Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 19, 1958

Present Issues -- And A Suggested Solution -- (III.)

Fanning Yater Tant

I do not think any sincere Christian in the nation can look upon the present condition in the churches with anything but sadness and misgivings. I had wanted to wait until next summer to work on these articles (after I had finished with the biography of my father), but Brother Lemmons said "next summer might be too late to accomplish all they would accomplish now." There is a sense of urgency in the air, a feeling of uneasiness and apprehension, a dim premonition and foreboding of days of darkness and tragedy that may be very near upon us.

But is the situation hopeless? Can something be done, "something constructive," to bring a halt or a slow-down to the threatened rupture? Already many congregations have been rent asunder; hostilities and animosities have been aroused; evil speaking, false accusations, angry words have filled the air. Can not some word of peace and brotherly calmness be heard? Because Brother Lemmons has provided the medium, and because I am not despairing of the final solution to our problems, I offer in this article my thoughts, for what they are worth, as to how an approach might be made toward resolving the difficulties:

Desire For Unity

There must be, first of all, in the hearts of all of us a truly sincere desire for unity and fellowship. Without that basic attitude to start with we are fore-doomed to failure. It was because that desire was NOT present that the rupture came over the organ question seventy-five years ago. Our organ brethren desired unity, to be sure, but they did NOT desire it enough to make any concession to have it. And those who opposed the organ were often so hurt and embittered by the treatment they had received that any overture toward peace would have been rejected even had it been offered. Every Christian must search his heart before God and make very sure that he is willing to go the full length his conscience will permit to remove any hindrance to fellowship. He cannot surrender in a matter of conscience; but in any item of mere judgment or expediency he must completely surrender for the sake of unity.

Assuming then that everybody involved has the right attitude and a truly Christian desire for unity and peace, what steps can be taken by the orphan homes, by the congregations, and by each of us as an individual Christian to further the cause of peace and harmony?

The "Under A Board" Orphan Home

It is my conviction that those orphan homes in the land which are operated under a board of directors, as "service institutions," have every scriptural right to exist . . . . as private, independent, non-church business enterprises. My father, J. D. Tant, once wrote: "I do not believe an orphan home is any more Scriptural than a Bible college. Both should be operated as independent institutions." (Emphasis mine. — F.Y.T.) (Gospel Advocate, September 27, 1928, page 918.) Thus, thirty years ago a plea was made that would have prevented this present controversy over these "under a board" homes. There was a time when the Christian colleges were seeking church support; for the most part they have now abandoned and renounced that practice. The colleges have fared far better financially, and the churches have not been disturbed and divided over the question. Why should not these "under a board" homes operate on the same basis?

However poor and inferior institutional care is for a normal child, and however cruel and unjust it is to keep a child in an institution when a fine Christian family is eager to take him into their circle and into their hearts, it still cannot be denied that there are some children who need institutional care. Some are mentally retarded; some are physically crippled or even bed-ridden; some are psychologically crippled in such a way as to make normal family life impossible, or at least impracticable for them. For one cause or another there are children who can best be served by institutional care.

If a congregation has a child that needs such care, or one for whom no suitable home is immediately available, then let the elders of the congregation put that child in one of these private, independent, non-church-supported homes, and pay the bill for his keep.

The half-dozen or so homes "under a board" which are among us could well serve a great and useful purpose, and receive the endorsement and support, I believe, of every Christian in the land for such work if they would follow the example of the Christian colleges and cut themselves loose from church support. Let them continue to operate in general terms as they are now, except for a clear-cut, adamant policy of refusing either to solicit or to accept contributions from churches. They could (and should) continue to operate their farms, dairies, oil leases, hatcheries, lease their apartment houses, and make all the money they can in every right and lawful means. Let them pay dividends to their stock-holders, if such they desire; or else let them operate as non-profit corporations. But in either event, let them be private, independent, nonchurch-supported or connected, "service institutions."

