Bible Departments and Colleges

Ralph Williams
Pasadena, Texas

How many organizational arrangements has the Lord provided to teach His Word? Is the local church not God's one and only "Bible college?" Doesn't Paul identify the "pillar and ground of the truth" as the church in I Tim. 3:15? It seems this and other passages show the N.T. recognizes but ONE Divinely ordained arrangement for God's people "collectively" to carry on Gospel edification work.

By now conservative brethren have rather unanimously concluded that church-support of "human institutions" (benevolent "homes", colleges, missionary societies) is without Scriptural foundation. Some are perhaps weary of the institutional controversy. The battle may be over but there will always be need to deal with the principles so that such error doesn't break out in some new direction. The wolf may dye his sheepskin.

In the settling dust of conflict it appears that one "institution" at least is yet standing, having escaped little or no attack. But rather, it has attracted numerous well-known preachers to sing her praises and rise to promote her worth. This is Florida College with her Bible department. Other colleges have such departments but this is the only one considered "conservative." In this same category of discussion would fall the Bible colleges.

- The Issue -

No question is being raised about the right of brethren to enter the field of higher education which is purely secular as a business enterprise. Certainly brethren have the freedom to join their talents, form corporations, and engage in any kind of business pursuits that are legal and ethical. In fact I personally like the idea of a school where science, business, and the arts would be taught by godly teachers. It would be most desirable to send our children where a wholesome academic and social environment existed - where atheism and skepticism didn't exist on the faculty and where young people might meet and mix with many others of their age who share deep convictions and true faith.

The question rather is WHERE is the Scriptural authority to collectively organized, pool talents and money, in order to teach the Word? Numerous passages authorize Gods people to do this together (collectively) as local congregations. If the Lord has specified His organizational arrangement for teaching the Gospel, then would not another organization be similar to another kind of wood (instead of Noah's "gopher") or another kind of music (instead of authorized singing)?

Col. 3:17 and I Thess. 5:21 require us to settle the question of AUTHORITY for such a practice. This article is not with rashness, but with much forethought. We've written requesting such information from F.C.'s President (as have others) without a reply. Along with others we've discussed the matter with one of the finest preachers who is also a Bible professor at F.C., but without real satisfaction. Several well-known preachers seemed a little irritated when asked to justify such an arrangement. I've read two lengthy articles which appeared in two different church bulletins, one in 1969 and the other last month. These both "beat around the bush" without giving any POSITIVE Bible authority (precept, example, implicit statement). Thus patient inquiry has been made before writing anything publicly in this bulletin. The reason for doing so now is because different brethren in the greater Houston area are soliciting in behalf of F.C., and it therefore seems especially timely to ask whether this be part of those sacred "old paths."

-Reviewing the Arguments -

Without a better defense than has been made up to this time, we suggest humbly that brethren stop and take a second look and see what the Lord says about this matter. Consider the following points:

I. We're asked to believe the college Bible department is not functioning in the realm of church responsibility. Yet the church and the College both (1) conduct Gospel meetings and lectureships; (2) hold regular Bible classes; (3) train men to preach; (4) hold regular worship services; and (5) financially support Gospel preachers.

To that extent both institutions are engaged in spiritual work.

2. "The 'HOME' is another institution besides the church teaching the Bible, therefore its all right for the college as another institution to do so."

ANSWER: This is misleading. The "home" is a divinely ordained relationship of those who make up a family. The "home" per se doesn't teach the Bible. Fathers and mothers who are Christians know they have the duty to teach their children (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). Such activity is but one phase of the church at work; i.e., individuals who make up the church (both universal and local) active individually. Or this might be viewed as the local church at work in its distributive sense.

3. "The Bible college dept. is merely an EXTENSION of the home teaching youngsters the Bible."

ANSWER: The "home" is primarily a relationship of those making up the family. To say the "home" and the college are both "institutions" is misleading. That portion of Webster's definition for "institution" which is said to be an "establishment" might apply to the "home." But he further defines "institution" as "3. An organization having a social, educational, or religious purpose, as a school, church, hospital, reformatory, etc." which is usually what comes to mind when one speaks of an institution.

 If one still wants to think of mother-father-children as "the home" having Bible instruction - at least it's a Divine "institution" whereas the Bible college is not.

How can there be a human organization existing as "an extension" of a Divine RELATIONSHIP? How can the parent-child relationship be extended? Maybe brethren mean the college acts "in place of the parents" - something like the "en loco parentis" (in the place of parents) argument which was used a few years ago to defend benevolent institutions. But societies, benevolent or educational, can only provide for services which their personnel render. Thus, societies do NOT stand in the place of parents nor can they be an "extension" of the parent-child relationship.

