The Christian Individual, The Local Church, And The Church Universal
(This is article number fourteen in review of the book, "We Be Brethren", written by J. D. Thomas, Professor of Bible in Abilene Christian College)
In this article we want to deal with one of the most fundamental errors of which our brother, and many others with him, are guilty. It is an error so obvious that it becomes ridiculous when all subterfuge is removed. It is the contention that "whatever the individual Christian does, the church is doing". There are two extreme positions involving this idea: 1) whatever the individual Christian can do, the church can do; and 2) whatever the church cannot do, the individual Christian cannot do. The first position is taken by the liberals and "loose constructionists" among institutional advocates and the latter has been argued for years by those who have been called "Sommerites", though the use of that term is no more Christian in attitude and disposition than the use of the term "Campbellite". I had as soon be called by one human name as another but do not believe that a Christian will persist in calling any man by a name which is offensive to him. Descriptions are somewhat essential in dealing with attitudes and identifying phrases are sometimes necessary in discussing issues, but the use of "epithets" and ugly names is not Christian in either spirit or practice.
The position that there is no difference in the teaching of the scriptures between that which is individual Christian duty and that which is the mission and function of the church, is as fundamentally erroneous as the other extreme which has been the argument of those opposed to individuals supporting schools operated by the brethren in which the Bible is taught. Their opposition has been on the ground that if the church cannot do it, then the individual Christian cannot do it. Daniel Sommer contended years ago in his debate with Armstrong that the individual Christian's money and the Lord's money are all the same and if the schools could not be supported out of the treasury of the Lord's Church, then individual Christians could not support them either. This is substantially the same position taken by Brother Thomas in his book as we shall see in this article.
The idea that some of the brethren have hit upon today in defense of church contributions to human institutions doing the work of the church is but a variation of this conception. They argue now that if the church cannot contribute to human benevolent societies and allow them to do the work of the church, then the individual cannot contribute to even individually operated benevolent organizations with no religious connection or affiliation. It can be seen that they recognize that the argument will work just as well one way as the other. If brother Thomas is right in his statement, "when the members act, it is the church acting!" then when the church cannot act, the individual Christian cannot act either. In fact, he makes this argument and aligns himself with those who have always contended that if the churches cannot support schools out of their treasuries, then individual Christians cannot. His statement in this connection is this:
"It seems to be a much safer course to say that if a church cannot scripturally support a certain project, that an individual Christian should also leave it alone". (Page 199) We are sure that were Brother Sommer alive he would he exceedingly astonished to see those advocating church support for "our" colleges agreeing with him in the exact principle upon which he argued against church support for these institutions. Of course, his argument then was just as wrong as theirs is now, but it was timely in the fact that no one among the brethren then was willing to commit himself as being in favor of church support for these now recognized "church schools". Even when the aged Sommer not too long before his death visited some of these "church schools" — David Lipscomb and Freed Hardeman — N. B. Hardeman and others connected with these institutions deceived the old man into thinking that these were not church institutions and that they did not solicit or accept church support and he publicly expressed his regret for having opposed them upon that basis. They now openly admit their advocacy of churches contributing to them. Even Don Morris who a few years ago disavowed any intention in the $3 million dollar campaign for Abilene College to try to get the school in the budget of the churches must now swallow and endorse such a view or publicly repudiate the book written by the director of the annual "lecture week" and one of the professors in his "Bible Department". We think he should have the courage and fairness to either endorse or disavow the doctrine taught in his school by his teachers. So far we have not been able to get him to do either. The only word we have had is that he "had not read the book" and didn't know what it had in it. We further think that he should inform himself, if he has not read it yet.
Preachers in the Christian Church in their efforts to defend instrumental music have fallen back on this same fallacy. They have insisted that, if it is all right to have instrumental music in the home, then it is permissible to have it in the church. It would be interesting to see how brother Thomas would rule this conclusion out, if he stands on the same position with reference to other matters. Their argument is as sound as his!
