The Present Day Issues (I)

Jim Roberts
Hope, Alaska

This article may seem unnecessary to many readers who have a perfect knowledge of what I will write; nevertheless, to brethren in many places, including most brethren in Alaska, these things have been overlooked because the problem was not being practiced in their particular area. Also, many brethren have heard only a distant echo of the so-called issues, and that echo had become distorted until it was not representative of the original voice. For these reasons I purpose to review once more the questionWhat are the issues?

I do not purport that my concept of what constitutes the present day issues is a standard to which other brethren must adhere. Certainly any departure from the Scriptures in doctrine or in practice necessitates an open and firm stand for the Truth. For the purpose of this article and a second article, which I hope will follow next month, I will feel free to set forth what I believe to be the principal issues that are bringing about division in the body of Christ. These principal issues may be enumerated under two distinct headings I. Institutionalism, and II. Sponsoring Church System. These two questions occupy positions of such importance that I verily believe that were they to be resolved, a spirit of peace would prevail in the church the like of which we have not seen for decades This is not to se,' that there are not other questions which need serious consideration, but that these two cast shadows so large that the others must grow within these shadows.

Let us now consider these principal questions.

I. Institutionalism

Institutionalism has often been described as a loaded term, and rightly so. The word has meant different things to different brethren. Therefore I will define the sense in which I will use it:

"Institutionalism is the practice of a church contributing from its treasury to a man-made organization which is engaged in performing a work which God assigned to the church, this organization being outside the control of the elders of the contributing church."

The American Christian Missionary Society, founded in 1849, was such an institution. Notice the traits of that Society:

  1. It was designed and established by men.
  2. It was established to carry out the work of preaching the Gospel, which is also the mission of the church.
  3. The elders of any church did not oversee it.
  4. It did solicit funds from church treasuries to sustain its work. This case of institutionalism precipitated a division in the church that resulted in the present day Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A division will always occur when institutionalism begins to be practiced by churches of Christ, because it is a violation of the scriptural principle of elders-overseeing the church as it carries out its mission (Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2). Institutionalism is simply a man-made system borrowed from man-made denominational churches.

Present day examples of such institutions receiving contributions from the treasuries of churches of Christ include the Gospel Press, some colleges: (some do not solicit contributions from churches), and about half of the orphan homes (the other half are overseen by the elders of a church). There are other such arrangements being carried on even now by churches of Christ, but these will serve to exemplify what I am describing.

Notice the earmarks of these institutions:

  1. They are of human origin.
  2. They are engaging in works that include some of the mission of the church.
  3. They are not under the oversight of the elders of any church.
  4. They receive contributions from church treasuries.

Suffice it to say, the Scriptures are completely silent concerning such practices in New Testament times, (I Cor. 4:6).

II. What the Issue of Institutionalism Is Not.

Now lest I be misunderstood, let us consider, as I have defined it, what the issue of institutionalism is not. Some brethren in the past and some brethren today oppose the very existence of a college or an orphan home or other such institution. I do not take such a position. I believe that such organizations have the right to exist and have the right to carry out the good works for which they were intended. I believe this because I believe that you have the right and I have the right as individuals to carry out our responsibility for doing good works. If we chose, for example, to form a school in which our children may receive an education without being subjugated to false teaching and immoral social practices, and at the same time receive daily Bible teaching, we may do so, for it would be a commendable work in which Christians might participate. We should not, however, expect the church to begin to finance our institution. Expenditures from the church treasury should be for works overseen by the bishops of the church and not for works overseen by the board of directors of an institution. In the one case church officers oversee church resources, while in the second case overseers not mentioned in the Bible oversee church funds.

Let me emphasize that I do not oppose the existence of an institution that is founded by individuals for the purpose of carrying out good works (Eph. 2:10). I do object to the appropriation of funds from the divinely authorized treasury of the divinely authorized local congregation to support a human institution in carrying out a work that is not administered by the divinely authorized officers of the congregation.

III. Conclusion

Faithful brethren should keep watch for such unscriptural practices of institutionalism. Many brethren throughout the world are speaking out against this error. I would encourage you to observe the firmness with which Reuel Lemmons and Roy H. Lanier, Sr. resisted the subtle push for church support of colleges. I mention these two brethren because of the tremendous influence that they have with so many brethren. They are to be commended for their firm stand in this case and we only wish that we could hear more from them in this forthright manner. Their tremendous influence could be decisive in stemming the institutional tide.

I would encourage anyone, especially in Alaska, who differs with me on the institutional question to answer this article. The pages of Truth Magazine are available to you for this purpose. Defend your position if you believe it to be defensible!

We hope in the next issue of this publication to continue our examination of the present day issues with a similar treatment of the sponsoring church question that also is creating a division within the church.

Truth Magazine X: 12, pp. 5-6 September 1966