The phrase "extension of the home" has been taken for granted as having some merit, but when analyzed it appears meaningless. How can an educational organization be an extension of the family relationship? Is the public school system an extension of the home? Are the grocery store, drugstore, J.C. Pennys Co., etc. all extensions of the home? Of course not - these organizations, like the college, have a service, or product to sell. These latter businesses are lawful in the physical realm, but is the Bible College lawful in the spiritual realm? Thats the question brethren need to answer, and stop using the meaningless "extension of the home" expression!

4. "1 Tim. 5:8 involves education and God hasn't told parents HOW to provide it; therefore the Bible college is simply a means of fulfilling that need."

ANSWER: The source parents utilize in providing anything for their family must be LAWFUL. Should we buy discount food from a known thief? May we purchase drugs at below wholesale from the "underworld?" We must purchase physical needs legally and ethically, or go without. The source from which we seek spiritual training for our children must likewise be LAWFUL. Bible classes in the local church framework under the elders oversight are Scriptural --- so I Tim. 5:8 might be used as an exhortation to get our children to class regularly. And in the purely secular realm of learning, I Tim. 5:8 could properly be applied in sending one's child to a state university or non-religious college.

As a parent I might send my children to an informed brother to be taught some special Bible subjects(s), and even compensate him under Gal. 6:6. But that's a far cry from forming an organization, appointing a board and president, hiring a number of preachers, and asking brethren to purchase the services of this human institution by sending their children for Bible teaching.

5. "Where does the Bible forbid individual Christians pooling their funds and talents in such a Bible teaching organization apart from the church?"

ANSWER: This argument lacks the proper approach to Bible, authority. A mere prohibition doesn't equal authorization for some practice. It's somewhat like the Christian Church preacher who asks, "Where does the Bible say not to play the instrument?" We must find POSITIVE authority (precept, example, implicit statement) to establish a practice, not simply be satisfied to do what isn't specifically forbidden.

6. "If you can teach Genesis chapter I in a college science class and the Sermon on the Mount in a college psychology class, you have granted the right of the Bible to be taught in college; therefore you cannot object to a Bible dept."

ANSWER: Is this not a failure to distinguish between "incidentals" and "essentials?" There is considerable difference in incidentally comparing what the Bible says about something in a course of SECULAR study, and in making the Bible the course of study. Try the argument in reverse: If we mention what so-called men of science teach about evolution and the earth's origin in our Sunday Bible class, does that give the elders the right to establish a Science department in the local church?

The church is God's collective for financially supporting gospel preaching (pulpit, radio, tracts, etc.) and providing for Bible teaching (classes, literature, etc.). Secular subjects are only incidentally brought in as they relate to Bible truths or to help illustrate spiritual principles.

7. The Publishing House - Printing Co. argument. "Publishing houses which print the Bible or Bible literature are teaching God's Word (as the college). So if you say the Bible College isn't right, you've outlawed publishing houses too. Therefore each congregation or individual would have to produce Bibles."

ANSWER: Even if we were unable to answer this argument, remember it still does NOT ESTABLISH THE AUTHORITY for the Bible college/dept.

When you analyze this you can see there is no equality between publishing companies (generally speaking) and the Bible College. The Bible dept. doesn't usually sell or distribute Bibles, as does the publishing co.; rather it teaches and expounds upon God's Word to students. On the other hand the Bible publishing house may sell 10,000 Bibles to those teaching modernism, universities ridiculing and attacking the Bible through "higher criticism," or maybe to the Communist party which wants to find fault with God's Book.

Printers and publishers are generally in business for profit. The Abingdon Press in Nashville is supposedly one of the foremost Bible publishers according to a local librarian, yet this company also publishes other works. Isn't their motive the same as most businesses - one of making money? Consequently I have no qualms about buying their product since I disclaim the argument that publishing houses supplant the church.

The American Bible Society might come closer to what this argument has in mind. This group prints and sells Bibles very cheaply. In some foreign lands they give them away, but usually make at least a small charge because it is a source of income and livelihood to those men which handle the Society's foreign Bibles. Yet in a letter from their executive secretary it is said they circulate the Scriptures "without note or comment," standing aside "from sectarian and doctrinaire interpretations." So even the ABS in a sense lets the Bible teach itself and is not in the Bible teaching but Bible distributing field. However, unlike the other printers the Society's motive is primarily nonprofit.

