The problem of what to do about human organizations larger than and smaller than the local church is not a new problem. Studying the history and problems of the church in America in the last one hundred fifty years can be very helpful. It is the story of continual and everlasting problems with institutions which “good men” have offered as “aids” in the Lord’s work. There have been “Ladies Aid Societies” to take care of the needy out of the hands of the Lord’s appointed officers - the elders. “Sunday Schools” were organized with their own treasuries and officers without scriptural pattern. Colleges began to be established from funds raised by the churches. The missionary society is now over one hundred years old. A study of its history is easy, and it illustrates every phase of the problem.
Good men started the missionary society, and they wanted to advance the cause of truth. Alexander Campbell was its first president. Almost every “faithful” gospel preacher of the time favored the society. This was true of the mature scholars among our brethren as well as among the less trained and younger brethren. They were shocked at and rather cruel to Jacob Creath and a few others who doubted the wisdom of trying some plan not recommended in the scriptures.
The advocates of the missionary society insisted that the command to go preach is a general command and that God did not say HOW it should be done. What could be wrong with a society whose sole purpose was to preach the gospel, they reasoned. They made rather convincing arguments to the effect that it was expedient to have the society because the churches could do their work better that way than any other way. They reminded our brethren - the moss-backs, the antis, the cranks, the fanatics - that the Bible did not say it was wrong to have a society. That made it appear that the “cranks” were making a law against the society when God had not made such law.
The missionary society did not cause men to do more “mission” work. It is evident as can be that the Christian church with its society has not grown as fast as the church has without it. The cooperative idea relieved the individual and the local church of much of their feeling of responsibility. They need not start new congregations since that would be done by headquarters. The society absorbed much of the money in costs of operation, and they cut the link between the congregation and the preacher on the field, so there was less personal interest in his work and less joy of accomplishment on the part of the congregation sending funds. The good done by the society’s preachers blinded the eyes to the deadening effect of the plan. None saw the final harvest in its horror. Division, modernism, and the growth of another group glad to take its place as a denomination was the outgrowth.
This society was well received for several years. There finally came a period of heated discussion. After nearly sixty years (1849-1906) the United States census recognized two groups. Notice this line as a typical pattern for problems over some institution offered as an “aid” to brethren.
If the benevolent and recreational societies and other such human offerings do not follow the same pattern, it will make a unique chapter in the history of the restoration movement in America.
Think of church supported schools. Campbell wanted to train young preachers, and he was capable for the task. He was a trained school man with a wonderful mind and a great insight into the truth. He traveled thousands of miles to raise money for the churches to aid a school. His school at Bethany and others that soon began in a similar way have long since departed from the narrow path. In fact, no real opposition to church support arose until the schools began to err grievously and abuse their powers. The church finally split three ways after the “explosion” came. Some went all out for support from the churches; other brethren said schools can be conducted by the brethren if they will keep their places as schools and stay out of the church treasuries; and some said that brethren must not build “Bible Schools” under any kind of setup.
The Sunday School movement had its three way split. Some opposed all classes, others said the institutional setup was acceptable, and many said classes were very appropriate but they, like all other efforts of the body, should be under the elders.
These “good ideas” were not good if they wounded the spiritual body of Christ. No more modern offering will be good if it divides the body of Christ. The human element added is the thing that brought the problem. There would have been no division or confusion if all could have spoken only as the oracles of God with a full confidence that the inspired scriptures will furnish one completely to every good work. It has been ninety years since John T. Welsh wrote: “I think it is an undeniable truth, that men never departed from primitive Christianity until they lost faith in it. And no Christian ever yet adopted human systems and appliances until his faith becomes weak in the divine. ... We want more faith and less machinery, more work and less talk, more faith and less planning. The Lord has given us the plan, and bids us go work in his vineyard; but instead of going to work with the tools he has furnished, we spend all the day in making new ones which in our wisdom, we think will work better. Let us quit it and go to work with a hearty good will.”
Certain dangers have become realities in each battle over institutions. Some churches have divided. Bitterness is a natural ingredient in all such occasions because the devil has a hand in each. Some congregations that do not come to open division become so torn by internal factions that they become inactive and lukewarm. The big church supported institutions dominate the churches that support them. They become a super government to “request” and “advise” by very effective means in many local affairs. Must the church face this now in regard to the “homes”? (Orphan Homes—Larry) Are the three “dangers” not already realities in dozens of communities?
The missionary and educational work could have been done without the church-dominating institutions. So can the benevolent work be done in our day. It is not necessary to take the widows from Alabama and send them to Tennessee. It is not necessary to take fatherless children from Kentucky and send them to Texas. Each community can care for its own except in very unusual times. Sister congregations can send funds to the elders in a critical area if this is needed. There is scriptural authority for this simple plan but not for the boards and plans for consolidation. Through the centuries the benevolent work has been done without modern machinery and suggested bodies.
Orphan schools existed among us before the day when free schools with free transportation were in every community, but the orphan homes that exist among us are, as far as I know, younger than I [brother Lee was born in 1914]. My high school girl is older than most of them. Men of many good traits started them and operate them, but part of the price for this particular plan is to be a divided church. This seems evident since many local communities have already witnessed the bitter division and the sickening faction. Many communities are “in line” with headquarters on who may preach regularly or in meetings. Lines are being drawn fast. Expect it sooner or later in the churches in that area. Much prayerful study in advance of that day can help much. Some “homes” show far more tendency to dominate the churches than others. The personality of the superintendent enters into this.
