Issues that Divide Us (VIII): Understanding the Institution Issue

By Robert Jackson

In our study, we are talking about issues. that divide us, and therefore in dealing with this, of course we find no joy because we have no joy in division. But as a result of being divided, then we must face the issue of what it is that is causing the division. If you want to get it down to the basic principle, the cause of division is a lack of respect for the authority of Jesus Christ. In our study thus far we have emphasized that division has been within our ranks in regards to the missionary society since 1849. That divided the body of Christ over the lack of authority. There was no Bible authority for a missionary society under a board of directors to receive funds from churches of Christ to do ‘the work of anything. God has never authorized this.

Secondly, we talked about the division that has come within our ranks over the sponsoring church. Getting away from a missionary society under a board of directors, they have placed the same work and the same activity under elders, leaving the impression that this sanctified the matter because it was under a local eldership. And this is not so. The elders have no God-given right to oversee any thing outside of the local congregation. They have the oversight of the flock of God which is “among them” (1 Peter 5). They may put a Sponsoring Church under the eldership and still be without Bible authority. As a result of this, brethren have divided the body of Christ by promoting the sponsoring church, the Herald of Truth, etc. They created a motherhood church which violates the principles and the teachings of God’s word.

Then we discussed the issue that has divided us in regards to benevolence. Certainly the church is to relieve its own needy. I gave you book, chapter and verse, and showed you that the issue is not: “Should the Church care for its needy?” I also brought to your mind how the church met its need. Each local church is to tend to its own business-they may appoint men to see after the people in need among themselves. Secondly, if there is a church in need away from them, they sent directly to the elders of that church. They did not send through any kind of benevolent society. None were in existence in New Testament days, and there ought not to be any today. Now this does not mean that a benevolent society does not have a right to exist and that individuals may not support it if they so desire. But tacking these institutions on to the churches is the very thing that has divided the body of Christ.

I was citing the Gospel Advocate Quarterly to prove to you that such objections have been offered in years gone by, and that it is not something that has just been created within the last few years. I want to notice again the Gospel Advocate Quarterly, the same one of 1946, on page 340, when the writer is dealing with 2 Corinthians 8, in the work of benevolence. Now listen carefully: “This is the Lord’s method of raising money and it will suffice in any case. There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church. It is the only charitable organization that the Lord authorizes or that is needed to do the work that the Lord expects His people to do.” So then we find here the Bible authority of raising money, and secondly, that the church is sufficient to do its. own work, that it needs no other charitable organizations. I say a hearty “Amen” to what they said in 1946. But now then, the people who endorse the benevolent society today say that we need these charitable organizations, they they should be tacked on to the church. As a result of that, they have divided the body of Christ. Now they say that division has come because we opposed such. No, that is not so. The division is a result of brethren pressing these institutions upon the churches of Christ and dividing them; and in 1946, the brethren took the same position that I am taking today.

When we look at the orphan home issue, and this is a very emotional issue, there are really two views of this among some of the brethren. One view is that an orphan home has the right to exist as long as it is separate and apart from the church-under a board of directors-and then the local churches of Christ may support that institution. I have in my hand here a little tract that was published and put out in regard to the Potter Orphans Home in Bowling Green, Ky. This little tract was published by Brother Ben Taylor. Let me quote you what he had to say: “The Potter Orphan Home and School is not attached to any local church and governed by the elders of a local church. It stands independent of the oversight of any local church of Christ. The elders of any or all churches of Christ may serve the Potter Orphan Home and School in an advisory capacity, but not as authority, which would attach it to the church.” Listen again. “For the elders of any local church to assume the oversight of an orphans home would expand their authority beyond their scriptural limitations and would destroy the autonomy of the local church.” Now Brother Taylor is taking the position that the only way that an orphans home has the right to exist is under a board of directors, and then the churches of Christ may support it. One question: If we have an organization under a Board of Directors and they are doing the work and the church has a right to support it, could we take the orphans out of the orphans home and put preachers there and let the churches send money to this institution and send out preachers? Then what do you have? You have the missionary society, my friend! That is exactly what you have. You have a benevolent society and you have a missionary society, and both of them exist without divine authority. And the churches of Christ have no Bible authority to support either one of them in any sense of the word.

But then there is another view. Brother Guy Woods in his lectureship at Freed-Hardeman College in 1960, made this statement: “The orphan home is as much the home of the orphan as your home is yours, and exists by the same divine sanction. It follows therefore, that those who opposed the orphans home have arranged themselves against divine institutions rather than human ones.” Now, see what a contrast! The man at Potters Orphans Home said that it is a human institution under a Board of Directors, designed by human wisdom, not by divine authority. Bro. Woods says that it is a divine institution. So they are really divided.