Finally there is the Jehovah Witnesses with their huge publishing plant in Brooklyn, N.Y. They not only print and sell Bibles to the public but they claim to teach from (away from!) the Scriptures. If these folks were the only Bible publishers in the world then the above argument might have some merit and some of us individuals would need to get into the printing business.

It seems clear that PRINTING Bible and TEACHING the Bible ARE NOT the same thing. If an organization prints and sells them, it is in the printing business for profit. If an organization (church or college) purchases such Bibles for the PURPOSE of teaching and promoting the truth, then it is a BIBLE TEACHING SOCIETY.

The publishing house and the church are entirely different; one is for profit the other is strictly non-profit. The one is basically materialistic while the other is spiritual in nature. The college or Bible department, however, is a mixture. Its operations require fees and tuitions; yet it also deals with a spiritual value. It has its temporal and spiritual activities under one administration.

While both the college and the church operate in a common field of activity, the church charges no fees in teaching God's Word nor provides secular education, entertainment and athletics (at least not this congregation).

8. As a Gospel preacher I have authority to receive financial support in my work (1 Cor. 9:14) from individuals (Gal. 6:6), a church (Phil. 4:15), and/or churches (2 Cor. 11: 8). If I were contacted to become a member of the faculty in the department of Bible at F.C., where would I find Scriptural authority to be financially supported by a human institution, in doing the Lord's work?

Some might think they see something of a parallel in Paul teaching in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9-10) and a preacher teaching in a Bible college/dept. today. But the necessary evidence is totally absent. Where does it state that Pau1 received financial support from Tyrannus' School? Where does Luke say this was a Bible college or Paul was a part of the Bible faculty? Was credit given towards a degree for studying under Paul?

Vine's Dictionary says of "school: " "the place where lectures are delivered." Different versions render Acts 19: 9 as the "hall" or "lecturehall of Tyrannus." In this case the word "school" is like the word "home." It may have several possible meanings, and there's no way to tell from this context whether it was an "institution" or merely a place." Paul taught where and whenever he could find a place (Acts. 16:23f; 17:17, 22; 18:4, 7; 28:30-31). Brethren today sometimes find it necessary to meet in halls, funeral homes, lodge buildings, school rooms, etc. Surely none would jump to the conclusion that brethren had thus become part of those organizations whose facilities they were using. Even if it could be proven that Tyrannus had an educational institution, which it can't, the, three questions in the above paragraph still could not be answered. And there is no authority in the SILENCE of the Scriptures.

9. Could we individually contribute to a Missionary Society which was separate from the churches? Could we send money to the Herald of Truth if it changed its organizational tie with Highland and the other churches? Since we have an obligation personally to save the lost, could we form and finance an independent M.S. to serve that need? If I need the Bible College to teach my children, don't I need M.S. to reach my neighbor? One may be a left shoe and the other the right, but aren't they a pair?

10. Brethren seem inconsistent in appealing to Eph. 6:4 and I Tim. 5:8 for support of the Bible College or department. They object to "liberal" brethren seeing benevolent societies in James 1: 27 and Gal. 6: 10, yet they manage to see educational societies authorized in these verses that deal with parental duties.

11. Is the Lord glorified or man and human wisdom through such an arrangement?? (Eph. 3:10-11, 21: Col. 1:18)

- Solution and appeal -

In dealing negatively with a practice, it is generally agreed that, if possible, a positive solution ought also to be suggested. In this case, why not simply let the college be just a college, and let the church be the church? Remove the Bible department and continue with qualified Christians who can teach the various secular subjects. Maybe one or more local churches in that vicinity could support several Gospel preachers to teach daily Bible classes in their own facilities. It would also be advisable not to offer college credits for such study, thereby completely separating church and school and removing an improper motive for spiritual responsibilities. Of course brethren won't be interested in seeking a solution until they are convinced the present system is unscriptural.

We've sought to deal with every argument that we're aware of on this subject. This study will be sent to a goodly number of preachers and elders. If any portion or the conclusions of it are mistaken, we pray brethren might show us with brotherly love. It is our desire to teach only the truth and we're ready to change when it can be shown we've strayed and misapplied God's Word. If the Lord allows more than ONE "collective" arrangement, with pooled talents and funds under a common oversight (the local church), to proclaim His word, we've not found the passage or precept. We're aware of but one "pillar and ground of the truth."

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 44, pp. 2-6
September 16, 1971