Would one of you be willing to write an article/paper on "What Defines a Non-Biblical Institution" from your point of view, explaining when and how something (including a work of the church) becomes an institution, what make it an institution, and why you believe your definition can be proven?
I think such a paper from someone in this group would go a long way to helping everyone at least be on the same page so we can understand the definitions and terms that are being used.
Because honestly, a discussion saying "it's an institution" and "no it's not" isn't exactly productive to either side or to the truth.
Thanks in advance to whoever happens to be willing to take on this task.
OK, I am going to jump around with this request and I hope to answer your concerns.
Yes, we need to be on the same page. So definitions are important, and I believe
the best definition has already been given by the statement in the first paragraph.
What is a non-biblical institution? Such a simple answer to the question is
one that is not found in the pages of the Holy Writ. Yet historically, every
group does things through their churches that have no scriptural foundation,
yet the members feel it is a God-approved thing they are a part of. Often times
such a discussion is trying to balance a scriptural approach with an emotional
appeal. When dealing with bible subjects, the scriptural approach is the one
that should be used, but is often set aside because of emotions. There is much
debate over the marriage/divorce/remarriage issued based upon the same criteria.
This is true in churches of Christ where the PI vs NI is prevalent.
There are God appointed institutions and there are manmade institutions. There are spiritual and secular institutions. From the Bible we read of two institutions appointed by God, and neither is recorded in scripture as an institution. We believe the first was the institution of marriage and all that involves such, and the second institution is the church. Beyond that anything considered an institution is outside of scripture.
The dictionary definition is necessary here. While there may be many offerings from the dictionary, we must remember that proper language depends upon context. So what one definition would offer would not be appropriate in other places or uses. I hope we can agree on that.
: an established organization
: a place where an organization takes care of people for a usually long period of time
: a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people
My(cs) understanding of the usage as described here
: an established organization (does not matter whether two people agree to do something or start a business, or whether a large organization refers to itself as an institution. There may come a point in time that such an effort by some becomes an institution even though the original intent was not to set up such an entity.)
: a place where an organization takes care of people for a usually long period of time (A special needs home, hospital, or as they used to call them sanitariums)
: a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people (as stated above: marriage and the church).
Full Definition of INSTITUTION
: an act of instituting or establishing
a : a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture<the institution of marriage>; also : something or someone firmly associated with a place or thing <she has become an institution in the theater>
b : an established organization or corporation (as a bank or university) especially of a public character;
Examples of INSTITUTION
1. banks and other financial institutions
2. an institution of higher learning
3. Family visits are a Thanksgiving institution.
4. She's not interested in the institution of marriage.
5. The play has become something of an institution on Broadway.
6. the institution of new rules and regulations
7. the mentally retarded man was put in an institution (asylum).
***taken from the online dictionary from Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus.***
For the purpose of our discussion the Institution we are going to discuss refers to an established organization and/or corporation.
Those of the Pro-Institutional mindset do not consider themselves as such. They never even considered that the work they were involved in did not have any scriptural authority. Authority is revered in some circles, while it is downplayed in others. Those of us who consider ourselves NI believe that the PI group has gone beyond biblical authority. So we express our concerns.
Our view is that those of the PI mindset are so emotionally involved and thinking they are doing such good works which is their God given duty to perform, that they do not think scripturally. Nowhere in this discussion will we suggest that these institutions are not doing a good work. Our concern is the fact that such is not authorized in scripture.
Such a designation was offered by those who believe in being Non-Institutional. Even I despise the NI designation as an identifier, but realize it is sometimes necessary for many in the church today.
Realize that many organizations must be incorporated by law. Even though a small group may establish a group to do a good work and to coordinate a cooperative effort, it could be required by law to be established. This provides for the government to set guidelines and rules. This can be understood. A soup kitchen that provides meals to homeless or poor must meet the specific codes of the health department. To receive funds from the government, some institutions must share information with the authorities. An orphan home may be funded totally by members of the church, and still have requirements concerning living conditions, health conditions, overall welfare of the children, and other things. Some orphan homes operated by the church also receive funds from other organizations and the government. Obviously this should meet the requirement of an institution.
While a missionary society which is usually not described as such anymore does not receive any federal funds for its efforts, there still must be an oversight person or committee to see how the funds are used. So books must be kept, and by law, any church that wants to investigate how their funds are being used should have access to the books. You can imagine a church sending funds for the preaching of the gospel only to find that the administrators get all the money for themselves, and very little if any goes to the evangelists. Many charities have this problem, and such is to be public record. Wounded warriors, and SPCA, PETA advertise a lot. Advertising cost money, and the actors need to be paid. So of your nineteen cents a day donation only about 1 percent actually goes to help the wounded servicemen. How do we know, government rules and regulations.
The Work Of The Church.
We should all consider that the work of the Church is limited in scope to the Scriptural authority as described in the Bible. Evangelism, Edification, and (limited) Benevolence can be shown as the work of the Church. We also recognize that the individuals that make up a local church have the same responsibilities: Evangelism, Edification, yet with benevolence it is not limited to members of the church as we see in scripture. An individual has a responsibility to preach the gospel to others, and each Christian should be edifying and encouraging their brethren by various means. An individual can provide benevolence to anyone they so choose.
The Problem as we view it.
Many Christians out of good intentions and good hearts may have considered that the church was not doing enough to help others. They may have approached the elders and asked that more funds be directed towards benevolence, and such funds were earmarked for evangelism instead. They may have met with other members and decided that someone needed to start taking care of needs that the church was not doing. Some of them wanted to finance preachers in foreign fields. Some of them wanted to assist orphans or the elderly. Some of them wanted to have a network that could respond to a tragedy like a tornado, flood, or other natural disaster. These are all good intentions, and if they limited their activities to what they could do themselves, there would be no problem.
But then some decided that if they had more money, they could do more themselves. Logical thinking is used here. However instead of asking individuals to get involved to do more, they requested the churches finance their institution or organization. Thus we came to have church sponsored schools (most of which have turned totally secular while still taking funds from spiritual institutions). We had the orphans and elderly homes which in many cases were operated by an eldership. We could speak a lot about the work and duty of elders from a scriptural standpoint, and overseeing such an institution is never found in scripture. An elder is limited in his authority to the church that is among you (Acts 20:28). Others have considered that if a single church sponsored one of these institutions that other churches could assist in the funds. Once again, we have no scriptural precedent recorded for us. This is all going beyond the scriptures (or as some say “adding to the word”).
In all of this, the moment these individuals involved churches in these activities, it became unscriptural. Some might say that the work of the church was being usurped. I remember many stories of the strong arm tactics used by some colleges when a church decided to stop funding such organizations. I have been told by several brethren that they were threatened to be black listed for withdrawing their support. Even though the elders considered the school to be violating scriptural teaching, they were told that they would be marked as being unbelievers or other such designations (like “anti”). Yes there are stories of members of the church who wanted to adopt from one of these church sponsored orphans homes, yet were told they could not (for various reasons). I am sure that many adoptions to fine Christian families did take place, but personally those I know who grew up in one of these homes, grew up in that home, and not with a family. One family I know told me they tried to adopt some children, but were refused because the home would lose some of its government financing. They eventually went to another agency and adopted several children. Such stories can continue on and on.
The bottom line is that anything that attempts to circumvent the church is unscriptural. Any organization that takes control of one aspect that the church is charged with doing is usurping the work of that church. Any entity bigger or smaller than the local church should not be doing the work of the church. God gave that work to the local church, not another group.
I know this is long and I hope it addresses your concerns and that it is helpful.
By Carey Scott
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