There are many homes wanting children, but few children are available for them. There is no situation that demands the grouping of many children under one roof. In twenty-five years of preaching I have not found children that needed homes but that homes could be found for them. I wish I could help some fine homes that I know of to get children. If you learn of such, and need help in finding a home, I believe I can help find Christian parents delighted to get them. Some few officials in state welfare departments have been found guilty of taking large bribes in getting children for people willing to “pay.” If a few hundred more were in brotherhood “homes” there would be fewer available to those brethren who are eager to care for them.
The most expensive and least desirable way to care for children is in the orphan’s home setup. States have learned this and prefer the foster home as more desirable for the child and less expensive. The orphan’s home is a modern experiment that had been found to be inexpedient before our brethren started them. In a careful study this becomes evident.
In the orphanage the child remains an “orphan.” That means he is still without parents. When he is cared for in the home where there is a family unit with a father and mother he has parents even if they are not reated by blood. The child needs the lap to sit on and the parents to run to with his personal problems that love and affection can solve. Even children who, because of unfortunate conditions in the home, must be cared for temporarily can find places in homes in the community.
In the orphanage there is a constant change of matrons as the child grows up into another “department,” or as matrons resign for easier work. Some of the finest people become matrons but find it next to impossible to live up to the many responsibilities of the difficult though unselfish work. This situation is not the fault of a superintendent or board. It is an unhappy weakness of the system. Many feel that in the orphanage the home is “restored.” The fact may be that the children are kept from having a home (parents) by being taken in there even though they have food, clothing, shelter, and many other essentials. Children in the average homes have less spent for them than orphans in the average orphan’s home among us. Their toys, clothes, etc., come with the personal love of parents attached. The doll is not just a doll but it is a doll that some loved one gave. The home is better for the child because his great need is for parents and their loving care. A child needs a lap to sit on where he can find love and security. Food, medical care, shelter, supervision, and schooling do not necessarily mean home. One mentioned to me recently that during army life he had food, shelter, clothes, and supervision, but he was eager to GO HOME. The child may not, of course, be able to analyze his need, but he may be starved for affection in the midst of good people and plenty of the things money can buy.
The orphan’s home setup is not necessary and it is not best for the child. It is not best for the church because it is taking the church through the same struggle through which it has passed with other “helpful” human plans. The centralized plan for caring for the aged and the orphans is not the best for the individual Christian who can and should “visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.” When Cincinnati became the center for missionary work, the individuals lost zeal. They contributed their coins on Sunday, a small portion of which was sent to headquarters, and the work was left to the society. Those who advocate the benevolent homes so boldly can often satisfy their consciences by sending very little from the whole congregation each month. Few congregations contribute enough to support one child. Each tends to feel some relief as an individual with the thought that the church is doing the work through the “homes.”
The Christian religion is a “Do It Yourself” religion. The Bible does not teach that we should get money by begging, sales, games, or just any method. Rather, it teaches that each should give. Hiring a group of singers who sing beautifully is not what the Lord asked. He wants us to do the singing. Even if we support a man to spend full time teaching and preaching we are still obligated to teach our children and our neighbors. The individual is to practice his own pure religion. He is not to feel relieved of all obligation of benevolence when he makes a contribution on Sunday. He will be placed on the left at the last day if he does not minister to the needy himself [Matthew 25:41-46].
Many of the children in the orphanage today have mothers living, so they are not available for adoption. The much more appropriate plan would be to help the mothers keep their own children. A widow may find it next to impossible to earn her living and care for the children. She deserves help from her neighbors as she makes worthy efforts. We realize that it is difficult to qualify as a child placing agency, so we are not rebuking the homes for not letting their children out into private homes that want them. If they are in the orphanage they are no longer available to private homes. Their lot is cast.
When great interest in a missionary society was aroused there came an epidemic of institutions that offered themselves as “aids.” One seems to have been started with motives as worthy as were the motives that started another. There were state societies as well as the national organization. One “aid” was the “Christian Woman’s Board of Missions.” This was organized in 1875 in addition to the general society. The church supported colleges, the institutional Sunday schools, and many other human plans had their place in this epidemic of human institutions.
In our day there is an epidemic again. The orphan home movement is growing rapidly in number and wealth. Many take this as a good sign. We may also notice that many churches are building their kitchens and “fellowship” halls, as well as recreation halls. Many schools are talking of church funds. Some are eager to see a “Church of Christ Hospital.” Some congregations operate “Church of Christ Farms.” There are many plans offered where radio work and work abroad can be centralized. One church may be available to employ workers for Korea, another for Japan, another for Germany, etc. These churches are glad to receive great sums from smaller congregations to do great things abroad. The elderships of these large congregations may do much good, but many disadvantages of the missionary society plan may reveal themselves. We cannot give book, chapter, and verse for this plan, for it was not the system used in that day when inspired men lived. The system they used worked and it was Jehovah’s way. We may have the ideas associated with the society movements of seventy-five years ago reorganized and presented under new names and forms. Churches may now have “choruses” but not choirs. The latter name would not be accepted. We should all take heed lest we drift away from things written [Hebrews 2:1-2].
by Bob Waldron and Irven Lee (Gospel Truths March 2013)
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