Here is our brother's way of putting this fallacy:
"The over concern with the congregation or the church as being marked off with legalistically determined lines, with all black on one side and all white on the other, results in a distinction between the church and Christianity; or a distinction between the church and the kingdom of God! It is argued that Christians can do things that the church cannot. We must not "make laws" here! One author has prepared a circular chart cut in sections like a pie, with these divisions: the church; the community; the government; business enterprises; and the home. Then he has "Christianity" written in circular fashion and included in each of these segments of the whole. This means to this person Christianity and the church are different things, and I fear that he allows 'Christianity' to have the freedom that Paul described as liberty' (from legal codes) — while he circumscribes the church with a full list of legalistic rules. Actually no part of Christianity is legalistic — the 'church' is purely functional in its organization and is no more of a legalistic entity than is Christianity itself. It appears that some may love laws so well that they insist that the Christian system be a legalism in some respect or other." (Pages 164-165)
If our brother could not resort to his cry of "legalism", he would run short of something to say. We deny the allegation of making either Christianity or the church a "legalistic" system or what he calls that. We also deny his right to "liberalize" what the Lord has made it! We are prescribing no rules! We are simply insisting on honoring those the Lord has prescribed and which Brother Thomas thinks unnecessary. Anyone who has read his book with a fair and open mind recognizes, we are sure, that his cry of "legalism" is simply prejudicial, rabble rousing charge which he is unable to accurately and definitely identify and simply a cloak behind which he seeks to hide his own "liberalism".
From such quotations as this it becomes even more and more evident why our brother was not willing to name and specify about whom he was writing. He had rather call someone a name in the dark and under anonymity when he can get his prejudicial point across without giving the name of the individual he is talking about. And he had rather refer to an argument in general terms and to a chart by description rather than by reproduction because it is easier to dismiss it with a misrepresentation and a prejudicial statement than to deal fairly and fully with it. Our brother with all of his pretended piety and scholarship should have been above such practices. He admits in the Preface of his book that he "deliberately planned to omit the normal and scholarly practice of making definite reference to persons quoted" and he could have said to arguments and books quoted or referred to also. It is only fair and right to fully and correctly represent any contention or argument if you are going to deal with it at all. Our brother surely knows that, but it would not have served his cause as well to do so. In order that our readers may see for themselves the chart to which he refers as, "cut in sections like a pie", (and a sneer is almost detectable in such reference) we give you the chart and the contentions made from it: (reproduce the circular chart from page 30 of Walking by Faith)
From this chart we pointed out in "Walking By Faith" as we have in our preaching all over the country, 1) that every relationship in life must be brought into Subjection to the will of Christ in the life of the Christian individual; that it is just as necessary to be a Christian and do the will of the Lord in business, at home, in society, in politics or relationship to the government as it is in the church. We contended 2) that there are many duties a Christian owes to the Lord in these individual relationships such as home, community, business, and government that affect his relationship to the Lord but yet are not obligations or privileges within the activity or work of the Lord's Church and which, therefore, cannot be fulfilled in the church. Among these we listed:
1. A Christian is under obligation to make a living for his family. He cannot shun this
obligation and put it on the church. I Timothy 5:8,16.
2. A Christian is under obligation to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the. Lord. While it is certainly right for the church to teach anybody, child or adult, whenever it has the opportunity, the church cannot take over the task of rearing our children for us. Ephesians 6:4.
3. The Christian individual is to engage in some sort of gainful occupation to provide for himself, those who have the right depend upon him, and in order to be able to give; but the church cannot engage in business or economic enterprise. I Thess. 4:11; I Timothy 5:8; II Thess. 3:10.
4. The Christian is subject to the government under which he lives as a citizen, but the church is not a political medium and has no relation to civil government. I Peter 2:13; Romans 13:1-8.
5. The Christian individual has obligations to his community, to the people with whom he associates, that is no part of the work of the Lord's
church in any sense. John. 12:14-21.
(Walking By Faith Page 31)
We believe in the light of his reference to the book "Walking by Faith" and this chart our brother was under obligation to deal with these specific points and the scriptural teaching given and show them to be false. All he did was to cast a sneer, misrepresent them, and prejudicially give them the discrediting aspersions of "Legalism". That is the best he could do! Of course, in the remaining parts of his book, he gives us to understand that he believes that the church of the Lord can do most of the above. But he does not prove it by the Bible! It is his own assertion and we are supposed to take Dr. Thomas for it instead of the word of God. The charge of legalism against plain Bible teaching' is puerile and our learned professor should rise above such efforts to arouse prejudice and deal fairly with what he opposes. Such rabble rousing is everything in the world but scholarship or evidence of it.
His charge that we "circumscribe the church with a full list of legalistic rules" is completely false and unjustified. Does he not recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head "over all things to the church which is His body" (Eph. 1:23)? Is he not willing to recognize that the Church is the only body that Jesus Christ is head of in this world and that he exercises absolute authority in the realm of church activity and affairs?