But the truth about the matter is it is not a divine institution. It is a human institution, arranged by human wisdom, and I challenge Bro. Woods or anyone else to show in the Bible where there is an arrangement for such an organization as Potters Orphan Home or Tennessee Orphan Home. Even though they may do a good work, that is not the issue. Even though they be relieving the poor, that is not the issue. The issue is: Do they have a right to exist, and can churches of Christ send their money to it to do the work that they say the church is to do? Again let me press this point: If the church has the right to do that, then could they take the orphans out and put preachers there and send out preachers? “Oh,” some of the brethren would say, “No. That makes it a missionary society.” Well, here you have got a benevolent society. Why not let the church be the church, and leave these societies out of the church? Then everything would be just fine.

What has divided us? What has caused the division? The division has been caused as a result of brethren building institutions, tacking them on to the church and pressing brethren to support them-and then criticizing, condemning and branding the people who do oppose them. The only reason that we oppose them is because they exist without Bible authority. Now, my friend, this is the issue that is dividing us today, and until brethren stop tacking institutions on to the church, they are going to continue to divide the body of Jesus Christ.

But do you know what all of this led up to? Let me bring to your mind what this really led up to. Some of the brethren who started fighting for the orphans home and benevolent institutions also wanted to bring the college into the church treasury. Now for a while the brethren said, “No, the college is a human institution and therefore it should not be supported by the church.” Well, brethren backed off and they started talking about taking care of orphans. They said, “The church has a right to make a contribution to a benevolent society.” Then they said, “If you oppose that, then you are opposed to taking care of the poor.” “If you oppose the missionary society, then you are anti-evangelism.” Colleges were being supported by churches, and they also wanted to get more support, so they said, “Well, if you have got a right to support the orphans home, you have got a right to support the colleges.” The next thing you know, we find churches of Christ supporting colleges, turning their funds over to them to be used by human institutions.

“Oh,” they say, “Now brethren, the college is just doing the work of the college. The college is simply teaching the Bible, which is a good work-and the church ought to be ready for every good work.” Bro. Pullias stated this in his tract, “Where There Is NQ Pattern,” which was delivered in 1957 at David Lipscomb College, he said, “When the Christian College does all that it claims to do, the church has no less to do. None of its work has been taken over by the college, and the college exercises no control or supervision over the church.” But, question: Where is the authority for the church to turn its supervision over to the college? Where is the authority for the church to send money to the college and let the college use it? Now, my friend, get this: If the church sends money to the college, who has the oversight of it? Does the local church tell the college what to do, or does the college decide to use the money in the way they see fit? Now then, they have got to come to an agreement. First, if the church sends the money to it and tells the college to use it as it sees fit, who has the oversight of it? The local church? Why no, the college does!

I want to know where there is Bible authority for the church to support any college? I care not if they teach the Bible or not. Where is there any Bible authority for it? Oh but someone says, “Brother Jackson, they are doing a good work.” I am not arguing about the good work. I believe they are doing a good work. But they are doing a wrong work when they take money from churches where they have no business.

Now I will tell you what you do, my beloved friend. You take your Bible and show me one time where a New Testament church ever supported a human institution-a benevolent society, a missionary society, or a college. Today we hear people talk about the “Church of Christ college.” I want to know where there is a “church of Christ college”? Where did the Lord ever build one or design one? Where did the Lord ever tell how one was to be organized? If it is a divine institution, you ought to be able to read about it in the Bible. If it is not in the Bible, then there is no divine authority for it.

Oh but somebody says, “Now preacher, you are just anti-college.” No, that is not the issue. I believe that a college has a right to exist. It has a right to accept contributions from individuals. It has a right to teach the Bible. It does not have any Bible authority to take any money from churches, and neither do churches have any right to send any money to colleges. They violate New Testament teachings, they violate Bible authority and they act without a “thus saith the Lord” when they do. And this is what has caused division within the ranks of the body of Jesus Christ. Now they can cry anti all they desire, but they must bear the burden of the fact that they are the ones who divided the body of Jesus Christ! First the missionary society, the sponsoring church, the Benevolent Society, and then the college.

But you know it is a rather strange thing. When you boil it down, they say, “Well now preacher, there really is no way how to do a good work, just do it any way you want to. The Lord said, `Do good, be ready for every good work’-and there is no wrong way to do it.” Well, my friend, if there is no wrong way to do it, then what is wrong with doing it through some human institution? some denomination? through Catholicism? or through any other way? If there is no order, there can be no disorder! If there is an order, then we ought to do it like the order, and the order is to do it like they did in Bible days. Let each local church tend to its own business, send out its own preachers, take care of its own poor, send directly to the church where they need help, and when the need is met, stop that contribution. Let each church teach its own members. Let the college be the college, and let the church be the church, and let them be separate. If not, there will continue to be division. (Concluded next week.)

Truth Magazine XXI: 20, pp. 314-316
May 19, 1977