Human Institutions And God's Word

From the very beginning, man has been plagued with his desire to change that which God has said. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with taking care of the garden and having a relationship with God (Gen. 3). Rather, they decided that the serpent knew more than God and it would be acceptable to change God's commands. Later, King Saul did the same (1 Samuel 13). We could continue with this for several pages, but this should serve to illustrate that changing God's word is nothing new to man, even those who claim to be His children.

I have seen some movements among brethren in recent years that, on the surface, are very alarming. I know that this is going to be unsettling to some, but we are beginning to look more and more like the denominational world and our institutional brethren. I would like for you to carefully and prayerfully consider the following thoughts.

On October 23 1849, in a back room several met to establish what became know as the "American Christian Missionary Society." It was formed for "furtherance of the work by the church collectively." W. K. Pendleton who was the son-in-law of Alexander Campbell, while agreeing that there was no express precept in scripture that commands the society, sought to support the society by arguing that there is no direct objection to such. Mr. Pendleton argued that God gave the church the responsibility to preach the gospel to the whole world, yet did not give the method by which this was to be done. Therefore, whatever method the church chooses to use is expedient ("The Convention of Christian Churches," Millennial Harbinger, Third Series, Vol. 6, No. 12, pg. 689, 690). Thus, according to his reasoning, the missionary society becomes expedient. This line of reasoning opens the door for everything that is not expressly forbidden in the scriptures.

Even though many (Ben Franklin, David Lipscomb, Jacob Creath and others) opposed this idea; it was the stepping stone for those who wished to change God's word. In the 1950s, we saw the centralization of power in the churches. They began supporting orphans homes and colleges under the same expressed idea that Mr. Pendleton had used almost 100 years before. Batsell Barrett Baxter said, "The orphan home and the Christian school must stand or fall together (Questions and Issues of the Day, pg. 29, ca. 1964). In other words, if it was acceptable to support one out of the local congregation's treasury, it was acceptable to support the other. Thus the "sponsoring church" was born where in many sought to escape the criticism directed at the missionary society, by placing the outside organization under the control of the elders of one specific congregation and all those who wished to help financially could send their monies to those elders.

Yet, even those who scripturally opposed such arrangements seem to forget the lessons of the past. I have gotten to this point rather quickly. I could spend ream upon ream of paper and gallons of ink going through all that has been said and done over these divisive practices. However, I am using them to get to the point that really needs to be made to those who think such is not authorized in the bible.

Guy N. Woods said, "The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sandbar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is a characteristic of the age. On the theory that the end justifies the means, brethren have now scrupled to form organizations in the church to do the work the church itself was designed to do. All such organizations usurp the work of the church, and are unnecessary and sinful" (Abilene Christian College Lectures, 1939). Unfortunately, that is just the kind of forum that has continued to do the work of the church.

God assigned the preaching and teaching of the gospel to the local church (1 Tim. 3: 15, Eph. 3:9, 4: 16, 2 Tim. 4: 1-5), yet it is clear that many are not satisfied with this arrangement as witnessed by the following statement,

"As you know I am to assume my responsibilities in connection with Florida Christian College, Florida, July 1. ...Occasionally you will be asked your opinion concerning the school; hence, this letter is for your own information and brethren who may be asking. ... (6) Preacher training. While we expect to have academic work accepted as readily by other educational institutions as that of any of our sister institutions, we make no apology to anybody for placing emphasis on the teaching of young men desiring to teach the gospel and others desirous of doing religious work. We believe that the safety, security and soundness of the church depend upon the kind and amount of preaching and teaching done. Those who take the lead in this matter are elders and preachers, and unless they are thoroughly grounded in the faith innovations, errors, and inertia will abound; hence, we expect to have a Bible department second to none. Our students will be taught the issues and how to meet them." (James Cope, in a letter to Yater Tant, April 20, 1949).

The only examples we find of preachers being trained in the bible deal with Paul and Timothy and Paul plainly states, ".I write so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church, the pillar and ground of truth" (1 Tim. 3:14) and "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me.commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others" (2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2). Paul was instructing Timothy in how to do the work of an evangelist. He also wrote to the preacher Titus, but in neither case do we find Paul urging them to attend the "brotherhood school." I wonder how preachers were trained before training schools appeared on the scene!

Friends and brethren, let me repeat what I said earlier, God assigned the preaching and teaching of the gospel to the local church (1 Tim. 3: 15, Eph. 3:9, 4:16, 2 Tim. 4: 1-5). But now we are seeing non-profit organizations (Akin Foundation) supporting preachers; colleges (Florida College, Abilene Christian University, etc) and book stores (Guardian of Truth Foundation) holding "Lectureships" for the teaching of God's word. My question is where will it end? Have some of these organizations put safeguards in place to keep them from infringing on the work God designed for the local congregation? Do not misunderstand, a lectureship is not wrong just because it is a lectureship, but rather it becomes wrong when sponsored by the wrong organization, no matter how good their intentions. Whenever a group of men get together and decide, as was done with the American Christian Missionary Society, that some other organization besides the local congregation is needed to preach and teach the gospel, we have digressed. Whatever we call it, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. And whatever we call it if it is a human organization teaching the gospel, it is a missionary society.

By Jack Critchfield from the July/August issue of the Proclaimer

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