To our brother the church organization is purely "functional". Does that mean that Jesus Christ does not prescribe its function? Does his use of the term "functional" mean that he does not believe the organization of the Lord's church to be actual? It would be interesting to know just what our learned professor means by his term "Functional". He seems rather fond of it and in the "glossary" he gives it this definition; "Performing a useful purpose, discharging a regular normal work. (Here, as opposed to "merely official.") (Page 250) He could have said "as opposed to legal" for that is the sense in which he repeatedly uses the word. We have suggested that no one claims that the work of the elders, deacons, or anyone else in the church of the Lord is "purely official" in the sense that it is not functional too. He is chasing rabbits in such use of the word and in trying to refute such a contention for no one makes it. On the other hand, would he deny that the work of an elder is official? That it is authoritatively prescribed by Jesus Christ in New Testament scriptures? This seems to be his point or else he doesn't have any. The organization of the church is divinely prescribed and it is giver for the purpose of functioning — as an organization — for the accomplishment of its mission in the world. Brother Thomas isn't willing for it to even be "functional" for he thinks and contends that the mission of the church, all and any part of it, can be accomplished through some other organization. That leaves God's organization no function and, since he thinks it isn't "official", then he eliminates the divine organization altogether! What other conclusion can we reach from his "ring-around-the-rosey" method of reasoning? The work of a policeman is both "official and functional". He is duly authorized to be what he is and do what he does? This is also true of the local church and every responsibility that the Lord has prescribed in it. None of it is of our doing! If there is any organization to it, and if there is any authority in it, and if there is any function for the local church to perform, then the Lord fixed it and not us! We cannot help it if the Lord did not fix it to suit our brethren and don't intend to try. We have not "circumscribed" the church of the Lord with anything! The Lord did all of the circumscribing needed when he gave his word as the only rule of "faith and practice" for his church! But that is "legalism" according to our brother. Our brother's doctrine of "functionalism" can be understood better if you turn from his "glossary" to Webster and read his definition of it — "theory or practice emphasizing the necessity of adapting the structure or design of anything to its function". Brother Thomas is struggling hard to "adapt" the organization of the church to his misconceptions of its mission on earth and he is having a hard time.
But perhaps the most serious misrepresentation, in the above paragraph, of our position and contention and the most needless and inexcusable one for him to make is this: "This means that to this person Christianity and the church are different things". This is subtle. The inference he would leave is that the two are entirely separate and distinct. This we do not believe and have never taught. We do believe that Christianity is the entire life of the individual — a way of life that determines our relationship with God — and a way of life that includes and controls every relationship and activity. It is also true that we believe that neither every relationship in that way of life nor every activity in all of these relationships in the life of an individual is the work of the church. Church activity is collective Christian activity through the organization and relationship designed by divine wisdom — the local church. But there are some things which a Christian is obligated to the Lord to do that are not collective but individual and that cannot be done through the church, or by the church, but must be performed through other organizations or relationships that likewise are in harmony with the will of the Lord.
Every Christian, as an individual, owes certain duties and responsibilities to God in the family relationship. These family duties must be performed in the family relationship and it would be completely wrong to try to fulfill them in the church. These family duties are as much the obligation of the Christian's life as the assembly on the first Day of the Week to break bread. But they cannot be discharged and fulfilled by the local church even though they are prescribed in New Testament scriptures and are an essential part of one's Christianity. Wherever the righteousness of God applies to the life of an individual member of the family, God's word has prescribed Christian duty. This does not mean that the Gospel is a text book on family affairs or that a Gospel preacher should train himself to be a specialist in family affairs and domestic difficulties and problems. What the Gospel teaches should be preached but about ninety per cent of what some churches and preachers are teaching concerning domestic problems is no part of the Gospel and its teaching but purely a matter of sociology, psychology, biology or some other related science. Every bit of it may be true and needed but teaching it is no part of gospel preaching and no part of the work of the church. But according to our brother such admonitions as "Husband love your wives"; "Wives be in subjection to your own husbands"; "fathers provoke not your children unto wrath"; and "children obey your parents in the Lord" are not directions to individual Christians to be fulfilled in the family relationship but are "church activity". I suppose, according to that, duty outlined in the above references are to all wives, husbands, and children in the church! How would our brother distinguish between his duty to his own family and his duty to other families in the congregation where he is a member? And since we are not to recognize congregational boundaries or geographical limitations in Christian duty and there is no difference in the local church and the church universal, according to him, he would have the same obligations to every Christian family wherever he goes that he has toward his own! If not, why not? Remember that he says that "When a Christian does a good deed, it is really the Lord's church that does it". (Page 165). Now fulfilling your family obligations is a good deed surely, therefore it is the Lord's church that does it and is obligated to do it. What rank foolishness!
