By Jimmy Tuten
There is a great need for teaching regarding abuses of church organization. The eyes of the beholder in the sectarian world view the church as another denomination because they see no distinctiveness associated with it. Generally speaking, brethren have become like those around them. Certainly we do not want to “harp” on issues, but we must teach what they are and how to deal with them. Failure to bring brethren to a remembrance of these things results in spiritual anemia (Rom. 14:1; 15:1; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Thess. 5:14). Our new generation simply does not understand that the basic “cause for the “new religion” facing us is unbelief! Generally speaking, brethren no longer anchor faith in objective truth (God’s Word), but in subjectiveness, the “we want it, we are going to have it because we don’t see anything wrong with it” approach. The “we do many things for which we do not have authority” philosophy has become a way of life in the brotherhood. As always there are three distinct groups among us: (1) the liberals, (2) the middle-of-the-roaders, and (3) the conservatives, who most often are called “antis.” The liberals and middle-roaders insist that the what of the work of the church has been given, but not the how. The conservatives maintain (and, rightly so) that the issue is not one of methods, but of organization. The who may not do the what (if not specified) in any way that does not violate Biblical principle. But can the church (the who) build and maintain human institutions (missionary societies, colleges, hospitals, etc.) through which to do the work God gave it to do?
The All-Sufficient Church
The church is God’s organization. It is called ekklesia in Greek, meaning the “called out” ones. It is a spiritual house, a priesthood and a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:4, 9). It is the fulness of the Lord Jesus Christ (Isa. 28:18; Eph. 1:22-23). God’s plan for man’s redemption focuses in the church: “this is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). The only organization for function on the part of citizens in the kingdom known to the New Testament is the local church with Jesus Christ as its head, independently organized under its elders (Eph. 5:25; Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). There is no earthly headquarters for the head of the church is in heaven. Though churches of Christ are not tied together by any central organization on earth, they do cooperate by functioning independently in carrying out God’s instructions.
Each local church can, to the extent of its ability do all that God intended the church to do. Each congregation is autonomous, independent, equal and sufficient in their relation to other collectivities. In the absence of authority should any local church financially subsidize through contributions any human organization such as a college, they sin! Should the elders of any local church give up their duty to see the things done by the flock are done rightly, they give away their autonomy; they sin! In either case the local church becomes dependent in$tead of independent, unequal instead of equal, and insufficient instead of sufficient. The issue is still this: if elders can delegate part of their oversight (resources, for example) to an unauthorized sponsoring church or to a human organization, then why not the rest of the elements of the local church? Why not some big, super organization! If elders can delegate a part of its work, is the whole left? Are they overseeing the flock, the whole? Shades of Rome! Please observe the chart and see the common ground of agreement, that the church doing its authorized work by the expedient methods deemed best causes no breach. Division occurs when human organizations or arrangements usurp the place of the church. All agree that methods are permissible but strife occurs when it comes to which organization shall employ these methods. The organizations are not methods, they are organizations that use methods!(See chart below)
A Glance Backward
In this writing, only a sketch of the historical aspect of digression will be given. Our immediate situation ties in with the early elements of the cooperation movement about a hundred years ago. Desiring to bring into being machinery for pooling resources in evangelism, influential men in the 1850 era began to commend the “sewing societies” of certain women desiring to provide clothing for the poor, the sponsoring of the “United Kingdom” fund by the Bethany, Virginia church (campaigned for by Walter Scott and S.K. Pendleton), and other institutional societies for church-supported benevolence. Voices of opposition were heard. Men like Barton W. Stone wanted to know where the New Testament authorized such. From this, the demand for cooperation of churches on a local and national level resulted in division when the American Christian Missionary Society began in 1849. Then as now, the desire for unscriptural arrangements was more important than unity among believers. As early as the middle nineteenth century, one can see the development of “liberalism” and “conservativism.” There was a clear, distinct cleavage between the two. A casual reading of events relating to the American Christian Missionary Society and election of Alexander Campbell as president reveals vividly that the one goal was not unity, but cooperation. Men like McGarvey and Pendleton took opposing positions on the society. The Gospel Advocate came out strongly against the Missionary Society in 1866.
One cannot overlook the “college issue” of this period. Beginning with Bethany College, the problem of the relationship between colleges and churches of the Lord was apparent. In the past, colleges have denied taking contributions from churches except when sent without solicitation. Now funds are openly solicited from churches by various colleges. In 1939, when G.C. Brewer went on record at Abilene Christian College as endorsing colleges in the budgets of churchs, a statement was made by him that it was his (i.e., Brewer’s) understanding that this had been the situation since Bethany College was founded in 1840. With qualifications, men like George Benson of Harding College, E.H. Ijams of Lipscomb in Nashville and N.B. Hardeman of Freed-Hardeman opposed placing colleges in church budgets.
From this situation, it was but a short step to sponsoring church arrangements with elderships taking oversight of foreign fields. Having proven workable overseas, the method was applied at home. Such things as the Herald of Truth were born. Anything that brethren want to promote is now placed under a sponsor and diocesan elderships are commonplace. The mania of “Frog Kissing Retreats,” and other clap-traps are fallouts.
When will brethren wake up to the fact that all human institutions and arrangements in evangelism, benevolence and edification stand or fall together? The church cannot by divine authority work through, nor contribute to any of them. How sad to witness brethren’s desire for their promotions taking precedence over peace and unity. The intoxicating glory of man-made schemes are short-lived when compared to eternity’s hell and loss of identity.
Where Is The Stopping?
In The Christian Monthly of August 1870, James Pickens said, “If the door is set ajar for innovations, how shall we determine where it shall stand or that it should not stand wide open, and that continually?” The giants of liberalism are lamenting the fruits of unscriptural cooperative efforts spawned by them. Ira Rice attacks the “maverick pastor” Jim Reynolds of Dallas, Texas; charging him with the responsibility of certain churches in Cupertino, California and Dallas joining the inter-faith movement. The truth of the matter is this: brother Reynolds only watered the digressive element in these churches. Brother Rice planted the seed of digresion when he convinced the Southwest Church of Christ to sponsor him in Singapore in 1955. Listen to him: “. . . your editor feels peculiarly qualified to comment personally on this one, because the now so called Southwest Church of Christ . . . is the same old Hampton Place Church of Christ, which was the original sponsoring church that sent my family and me to Singapore in 1955 – and was our sponsor for more than 13 years!” (Contending for the Faith, January 1978, italics mine, jt). The Southwest church where Jim Reynolds preached at the time of this statement had as much right getting involved in inter-faith movements as she did sponsoring and taking oversight of Singapore works. The pot calling the kettle black? I say so!
- Why do brethren need to be constantly reminded of issues which divided the church in bygone years?
- Was the last division over church support of benevolent societies and colleges simply a division over methods? Explain your answer.
- What does the belief in the “all-sufficiency of the church” mean? Is the church all-sufficient to market books and other literature? Is the church allsufficient to care for the poor of all the world?
- Why is it sinful for a church to contribute to any human institution?
- Is there any significant difference in a church contributing to a missionary society, benevolent society, or edification society (college)?
- Is the missionary society, benevolent society or col lege simply a “method” of doing a given work?
- Is there any difference in principle in sending a cash contribution to a college, loaning a school the use of the church building, and building a church school?
- Why is a “little liberalism” dangerous?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 4, pp. 73-75
January 24, 1980