Institutionalism: Why I Changed

By J.T. Smith

Listening to arguments by different brethren who are close personal friends and not studying a position through for yourself, is far different from having to either affirm or defend said position for yourself. This is what I discovered in the early years of my preaching. Although I have been preaching for over 25 years, one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn was that one should not take a position simply because some friend or loved one, whom you consider to be a good Bible student, tells you it is right.

Institutionalism was probably one of the most difficult studies that I have ever had to “wade” through. There are a number of reasons why this is true. First of all, it was true because there were (and are) men of outstanding ability and Bible knowledge on both sides of the issue. Secondly, it is an issue, for the most part, where one is prone to allow his heart to rule his thinking instead of allowing his position to be based on the Bible teaching. And third, many of us worry and fret about some “label” that our friends and loved ones are going to place on us if we oppose church support to orphan homes, hospitals, a sponsoring church (Herald of Truth World Radio) type of cooperation by churches.

Before finally taking a stand against the above mentioned institutions and cooperative arrangements, I had vacillated from one position to another – according to the preacher friend with which I was talking. And like so many others, I didn’t want that terrible “anti” brand put on me. Finally, however, I had an opportunity to attend a debate on the subject in Louisville, Kentucky, between brethren Guy N. Woods and A.C. Grider. And though I had never met brother Woods, I knew of his reputation as a Bible scholar and an experienced debater. Of course I had known brother Grider most of my life, as we were reared within just a few miles of each other; and I just knew he would never be able to stand up under the powerful Guy N. Woods. But, to my amazement, not only did he stand, but how brightly the truth shone, especially on the Herald of Truth, sponsoring church arrangement. And it may have shined just as brightly on the Orphan Home question – except for the fact that as thousands of others I had “heart trouble” in being able to see the truth for those “poor little orphans” that brother Woods kept bringing up.

After the debate, I confronted brother Grider myself and told him that I wanted to meet with him later and discuss the matter especially of the orphan home. After many hours of study I thought I had some questions he could not answer. I remember well that day I made an appointment to go to his home in Louisville. With questions in hand, I confronted him and Jim Cope (who was in a meeting at Preston Highway in Louisville) with my questions and took the worst “whipping” I have probably taken on any religious issue before or since. They, in turn, gave me some questions to answer. They said, “If you can find scriptural answers to these questions, we will concede your position is right.”

Since that time until this day, I have read and listened to every discussion I could on these issues, as well as confronting preaching privately and engaging in public debates on these very issues. And, until this day, no one has given any Scriptures, that to my satisfaction, answered the questions that were asked of me that day. I repeat these questions for you here.

1. Where in the Bible did one church ever send money to another church to preach the gospel?

2. Where is the scriptural authority for a church making a donation to any kind of human institution?

3. Where is Bible authority for elders overseeing any work except that “which is among them” (1 Pet. 5:2)?

4. Where is the authority for the church engaging in providing suppers, parties, or entertainment for anyone?

Now in view of the fact that I could find no scriptural authority in answer to these questions, what was I to do? You know the answer to that as well as 1. When we find that the position we hold won’t stand the Bible test, there is only one thing to do – change your position. And that is exactly what I did.

But, for those of you who have come to the conclusion that there are no Bible answers to the above questions, but have not taken your stand for truth because of pressures brought to bear, I know your problem and can sympathize with you. For when I took my stand for truth, I immediately became “an orphan hater,” one of those dreadful “antis,” was fired from the congregation where I was preaching, and was told by one of my dearest preacher friends, “I hope you quit preaching.” But you know I realized, as you must on this and every other Bible subject, that I must take my stand for truth and right regardless of what anyone may say to me or about me. For, regardless of what men may say, God is right. And Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). That is why I changed Jesus said I must! “And a man’s foes shall be those of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:36-38). In light of these passages of Scripture, we cannot allow anyone to stand between us and truth.

All of you who read this article, or who have read my writings in the past, know that I am still trying to obtain the answers to the questions that are stated in this article. It would be a happy day in my life if I could write or call those who are so bitterly opposed to me, and join hands and hearts with them again. Yes, with all the pleas I have made for Bible authority on these issues, few have even tried to give me scriptural authority for these things – and those who have tried gave scriptures that have nothing to do with the questions we have asked. Therefore, I will have to continue to speak out against institutionalism and those who espouse it, as much as I dislike being in opposition to my brethren. But Paul said “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Thus, I must do this to be pleasing to God. If I preach anything that was not received from God, his curses will rest upon me (Gal. 1:6-9). And if I do not abide in the doctrine of Christ, I cannot have God (2 Jn. 9).

So, as you can well see, I can sympathize with your situation and feel sorry for you. I know it will be hard, but you too must take your stand against institutionalism and against anything for which you cannot find Bible authority. I beg of you – please stand up against these innovations or else give me scriptural authority for your practices so that I may stand with you! (Searching the Scriptures, Aug. 1978, pp. 174-175.)

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 15, pp. 465-466
August 2, 1990