We certainly do not believe that one can be a Christian out of the church. Neither do we believe that one can become a member of the Church without becoming a Christian. But we believe that the scriptures set forth many Christian duties that are not in any sense a part of the mission God has given his church. All that is the church is included in Christianity but all that is included in Christianity is certainly not the church or a part of its work. Unless this is true, then there can be no difference between the church and the home, the church and the government, the church and business enterprises, and the church and society. They are all within the church, its activity, and control and the Catholic church is right in its contention and we have been wrong. This concept that the entire life and activity of the Christian individual is in the church and a part of its activity and therefore under its control is purely and simply Catholicism. The Catholics have contended all along that they have a right to prescribe whom the individual can marry, how many children he should have, how they should be educated, and that there is no secret in the family even between a man and his wife that the priest and the church does not have the right to know. They contend that the church can tell its members with whom they can do business and how to conduct it. They have always believed in uniting the church and state and that the church should have control of the state. In other words, they have always contended for exactly what our brother advocates that there is no difference between Christianity and the church. All of it is church activity! Brother Thomas, you are headed toward Rome in more ways than one. Out of the corruption of the organization of the church such as you advocate Romanism grew in the beginning of Christianity and out of the corruption of the mission of the church (its function) such as you advocate, one of the main contentions of Catholicism is sustained and supported. You have even agreed with the Catholics that we should have an "educated clergy" to "interpret" the word of God for us as we have shown in former articles. It may be that as Cardinal Gibbons said, "there may yet he a complete adoption of our faith". There is ground for their hope in that direction.
One of the most peculiar statements found in the question above given is this: "the church is purely functional in its organization and is no more of a legalistic entity than Christianity itself". Our brother often makes such ambiguous statements. His book abounds in them. What does he mean by the above? An "entity" is something that "exists or may be supposed to exist; being". By "legalistic" in the above sentence does he mean to imply that the "church" does not have actual, organic, formal, existence in any sense and when it is referred to as having such that this is "legalism"? If this is not his meaning, there is no meaning to the statement that makes any sense. He talks about the organization of the Lord's church (the local church) in the same way that a Baptist preacher talks about Baptism. They say that "Baptism formally saves"; that we are "baptized with reference to salvation" but that we are not actually saved when we are baptized but before, and that to preach that the act of obedience to Christ that the Bible calls Baptism is the point at which God saves the sinner is "legalism" and a "system of salvation by works" instead of "salvation by faith". Well, we have answered them all through the years by saying that if baptism "formally" saves, then until a man is baptized he is "formally lost"; or if baptism "formally" saves, then if a man is saved by faith only without and before being baptized, he is "informally" saved until he is baptized. Of course, all such is sheer nonsense and simply an effort made to avoid the truth by sophistry. We would answer Brother Thomas in the same way, viz; if it is "legalistic" to recognize a difference between "Christianity and the church" and giving the church "entity" (existence) is "legalism", then denying the difference between the two would deny the church "entity" (existence) and would have to be "liberalism". We affirm again that the brother does not or will not recognize the difference between the individual Christian's relationship to God, a relationship which all Christians universally enjoy, and the Christmas relationship to his fellow Christians in the local church and his duty to God in this relationship. He is either confused or is trying to confuse his readers about the difference between the individual Christian, the church in its universal sense, and the local church.
If there is no difference between the church universal, and the church local, then what sense did Paul use the term "the churches of Christ salute you" (Romans 16:16)? Was this a reference to different denominational bodies or churches, or was it a reference to various congregations, local churches, all with the same relationship to the Lord but independent of each other and situated in various localities? Were these churches of Christ dependent upon the existence of each other or did they constitute a "church of Christ", complete and entire, within themselves? Were there any congregational lines, brother Thomas, between these churches? Did they have independent elderships? Was membership common among them or was it congregational? In other words, did these "churches of Christ" have "entity" or is it legalistic to think so? If they had entity, and were independent of each other in "oversight" and in "membership", is it legalism to conclude that the members, as well as the overseers, of these "Churches of Christ" had responsibilities and duties that were peculiar to the particular "church of Christ" of which they were a part?
