Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 23, 1958
NUMBER 25, PAGE 13b-14

Christian Colleges

Harold Edwards

This letter and reply taken from the Millennial Harbinger seem as timely today as they were one hundred and twenty-five years ago. ("Christian College," M. H., IV, April, 1833, 189-191.)

Dear Sir,

You once complained to me that the fountains of literary education were as much sectarian as the parties under whose auspices they were got up and patronized. You lamented that the youth of our country could no where obtain an education without the danger of becoming infidels or sectarians. I felt the force, because I knew the truth of it, at least in a limited sense; and from that day till now I have been endeavoring to excite an interest in the community in behalf of a literary institution free from those tendencies. I have tried it in Ohio, and in Virginia, but without success. I have, however, made a successful effort in Indiana, and have actually succeeded in getting such an institution chartered. It is the most liberal in its provisions, and I hope to all the liberal-minded of the community, it will prove (what I sincerely wish it to be) a real and lasting benefit. A copy of the charter and the by-laws I herewith forward you, and hope they will meet your views. Will you please notice it in the Harbinger?

In much Affection, yours in the Lord,

John Cook Bennett

Brother Bennett, Dear Sir,

Yours of March 1st now lies before me. The intelligence it communicates was to me wholly unexpected. I heard nothing of this project until it was consummated. I had thought that your failure in Ohio and Virginia had broken your spirits in this enterprise, and that you had given it up. My remarks to you, to which you allude, were not made with a design to enlist you in such an enterprise: for you were then enlisted in it. And as the Christian religion has not much to expect from the literary institutions of this world, except so far as society at large is benefited by them, I never wished to see any institution got up for the purpose of aiding or abetting a cause which needs no such alliance, and which never has been directly benefited by such institutions. The gospel converts men of all ranks, casts, talents, and education, to God; and then their literature and talents and property are consecrated to the Lord. While, then, I have sometimes expressed myself as you have represented, it was rather from a wish to see the fountains of education divested of the power of doing harm to Christianity, than with an expectation or desire to see any one instituted expressly for its benefit. — Whether such an institution could be erected, is, with me at least, very problematical; and were it in its infancy to be a benefit, we have no evidence from any thing past that it could long continue so....

Editor There has been entirely too much eagerness on the part of individuals on both sides of the present disputes in the church to gain the approval of the ancients — the restoration heroes. Such human approval is, of course, a completely fallible source of authority. Besides being fallible, the testimony of the great figures of the restoration movement often proves changeable. Many figures in restoration history have been cited on both sides of the present issues — in perfect accuracy. No personage in the history of the church in this country was given more to this disposition to change than Alexander Campbell. Any student of Campbell will admit that the alert, crusading, reforming young preacher of the 1830's had lost much of his determination, vigor, and sense of destiny by the 1850's. The contention of this article is not, then, that the views expressed in Campbell's reply are correct because he said them but that the views are correct because they are in accord with the teaching of the scriptures. It is interesting that Campbell faced the same problems in the 1830's that faithful brethren face today. The force of the great reformer's answers still commands attention.

First, Campbell points out to the well-intentioned brother that no institution is necessary for the spiritual regeneration of the world aside from the church. He disapproved of any human institution being erected "expressly for its (Christianity's) benefit." This is a truth brethren today need to digest well. While there are many institutions that are good, useful, practical, pure, and expedient, there is only one institution which is burdened with the responsibility of extending the sway of Christianity — the church. If any institution is going to further the conversion of the world today, it must be the church — not colleges, youth camps, or boy scout troops. Until Christians return to the church as the Christianizing power of the world, the church will have no power at all and the world will not be Christianized.

This is not to say that colleges, especially colleges operated by Christians, are not good and useful. Any force which elevates the moral and ethical atmosphere of society is useful. But every institution which elevates the moral atmosphere of society is not "Christian," nor should it be designed to further Christianity. To make a person a good citizen, to make a person moral, is not to make a Christian. When you convince a man to obey the laws recorded in God's word, then you make him a Christian. The admirable job of making good people can be discharged by many institutions; the business of making Christians is the work of the church.

