By Ron Halbrook
Bible history and the subsequent history of man eloquently warn us of the danger of inconsistency between our professed faith and our actual practice. We speak not here of the problem of occasional sin, from which a growing Christian turns (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2), but of persistence in a course of compromise. As we survey examples from the Bible and later history, especially the case of Guy N. Woods, may we study with sorrow and with prayer-“considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
Bible Warnings of This Danger
When Israel saw the destruction of Egypt’s army in the Red Sea, where they had just walked on dry land, they sang praises to the God of all power. Exalting His authority, they sang, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (Ex. 15:18). Sad to say, they were inconsistent with this great principle when they murmured about God’s provisions in the days which followed. When Moses reported the laws and statutes of God to Israel at Mt. Sinai, the people answered in unison, “All the words which the Lord hath said will we do” (Ex. 24:3). They were reminded of this commitment later because they were not consistent in applying it. Once Joshua challenged Israel to choose whom they would serve and they responded, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods . . . therefore will we also serve the Lord, for he is our God” (Josh. 24:14-18). Their actions often belied their profession of faith in God.
When found to be inconsistent with our principles, we must correct our course. Or, we can multiply inconsistencies until we must resolve the tension by changing our principles. We can blind ourselves to this shift in loyalty. King Saul told Samuel, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (1 Kgs. 15:20). Here Saul three times professes his loyalty to truth, but is blind to the inconsistency stated in the same breath. He could not see that his character and principles had changed, but God rejected him for rejecting His Word.
Paul said that many of the Jews professed loyalty to the law and taught it to others, but were “inexcusable” for violating their own principles (Rom. 2:1-4,17-23). “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” It is uncomfortable to have such inconsistencies pointed out because it reminds us of the need to correct our course or to change our principles. We may wish to do neither.
Campbell Chided by Creath
In discussing the work and organization of New Testament churches, a preacher named Alexander Campbell (1788-1866), observed:
They knew nothing of the hobbies of modern times. In their church capacity alone they moved. . .. 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 (Christian Baptist [reprint ed. of 1827; reprinted 1955 by Gospel Advocate Co.], 3 Aug. 1823, pp. 14-15).
An individual church or congregation of Christ’s disciples is the only ecclesiastical body recognized in the New Testament (C.B., 5 July 1824, p. 224).
During the Christian Baptist days (1823-30), Campbell clearly taught the Bible pattern of church organization. When God revealed the all sufficient organization for a local church to do its own work, He excluded the idea of churches building up and supporting human institutions. Professing to hold those same views, Campbell consented to be designated the first President of the American Christian Missionary Society formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849, though he did not attend the meeting. Did he change his views on church involvement with human institutions? Or were his professed principles and practical application inconsistent?
Jacob Creath, Jr. (1799-1886) chided Campbell for now “advocating conventions as zealously as you then opposed them. ” Creath argued,
If you are right now, you were wrong then. If you were right in the Christian Baptist, you are wrong now. If you were right in the Christian Baptist, we are right now, in opposing conventions. We follow the first lessons you gave us on this subject (Millennial Harbinger, Nov. 1850, p. 637).
Campbell never corrected his course, but stiffened and persisted in his inconsistency, claiming that in his earlier days he only meant to warn of certain abuses of extra-congregational organizations. The language of those days cannot fairly bear such an interpretation. He simply blinded himself rather than admit the shift he had made.
“The Tendency Toward Institutionalism”
In a 1939 speech at Abilene Christian College on “Christianity in a Changing World,” Guy N. Woods warned against dangers facing the church. He began,
1. The tendency toward institutionalism. The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sandbar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is a characteristic of the age. On the theory that the end justifies the means, brethren have not scrupled to form organizations in the church to do work the church itself was designed to do. All such organizations usurp the work of the church, and are unnecessary and sinful.
This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who affect to see grave danger in Missionary Societies, but scruple not to form a similar organization for the purpose of caring for orphans and teaching young men to be gospel preachers.
Woods added that all benevolent “work should be done by and through the church, with the leaders having the oversight thereof, and not through boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament.” This principle is clearly stated and is impregnable. It was commonly stated by brethren far and wide in that era, but an inconsistency in application was slowly developing.
Some brethren east of the Mississippi River (as was the Gospel Advocate) permitted churches to donate to benevolent organizations whose board of directors was chosen from several churches. The Tennessee Orphan Home in Columbia was such an institution. Some brethren west of the River (as was the Firm Foundation) protested such boards as unknown to the New Testament, but permitted a local eldership to constitute itself as a board of directors to conduct benevolent institutions on behalf of many churches. The Tipton Orphan’s Home of Tipton, Oklahoma was such an organization. Woods in his 1939 speech commended the Tipton arrangement but protested “against any other method or arrangment for accomplishing the work” (all quotations from A. C.C. Bible Lectures, 1939, pp. 42-49). Other brethren around the country protested both of these programs as inconsistent with the principle that each church was a sufficient organization to, conduct its own work.
