Human Service Institutions Among Brethren: The Need For Balanced Vigilance (2)

By Ron Halbrook

David Lipscomb’s article on “Bible Colleges” in the 23 December 1869 Gospel Advocate is one of several pieces he wrote on the subject through the years. He was extremely cautious about the arrangements brethren made from time to time for the joint endeavor of individuals and he clearly opposed any efforts to latch such institutional arrangements onto local churches. The Gospel Advocate did not function as an organ of local churches or exist on their money. It was the medium of himself and friends sympathetic to the cause which he pled. Yet, even of this organized effort to teach in print he said, “It is the truth, not the paper, that is dear to our heart” (Robert E. Hooper, Crying in the Wilderness: A Biography of David Lipscomb, p. 193).

At times Lipcomb’s scriptures on organized efforts seemed to exclude as sinful threats to the local church nearly all if not all organized endeavors of individuals which disseminated truth. Actually, it is clear that this is not what Lipscomb meant because he edited the Gospel Advocate for many years and established an orphan school and a Bible college. In an exchange with J.W. McGarvey during 1869, Lipscomb objected in principle to the College of the Bible in Kentucky University at Lexington. He asserted in the 23 December article that “the Church and its work in saving the world is the school for studying the religion of Jesus Christ ….So we frankly confess our misgivings as to the effect of the Bible Colleges on the purity of faith and simplicity of life of the people of God.” This seems to say that the local church is the only school where the Bible may be taught and studied. When Lipscomb established his school in Nashville, Tennessee, he provided Bible classes along with secular courses for all students but avoided the Lexington approach of a heavy Bible curriculum for young men who wished to preach. Both Lipscomb’s and McGarvey’s schools provided opportunities for studying the religion of Jesus Christ.

Five Dangers Limpscomb Feared

Lipscomb’s article of 23 December 1869 makes five charges against Bible colleges, especially as schools of Bible study for young men who wish to preach. Such schools do the following things, if we summarize Lipscomb’s objections:

1. Involve separation from the practical surroundings of the church.

2. Provide theoretical instruction instead of active service.

3. Foster a clergy-laity distinction.

4. Cultivate tastes prejudicial against work among poor and uneducated people.

5. Breed educated arrogance.

Further examination of these objections shows that they are not only potential pitfalls of a Bible college education but also of all formal education. All formal education given by various schools and colleges may be said to do the following things:

1. Involve separation from practical surroundings, i.e. the surroundings where the person will practice the things being taught and learned.

2. Provide theoretical instruction instead of active service, i.e. instead of learning by doing, on-the-job training.

3. Foster a tendency for an educated group or class, of people to become an educated caste.

4. Cultivate tastes which differ from those of people who cannot afford formal education.

5. Breed educated arrogance, i.e. a spirit which criticizes the com petency of people who have not had formal education.

These are the arguments Lipscomb reiterated many times in many forms while he argued that the church is the school for studying the religion of Jesus Christ. Though Lipscomb did not oppose all formal education and said a preacher might get one, if his five generalizations are applied indiscriminately to formal education in various fields of study, we would reach the following conclusion:

The factory is the school for studying manufacturing.

The court is the school for studying law.

The hospital is the school for studying medicine.

The farm is the school for studying agriculture.

The construction site is the school for studying carpentry.

The market-place is the school for studying business.

The office is the school for studying secretarial service.

The garage is the school for studying mechanics.

Of course, it is true that practical, on-the-job training has unique advantages over so-called formal education. The advantage of formal education is freedom from certain duties for a temporary period which permits the student to concentrate all his powers on what is to be learned, hopefully under the guidance and instruction of mature, experienced men. Actually, churches as well as individuals have conducted study with both on-the-job and more formal arrangements with profit.

The relative values of each kind of training formal and practical depend ultimately on the men who conduct the training. Students or teachers in either type of training can emphasize bookish and academic concerns as ends within themselves, or emphasize books and learning as tools for personal study and for service to other people. Brethren in either type of training can cultivate a burning desire to carry the gospel to all kinds of people, or can cultivate an inordinate desire for money, fine dress, elegant surroundings, study of human philosophies, and ease of life. Students or teachers in either training can cultivate an injurious spirit of presumption, arrogance, and prejudice which fosters an air of suspicion and hesitancy toward people who had the other training. Therefore, David Lipscomb calls attention to some real dangers that will always be with us, dangers we shall escape only by diligent vigilance.

