By Larry Ray Hafley
This is a reply to Ben F. Vick, Jr’s. article, “Answering Hafley’s ‘African Christian Hospital Foundation,”‘ which is printed in this issue of GOT. See the January 3, 1991, issue of GOT for my article, “African Christian Hospitals Foundation.”
Brother Vick’s title is a misnomer. He advertizes his article as an answer to mine, but he provided no answers to the questions posed in my initial article. For example, (1) assuming that a missionary society were to be arranged like the African Christian Hospital Foundation (ACHF), I asked, “If this were done, would it be scriptural for churches of Christ to fund and finance that organization? If not, why not? Will any of our institutional brethren say yea or nay?” Brother Vick’s article purports to be “Answering Hafley,” but he did not say yea or nay to that question. Inquiring minds wonder why.
(2) Assuming that a veterinary clinic is scriptural (It is not, but I “authorized” one from the Scriptures on the same basis that ACHF was “authorized”) and granting that it be organized as is ACHF, I asked, “What say ye brethren? Would such an organization be ‘Scripturally Sound’?” Brother Vick claims to be “Answering Hafley, ” but he did not give an answer to whether or not a veterinary clinic, organized like the hospital, would be scriptural. So, we still do not know what brother Vick’s answer is. Will inquiring minds ever know?
(3) Remember, brother Vick is supposed to be “Answering Hafley.” In my article, I constructed a “Christian Recreation Foundation” and arranged it exactly like the ACHE Then I asked if such a recreational foundation would be scriptural – “Will our institutional brethren . . . endorse or divorce such a proposal? On what grounds do they do so? Are the medical foundations (both human and animal, physical and veterinary) parallel to the social and recreational? If not, how do they differ? Can one accept one foundation and reject the others? If so, on what basis?” Brother Vick’s article has no answer to those questions. He totally ignored that which deals directly with the issues between us, yet he is supposed to be “Answering Hafley.”
(4) Next, as my January 3, 1991, article shows, I asked if “institutional orphan homes” were arranged and organized like the ACHF, could they … avoid being’ a missionary society if they insisted that each missionary was sent by a sponsoring church?” I added, “Perhaps Ben F. Vick Jr. . . . could tell us whether such an ‘organizational arrangement’ would be ‘Scripturally Sound.”‘ While allegedly “Answering Hafley,” brother Vick conveniently overlooked this question also.
(5) Finally, I proposed a “Christian College Foundation” which was to “be supported on the same basis as the ACHF.” I asked, “Could churches contribute to kindergartens and colleges and avoid being a missionary society in so doing?” Brother Vick’s article contains no answer to that question, either; yet, he would have us believe that he is “Answering Hafley.”
Inquiring minds may be wondering why brother Vick did not answer those questions. Oh, he can answer them, but if he does, he will be faced with certain difficulties. Brother Vick believes the local church, as the Lord ordered, ordained and organized it, is God’s missionary society (1 Tim. 3:15). He believes the church, not a human organization, is to preach the gospel. Brother Vick does not believe that churches of Christ may build and maintain missionary organizations to do the work God assigned to the church (Acts 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8). He does not believe that churches should form human boards and societies and fund and finance those organizations to do that work. In this, brother Vick occupies scriptural ground. The church is sufficient to do the work God gave it to do (Eph. 4:8-16). There is no scriptural authority for churches of Christ to form or fund a human institution to do the work of gospel preaching.
However, brother Vick believes that a church may contribute to a benevolent society to relieve the needy. The church has a benevolent responsibility (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:16). Brother Vick believes that churches of Christ may fund benevolent societies which exist “to provide for the care of” the needy. In principle, what he disavows in evangelism, he allows in benevolence.
Thus, brother Vick has to tread lightly when he would criticize an organization separate and apart from the church which is designed to do the work God assigned to the church. This is part, but only a part, of the reason why he is hesitant and squeamish about answering questions regarding the scripturalness of such institutions.
Brother Vick is confronted with the same dilemma regarding church sponsored dining rooms, banquet facilities, cafeterias (a.k.a. “fellowship halls”). He contends for these things on a limited basis but opposes churches building Family Life Centers, gymnasiums, camp grounds, health spas and related items such as the Gospel Advocate and Furman Kearley advocate. However, that line of distinction between a “fellowship hall” and a gym is only one phase of his difficulties.
The most serious problem again involves the organization that provides such things. Without discussing the limit or extent of the church’s involvement in providing social and recreational activities, we grant, for sake of argument, that the church has such a duty. (It has to be granted, for it cannot be scripturally established in the New Testament.) Having granted that the church may provide social and recreational facilities, we ask: May the church contribute to a human organization which is set up to provide social, recreational and entertainment activities for churches of Christ?
If the church had a duty to provide such items, it could do so by using its own people, power and organization. That is what brother Vick and his brethren do. They select the men, mission, methods and minister the work. They do this without a human board, without creating a separate social society. Churches do not comnoute to a YMCA type organization and let it provide the social functions or “fellowship.” No, the churches do their own work. They promote and perform their own recreation and entertainment. If the work were scriptural, there would be no question about it.
But this question is raised: May churches of Christ build and maintain social and/or recreational organizations which provide the facilities (“fellowship halls,” kitchens, gyms, volleyball nets, basketballs, etc.)? May churches do this?
