By Donald P. Ames
I doubt seriously if I have ever read anything more audacious and ridiculous than the recently announced plans by the Harding St. Church of Christ here in Indianapolis to launch a world-wide solicitation program to begin building a new “Christian” college. To really appreciate just how ridiculous this whole thing is, one would have to be familiar with the city of Indianapolis. Here is a small congregation (being generous, we will say 3040 members), meeting in a rather simple house that has been converted into a church building, located in the black section of the city (this is not said as a racial slur – the church where I preach is about 60 percent black and composed of fine Christians – but rather to point out a fact: many of them do not have the financial means, nor the large membership necessary, as may be found in other higher income sections of the city) that is not even in the higher incomes; that congregation has suddenly decided to launch a world-wide campaign to raise about $12 million to build a college! Why, some hardly even knew anything about them I Surely no one would take them seriously! On the other hand, how many would respond without even bothering to learn the facts?
A near as I have been able to determine, there are not is even any elders serving over the Harding St. church. Leslie R. Jackson, “Assistant Minister,” sent out his letters of appeal after having received “permission and/or consent” from James H. Lawrence, Minister. When I went by the building, no one was there, but the neighbors pointed to Mr. Lawrence’s name on the sign and said, “The man who runs the church just left about five minutes ago.” Since he also felt he had to give his “permission and or consent” for the assistant minister” (not so listed on the sign – and why 2 of them are needed for such a small congregation in a city like Indianapolis that has plenty of other churches and is hardly a mission field escapes me) to launch the campaign, then the idea he “runs the church” seems to indeed have some credibility (no one has yet accused me of “running” the Emerson Ave. church, even though I preach there regularly). I wonder, would he also be the one who would “run” the college and oversee the collection, keeping and spending of the funds? If not, why was his “permission” needed to begin with?
But, the appeal also requested all who received the letter (which was apparently sent out to many churches – addressed to the Church of Christ, Emerson, c/o Minister) “to become an Associate Board Member.” That way, if a regular board member should die or resign, they might decide to select you from the “associates” in his stead. If not, they at least have been able to use your name and influence for the time being. And who selected the original board? Also, we might ask, “Why have a board?” The letter begins: “We, the Harding Street Church of Christ, will be soliciting donations (contributions) worldwide.” Now, is the board going to be running the church, or the church running the board? If the latter, then why the “associate board members” who aren’t even part of Harding Street? Will one of the requirements to serve on the board be to place membership with the Harding St. church? Is Harding St. the board?
The launching of a world-wide solicitation program will be for “the sole purpose of rebuilding the church and building a new Christian College. Our main objective is to serve the people by strengthening the church, leadership, and motivating people to seek for higher educational levels. We also hope to create and generate jobs for the unemployed.” Whew! Did I just read one “sole purpose” there or about half a dozen? And, are they interested in serving the Lord or the people? I had always thought that the way to build the church was by preaching the gospel of Christ and creating respect for the authority of God’s word. If you had to “rebuild” the church, that sounds like there has been a drifting or a split. But then maybe we have a different definition of “rebuilding.” I note in the other letters submitted that part of that $12 million will be used to build a new church building for $225,000 (for 30-40 people?)! That would at least be a partial compensation if the whole project fell flat on its face! Kind of an easy way to get a nice new, spacious building too. I mean, since there aren’t any other churches in the city for all these students to worship with, funds would have to include a new building. But then, when they “do all the work,” perhaps they feel that justifies such a building to replace the house they have had to settle for presently. We’ll not count the other churches either.
Establishing a college is not the way to build up the church and its leadership. That must come from congregations committed to the word of God and respect for its authority. Until that is present, all the colleges one may wish to build will merely push the liberal attitudes further away from the word of God. In fact, it is not the work of the college to build up the church – that is the work of the church. If we must rely on the college, then we have admitted Christ did not give us an adequate institution to do his work (we need to look again at 2 Tim. 2:2 and Heb. 5:12-14). Colleges are to provide a liberal education to young people, to help raise their educational level, and that is not the work of the church! Now where is there anything even a country cousin to intimating that the church has the right and authority to launch a “world-wide campaign” to build a “new Christian College”? Since when is secular education the function of churches and church finances (read 1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Jn. 9)? Can you imagine Peter preaching “Repent, and be baptized, and be sure to study your math for test in the morning”? Or Paul being told to arise and be baptized and loosen up his throwing arm for the football game next week? Are we to teach Math tables – or for men to come to the Lord’s table? Do they want to build up the church? Then let’s begin by establishing some respect for the word of God as our authority in all we do and teach! Will they produce the passages that authorize such an undertaking as building a college? Or the passages that authorize a church to solicit funds for someone else to build it? Or the passage that even permits one church to take on a project (scriptural or unscriptural) far in excess of its capabilities and then to launch a world-wide begging campaign to finance it? I predict their efforts to “build up the church” are nothing more than rhetoric and they will not offer such authority at all! I further predict their efforts to “build up the church” will only lead further and further down the paths of liberalism and a drift away from the word of God – hence a “tearing down” instead!
