October 21, 2017

The College in the Budget – Review of Bro. Baxter’s Tract

By Reuel Lemmons

(EDITOR'S NOTE: My position on the matters discussed in the following article has been made quite clear I think. It therefore should be obvious to regular readers that I do not concur in every particular in Brother Lemmon's article. However, I am glad to print Brother Lemmon's unequivocal opposition to the church support of Bible Colleges and to church support of every benevolent institution under a board of directors (such as Boles, Potter and Schultz-Lewis), whether an orphan home or a home for the aged. He therefore op poses congregational sup port of 12-15 of the 31 "homes" built and maintained by Churches of Christ. Please read carefully this article, and look for another from him to appear in the July issue of this paper. C. W.)

Unpleasant tasks often befall the editors of brotherhood papers. Among them is the necessity of sometimes taking issue with good friends and esteemed brethren. We have that unsavory task occasionally, and n o w must face up to it again.

It is with extreme reluctance that we do so now, because the man with whom I must take issue is a close personal friend and a man for whom we hold the highest possible regard. Brother Batsell Barrett Baxter heads the Bible Department of David Lipscomb College. He is a preacher for the Hillsboro church in Nashville, staff writer for the Gospel Advocate, and featured speaker on the Herald of Truth radio and television programs. Because of these positions the error he teaches through his recent tract "Questions and Issues of the Day" is all the more dangerous, and a reply is forced upon us. Since the tract was mailed to a wide mailing list we deem it unnecessary to run the entire tract in the Firm Foundation in replying to it.

The tract comprises the gist of three sermons preached in the Hillsboro church building, and Brother Baxter says in a private letter: "The elders of the congregation are in agreement with the positions which I have taken and suggested that it be put in print." The tract begins with the statement of principles with which all agree, but it proceeds to the conclusion that churches should support liberal arts colleges out of the church treasury. In fact the whole purpose of the sermons and the tract was to establish this conclusion. With such a conclusion we must disagree.

Brother Baxter nowhere quotes the scripture that would justify the church contributing to a liberal arts college; he uses human reason entirely and finally, after making some strong statements about the responsibility of the church to support colleges, he throws the whole thing in the realm of opinion, and urges unity, from John 17, on the basis, of course, of the opinion he holds and with which he says the elders of the Hillsboro church agree.

If this were a difference of opinion between Brother Baxter and me, I would not waste the time and space to reply to him. There is grave danger that division may come to the church over this matter and victory in the field of opinion is not worth dividing the church of my Lord. To me this is a matter of faith with reference both to caring for the indigent and supporting colleges from church treasuries. I will deal with the question of caring for the destitute first.

Paul said, "If any woman that believeth hath widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened: that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (I Tim. 5:16). Did Paul bind the care of the indigent upon relatives who are able to care for them? I think surely no one will deny this fact. Paul said, "If any provideth not for his own, and especially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). If one does that which makes him worse than an unbeliever, he has certainly violated "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." If Paul's statement concerning the care of indigent relatives is a matter of faith, who can deny that his statement in the same verse concerning the responsibility of the church is a matter of faith, and not a mere opinion? This verse obligates and authorizes the church to "relieve them that are widows indeed."

I am not interested in theological nit picking. I realize full well that there are borderline cases that may well test the wisdom of all of us. What I am interested in is the germane fundamental principle underlying our religion. Then it becomes every man's responsibility to apply these principles to each individual case. I am interested in restoring the New Testament church and the basic rules and concepts of the church which were laid down by Jehovah God through the Holy Spirit. Among these basic principles none is more basic than those dealing with the fundamental nature of the church. To tamper with these is to tamper with the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

The popular theory of today is that of relativism. In this tradition nothing is absolute. Sins specifically condemned yesterday may become the norm of today -- and what is right today may be dead wrong tomorrow. Our brethren have not, up until now, given in to relativism. With them there have always been a set of absolutes. The word of God has been considered a plumb line to which we must true our crooked walls. This is the heart and core of our faith. If it were to disappear we would be without hope. Once we have committed ourselves to honoring these absolutes of Scripture we have fixed policies and principles within the framework of which we are free to act, but outside of which we dare not venture. One church is a spiritual kingdom, created by Jehovah on the day of Pentecost, and given the tasks of (1) preaching the gospel; (2) edifying the saints; and (3) caring for certain needy ones. It is not designed as either a Red Cross or a liberal arts college. There is a sense in which it possibly pleases God that they exist and that they do their work; but Jehovah God did not design the church to be the pillar and ground of support for either of them.

