of some enthusiast, becomes the door-step problem of people who didn't want it and were not interested in it, but because of feelings of attachments to it and its founder feel under obligation to contribute.

Brethren should recognize that in setting up any program, institution, or private enterprise, whether benevolent or missionary, that they are our own private creations. They did not come from heaven and are not going there. If others do not see fit to support them no one should feel that his sacred cow had been kicked. We keep hearing of reports of congregations being asked why they did not support this or that project. We deny that it is anyone else's business except their own. Just because a project is good is no reason why all are duty-bound to support it. It should never become a mark of loyalty or badge of fellowship that "we support this and that, and send contributions to these and those."

Many have been careless about forming institutions." Some are set to have them for no other reason than that some others are set not to have them. All should remember that none of them have any more sacredness than their purely human originators can bestow upon them. We have gone "institution" crazy in the last few years. We are not only building more than we can decently support; we are building more than we need. It is time for some sober thinking.

On this page about two years ago we had some things to say about homes for the aged. As is usually the case, the remarks met with mixed reaction. Some were sure we had it in for homes for the aged. But those who run them were almost unanimous in their praise. We want to say some more right here. We believe that one old folks home could care for every case in the brotherhood that could conceivably come under the heading of scriptural church care. In too many cases members are interested in preparing comfortable quarters for their parents at church expense. Let this care be given, but let it be done privately that the church be not burdened.

We simply cannot see the wisdom in every community building itself such a home and then presenting it as a public burden upon the members of the church. When such is done these projects usually become the front line of defense, and you can criticize the church without a challenge, but if you criticize the project your name is Icabod.

There are obligations upon the part of all brethren to consider all institutions in their true light. Institutions can be begun, can serve a useful purpose, and can cease to be, without vitally affecting the church. They should never become the issues over which brethren set each other at naught. The brother who does not want to support one of them should not be forced to, but he shouldn't carry a chip on his shoulder either.

Wild and challenging statements, either for or against, usually are but the expressions of closed minds and hard heads. The bluster and bluff that usually accompanies either the advocating of, or the damnation of, one of these projects is usually just that. A man's conscience can go a long way to gain his brother if his heart is going in the same direction. The damage is usually done by those whose voice is bigger than their conscience.

Thomas Campbell had it about right when he said that we should "consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brothers, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same Divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance."

The breach is widened usually by suspicion and accusation coming with equal vehemence from both sides. When pride and vainglory replace the Holy Spirit in men's hearts, half-truths and misinformation become the darts and spears and shafts and arrows of a mortal combat. When the battle is over, all can see the folly of the thing, but the damage is done. This is a time for clear heads and honest hearts. War is such a waster of energies and of lives. It might help some if all would take a fresh new look at "our" institutions and get them refocused. They are not divine; they are human. None of them have died for us and few of them are worth our dying for. And the world doesn't rise or fall with any of them.

Truth Magazine VIII: pp. 9-10
December 1963