A Statement of the Issue
That differences exist among brethren, and a disturbed state in the church has been created thereby, is known and lamented by all in formed and sincere children of God. That there are good, sincere, devout and honest brethren who hold to opposing views and positions in the points at issue is readily recognizable and cheerfully acknowledged. Also, that the difference cannot be resolved and peace and unity, as touching them, be gained and secured except that each understand and correctly represent the exact position of those whom he differs should be recognized. There can be no meeting of minds apart from an initial and mutual understanding of the respective positions held, and the points of conflict in teaching and practice. To undesignedly misrepresent the position of one with whom we differ is to widen the breach; and to designedly misrepresent one whom we oppose is to manifest a consciousness of the weakness of our own position. Being confident that there are far more of the former than the latter, we believe this statement of the issue as I understand it can contribute to a better understanding between brethren. If there be those of the latter class, no hope is entertained of doing them good, because their hearts are evil, but possibly their deceptive influence shall be restrained.
There is but one fundamental issue, and that is, what constitutes authority in religion. The basic difference, at least theoretically, between Catholicism and Protestantism is the seat and source of infallible authority. With the former it is the church; with the latter it is the scriptures. Churches of Christ, at least in this particular, are definitely committed to the principle avowed by Protestants.
However, it is granted that Protestant denominations by their very existence, as unauthorized by the scriptures, repudiate, in effect, this principle. This is evidenced by the formulation of human creeds, written by uninspired men, which serve as the rule of faith and practice of the respective denominations.
The creed serves as the test and standard of the orthodoxy or soundness of any member or congregation of a particular denomination. The creeds are subject to such changes as the governing body of the denomination may see fit to make.
Thus they are constantly modified as the changing creature of human tradition. By this process members are conditioned to receive what the church officially teaches as the authorized truth.
Present issues in the church of our Lord, as involving certain developments in the function and practice of the congregations have evolved bv the gradual acceptance of the idea that what the church does is right simply because the church does it. This is, therefore, nothing other than an acceptance of the thesis that the church has authority of a self-determining character. This is essentially Romanism in its concept and principle. The members of the Lord's church are no different from other people as touching the point of their fallibility, either individually or in their collective capacity. The infallible Word of God does not transmit or transfer its infallibility to the children of God.
It retains it for itself, and suspends all safety for us on the basis of our sole dependence on it recognizing that it is not within man to guide his own steps. Consequently, the settlemerit of any issue involving the faith and practice of the church, the morals of its members, and the worship and policy of the church must be made, if ever, by an appeal to the scriptures. The prevailing sentiment of the "brotherhood" affords no just basis of determination; for, if so, then the faith and practice of denominations is justified, since they have as much legislative authority in religion as we have. Neither they nor we have any.
"But in 1849 some brethren who had subscribed to the platform announced, conceived the idea that they could improve upon the Lord's plan of spreading the gospel.
Accordingly, they met in the city of Cincinnati and formed a human missionary society. Such an organization is a stranger to God's Word, and, of course, there was a division among the congregations. Brethren who had adopted the slogan of "speaking where the Bible Speaks and of beling silent where the Bible is silent" forsook that principle and sought to be governed by "sanctified common sense." Objections were filed from all over the land, but the pleadings of faithful, loyal souls availed nothing. The advocates of the society were determined and nothing could stop their innovation. This act slowed down the progress and gave great joy to the "Canaanite and Pierizzite" "then in the land." Hardemans Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 5, page 112.
Alexander Campbell, in the opening volume of the Christian Baptist, said: "In their church capacity alone they moved. They neither transformed themselves into any other kind of association, nor did they fracture and sever themselves into divers societies. They viewed the church of Jesus Christ as the scheme of Heaven to ameliorate the world; as members of it, they considered themselves bound to do all they could for the glory of God and the God of men. They dare not transfer to a missionary society, or Bible society, or education society, a cent or a prayer, lest in so doing they should rob the church of its glory, and exalt the inventions of men above the wisdom of God. In their church capacity alone they moved."