We have predicted before that the attempt would be made to fight this battle on the grounds of the orphan home, and try to establish a precedent for the church contributing to a competitive human institution, based upon our universal sympathy for orphan children, and that having accomplished this step, the next would be to try to put the college in the budget. (Emphasis mine

C. W.) This is the course taken by Brother Baxter, and those who would seek the goal of the college in the church budget. He argues the orphan home and then draws college conclusions. It would help him and others to see their error if they would argue first the college in the church budget and draw orphan home conclusions.

The Bible teaches the church support of orphans on the basis of James 1:27 and 1 Tim. 5:16. But the Bible does not teach church support of liberal arts colleges. Brethren before Brother Baxter have made the mistake of trying to parallel the orphan home and the college with relation to support from the churches. They are not now parallel and were not then. The church has an obligation to care for destitute orphan children, but it does not have an obligation to contribute to the development of Olympic track teams and the teaching of mathematics to the sons of millionaires in a liberal arts college. We must insist that proving church support of one in no way establishes church support of the other. They do not stand or fall together.

I am the friend of both orphan homes and colleges. Neither have any better friend, or more loyal supporter among the advocates of the college in the budget than they have in me, and they all know it. What I am going to write is prompted by a love for the truth that is strong enough to force me for conscience sake to differ publicly with very close friends. What I shall write will not harm in the least any home or college. It will, rather, help them all. I simply cannot allow an erroneous concept of the church to lead my brethren down the secular path the Roman Catholics and Mormons have taken with regard to church participation in private human enterprises. This tract, and the view held by all "college in the budget" brethren tampers with the faith once and for all delivered to the saints concerning the nature of the church.

Brother Baxter introduces his plea for the college in the church budget by the usual arguments relative to the orphan home and the statement that "they stand or fall together. We must disagree. One of them is the church administering its charity to those whom the church is commanded to care for; the other is a private liberal arts educational arrangement to provide benefits for young people concerning whom the church has no obligation because they are able to care for themselves. It is inherent in the nature of the church to care for orphans; it is not inherent in the nature of the church to give a liberal arts education to the Sons and daughters of sometimes-wealthy families. It does not follow that if the church can support an orphan home it can support a college.

Since these brethren go the orphan home route in order to approach the college in the budget conclusion we shall follow them there. There has been as much loose thinking and writing in this field as in any other. Many of the arguments made will not hold water. And it is largely because of these arguments that the college-in-the-budget conclusions are drawn. The orphan home issue is used simply and solely to try to establish the practice of the church contribution to an institution governed by a board. These brethren feel that if they can establish such a right with the homes then the church is at liberty to contribute to any board arrangement, including a liberal arts college operated by a board.

We now come to establish the fact that the church (local congregation) is God's benevolent institution the same as it is God's teaching and evangelistic institution. No one denies that the church is both obligated and authorized to preach the gospel to the lost and to edify the saved. And whatever organization (orderly arrangement of resident forces) is necessary to do the job, this organization is authorized. In 1 Tim. 5:16, Paul bound upon the church the care of the indigent who had no relatives to care for them. To deny this is to deny a plain positive statement of scripture. Brother Baxter admits this when he says in his tract, after quoting the verse, "This plainly teaches that widows who have no other source of support are to be the burden of the church. James tells us what is to be done; Paul tells us who is to do it" (page 17). The fact that individuals are authorized to do the same thing does not mean that the church as a corporate body is not authorized to do it. Both churches, as corporate bodies, and individuals are authorized to preach the gospel. Because the individual is authorized to preach does not cause us to say the church has no authority to do it. And the fact that one individual is authorized to preach the gospel does not lead us to conclude that a group of individuals may form a society to supplant the church in preaching the gospel. Neither may we scripturally conclude that because one individual, as well as the church, may care for an orphan that a group of individuals may form a corporation for the purpose of taking care of that group whose care Paul bound on the church.

Whatever duty is bound upon the church as a corporate body, the church may and should perform under the leadership and oversight of its elders. Having seen that the church is obligated and authorized to relieve those widows and orphans who have no relatives able or willing to do so, we now propose to show that the church is capable of doing this work with resident forces. We offer a syllogism frequently used in one form or another by brethren.

1. All work of the church as a corporate body is under the oversight of the elders of that church.

2. The care of widows of 1 Tim. 5:16 and widows and orphans of James 1:27 is a work of the church as a corporate body.

3. Therefore, the care of widows of 1 Tim. 5:16 and widows and orphans of James 1:27 when done by the church as a corporate body is to be done under the oversight of the elders.

