By Ron Halbrook
The church of Christ existed first as a plan in God’s eternal mind. Then it was a promise in the utterance of the prophets. Next, it was an announcement in the preaching done by Jesus. Finally, it became a reality as people obeyed the first gospel sermon on Pentecost. As men accepted God’s grace in obeying the truth, they were added together – to the same things – to the one body – to the Lord’s church, “which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Eph. 3:10-11; Acts 2:36-47; 20:28).
Human denominations are no part of God’s plan, the prophets’ promises, or Christ’s announcement. They did not exist in the New Testament, and Christ did not shed His blood to bring them into existence. Furthermore, He did not shed one drop of blood to purchase any organizations which His people might create – whether business, political, educational, social, benevolent, or medical institutions.
Individual saints may build such human institutions with the resources which are in their “own power” (Acts 5:4). But Christ did not commission His church to build, maintain, or donate to such institutions. His people constitute in him a sanctified (set-apart) body, a spiritual institution. Each local church preaches the gospel as its assigned purpose and work, with only local organization, and with its own treasury (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Phil 1:1). The Lord’s church is not the auxiliary to anyone else’s institution, nor is anyone else’s institution auxiliary to His church!
It should not be so hard for saints to keep the Lord’s church separate and apart from human institutions, but it is plenty hard. Brethren seem determined to confuse and combine the church with schools, day-care centers, social action groups, orphanages, clinics, printing companies, hospitals, and such like. Brethren have the right to have such organizations, but no more right to latch them onto church treasuries than brethren engaged in other honest and honorable enterprises – groceries, banks, hardwares, drugs, airlines, farms, electrical, plumbing, etc., etc. No matter how honorable, honest, or helpful we may consider such enterprises, let us always remember they are not the church purchased by Christ “with His own blood.”
The history of the Lord’s church shows “that the less devotion men have to Christ the more they stand in need of human organizations” to do the church’s work (Earl West, Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, p. 212). True devotion to Christ is declining when men must create a professional clergy to do their studying for them and human institutions auxiliary to the church to do their serving for them. Brethren have been especially vulnerable to the concept that since schools do a good work, the churches of Christ ought to build and maintain there.
The institutional complex confuses and combines the church with schools. It departmentalizes and depersonalizes the words of Christ, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Lip service is paid to Christ. Consciences are soothed by reducing our responsibility to little more than giving money on the first day of the week, so that the church in turn can parcel out donations to “our” schools and other human institutions which do “our” work for “us.” The church is changing from a group of devoted saints who urgently serve the Lord into a collecting agency for an ever-growing plethora of human enterprises fighting for their financial life!
Foy E. Wallace, Jr. in an article on “The Marked Tendency Toward Institutionalism” urged that human institutions be kept separate from the church. Wallace warned against confusing and combining human organizations with the church, only after commending the good they can do in their own realm. “If individuals wish to operate hospitals, inns, homes, or schools, it is their right to do so but the church cannot operate institutions.” After saying, “There is therefore no such thing as `our institutions,’ if by `our’ you mean the church,” he explained.
Institutionalism was the tap-root of digression. It has always been the fatal blow to congregational independence. It destroys the individuality of both congregation and the Christian as Naziism and Fascism destroy individuality of their citizens in Germany and Italy. Back of institutionalism is party pride. People say: “Your church does not have any great institutions; it is not missionary and benevolent.” We would say, “Oh, yes it does!” and “Yes, we are!” And we would come to love the institutions more than the church. Schools, for instance – and this is the test: Criticize the church, and it brings no rise from these devotees of certain institutions; but criticize their school, and they will have a fit, and your name, thereafter, henceforth, and forever is hiss. But, brother, the college is not the church nor can the church own and operate it. It is private and secular and belongs to the men or group of men to whom it belongs. It is an adjunct to the home, not of the church; auxiliary to the family, not to the congregation; parents and interested individuals, not churches, should sponsor it.
It has been several decades since brother Wallace so aptly described “the tap-root of digression,” with its party spirit and institutional loyalty. The root has become a giant oak!
The evidence of runaway institutionalism is more certain and depressing all the time, as the following sample shows. Organizations are breaking out like the measles, asking for church support, like “Christian Counseling Clinic” (“serving the entire state of Florida”) and AMEN, “American Military Evangelizing Nations” (with all kinds of services for military men), both begun in early 1976. But, in our present article, we are discussing the schools alone, and the evidence of institutional digression in this one area of work is staggering! Howard Winters recently complained that “we do not even hear a faint protest anymore” against colleges in the church budget. What he uttered as a warning is in fact the sad acknowledgment of present reality – history made, not history in the making. Said he, “And unless more of us speak up, the forebodings of the future say, `The “pros” have it”‘ (August 1978, Carolina Christian, p. 14). The apostasy of schools confused and combined with churches, churches working hand-in-glove with schools, schools bedded down in church budgets, is actual and present rather than possible and future. A bare sampling of the evidence follows.
Freed-Hardeman College Campaign Committee
President E.C. Gardner of Freed-Hardeman College has appointed a campaign committee to coordinate the work of the college and of churches in taking the gospel to the whole world. The committee will seek invitations from sponsoring churches (which take money from other churches) for campaigns, and will oversee the selection and assignment of students to work in the campaigns (Gospel Advocate, April 29, 1976). For instance, twenty-six of the college’s students were selected to be part of a “campaign for Christ” in Spain on May 10-24, 1978, sponsored by the Henderson, nnessee Church of Christ (Freed-Hardeman College Today ,September 1978).