Much, very much, could be quoted to the same effect, but this is cited to show the attitude of these two men, which was subscribed to by many wise and good men in the past, and, thank God, is still regarded by many today. The question is: Can the churches of Christ create any human organization to function for them in accomplishing the work ordained them to do? If the church can so act with respect to one objective or work, then it can in regard to any or all legitimate works which it is charged to perform. The present generation has not been taught a tenth as much concerning the unscripturalness of the missionary society as it has on the instrumental music issue. The result has been that many brethren have never known why the former is wrong. Even among preachers the only objection some have registered has been on the basis of its excesses and abuses, thus not knowing it to be essentially wrong. Consequently, there has gradually, but within the last decade rapidly, arisen a number of human organizations designed to be church institutions and pleading for suffrage and support of the churches. The end isn't in sight, but their number continue to increase. Despite the present era of high prosperity, these Benevolent Societies continue to expand in size and number, and in their demands for ever increasing support. Some are amassing wealth in propertv and resources. The "pattern" for this course is found among the denominations, and preeminently in Catholicism; no where is there a semblance of such a pattern in the New Testament. If so, where?
All creation attests the infinite wisdom of the Creator. God never made anything other than as perfectly designed to function in harmony with, and in fulfillment of, the purpose which prompted its creation. He made man as he would have him be, and with respect to what he should do. True, he made him upright, but he sought out many inventions. He gave ancient Israel a government of judges, but in order to be like other nations around about them, they wanted a king. When the Lord made the One New Man, the Church, He made it as he wanted it to be, and so constituted and organized as to function in harmony therewith. "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good work which he hath ordained before that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:9) He has reposing within and experienced by, himself all authority, legislative, judicial, and executive over the church; He is the head of the church, and of all things thereto. Question: Has Jesus or his apostles, who occupy thrones judging spiritual Israel, ever authorized the creation by the church of an adjunctive organization to function in doing the work of the church?
For the Lord's people to turn from their role as the created to become, in turn, the creator of an institution to do the work for which they as the church, in relation to Christ, were ordained to do, is to reflect against-and- reject the wisdom of the Almighty! Now, if it be reasoned that the church as God made it cannot do the work at it is now thought to be under the obligation to perform, either God was not wise enough to so constitute and organize the church to do what he wanted done, or else we are aspiring to do that which God never ordained the church to do. Which alternative will we take?
The Missionary Society and Institutional Orphan Home are not parallel in every aspect; the former has no right to exist it all, and the latter does when it exists solely as a human institution wholly apart and aloof froin the church.
This is apparent when it is recognized that the church is the pillar and ground of truth, and is solely charged with the responsibility of spreading the gospel, but the field of human benevolence is not the exclusive obligation of the church. As a matter of fact, there is no instance recorded, nor instruction given, on the pages of the N.T. which authorizes the church to function in the field of general benevolence. If you know of such, please advise me.
But when the church creates a human organization, a benevolent society, to, do its work for it, and be supported by the church, then it is essentially and inescapably parallel to the Missionary Society. Therefore, on the very grounds you reject the one, you must the other; and, by the same token, an acceptance of one requires an acceptance of the other.
The defenders of these homes sought for a time to defend them as hunian institutions, but have retreated from that ground to one of contending they are divine institutions. They reason thus: The natural home is divine, and with its destruction by death of a parent or other circumstances, these homes are but the restoration of the orphan's original home. Evidently they don't know the difference between restoration and substitution. It has been pertinently pointed out, that this reasoning would necessarily lead to the conclusion that the orphanages of the Catholics and Baptists are divine institutions, since they take the place of the natural home of the fatherless children who are their wards! Verily, that which proves too much proves nothing. But to restore a home destroyed by the death of one or both parents would necessitate the resurrection from the dead of the deceased.
To give them mother father or mother, or both would be to give them another home, and not to be a restoration of their original home. If their be any folks on earth who should know the proper significance of the term "restoration," it should be the members of the church. But according to this species of thinking, the plea of the restoration movement was the heighth of foolishness. The denominations are substitutes for the church of the New Testament to millions of spiritually orphaned, and if substitution is restoration, then we have a varied and multiple restoration of the early church in the numerous sects of the present.