 

It is an admitted fact that when both the major and minor premises are scriptural, the conclusion must be scriptural. Will Brother Baxter deny the truth of the major premise? Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2 are offered as proof of the premise. I have never known a Bible scholar among us who would dare deny the truth of that promise. Will Brother Baxter deny the truth of the minor premise? Will he deny Paul's statement? He not only will not deny it, he actually affirms it in his tract as quoted. Since these premises are true and scriptural, we affirm that the conclusion is scriptural and call on Brother Baxter to show why it should not be accepted, or admit that it is true and that his tract is contrary to the faith of the gospel.

But I am told that the nature of the church is such that it can act as God's preaching and teaching institution, but that it cannot act as God's benevolent institution. We are told that in the work of benevolence here are things, such as caring for babies, that the church under the oversight of elders is not capable of doing. If the church is not capable of relieving widows and orphans, why did Paul say what he did in I Tim. 5: i6? Did God give the church a task that the church as a corporate body cannot perform?

My second argument deals with the nature of those institutions that are not the church. I want it clearly understood that I have no objection to welfare organizations of any legitimate kind existing and doing their work, whether they care for orphans or administer the state welfare program. In such cases either the officials of the state or a board of interested citizens may administer them. The board may be composed of Christian men. These are private businesses and in no way anti-scriptural. Many rest homes care for the aged in this way; they have services for hire and they care for many whom the church is not obligated to care for. Many orphan homes have been established on this basis and they relieve much human misery. An institution becomes anti-scriptural when it cares for exclusively those for whom the church is responsible for caring under the injunction of 1 Tim. 5:16, and thus supplants the church in doing this work God gave the church to do.

This is the very thing wrong with the missionary society. I have seen various attempts to tell what is wrong with the missionary society. The society is not wrong simply because it dominates the churches; that could be corrected. It is wrong because it is a gospel preaching arrangement set up under a board, to do the work God gave the church to do, and which supplants the church in this area. It is an organization other than the church, not controlled by the elders whom God ordained to have the oversight of the work of the church. Any institution that supplants the church in carrying out either the missionary obligation or the benevolent obligation of the church is anti-scriptural. So long as a home operates as a private business enterprise, with services for sale, its services may be purchased by any and all who may need them, including the church, just as the services of a hospital may be purchased. But when a home under a. board operates to care solely for those whose welfare it is the church's responsibility to provide, in this one respect it is identical with the missionary society. It is therefore anti-scriptural on the basis of the fact hat it is a human institution that supplants the church in doing a work God gave the church to do (1 Tim. 5:16; James 1:27).

This entire college-in-the-budget question hinges upon whether the church can support a human organization "which is doing a good work that God wants done." It has been my contention from the beginning that brethren are not so much interested in church support of homes under boards, but they are interested in contending for that in order to ease into a campaign for church support of colleges. (Emphasis mine--C. W.) Brother Baxter actually answers his own arguments. He tells us that James 1: 27 tells us "what" is to be done, and I Tim. 5:16 tells us "who" is to do it. With this we agree. The "who" in 1 Tim. 5:16 is the church (corporate body). A board is not the church. Therefore a board cannot fulfill 1 Tim. 5:16. Only the church (corporate body) can do that. The charge is given to an autonomous church but not to an autonomous board. If the church is charged in 1 Tim. 5:16 with doing a work, the very charge excludes the passing of the buck to something which is not the church. Brother Baxter says that I Tim. 5:19 teaches plainly that widows and orphans are to be "the burden of the church." How can they be that "burden of the church" when the Board usurps that responsibility?

The point I want to remain crystal clear in this exchange of arguments is that I am not arguing over how the church is to do what the Lord obligated and authorized it to do. I am not arguing for my opinion to prevail over Bro. Baxter's opinion on any subject. He is entitled to his opinions as much as I am entitled to my opinions. And in the realm of opinions I am willing to be liberal; I am willing to sacrifice my opinions in order to have peace among brethren. But when the Lord said the church is to relieve them that are widows, indeed, I do not argue for my opinion when I insist that we allow the church to do what the Lord created it to do. And when brother Baxter argues that a group of men ought to be allowed to do that work, and that churches ought to subsidize this group, he has violated a principle of faith. (My emphasis--C. W.) Bro. Baxter would not argue that the church is to subsidize every family in the congregation, for the Lord teaches that the head of the house is to take care of his own. To argue that the church ought to do it would be a violation, a perversion, of the faith delivered to the saints. Why can't he see that he violates, perverts, the faith when he argues that a group of men ought to be subsidized to do what the Lord said his church is to do? No, this is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of faith. And Bro. Baxter, and those associated with him in this movement, is violating the faith, perverting the gospel, and if division of the church throughout the nation results from this controversy, he and his associates must bear the shame and disgrace for bringing it about. (My emphasis--C. W.)

(More next month)

Truth Magazine VIII: 9, pp. 16-20
June 1964

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