The Impact Of Church-Supported Schools On The Church

By C.G. “Colly” Caldwell

For obvious reasons, Christians in America have valued education and have wanted their children to take advantage of opportunities to better prepare themselves through going to school. When time has come for these Christians to send their children away from home for “higher education,” they have been especially sensitive to the humanistic threats posed by teachers in state-supported universities or in private colleges operated by denominational, agnostic, or downright atheistic non-Christians. Surely every believer would prefer that his children be taught natural sciences, languages, mathematics, social science, the fine arts, behavioral sciences, etc., by teachers who are Christians. If at the same time the children were also taught the application of God’s word to these disciplines and to other great issues of life, so much greater would be the positive influence of their college experience.

Some have spoken of the positive impact of that type education on “the church” or upon local churches. That sound biblical instruction can fall out to the benefit of churches in which those who are taught worship could hardly be disputed but that is not the point of this essay. Our object is to recall the fact that although schools may have a positive personal benefit to parents and students and a consequent impact upon some local churches, colleges become instruments of division among brethren when they are seen as the church’s agent for teaching the Bible and are financially attached to the churches for funding.

A few through the years (Daniel Sommer, W. Carl Ketcherside, etc.) have argued that the Bible may not scripturally be taught by Christians in any organization other than the local church. The conclusion is that Christians may not collectively operate colleges in which the Bible is taught.(1) Only in limited localities has that view had a role in dividing churches. Most have recognized the right of independent colleges to teach the Bible so long as the schools were not attached to the church. Again, our purpose is to discuss “church-supported” schools. We are all aware of “the need for balanced vigilance” in keeping non-church supported collective educational activities from becoming abusive interjections into forbidden or inexpedient activities.(2)

If space permitted it would be interesting to cite various statements from representative brethren such as Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, James A. Harding, et. al.(3) The choice of three important public exchanges which were of major importance in shaping the thinking of the brethren will serve to illustrate instead why we must not forget.

The Brewer-Otey Exchange (1938): Teaches That We Cannot Argue From What We Have Done

At the Abilene Christian College lectures in February, 1938, G.C. Brewer was asked to make some comments while forms were passed through the audience soliciting contributions to the College. Brewer’s remarks set off a storm among the brethren. Essentially he said that “if all the churches in Texas would contribute to the support and endowment of the school, such requests as then were being made would be unnecessary.” Brewer had argued in a series of nine articles in the Gospel Advocate (1933) that the church should support both educational and benevolent organizations owned and operated by the brethren. Brewer thought that contributions to colleges should be budgeted by local churches in their annual planning. He argued on the ground that churches had supported the colleges since the founding of Bethany College by Alexander Campbell in 1840.

W.W. Otey was present in that Wednesday evening audience. He went home and prepared an article responding to Brewer. Before sending it to the Firm Foundation for publication, Otey wrote the presidents of the five schools then operated by brethren. The president of Abilene Christian College expressed regret over Brewer’s comments. All said that they had not solicited churches with a view toward getting the colleges into church budgets. All had accepted contributions from churches, however. Otey argued that past practice does not establish a thing to be scriptural. He pointed out that schools were not churches and were, therefore, human institutions. They should be privately funded because their work was not the churches’ work. His articles appeared in the Firm Foundation during August.(4)

Brethren were caused to take their first serious look at this issue. Past practice which had often been taken for granted was called in question. We cannot refuse to examine our practices in light of Scripture. Nor can we prove what is scriptural by what we do.

The Hardeman-Wallace Exchange (1947): Teaches That We Must Be Consistent

In the July 2, 1931, issue of the Gospel Advocate, Foy E. Wallace, Jr., said: “If it were ‘permissible’ to have a Bible college as an adjunct to the church in the work of education and an orphan’s home in the work of benevolence, we quite agree that it would also be ‘permissible’ to have a missionary society in the work of evangelization. But the question assumes the point to proved. Nothing is ‘permissible’ as an auxiliary of the church which is not Scriptural.”

In January, 1947, G.C. Brewer met Carl Ketcherside in a public discussion on the Freed-Hardeman College campus. After the meeting, N.B. Hardeman wrote an article for the Gospel Advocate in which he stated his views in opposition to Ketcherside’s position that the college had no right to teach the Bible. In the article Hardeman went on to say that “if, however, a church believes any school is teaching the truth and is thus furnishing an avenue through which parents may train their children, and such a church desires to help the school to exist, it has the right to do so.”

Almost immediately Foy Wallace in his Bible Banner replied that the work of teaching secular subjects was not the work of the church and that a clear distinction must be made between the church and the school. Hardeman replied that no reason had been assigned why a church cannot contribute to a school. He did not, however, produce the Scripture that authorizes it.

In the October 23,, 1947, issue of the Gospel Advocate, N.B. Hardeman wrote: “I have always believed that a church has the right to contribute to a school or an orphanage if it so desired. . . . The right to contribute to one is the right to contribute to the other. . . . The same principle that permits one must also permit the other. They must stand or fall together.” He showed that both are human institutions with boards of directors involved in secular work as well as in teaching the Bible.

