The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Edification (III)

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In our last article we showed how some brethren today, by implication, are denying the all-sufficiency of the church in edification by the erection of other organizations in addition to and out side the congregation to function in the discharge of the church's duty in edification. It is our purpose in this article to continue the same line of thought, but from slightly a different standpoint. In this series we are opposing other organizations to do the work of the church, regardless of where they might be located. Not 411 of the additional institutions are erected outside the congregation. Some are built as separate little entities inside the congregation. These it is our purpose to discuss in this article.

A Brief Historical Background

In our last article we gave a brief history of the development of the Sunday School Society as one example of an extra organization to function in edification erected outside the congregation. I think it can be shown that some of "our" present day practices that have become an integral part of "our" separate educational organizations inside the church were learned from organizations that had no the congregation, exceptions. The Sunday School Society, as a separate organization, had its own separate mission to discharge. And like the church, the discharge of the Sunday School Society's mission entailed expenditures. Consequently it became necessary for the Sunday School Society to take up contributions that it might meet these institution expenses. The classes conducted under the auspices of the Sunday School Society began to take up contributions for the support of the Society and its work. Inasmuch as the classes were a part of the Sunday School Society's work, the Society had the moral right (though there is scriptural precedent for neither the Sunday School Society nor for class contributions) to expect the classes to pay part of the expenses of the operation of the parent society. But we need here to observe that the practice of taking class contributions arose as a result of erection an unscriptural society.

Too, in years gone by, brethren have opposed, and rightly so, the erection of separate organizations inside the congregation. Shortly we shall attempt to prove that brethren now are practicing the same things in substance which formerly they opposed. In yesteryear some of the congregations that became tainted with the society spirit began to form various little groups within the congregation, each with its own officers, treasury, and program of work. These groups were called by various names. Some were called the "Dorcas Society," some the "Woman's Christians Endeavor," and others by different titles. Denominational churches have their comparable organizations for their different groups within the congregation. The Methodist call theirs the "Epworth League." However, it did not take the brethren long to see that they could not oppose a Sunday School Society outside the congregation and consistently defend a "Dorcas Society" or a "Woman's Christian Endeavor" inside the congregation. Whether the organization was outside or inside the congregation did not determine whether it was right or wrong for it to attempt to assume the church's responsibility. Any organization to do the church's work is wrong regardless of where it is located!

Separate Organizations Inside the Congregation

As we have continued to fight and to teach against Sunday School Societies, we have permitted our Bible classes to get out of hand. It has been surprising to me to see how little has been said about the organization of classes and class systems into separate bodies. I am not opposed to classes when properly conducted, but I am opposed to classes when they become separate bodies within the congregation. And some of them definitely have done so. The charges that I am now making against some classes may not properly be made against all. If some of you brethren may be involved in the practices herein condemned, I ask that you seriously consider what is said. If something is wrong with these charges, I would like to know about it. It is not my intention or desire improperly to accuse or criticize.

In our effort to show that "organized classes" inside the congregational framework are in fact separate organizations, let us observe:

1. Classes often have their own separate officers. There are some of the class systems that are united under officers over the entire system. Some of these systems in turn then have departmental officers. We are hearing more and more about "Sunday School Superintendents." There was a time when brethren were dubious of such a term. Now a superintendent oversees and directs. If classes are a work of the congregation (and they must be, else no congregational funds should be expended for their support), then God has already arranged not for just one superintendent of the classes but for several-The Bible calls them elders, bishops, overseers.

In a bulletin lying before me just now, I read: "The superintendent has seen fit to add six new classes to the weekly Bible School." So far as the bulletin report states, the superintendent had no need to consult the elders about his decision. And if the word "superintendent" properly describes his office, he had no reason to consult with anyone about the operation of these classes. His title implies it in his duty to superintend. Not only are there often separate officers over the classes as a unity in some churches, there are also often separate officers over the individual classes. Therefore these "organized classes" become organizations (separate bodies) with the organization (Organization of classes) within the organization (congregation). Sounds confusing, doesn't it?

Three or four years ago when I was living in Kansas City, a young brother called me up on the phone and said "Brother Willis, this is __________._ ___._._____., President of the Young People's Class at the ___________. ________... church . . . ." I have forgotten exactly what it was he wanted to tell me. It was something about some special program they were having. But I have forgotten who he said he was. He was the "President." Now, a president "presides" over something. Here was a seventeen year old boy, or thereabouts, announcing himself as the "President" of a work of the church, a position which God never permitted only one mature man to assume, but that He assigned to several elders. And who appointed this brash young man to his office? The class very likely elected him. And this suggests another field that needs discussion, but we have not time for it just now. But the mere fact that these classes have officers other than the officers of the congregation indicates they constitute organizations other than the congregation.