Returning to the thought of the right of an orphan or old folks' home to exist, no one, so far as I know denies or questions such, any rumor or report to the contrary notwithstanding. Furthermore, let it be emphatically stated that opposition to an unauthorized institution is not opposition to the doing of the good it is professedly designed to accomplish. I am opposed to denominations, but not to that which they claim to exist for, namely, the salvation of man. I am opposed to infant church membership and baptism, but I am not anti-baby! I am opposed to instrumental music in the worship, but not opposed to instrumental music in its rightful place. So am I opposed to the institutional organization of a human origin to do the work of the church, as an adjunctive to and supported by the church.
It is scriptural for either an individual Christian or a congregation to buy food for a needy saint, but while the individual can operate a grocery store, who, can say the congregation can engage in such. It is also scriptural to visit the sick by ministering to their needs, even securing medicine, or paying a hospital bill, but who shall boldly assert that the church can go into the hospital business. Yet there are already rumblings of such projects in the planning stage! Let the homes exist with the same status as the hospitals, as service institutions (chartered as either profitable or nonprofitable, it matters not) and let the brethren pay for the care of any child they place there on a business basis, and all objection will cease. Of course, if it be replied that they could not exist on this basis, then that would be evidence that there is no need for them, and numerous reports have been issued by judges and informed persons that there is no need for them.
We have those, such as the Superintendent of Boles Home, who affirm the above is the only scriptural way they can exist, and I concur in this view. Others, including some local preachers take the position that the only scriptural arrangement is to place such homes under the oversight of a local leadership. Yet they hurl maledictions against me, and fraternize freely with the above mentioned superintendent! If I am "anti", so is he!
Yes, in Boles Home News of October 10, 1954, we read: "An institution or facility serving the church or doing a good work is the church's servant, is under no obligation to prove itself scriptural, authorized in the scriptures as to organization, origin or practice, i.e., hospitals, utility companies, banks. Even so of orphan homes." Furthermore he takes the position that elders of a congregation are not over any home, and are over only those members of any homes as are Christians, and solely because they are Christians. This is his position both as respects the private home and the institutional home.
Let me conclude these observations with a quotation from an aged and highly respected preacher, Brother C. M. Pullias: "A great apostasy, maybe, is being planned unaware in the various things the local churches are doing under the elderships. Institutionalism is dangerous because it is a departure from the apostolic way. Human societies to do missionary work is wrong, but no more so than some human organization to take care of the orphans or old people or even the young folks. Happy is the man that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. Why not take care of all the work of the Lord as in New Testament times? Do you say times have changed? Then the church is not sufficient, eh! Look out for a great fall!" The Life and Works of C. M. Pullias, page 577.
Also I wish to incorporate, as a concluding observation of this phase of this study a quotation from Homer Hailey, a highly respected gospel preacher, and one who is loved for his great devotion to the Word of God, which is the conclusion of an article he wrote in 1956. "It is the conclusion of this writer that human organizations through which men seek to do the Lord's work are condemned on these grounds: 1. They reflect upon the wisdom of God, which is infinite, by substituting human wisdom, which is finite and fallible. They ignore God's knowledge of what is best for the accomplishing of what he wants done. (2) They ignore the divine pattern, and by their existence deny the reality of such a pattern, notwithstanding the teaching of such a pattern for congregational activity and life. (3) They defeat the purpose of God in establishing the church according to His wisdom. The development of the church in all its parts and functions is neglected. (4) Like mechanical instruments of music, human organizations created for the purpose of doing what God designed the local congregation to do are a substitution for, or an addition to, the completeness of the Lord's arrangement, and, consequently, cannot be an aid in the carrying out of that will, substituting human will and wisdom for the divine, such organization result in presumptuous sinning. God knows what He wants and how best to accomplish that end. Let Christians be content to yield to that will, working in congregational capacities and not creating human societies through which to do the work. This is the only infallibly safe course to pursue."
Truth Magazine III:1, pp. 16-19