The parallel is uncomfortable for brother Vick and his brethren. In relieving the needy, they contend that a church may contribute to a benevolent society. This organization is separate and apart from the church. It does the work of relieving the needy which God assigned to the church (1 Tim. 5:16). So, may churches fund similar organizations in providing “fellowship halls” and gymnasiums? If the answer is “no,” then why is a benevolent society acceptable? The church is as able to provide social and recreational “fellowship” activities as it is to provide relief for the needy (Acts 6:1-6). If benevolence may be done by the church contributing to a human organization, why not “fellowship halls” and recreation? It is hard to answer and be consistent. Accept one, accept the other. Deny one, deny the other. Brother Vick accepts one (benevolent society), but denies the other (YMCA).
Guardian of Truth
Observe brother Vick’s attempt to parallel the “Guardian Of Truth Foundation.” First, GOT is not supported by churches, neither indeed can be. It is not the function of the church to print and publish materials for sale. Guardian of Truth, like the Firm Foundation or Gospel Advocate Co., is a private business enterprise. Churches may buy services from such organizations to do their work as they buy the services of electric power companies, but the church has no business funding such enterprises.
Vick quotes a description of services offered by the GOT and asks, “Now does that sound like the work of the church?” Suppose we describe the services offered by the Electric Power Company this way: “Provides lighting for worship assemblies and Bible study, makes possible the public proclamation of the truth (power for microphones, overhead projectors, tape recorders), aids in arrangements to carry the gospel into the homes of the lost (film strips, radio and TV programs, etc.).” Now, brother Vick, does that sound like the work of the church? The power company provides electricity which both churches and individuals can use to spread the gospel. But (1) there is no authority for the church to make financial donations to the power company, and (2) the power company does not conduct work or function in any sense as the church. The very same thing is true of GOT. Inquiring minds can understand this; unbalanced minds, trying to cloud an issue, pretend they cannot.
Second, “The Informer,” the bulletin published by the Shelbyville Road church of Christ where brother Vick preaches, is a means that church uses to preach the gospel. We all agree that it is scriptural. It is a way, a “how,” a means or method of that church’s fulfilling its responsibility to sound out the word of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:8).
However, should the Shelbyville Rd. church decide to turn its preaching work over to a Church Bulletin Foundation and let that organization do the work (writing, editing, arranging material), we (and brother Vick, too, I suspect) would object. The Shelbyville Rd. church is not a printing company, but it may acquire the equipment, purchase the paper, hire the workers and publish its paper, “The Informer. ” It may not set up an organization with a board of directors and send its fifth Sunday contribution to that organization and let it do the work of publishing their bulletin.
Finally, brother Vick wonders if the “anti-Bible literature brethren” might “accuse Hafley and his bunch” of being responsible for liberalism in literature. Well, brother Vick, if they do, they surely will not put their charges in print! Regarding the abuse of the N.T. pattern of church support of evangelism (2 Cor. 11:8, 9; Phil. 4:15-17; Acts 11:22; 15:3), brother Vick cites an abuse. Could not the same thing be done to sponsoring churches? Could one milk and bilk a plurality of sponsoring churches just as well as he could take advantage of scripturally functioning churches?
Please note that regarding the scriptural practice of direct support of preachers by the churches, brother Vick says, “But it may not be the best way to support the preacher.” Let that sink in. 2 Corinthians 11:8,9, and Philippians 4:15-17 “may not be the best way” to support a preacher, but it has the decided advantage of being the scriptural way!
One wonders if a benevolent society might not also take in more money than it actually needs. Have the institutional orphan homes ever begged for money and made their situation sound desperate when in reality they were financially sound?
Contending for the New Testament pattern of work and worship does not beget extremes. However, a little liberalism leavens and liberalizes a large lump. The apostasies of the 19th and 20th centuries among churches of Christ are prime examples. The Missionary Society was the worm from the germ of institutional “churchhood” concepts that led to the development of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Church support of colleges, benevolent societies, “fellowship halls,” and the “Herald Of Truth” sponsoring church arrangement of the 1940s and 1950s have spawned the riptide of liberal digression that threatens to engulf and envelope men like brother Vick, Roy Deaver, Tom Warren, Dub McClish, Johnny Ramsey and such like. They may not see it or admitted it, but it is the truth. They are isolated from Abilene to Pepperdine. They are too conservative, too much like those hated and berated “antis” to be comfortably accepted on the pages of the Gospel Advocate or on the platform of a Harding lecture program. The principles of Abilene begat Crossroads and Boston. The principles underlying the defense of “fellowship halls” and the snide jokes about worried “Wee Willie the Water Cooler” begat Family Life Centers, camp grounds and health spas owned by the churches. The “poor, starving orphan” argument that sought contributions to benevolent societies is now used to beg money for “Medical Missions” and “Christian Hospitals.”
Will brother Vick affirm that “churches of Christ may contribute to the African Christian Hospitals Foundation, that ‘avoids being a missionary society by insisting that all missionaries be sent by a sponsoring church'”? If he will affirm it, I will deny it. I propose two such debates. One will be held in Indianapolis and one in Memphis. Perhaps then we could hear brother Vick’s answers to inquiring minds.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 21, pp. 657-660
November 7, 1991