Does the End Justify the Means?

Paul K. Williams
Columbus, Ohio

"See how much good we are doing! " When all attempts at scriptural defense of their organizations fail, this is always the argument to end all arguments, which institutional advocates employ. It was the big argument, which began and has sustained the missionary society. "See all the churches we have established! " was the cry of the missionary society promoters 100 years ago. And thousands of brethren, rather than see this good go undone, closed their eyes to the lack of authority for such an organization in the Lord's word and enthusiastically "cooperated" to get the good done. Today the Herald of Truth features letters from its listeners, surveys of the number who listen, and estimates of the number who have been baptized as a result of the program; Gospel Press advertises how many can be reached with the gospel for so little money through their advertising society; orphan homes show pictures of the boys and girls being cared for; and schools feature the help they give to the church. The argument is--if you oppose these organizations, you are opposing the good works they do!

Recently I was in conversation with a brother in Columbus--an intelligent, thoughtful Christian and a recent graduate of my alma mater, Abilene Christian College. I was trying to show him the parallel between the missionary society organization and the organizations, which brethren are supporting today. His answer, which seems the typical response of the apologists for these human societies, was that the missionary society is wrong because it controls churches. The truth of the matter is that the United Christian Missionary Society of the Christian Church has no organic control over the contributing churches. Its only control is through influence and pressure--a control which the modern institutions among us are increasingly exerting. But in order to eliminate this feature from our discussion, I posed a hypothetical case. "Suppose," I said, "that a group of men form a corporation for selecting, supporting, and sending out preachers to needy fields. And suppose that these men do not attempt to control the contributing churches. What would be wrong with that?" (In substance, this is a description of the early American Christian Missionary Society of 100 years ago, which led to the formation of the Christian Church.) To my surprise and horror, this brother saw nothing wrong with such an arrangement. He told me that he couldn't conceive of God's caring too much about such things as organization so long as the job was being done! I think this brother expressed the feelings of many.

Reduced to its simplest form, the argument used by all of these brethren is, "The end justifies the means." They believe that the good done justifies the use of organizations not authorized in any way by the New Testament. This is not a new concept, but it is greatly erroneous.

Saul's Offering

If any man ever had the right to so argue, it was King Saul. Saul had been King of Israel only a short time. His authority was still shaky, his leadership just barely proved. The Philistines, Israel's mortal enemies and their oppressors for years up until this time, gathered to fight the new king. The people were following Saul, but trembling ( I Sam. 13:7). Saul waited for Samuel, for he wanted to entreat Jehovah's favor before going into battle. He waited a whole week, but at the appointed time Samuel did not show up. There was confusion. Saul was in danger of losing all control of his army. So, although he knew that he had no authority to offer sacrifices himself, he offered the burnt-offering to Jehovah in the absence of Samuel. It seemed to Saul the only thing he could do under the circumstances.

But Samuel thought otherwise. He appeared as soon as Saul had finished making the offering and asked, "What hast thou done?" Saul answered, "Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together at Michmash; therefore said I, Now will the Philistines come down upon mc to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of Jehovah: I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering" ( 1 Sam. 13: 11-12 ) . Certainly if ever a person had reason to "stretch" God's law a little, Saul did. If the end justifies the means, here is the occasion when it would have. But Samuel answered, "Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of Jehovah thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would Jehovah have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: Jehovah hath sought him a man after his own heart, and Jehovah hath appointed him to be prince over his people, because thou hast not kept that which Jehovah commanded thee" ( 1 Sam. 13:13-14). It made no difference that Saul saw his kingdom and his people in peril. God's commandments are not to be ignored--ever!

Playing With Fire

Brethren, you are playing with a dangerous fire when you fool around with these unauthorized church-supported institutions. In spite of the good intentions of their founders and supporters, these organizations are contrary to God's commands. God has authorized only one organization for the church --the local congregation. For brethren to form others tied to the church is the same as Saul's offering a sacrifice he was not authorized to make. God's punishment will be sure on all who violate His commands. The end does not justify the means!

Truth Magazine VII; 5, pp. 10-11
February 1963