Colleges operated by Christians are not only good because they make better citizens (indeed, almost any college does this), they are also useful because they do no harm to Christianity — a statement which could hardly be made of most of the state colleges of today. In short, colleges operated by devoted and godly men can be of tremendous value in directing and protecting young people. They can provide a spiritual atmosphere for young people to work in, they can provide pure and clean amusements and society, they can guide young lives into channels of usefulness for the future, as individual Christians the teachers in such colleges can do their utmost to fulfill their personal obligation to spread the truths of the gospel, but a college cannot and must not try to sell itself to the church as an institution formed for the purpose of Christianizing young people — for doing the work of the church. I believe there are some colleges in the brotherhood today that are doing much good — in spite of desperate attempts to discredit them. I certainly wish harm to no school which operates within a scriptural framework; I only plead that the brethren place all human institutions in their proper perspective.

The second point made by Campbell which seems worthy of emphasis is the following: "... I never wished to see any institution got up for the purpose of aiding or abetting a cause which needs no alliance." The height of presumption in the controversies in the church of the Lord today is the idea that men can form institutions to ally with the church to help it carry out its God-given duties. Where in God's word does the church cry out for allies? Where does the divine institution whimper for help? The church needs no human promotion, scheme, or institution to do everything God has required of it. Alexander Campbell and those courageous men engaged in the nineteenth century attempt to reclaim the glory and grandeur of the Lord's church from the corruption of centuries of human abuse had faith and confidence in the mission and in the power of the church. No characteristic of the present digression from the truth is more apparent than the complete abandonment of this faith in the church. During the past few decades the church has been presented with more allies than the United Nations during World War II. The church has gorged on, and had crammed down its throat, so many "Christian" adjuncts that if it ever regurgitates them all out of its budget, many people will think there is nothing "Christian" left in the church. Many of the "Christian" colleges have of late, some clandestinely and others quite openly, decided to join this band of vampire allies and suck their quota of blood — the precious blood of Christ — from the body of the Lord — the church. When will the people awaken and see that the church requires no allies. The church made Christians of people before there were any colleges, youth camps, orphan homes, or human institutions of any description. Let the record speak clear, it is just as lawful for me to fellowship a man who decides to aid the worship by adding instrumental music, or to aid the spread of the gospel by providing a missionary society, as the man who decides to aid the church by providing some other institution. Consistency must be our guidepost. Let him who will be taught. The line of fellowship draws menacingly and necessarily more distinct.

The final statement made by the distinguished Campbell which I particularly want to call to your attention is a word of warning rather than a statement of truth. Even, says Campbell, if an institution can be erected which will be useful to Christians (as the present Christian-operated colleges), beware, for "we have no evidence from any thing past that it could long continue so." History, and especially the history of the church, could testify on no subject more conclusively than on the variable nature of human institutions. Human institutions are no more dependable than human nature.

It is certainly not bad to build and strive for useful and profitable colleges, schools, papers, businesses, and all sorts of human institutions, but we must never place our faith in them. If human history does not change to a course never before pursued, that which today is useful will tomorrow be damnable, that which is today good will tomorrow be the instrument of the devil. Let us do what we can in our lifetime and trust those who are faithful to the Lord in the next generation to supply its wants. We cannot control the future. It is not necessary to remind those who have been members of the church for many years that institutions which once played a large part in the directing of God's people in the strait way are now instruments of deception. Although it may sound like bad business (it will more likely be good Christian business), I firmly believe that good advice to every Christian is to use up your life, your time, your money, your energy, and your talent while they are yours to use. A school, or any other institution, which is doing good now should be supported now. Use all your capabilities — now.

Neither this article, nor that of Brother Campbell, is meant to malign or criticize schools. As I said before in this article, I believe there are some schools operated by Christians today which are sources of great good. My only plea is that brethren everywhere recognize the true purpose, and the proper relation to the church, of schools and of every other human institution.