The plain truth is that Satan attempts to sow seeds of arrogance, suspicion, vainglory, strife, bitterness, and dissension in the midst of all our efforts to perpetuate the truth. Satan has sown seeds of apostasy and division by turning churches aside from doing their own ordained work, to the work of financially supporting various human service organizations, including Bible colleges, in the name of the church at work. God still has His thousands who have not succumbed to this old ploy. Yet, among these people Satan can sow other seeds of apostasy and division if he can promote arrogance, suspicion, vanity, strife, bitterness, and discord. This evil Satan labors to accomplish among the churches and their efforts to spread the truth. He labors in the same way among individuals and families, both as to their private endeavors and their joint endeavors in various service organizations. Such joint endeavors include any number, of schools, foundations, papers, publishing businesses, religious bookstores, and the like, all of which keep themselves distinct and separate from local churches.

Inordinate pride can boast equally, “I took formal training in Bible at such-and-such school,” or, “I did not take Bible study at any such school, but studied Bible in such-and-such local church.” The spirit of rancor can demand equally, “In order to have my respect as a Christian, you must approve of and share in the work of such-and-such gospel paper, incorporated; such-and-such literature foundation; such-and-such Bible college; and, such-and-such bookstore,” or else, “You must not approve and share.” So long as these individual service organizations keep themselves separate from churches and church treasuries, such organizations should not be interjected as issues in any local church. The minute they interject themselves into the business and treasuries of local churches, human service institutions infringe on the churches by interfering with their free function or autonomy which God revealed in the New Testament pattern.

The Wisdom of Vigilance

Vigilance has always been necessary to keep service organizations in their sphere separate from the church, just as vigilance has been necessary to keep all the efforts of individuals, families, and churches faithful to God’s Word. The comments Lipscomb made through the Gospel Advocate, one medium for individual teaching efforts, about Bible colleges, another such medium, reflect that vigilance. There was a danger of Lipscomb’s vigilance becoming over-scrupulousness, so that he might erect a hedge taking in more ground than that taken in by God’s Word. This process accounts for many of the traditions the Jews had added to the Law of Moses. Our opposition to liberal tendencies can pass from a balanced, Bible vigilance to a human, punctilious legalism. Lipscomb stood in the shadow of this danger for several years on the Bible college question, but stepped out of that shadow in 1891 when he helped to establish the Nashville Bible School, which later bore his name as David Lipscomb College. He avoided the abuses about which he complained in the article of 1869, but David Lipscomb College in the passing of time promoted apostasy when it sought and promoted the idea of church support of colleges. Athens Bible School (kindergarten through high school) in Athens, Alabama, and Florida College (junior college) in Temple Terrace, Florida, are schools currently keeping themselves in the realm of individual and family efforts separate from local churches. Doubtless similar schools will rise in the future.

Many service organizations ‘and corporations separate from the church exist today and others will arise. None of them should ever become sacred cows above question, warning, or criticism. If Lipscomb’s 1869 article borders on over-scrupulousness, still it is filled with the wisdom of vigilance. The friends of individually-organized endeavors should foster an atmosphere of vigilance for their own safety, as well as the safety of the churches which have suffered repeatedly from the financial aspiration of these institutions. Beyond teaching common principles of honesty and teaching the imperative for such institutions to remain separate from churches, brethren both in and out of such endeavors should be free to tend to their own business. Within the limits of these principles of truth, the endeavor of one individual or group is none of the business of another individual or group. We may thwart Satan’s effort to sow discord if we can remember that lesson. Also, let all of us who would warn against the spirit of presumption, arrogance, and apostasy in human service organizations do so with balance. Let us be sure that in the name of such warnings we do not ourselves become guilty of arrogance, suspicion, vanity, strife, bitterness, and dissension.

Guardian of Truth XXV: 12, pp. 181-183
March 19, 1981