By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote: “From the Papers,” Gospel Advocate, XXXIX (May 27,1897), 322.
“The church of the New Testament is no such institution as that word conveys to the mind of the average man. In New Testament times, religion was on an individual basis, and the church was a spiritual body over which Christ was the head, and in which every Christian was a member. It ought to be that way yet. The people ought to build their own meeting houses in keeping with the simplicity and economy of their own homes, and within the limits of their financial ability, and then conduct their own religious worship and services according to the simplicity of New Testament precept and precedents.”
Few problems are more difficult than keeping the nature of the church straight in our minds and in our practice. What was in the New Testament a spiritual kingdom (Matt. 16:18), activated only in groups of Christians in a locality doing a relatively few things together (for instance, the church in Corinth, 1 Cor. 1:2), is easily translated into a powerful, coercive human institution. Today, the term church conveys to few what is meant in the New Testament.
We must be ever vigilant not to turn the church into an operational national organization, even though the alternative is to live in a relatively disorderly world of independence. The church can become a denominational entity in many subtle ways. It is easy to translate a perfectly correct concept of a spiritual “we” (recognizing our spiritual kinship to all those in Christ) into a denominational “we” (expressing affiliation with a human organization). Editors can become denominational officials, schools can become denominational agencies, unwritten creeds can become tests of denominational orthodoxy.
The motive behind such denominational drive is that old enemy human pride. Men want a kingdom like those around them. Leaders aspire to recognition and honor. Human values replace a spiritual understanding.
Fletcher Srygley (quoted above) sensed that this destructive change in attitude could first be seen in the conduct of a local church. When one equates the well being of the church with the quality of a meeting house, or with the aesthetic quality of the services, he betrays a human rather than a spiritual value system. Such a value system can only end in the destruction of the church as a divine institution. The church can be beautiful, effective, and approved if it conforms to the simple but meaningful instructions of God. – Ed Harrell
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, p. 356
June 21, 1990