Both men saw the need to be consistent, even though those who knew them best thought each was inconsistent at times. Hardeman was especially seen as inconsistent by many when arguing that churches could not put the college in prepared annual budgets (such would indicate that the school’s work was church work), but they could make voluntary contributions as they wished. These men had to come to grips with the fact that opposition to the churches’ support of any human institution seen as doing work for churches opened the door to support of all others with similar claims.(5)

The Baxter-Cope Exchange (1963-64): Teaches That We Must Use Sound Biblical Arguments

In November and December, 1963, Batsell Barrett Baxter preached a series of three sermons at the Hillsboro church in Nashville, Tennessee on the subject, “Questions and Issues of the Day.” The sermons were published the following year in a tract. The seventh and concluding point in his discussion asked the question, “What About the Church Contributing to Christian Schools?” In this section he argues that it is the church’s responsibility to train the young including physical and secular education. In this, section, however, he appeals to only two Scriptures: (1) Ephesians 6:4, which instructs fathers to bring up children in the nurture of the Lord; and (2) 1 Corinthians 14:40, which calls upon brethren in the church to “let all things be done decently and in order.” On page 29 of his booklet he says, “It is difficult to see a significant difference so far as principle is concerned. The orphan’s home and the Christian school must stand or fall together.”(6)

The following June, James R. Cope, then President of Florida College, responded with an eighty-four page booklet responding to Baxter’s assertions. Cope had consistently refused to accept any contributions from churches to the College. He repeatedly called for Scripture to establish that any human institution should receive support from the church treasury. In conclusion he issued the following affirmations concerning the church and the college:

The local church is told to (1) relieve the poor; (2) support teachers of the word; and (3) edify itself. Florida College which I have served for 15 years is not told to do any of these things in behalf of or as part of any local church. It is not in the sinner-converting or church-edifying business.

Should Florida College begin accepting donations from local churches it would become thereby a party to lawlessness for God has addressed certain responsibilities to local churches as reflected above. When churches disregard these commands they rebel against God. When they made donations of their funds to such service organizations as Florida College they thereby act without divine authority in the face of divine direction as to the use of the church funds. There is not the slightest indication that money laid by in store on the Lord’s day was ever collected for anything other than supporting a teacher of the gospel, a poor saint or for expediting another command of the Lord addressed to the church. For a congregation to act otherwise is to act either in ignorance or rebellion to God. Florida College causes the Bible to be taught but for the church to subsidize Florida College for the purpose of enabling the College to do its own or the church’s work is not within the scope of any command Christ gave his church for the school is not any local church or group of local churches; it is not any apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, or teacher which the Lord set in His church. Neither it nor any similar body of Christians is mentioned anywhere in the New Testament in connection with any function of any local church. For a congregation to make such a connection now is to act without divine command, example or necessary inference. It is to disobey God.(7)


The question of whether churches may support schools was the primary issue in the beginning of the division over what we sometimes refer to as “institutionalism.” It soon gave way to the more emotional question of churches supporting orphanages. As we have clearly seen, “they stand or fall together.” The reader is invited to study any or all of the following which bring out clearly the specific doctrinal issues involved in our determination not to forget what has happened nor the divisive impact imposing the funding of schools upon the church has had.


1. See Matthew C. Morrison, Like A Lion: Daniel Sommer’s Seventy Years Preaching (Murfreesboro, TN: Dehoff Publications, 1975), pp. 105-119; Bill J. Humble and Leroy Garrett, Humble-Garrett Debate (Oklahoma City: Telegram Book Company, 1955); Marshall E. Patton, “Concerns About Non-Church Sponsored Organizations,” in Their Works Do Follow Them: Florida College Annual Lectures, 1982 (Temple Terrace, FL: Florida College Bookstore, 1982), pp. 75-88.

2. Ron Halbrook, “Human Service Institutions Among Brethren,” Guardian of Truth, Vol. XXV (March 12 & 19,1981), pp. 167-69, 181-83.

3. Perry Epler Gresham, Campbell And The Colleges (Nashville: Disciples of Christ Historical S6ciety, 1973); David Lipscomb, “Bible School,” GospelAdvocate, Vol. XXXIII (June 17,1881), p. 377; Earl Irvin West, Life And Times OfDavid Lipscomb (Henderson, TN: Religious Book Service, 1954), pp. 199-215.

4. A lengthy documented discussion of this entire series of events is found in Cecil Willis’ W. W. Otey. Contender For The Faith (Akron, OH: Cecil Willis, 1964), pp. 286-335; Otey’s articles appeared in the Firm Foundation, August 2 & 9, 1938.

5. In addition to the Gospel Advocate and Bible Banner articles easily found under appropriate dates, a firsthand report of this exchange may be found in James R. Cope’s lecture, “N.B. Hardeman: Orator, Evangelist, Educator, and Debater,” in They Being Dead Yet Speak. Florida College Annual Lectures, 1981 (Temple Terrace, FL: Florida College Bookstore, 1981), pp. 133-55.

6. Batsell Barrett Baxter, Questions And Issues Of The Day, (Nashville: Hillsboro Church of Christ, 1964), pp. 25-32.

7. James R. Cope, Where Is The Scripture (Temple Terrace, FL: James R. Cope, 1964), p. 83.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 1, pp. 7-8, 21
January 2, 1986