Delivered at the Nashville Meeting: What Relationship Should Institutions Sustain to the Church? (2)

By Mike Willis

Another Drive For Church Support of Bible Colleges

Having witnessed the success of those who were able to put orphan homes in the budgets of churches, the college brethren, as represented by Batsell Barrett Baxter, argued that the orphan home and Bible college “stood or fell” together.(1) Churches across the nation began receiving bold appeals from the Bible colleges to support their program of Bible teaching. This time the brethren were better prepared to accept church support of these human institutions and the colleges have been quite successful in persuading churches to send donations to colleges. Some who have opposed church support of colleges have salved their consciences by saying that they were donating to the Bible department, not the college.

Proliferation of Church Supported Human Institutions

In the early discussions regarding church support of human institutions, those opposing church support of orphan homes argued from consistency:(2)

If James 1:27 authorizes churches of Christ to build and maintain institutions, then such a conclusion would also authorize the following:

Jas. 1:27 – visit the widows – CHURCH WIDOWAGES

Heb. 13:2 – entertain strangers – CHURCH MOTELS

Matt. 25:36 – clothe naked – CHURCH HABERDASHERIES

Matt. 25:36 – visit sick – CHURCH HOSPITALS

Matt. 25:36 – feed hungry – CHURCH CAFETERIAS

Matt. 25:36 – visit prisoners – CHURCH PRISONS

If James 1:27 authorizes churches to build and maintain benevolent institutions to care for orphans, then Hebrews 13:2 authorizes churches to build motels to entertain strangers; Matthew 25:36 authorizes churches to build church haberdasheries to clothe the naked, build church hospitals or clinics to visit the sick, build cafeterias to feed the hungry, and jails to visit the prisoners.

As the years have passed, we have witnessed a proliferation of church supported human institutions by those we refer to as “liberals.

Here is a partial listing of them:

1. Medical clinics.(3)

2. Missionary societies such as World Bible School and Western Christian Foundation Incorporated.

3. Church camps.(4)

4. Retirement units.(5)

5. Triangle Boys Ranch, a home to care for juvenile delinquents.(6)

6. Tennessee Valley A Capella Singing, This non-profit organization is appealing for church donations to provide annual singings.(7)

The church support of orphan homes was incipient institutionalism; this is decadent institutionalism! Through the proliferation of these human institutions, the church has become a fund raising agency for the various human institutions planned and developed by man. The involvement of the church in the support of human institutions, the changing of the mission of the church to build kitchens (limited in size of course), gymnasiums, and other recreational activities, the search for a new hermeneutic by discarding book, chapter and verse authority is driving the institutional churches into the mainstream of protestant denominationalism. The insitutional church of Christ is just another denomination among denominations.

What Stance Should the Church Take Toward Human Institutions?

There are a multitude of human institutions with reference to which the brethren see clearly what our stance should be, such as:

General Motors

Baptist Hospital

American Cancer Society

Vanderbilt University

Proctor & Gamble

Baptist Orphan Homes

Utility Companies



General Foods

The church has had no trouble understanding its relationship to any of these human institutions, whether operated for profit or as non-profit institutions. The church may need to buy a service from one or more of these human institutions (e.g., to pay to have a car repaired for a needy member, to pay for hospital care, to purchase utilities, to purchase clothing, etc.).(8)No congregation has trouble seeing that there is no Bible authority for a church to send a monthly donation to General Motors, Sears, Baptist Orphan Homes, etc.

However, when these institutions begin to be operated by brethren, our understanding of human institutions becomes cloudy. They are named “quasi” institutions and placed in a different category. That should not be the case. Brethren operate each of these human institutions:

Tompkinsville Motor Co.

Wright-Patterson Realty

Florida College

Transmission Shop

Guardian of Truth

Sears Heating & Cooling

Churches have a right to purchase a service from any of these companies (e.g., to buy a car from Tompkinsville Motor Company, to buy or sell a house through Wright-Patterson Realty, to purchase or repair a heating system through Sears Heating & Cooling, to purchase class material from Guardian of Truth Bookstore, etc.). Churches do not have a right to make a monthly contribution to Tompkinsville Motor Company, Sears Heating & Cooling, Florida College or Guardian of Truth.

For a man to contend that a church has authority to make a contribution to any human institution, he has an obligation to provide Bible authority for that contention. He must cite book, chapter, and verse that provides general or specific authority by command, example or necessary inference.

Secondly, he must provide some biblical criteria which designate and limit to which kinds of human institutions the church may contribute. In the absence of such criteria, the church would sustain the same obligation to make financial contributions to every human institution – just as much a donation to send a check to General Motors, utility companies, etc. as to David Lipscomb College, Potter Orphan Home & School, etc. Hence, he needs to provide the biblical criteria for determining which human institutions should receive church support and which should not.

In the absence of Bible authority, the church which sends donations to any human institution has been guilty of these sins:

1. Transgression. In 1 John 3:4, the Bible says, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for is the transgression of the law.”