And since when is it the function of the church to “motivate people to seek for higher educational levels”? Unfortunately, in far too many instances, this has often led to a departure from the faith by those who got carried away with their own importance rather than dependency on God and his saving grace. Even recognizing this need not be the case, is it the work of the church to “motivate” people to go for Ph.D’s? Does it matter which field they select? Should we stop with a B.A., M.A. or insist they go all the way to Ph.D? Or, did Christ set up his church to motivate people to turn away from the pleasures and snares of sin and to encourage one another in seeking salvation that we might have a home above (Heb. 10:24-25)? Maybe I haven’t got the “education” necessary to find that motivation for higher educational levels in my Bible. If so, I sincerely hope one of these brethren will “enlighten” me further. Hmmm wonder what motivated people to seek higher secular education before the Lord set up his church?
And, is it also the work of the church to “create and generate jobs for the unemployed”? Wow! If that be so, surely we can beg the funds forever from those “well off areas” of the nation to launch a wide variety of building programs in more financially destitute areas. Let’s see, we could establish and build a new grocery chain, a printing company, schools, hotels, playgrounds, etc. Again, where did the apostles anywhere teach that it was the job of the church to provide employment for the unemployed? Did Paul instruct the churches to create their own tentmanufacturing companies? I thought Jesus came to make us “fishers of men” not founders of fishing and tackle manufacturing firms. Catholicism has nothing on these efforts!
If they are sincere about building up the church, then let them begin by showing their respect and reliance on the word of God. Let them show where there is a “thus saith the Lord.” If they cannot not and/or will not, and continue their project, then their attitude toward building up the church is obvious. “By their fruits, ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:16). 1 fear any “building up” of the church will be by accident, not design!
I am not an authority on construction, and have no intentions of getting into the field. However, if we are starting with nothing and a congregation of only 30 to 40, 1 also know we need not think we need a full-scale university before we can even begin. $2 Million each for dorms (one for males, one for females), $350,000 for a dining room, $430,000 for a student activity center, $225,000 for a church building, etc. isn’t exactly “chicken feed.” But then, if one is going to dream big, why not dream B-I-G? I mean, we have already decided to launch our begging campaign “world-wide.” Why not go for a whole university in one jump? It certainly ought to help somebody’s unemployment! For a congregation of 30-40 located in the “not too wealthy” section of the city, $2 Million and a world-wide campaign for a $225,000 building and a full college (including a $720,000 gym) is just a beginning to wild dreams! What shall we try next? After all, what has reality got to do with dreams – or authority?
Now, lest some one accuse me of being unfair and misrepresenting their intentions, contending the letter was only sent to churches and ministers to reach.possible interested Christians, let me set the facts again before us. (1) The “Harding Street Church of Christ will be soliciting donations.” (2) The appeal was mailed out with the Harding Street Church of Christ as the return address. (3) Leslie R. Jackson’s appeal for the world-wide solicitation program was printed on a letter with “Harding Street Church of Christ” at the top and addressed to “Dear Church of Christ, leadership.” (4) James Lawrence’s letter giving his “permission” for Jackson to launch the campaign was on a letter headed “Harding Street Church of Christ” and identifying Leslie Jackson as “also a minister here at the church” without merit if the tie was not with the church. (5) His letter closed with Psalm 127:1 – “Except the Lord build the house. . . ” (the Lord is not interested in this house!). (6) The plans call for construction of a new church building as part of the college construction expenses. Indeed the college and church are wedded into one body in the minds of these misguided brethren. Which one the Lord actually died for may be in doubt – if not already, in the near future!
I am not opposed to a college education – I have one. I am not opposed to brethren getting together individually and setting up a college wherein Bible is offered as one of the subjects of study – I attended two of them, my oldest son one, and my youngest son plans to. That is not the issue. I am not opposed to less fortunate people having such an opportunity – I’ve helped in several booster clubs. That is not the issue. The bottom line is where did God give the church, as such, the authority to enter the field of secular education, to build a college to raise educational levels, and to begin a world-wide campaign to solicit funds to finance this nearly $2 million venture begun by a few wide-eyed members in a small church located on the back streets of Indianapolis? A campaign? I think the first step needed is a return to the word of God and a study of how to establish authority. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 9, pp. 269-270, 281
May 5, 1988