The Tennessee plan represents “boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament” and the Tipton plan transforms local elderships into brotherhood-wide “boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament.” The two plans stand or fall together. Both fall if we rely on the Bible pattern as all-sufficient and if we reject all “boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament. ” In time Woods resolved his inconsistency not by rejecting both of the institutional plans but by defending both plans in debates held during the 1950s. Though claiming no compromise of God’s all-sufficient pattern, Woods in shifting his ground has continued to swallow more and more institutionalism, liberalism, and apostasy.
Church Support of Societies and Colleges Parallel
In 1941 The Gospel Advocate Co. published Contending for the Faith, a compilation of articles from the Gospel Advocate and other material by G.C. Brewer (1884-1956). A series of nine articles from the Advocate (10 Aug.-12 Oct. 1933) are included in the book under the heading “About Organizations: Christian Colleges, Orphan Homes, and Missionary Societies” (pp. 199-238). The plea that the society is an agent of the churches was denied. Brewer rejected church support of the societies because the society “is over the churches-controls them” (p. 235). But he defended the church financially supporting orphanages and schools, whether as the work of a single church or “a number of congregations” (pp. 210-212). Churches of Christ can build, own, and operate schools “in a cooperative educational effort” (p. 234).
On the one hand, Brewer said “would to God we could get the vision” of churches giving enough money to colleges to build, equip, and endow them so that “the work would go gloriously on” without additional church funds (p. 232). On the other hand, he believed that either a single church or many churches could sustain on a regular basis human institutions such as schools and orphanages:
The faculty and trustees of an orphan home, or a school owned and operated by a single congregation, form an organization that is not of the church. Again it is only the workers doing their work. Then, if we should have schools and orphanages that are built and supported by gifts from hundreds of churches, the trustees and the faculties of these institutions would form an organization that is not the churches, but those who compose the organization would be agents or employees of the churches (p. 234).
A 33-year-old preacher named Guy N. Woods recognized that the veteran Brewer was making the same arguments commonly made to defend missionary societies. The human institution is not the agent of the churches which support it with their donations, but is an organization which has its own agents. The church is an organization with agents and may choose its own methods in evangelism, edification, or benevolence (Acts 14:23; 6:1-7). Both the church and the human institution purchase goods and services to expedite their work. The church is not authorized to make donations to human institutions which in turn act through their own agents and choose their own methods.
Woods pointed out in reviewing “Brother, Brewer’s Book” that the principle which permits churches “to support a human institution designed to educate young men for the ‘ministry… would also permit churches “to support an institution similarly organized to keep these young men in foreign fields preaching the gospel they learned in the College! In our view brethren surrender their contention against the Missionary society When they espouse such a view of the College” (Firm Foundation, 3 Feb. 1942, p. 8). There is no hint of such criticism and warning in Woods’ recent review of the same book (G.A., 2 June 1983, p. 331). What has changed? Woods’ present views violate the principles he once taught and claims still to believe.
The principle involved may be illustrated by a chart on “Divine vs Human Organization,” and what is not. (See chart on previous page.) The local church is authorized to conduct its own program of work-evangelism, edification, and benevolence (1 Tim. 3:15; Acts 2:42; 6:1-7). Elders oversee, deacons perform special service, and all saints participate (Acts 20:28; 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1). It is sinful to go beyond the bounds of God’s all-sufficient pattern (Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2:13; 4:6; 2 Jn. 9; Heb. 7:14).
The church is not authorized to make donations for any reason to human institutions-missionary societies, colleges, or orphanages. If it is, where is the Book, chapter, and verse: _________?? Nor is the local eldership authorized to transform itself into a board of directors to oversee some work for many churches. If it is, where is the passage ___________?? This is the difference between immersion and sprinkling, or singing and playing instruments of music in worship — one is authorized and the other is not. We can give positive divine authority for one, but not for the other. God gave the church not only its work but also a divine organization by which to accomplish its work!
But here again Woods, while claiming no change on the principle that it is wrong for churches to support colleges, has shifted his ground and found a way to endorse more institutionalism. We have already reported a personal visit of 1 March 1980 during which Woods argued that churches may donate money to the college for its Bible department — but not for secular education (Guardian of Truth, 19 Aug. 1982, pp. 481, 505-506). When he confirmed that position in a letter dated 8 April 1981, he tried to parallel the church donating to a college Bible department and the church providing gospel meetings. But the purpose of supporting a preacher in a gospel meeting either locally or far away is to convert the lost. Therefore, the parallel would be church donations to college Bible departments to train young preachers and church donations to missionary societies to sustain them in converting the lost. In fact, the same institution could function in both ways!
As Woods himself said so well when he opposed Brewer in 1942, the principle which permits churches “to support a human institution designed to educate young men for the ministry . . . would also permit churches “to support an institution similarly organized to keep these young men in foreign fields preaching the gospel they learned in College! In our view brethren surrender their contention against the Missionary society when they espouse such a view of the College.” Woods has shifted ground and surrendered truth, though he can no more see it now than Brewer could see his inconsistency then.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 19, pp. 592-594
October 3, 1985