2. Digression. Hebrews 8:5 requires us to “make all things according to the pattern.” In the absence of divine authority to support human institutions, their support is a digression from the pattern.

3. An unholy practice. The New Testament of Jesus Christ is scaled by his blood (Heb. 9:18-21; 10:9-10). It was made holy by his blood. These human institutions are not a part of these holy practices.

4. Presumption. Romans 10:17 states that “faith comes by hearing” the word of God. If you cannot read in God’s word about it, you have no assurance at all that God approves of it, and thus you are presumptuous to involve the church in supporting these institutions.

5. Irreverence. They indict the provision of God; they imply that God’s provisions (Eph. 3:10-11) are inadequate to do the work he commanded the church to do.

6. Sectarian in nature. The creation of these human institutions builds a denominational loyalty to the “Church of Christ denomination.” These institutions are “our” orphan homes, colleges, hospitals, youth camps, unwed mothers homes, etc.

7. Pharisaical. Those who are associated with these human institutions must do their good works to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1-10), bragging to the churches about the good which they are accomplishing (sometimes exaggerating the amount of good), in order to keep funds coming in.

8. Divisive. The human institutions have divided the church in violation of 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.


Our stance toward human institutions, including David Lipscomb College, Harding College, Abilene Christian University, Potter Orphan Home and School, Boles Home, Southeastern Children’s Home, hospitals, singing societies, church camps, old folks homes, etc. must be to keep the church from becoming involved with them. We must not allow the funds collected upon the first day of the week to be used to support these human institutions. We must not make contributions to some human institution a badge of loyalty to the Lord. Let the church be the church.

I am not come to this meeting with my opposition to church support of human institutions to be used as a bargaining chip to accomplish some compromise for union. My conscience demands that I stand opposed to church support of all human institutions. The issue of church support of human institutions is just like the issue of using mechanical instruments of music in worship. Just as that issue can be reduced to these terms – they either quit using the instrument or we quit objecting to its use – so also is the issue of church support of human institutions. For unity to be attained, either you must cease your practice of supporting human institutions from the church treasury or we must cease our objection to that practice. There is no middle ground.

I appeal to you who believe the doctrine of the all-sufficiency of the church to bring your practice into harmony with your teaching. I appeal to you who are disgruntled with decadent institutionalism to renounce institutionalism in all of its forms. Staying on the institutional ship will demand that you accept:

church support of colleges

church gymnasiums

church support of missionary societies

fellowship with the Christian Church

interdenominational services


choirs and quartets

church ball teams

church hospitals



open membership

Boston Church schemes

women preachers/deacons

Many of you cannot swallow these bitter pills today. Will you bury your heads in the sand, closing your eyes to what those whom you fellowship are doing? Will you further divide by renouncing decadent liberalism, creating a new middle of the road conservative liberalism known as the “new anti’s”? History has shown the middle of the road position did not stop liberalism’ spread. (See chart).

The Independent Christian Church experiment failed to stop liberalism; the second generation is now practicing the liberalism which caused their forefathers to organize the ICC. The same will occur with you. You will not stop liberalism. Your descendants will move your middle of the road churches to the left more slowly than the ultra liberals are moving, but they will move them to the left. What will be accomplished is this: the devil will use this middle of the road position to salve the consciences of those who are doctrinally opposed to the objectionable practices.

The institutions which you brethren defended in debate are under the control of those you refer to as “liberals.” They will not endorse you; you will not endorse them. The churches which were on the vanguard of liberalism in the 1950s and 1960s are under the control of those who are ready to extend the hands of fellowship to the ICC. These brethren already conceive of the Lord’s church as a denomination.

For the sake of the salvation of your souls, I plead with you brethren to repent of your sins, forsaking church support of all human institutions and restore the unity which the church support of these human institutions destroyed.


1. Batsell Barrett Baxter, Questions and Issues of the Day in the Light of the Scriptures.

2. See Willis-Inman Debate, p. 145.

3. Christian Chronicle (24 May 1963), p. 3; (September 1988), p. 5; Bering Today, bulletin of the Bering Drive church in Houston, TX (21 November 1982), p. 1; Hillsboro Herald (22 February 1981), p. 1.

4. The Memphis, TN churches provided 167 acres for such purposes, providing a lodge, swimming pool, lake, etc. Reported in 6 September 1968 issue of The Expounder, bulletin of the South End Church of Christ in Lousiville, KY, which quoted the Memphis Press Scimitar (23 March 1963).

5. Atlanta Journal (4 October 1968) reported the building of the 14 story high-rise apartment building known as Christian Towers by the Decatur Church of Christ.

6. Christian Chronicle (22 February 1971).

7. The Reflector, bulletin of the Fultondale, AL church (March 1983), pp. 1-3.

8. We have no trouble distinguishing between buying a service and making a donation with reference to these institutions.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 8, pp. 226, 245-247
April 20, 1989