2. Classes have their own separate treasuries. From a bulletin before me I read: "Lord's Day School Offering, $20.76." If one picks up the bulletin, listing contributors to some of the orphan homes (Potter,. Maude Carpenter, Schults-Lewis, for examples), he will read "Ladies Bible Class" sent $17.00; "Young People's Class"' sent $13.00, etc. The mere fact that a certain' class sends a contribution indicates that the class takes up a contribution. This is one of the points that I suggest has been appropriated from the Sunday School Society. The Society learned that it could rake in a few pennies by soliciting the children in its classes. Brethren saw that it worked, so began to do likewise. The insidious thing about this practice is that it looks so innocent. Too, it makes possible the doing of many "good works." But not only is the practice unscriptural, it can get out of hand quickly. Sometimes (or so some brethren who have been victimized have told me), these organized classes attempt and often succeed in becoming the tail that wags the dog. When money is collected in a class, someone has to decide what is going to be done with it. Even if the class decides to turn the money over to the congregation, the class has yet decided. This necessity of someone to decide as to class functions leads to the need for someone to direct the class -- so a "President," "Secretary," "Treasurer," etc. What else would have to be done to make this group a separate organization within the congregation? If the class has a right to take a general contribution, I wonder why they would not also have the right to select themselves a preacher, some "elders," "deacons," and the right to serve the Lord's Supper, thus constituting themselves into a church within a church? And even this has virtually been done in some congregations.

3. Classes have their own programs of work. This is implied in the taking of a collection and the formation of a 'treasury. Money has to be translated into service. If it is right for the classes to assume any part of the work of the congregation, it is right for them to assume every part of that work. If a part of one's contribution to the congregation's work can be done through the classes, every part of one's contribution can be so made. This, in effect, does away with the need for any congregational contribution, congregational treasury, congregational program of work, and for congregational officers. In these classes, they set their own programs of work, set their own goals, and establish their own rewards for the attainment of these goals. From a bulletin I read: "The Lord's day morning classes are growing and plans are being made for improvements by the first of the year. Two banners have been purchased for attendance and collection. Which class will get the banners? Also some of those in the Card Class will be studying from Bible Lesson Stories in the Gospel Advocate Series." Since this is the same congregation that had a class budget, and a Sunday School Superintendent, I assume the above plans were made by him. Later in the bulletin, after the purchase of the above mentioned banners, we learn "The OFFERING banner for Lord's day school is now sailing in the Intermediate Dept. While the ATTENDANCE banner continues to sail in the Primary Dept. Hats off to them (Teachers and students). Keep the good works up! (Sic.)"

The close observer will note that these perversions are characteristic of congregations pervaded by the institutional spirit. The congregation opposed to congregational involvement in institutionalism in all its forms ordinarily are not implicated in the perversions of classes just mentioned.

Since we see that classes in some churches have their own officers, their own collections, their own treasuries, and their own programs of work, I maintain that they therefore as such constitute organizations separate and independent of the congregation. If this is correct, and I would be glad to learn if it is otherwise, then these organizations are also organizations in addition to the congregation admittedly functioning in the discharge of works that correctly are said to be the congregation's. Congregational funds, in addition to those collected by these minute organizations, are also spent in the activities of these bodies. I ask: Does the fact that the separate institution is inside the congregational boundaries make it right, while if it were outside it would be sinful? Who knows but that these autonomous bodies (organized classes) that have selected their own officers, appropriated their own treasuries in the discharge of their own programs of work, might also decide to change the sphere of their activities from inside to outside the congregational limits. Would this decision alone cause them to become sinful? Or, are they not also wrong while yet inside the congregation?

Frankly, I cannot see any difference in principle between the Sunday School Society and the autonomous classes organized and maintained within some congregations. If there is a difference, here and now would be as good a place and time to learn of it as any I know. If I need teaching on this point, perhaps someone will be good enough to accommodate me.

It has been suggested that it might be best to alter our original plan, and to discuss the subject of colleges and congregational contributions to them before we begin the discussion of the subject "The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Benevolence." This advice we have accepted, and shall give some consideration to the college issue beginning with the next article, the Lord willing.

Truth Magazine, V:8, pp. 6-8
May 1961