Ezell-Harding Christian School Fund Drive
Ezell-Harding Christian School began a fund raising drive in late 1975 to build a high school. The Nashville Tennessean for Sunday, November 2, 1975, relayed this announcement: “Representatives of the school will speak tonight at Otter Creek Church of Christ, Wingate Church of Christ, the Division Street Church of Christ in Smyrna and the Antioch Church of Christ.”
David Lipscomb College In The Budget
David Lipscomb College recently circulated suggestions under the title, “What Can I do?” in promoting the school, including this: “You can encourage congregations to include financial support . . . in the budget each year.” Tradition, not Scripture, is offered to encourage the practice. A letter of April 1976 asks churches to announce “in your bulletin” a High School Choral Festival at the school.
Abilene Christian College And Christian Education Sunday
October 12, 1975, was “Christian Education Sunday” in Fort Worth, Texas, for Abilene Christian College. Abilene Christian College staff members spoke “during regular Sunday evening worship services” at no less than twentysix churches (Phase II Newsletter: Design for Development, Summer 1975). This annual program has continued and serves to draw church and college closer together.
Pepperdine University’s Umbilical Cord
When Pepperdine University put fourteen nonChristians on its Board of Regents for fund raising in late 1975, Ira Rice asked, “Is Pepperdine Cutting Umbilical Cord With The Churches of Christ?” (Contending for the Faith, March 1976). We know those interested in the school may be concerned for its changing character, but when did God ever run an umbilical cord from the church for which His Son died to an institution built by men? The umbilical cord runs rather from the sectariandenominational world directly into the hearts of certain brethren. Thy speech betrayeth thee.
Brotherhood Rally at Freed-Hardeman College
Ira Rice sent a “Brotherhood-Wide Call For Those Who Still Stand For Truth . . . To Rally At Freed-Hardeman Lectureship” in 1975. He called “all those preachers, elders, teachers, and concerned Christians” who “love the truth” to thus rally around a school (Contending For the Faith, November, 1974). Shall we oppose the church-school combination, or shall we only oppose certain church-school combinations by rallying around other church-school combinations? Any program to use a combination of churches with some “safe” school in order to offset a combination of churches with “unsafe” schools is a program which carries the seeds of its own apostasy.
Harding Graduate School of Religion In the Budget
Clifton L. Ganus, Jr., President of Harding College, during the summer of 1978 mailed out promotional material for the Harding Graduate School of Religion. Speaking “as an elder in the Lord’s church” in concern for “the money the church has available to do good works,” he urged that regular donations be made from the church treasury to the college. “I would like to ask you as elders to consider the Harding Graduate School for your budget next year. It is a great work of training gospel preachers,” he said. Whatever happened to the concept that the church is all-sufficient to do its work, and the schools maintain their own existence and programs?
Keep The Issue In Focus
We do not oppose Christians forming a school, teaching at one, and including Bible instruction. But how would it be for the Jones-Smith Plumbing Company to have someone speak at the Otter Creek church to raise money for a plumbing truck, or to ask the church to put John’s Gas Company in the budget, or to plug national Pharmacy week and raise funds for the Corner Drug Store? What about an umbilical cord from the Water Works, New And Used Cars, Computer Center, or Carpet Company to the churches of Christ? How about Christian Electrical Sunday to promote a brother’s Electrical Plant, or a “brotherhood-wide call” for all true saints to gather at brother Dow’s grocery for a rally for the truth?
All those enterprises are fully as honorable and important as a school. “Oh, but the school helps people to learn the truth, which is kind of like the church, so church support of a school is different from support of other organizations,” someone is thinking. Farmers, plumbers, and grocery men are to convert those under their influence as opportunity permits just as teachers are to do. Farms, schools, stores, and other enterprises have an equal right to provide Bible teaching to anyone willing to listen, but no right to request church donations on that basis.
Churches are not to be hand-in-glove with schools, nor schools hand-in-pocket of churches. Both have their own legitimate organizational arrangement, oversight, treasury, and sphere of service. Neither has the Scriptural right to intertwine itself with the other.
Whatever the church, as such is commanded to do can be done only through the church. And the only way to do anything through the church is to do it through the local church, which is the only organization known in the New Testament. The missionary society performs the functions of the church. It stands between the church and the work being done. Its organization supercedes and usurps the organization and work of the church. The missionary society, therefore, supplants – displaces – the local church.
But individuals have certain rights and privileges. Individuals may publish papers or establish schools. They do not have to bar the Bible and religion from such in order to have the right to operate them. But such endeavors thus conducted are private enterprises, and the individuals conducting them have no right to “adjunct” their own enterprises to the church (Foy E. Wallace, Jr., “The Home and the School,” Gospel Advocate, July 2, 1931, p. 804).
Papers, schools, and benevolent enterprises can be conducted without attaching themselves to the church and functioning as adjuncts to its organization. Let the church be the church, and schools be schools, without combining the two.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 34, pp. 550-552
August 31, 1979