By Morris W. R. Bailey
Having pointed out in a previous article that handling aright the word of truth requires that we recognize the distinction between the church universal and the church local, I now propose to show that a proper division of the word also requires that we recognize the distinction that the Bible makes between
The Church And The Individual
In the discussion of the issues that have risen to trouble the churches during the past quarter century regarding church subsidization of human institutions such as colleges and benevolent corporations operated by brethren, much has been said about this matter and a great deal of confusion regarding the above distinction has become evident. The position that has been taken by some is that since the church is made up of individuals, whatever the individual may do, the church may do, and whatever the individual does, it is the church that does it.
A Concept Born Of Necessity
This concept is a child of necessity adopted by those who favor church support of human institutions that most brethren agree may be supported by individual Christians. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. This has often proved to be true in the material realm, and is responsible for many of the good things that we enjoy today.
Unfortunately, however, it has also proved to be true in the spiritual realm to the detriment of Christianity in that it has been the occasion for the introduction of many false doctrines and practices. One false doctrine has made necessary, or at least given birth to, others equally false. Infant baptism was introduced because of the previously espoused doctrine of hereditary depravity and to (supposedly) save those dying in infancy. The doctrine of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion is an outgrowth of the previously espoused doctrine of the total depravity of man.
It is thus not surprising that when some among us wanted to justify church support of colleges and other institutions operated by brethren which most brethren agree may be supported by individual Christians, they resorted to the argument that since the church is composed of individuals, what the individual may do the church may also do in the matter of good works.
Representative of the thinking of some brethren along that line is a quotation which I have taken from a tract written some years ago by Batsell Barret Baxter of David Lipscomb College. The tract was entitled, Questions And Issues Of The Day In The Light Of The Scriptures. While the subject of church support of human institutions was argued from various standpoints, for the purpose of this article, attention is directed to one paragraph where Brother Baxter said:
“In view of all that has been said above, it is now possible to state what I believe to be a broad general principle. Any ‘good work’ which the individual, as a Christian, is obligated to support financially, the church is equally obligated to support financially. There has been a great deal of talk about what the Individual can do in supporting good works, and what the church cannot do in supporting the same good works. No such distinction is taught In the Scriptures. If it is a good work which the Lord wants done, the obligation falls equally upon the individuals and the church, for individuals are the church.”
Sentiments similar to the above have been written and voiced by other writers and speakers. It is just another facet of the idea advanced by the digressives in justification of instrumental music in the worship, that what is permissible in the home is also permissible in the church.
An Interesting Paradox
The disposition to confuse church action with individual action has paradoxically led its proponents to sometimes arrive at conclusions that are diametrically opposed to one another. For example: it has been used to justify church support of colleges operated by brethren. The argument goes this way: (1) The church is made up of individual Christians. (2) What the individual does the church does. (3) The individual may support the college. (4) Therefore, the church may support the college.
On the other hand, Daniel Sommer was, for the greater part of his life, a staunch opponent of colleges operated by brethren, even to the point of one time denying their right to exist. His reasoning went this way: (1) The church is made up of individual Christians. (2) What the church is not permitted to do the individual is not permitted to do. (3) The church cannot support the college. (4) Therefore, neither can the individual support it. Thus we have the strange spectacle of men arriving at opposite conclusions while arguing from the same basic premise.
The Premise Examined
On what premise does Brother Baxter (and others) base the conclusion that what the individual may do in the matter of good works, the church may also do? This, I believe, is spelled out clearly in the closing words of the paragraph from which we quoted.
“If it is a good work which the Lord wants done, the obligation falls equally upon the individual and upon the church, for individuals are the church” (emphasis mine-MWRB).
In further elaboration of this point, Brother Baxter said in another paragraph of his tract:
“The church Is the people and Christians are the church all of the time. At midnight and at dawn, wherever they may be, Christians constitute the Lord’s church . . . . Christians are the church, whether at home, or In a place of business, or in the public assembly for worship . . .”
It is thus seen that the basic premise from which church action is identified with individual action is that Christians (individuals) are the church all of the time and in all places.
With the exception of those who published The Sentinel a few years ago, I know of no one who contends that the church is the church only when it is assembled for worship. Most assuredly the church is made up of individuals. And just as assuredly are they the church all the time, awake or asleep, in the assembly and away from the assembly.
But, granting that the church is made up of individuals, and further granting that what the church does is through its members working in concert, does that prove that what the individual does the church does? Would those who thus aver be willing to pursue that premise to its logical conclusion?
1. Christians are the church all of the time and to all places.
2. What the individual Christian does it is the church that is doing it.
3. A Christian is charged with and convicted of stealing money.
4. Therefore the church was guilty of stealing money.
Now, can anyone deny the conclusion if premise number two is true? Was not the Christian a member of the church (albeit, a sinful member) when he stole that money? But if what the individual Christian does the church does, did not this individual’s action make the church guilty of theft? If not, why not?
Consider another example. In the fifth chapter of First Corinthians, Paul wrote about a case of fornication on the part of one of the members of the church (1 Cor. 5:1). True, the church was severely censured by Paul for its failure to exercise discipline. But did this one member’s sin involve the whole church in fornication? This raises some questions that are germane to the issue.
1. Since Christians are in the church all the time, was not this man in the church when committing fornication? Does not Paul’s words, “one of you hath his father’s wife” make it obvious that the offender was a member of the church at the time that the sin was committed?
2. But, if what the individual does the church does, did not then the act of this member make the whole church guilty of fornication, according to the reasoning of Brother Baxter? Furthermore, when Paul commanded the church to take action against this member, was he not, in effect, commanding the church to take action against itself? And when Paul later commanded the church to forgive the man and receive him back (2 Cor. 2:6-8), was he commanding the church to forgive and receive itself?
But since it was stated by Brother Baxter in his tract that “No such distinction (between the church and the individual–M) is taught in the scriptures,” and that “any good work which a Christian is obligated to support financially, the church is equally obligated to support financially,” I propose to show in an article to follow that the scriptures do indeed recognize the distinction between the church and the individual Christian, and moreover that the individual is charged with financial responsibilities that the church is forbidden to assume.
Truth Magazine XXI: 48, pp. 759-760
December 8, 1977