The "Under An Eldership Brotherhood" Homes

Let us make a clear distinction between the "under an eldership brotherhood home" and the "under an eldership congregational home." I am writing in this paragraph of the former. These homes, of which there are perhaps a dozen among us, present a much more difficult problem. I simply do not see how they can scripturally exist as "brotherhood homes" (i.e. homes soliciting support — and orphans — from all the churches) under a local eldership. These homes are congregational in form, to be sure, but they are brotherhood in function. The most practicable way I can think of to approach the problem would be to transform such homes into "board of directors" homes, setting them up as service institutions, exactly like the homes mentioned in the above paragraphs. There might be some legal problems here, particularly where people have willed farms of properties to the various elderships, but if there is a sincere desire to resolve the problem, I am sure it can be done.

The elders over these homes are acting "as elders" ONLY in their supervision of the local congregation. Their eldership authority is limited in scope to "the flock of God which is among you" (1 Pet. 5:2); they have no scriptural right to become an agency for a hundred other churches in administering the funds of those churches to care for the orphans from those churches.

The "Congregational Orphan Homes"

The congregational orphan homes, old folks' homes, and homes for widows and the indigent, established, controlled, supported, and operated by each congregation as need arises, and as long as it lasts, should continue to function just as they have for hundreds of years past! Only rarely will there be a congregation needing help from any sister congregation to care for its needy. When, and if, such a condition ever does arise, then those congregations with ability to help have a God-given responsibility to do so. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9; Acts 11:27-30).

The Churches

I have offered suggestions "as I see it" as to what the various "homes" should do; but what about the congregations? What can they do to promote peace and good-will?

Some months ago I made a suggestion relative to all those congregations which are now contributing to orphan homes (other than their own), and which intend to keep up such contributions. My plea was that the elders of these congregations be considerate enough of the consciences of some of their members that they NOT take funds from the general church treasury to send to these homes, but collect it in some other way. I know of several cases right now, for example, where humble and sincere Christians are attending congregations where they cannot put their money into the collection basket on Sunday morning without violating their conscience in doing so. The money, or a portion of it, will be used to support that which they honestly believe to be a violation of God's will. Some of these people are solving their problem in an uneasy sort of way by withholding their contributions from the church where they worship and sending them instead to congregations which are not supporting human institutions.

Well, I made the suggestion that the elders of these churches find some other way to raise their "orphan home" money, and not take it from the general fund. I was right roundly ridiculed for that proposal. And, knowing full well what to expect now, I repeat the suggestion! When turmoil and tension are in the air, why should not faithful elders make every effort possible to direct the congregational work in such fashion, and spend the congregational funds in such a manner that the entire congregation can endorse and approve their action — and nobody violate his conscience? Why deliberately ride rough-shod over the conscience of any brother? If the elders believe they would be condemned for NOT supporting the orphan home, then why not use a plan that will permit them to send such support without forcing people to be a part to it who are convinced it is wrong?

I now add a second proposal to that one of a few months ago: Let the elders of every congregation which is now regularly supporting one of these "under a board of directors" orphans' homes write the management of such homes (1) setting a definite date for the termination of their monthly contributions, and (2) pledging themselves to try to secure enough regular monthly individual contributions to the home to equal the amount of their monthly congregational contribution, provided the home has cut herself loose from church support by that time and has publicly announced that she ,will neither solicit nor accept church contributions. If an organization will not accept that, but insists that she is going to continue to solicit funds from the churches, then I think the congregation has no alternative but to terminate her contributions — and has no obligation at all to try to find individual contributions to such a home.

Obviously in the space of three articles it is impossible to deal with the entire problem of "congregational relationships." I have not even mentioned the cooperative evangelistic programs, the present efforts to generate enthusiasm for a Church of Christ hospital, the various organizations of one kind or another which sincere brethren are building and supporting to further the cause of Christianity.

I offer the material in these three articles with the earnest prayer that these suggestions may stimulate thought and study; that all of us may continue to think, work, study, and pray for the unity of God's people, and that the tensions and troubles which have plagued the church in recent years may be eased. I do not think for a moment that I have all the answers. The problems did not arise overnight, neither will they be so quickly settled. But I have simply written of the situation "as I see it." Perhaps other will now do what they can to offer something constructive.