But on this failure to recognize the organization of the local church as authoritative and binding, listen, to this quotation from "We Be Brethren":
"There is a spiritual unity and family relationship between congregations and between individual Christians the world over. There is a common faith, a common love, a common hope, and a common responsibility. All Christians share in these things, and congregational machinery was not supposed to draw sharp lines between them and to prevent their cooperating in doing the work of the Lord. We must not legalistically create a rigid, mechanical, limited system of congregational machinery that will stop normal Christian relationships and thus hinder the cause of Christ. We must not institutionalize the church in a way that the Lord hasn't. Congregational machinery is functional — not legalistic, neither hierarchal" (page 164)
If this does not completely deny any recognition to the independence of the local church and its organization, it comes very near to it. We deny that with such an attitude toward the only organic existence that God ever gave the church on this earth a man can properly respect the independence, autonomy, or equality of "churches of Christ."
But once more, in reference to the quotation given from pages 164 and 165 in the preceding part of this article, let us deny that he has correctly represented our position when he charges we make, "a distinction between the church and the kingdom of God". We believe and have always taught that there are a number of identifying phrases used to describe various aspects of the church, such as, "The kingdom of God", "body of Christ", etc. We do not believe there is any difference in the "kingdom of God", brother Thomas, and the "church of God". But we do not believe that every activity of the Christian life is "kingdom business" to use the phrase of one of our chief advocates of human institutionalism. Is Abilene Christian College within the "kingdom of God"? Is the United States Government, of which you are a citizen, in the affairs of which you likely take some part and which you support with your taxes as a Christian duty, a part of the kingdom of God? Is the Thomas family within the kingdom of God, children and all? Our brother does-not know any more about the "kingdom" evidently than he does about the "church" We have never seen anyone so confused about Bible teaching.
In the chapter on "Church Finances" - The Use of the Church Treasury - Chapter XVI - page 197, our learned professor demonstrates that he really does not know the difference between the individual Christian and the Church. Hear Him:
"How are we to know when we can support a project individually but not collectively through the church treasury? Is our judgment supposed to be better than that of the elders? Why are funds of individual Christians which are usable for the Lord's work, which admittedly can be given to Orphan Homes or Christian Colleges, more exempt from legalistic restrictions than church funds which have been dropped in the contribution basket? Do dollars become tainted or affected with some kind of taboo as soon as they fall in to the church treasury?" (Page 198)
He could have saved burdening his mind with such ridiculous sophistry if he had just stopped to recognize that consistency in his contention would eliminate the difference between individual funds and church funds to begin with. If his point is of any value, there isn't any difference between what an individual has and what the church has, in money or anything else. There would be no difference between the bank account of the church where Brother Thomas is a member and his own bank account. He has no right to individual funds for all of it belongs to the church anyway. And if what the individual does the church is doing, what would be the use of a treasury? Why does he ridicule the idea of an individual Christian giving to any thing that is right, since it is the church doing it anyway? What would the elders have to do with deciding what the church should support, if the individual sent the money directly, without contributing it into the treasury, it would be church action anyway, according to our brother, without the elders touching it! It could be no more the action of the church if sent through the treasury than if sent by the Christian individual, unless our brother's theory is completely false? Brother Thomas is in the peculiar position of either having to eliminate such a thing as a church treasury or the individual treasury one, since he contends that they are one and the same.
His position forces him to deny that there is any difference between the control the elders have over what is contributing on the Lord's Day and what each individual Christian has in his own bank account. They could write a check on the individual's account as well as on the church account since it is all the same. And it would work the other way around also; since there is no difference in the Christian individual and the church in such matters, the individual can write a check on the church account just as well as his own. This is the ridiculous absurdity to which our brother's position reduces itself. It looks like a college professor could see that! It is necessary and inescapable conclusion to his contention that "whatever the individual does the church is doing". On this point, our brother has paid little attention to Acts, Chapter five. The disciples in the Jerusalem Church were selling their possessions and contributing into a common fund, congregational treasury, in order that the needy might be provided for out of that fund. Ananias and Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession and kept back a part of the price. The remainder they gave into the fund - "laid it at the apostles' feet" -as if they had given all that they had received for the possession. Peter took Ananias to task, "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?"
From this incident there are several things to observe:
1. It was not required that they sell their possessions and give all the price". Such action was voluntary.
2. While the possession remained unsold, title in their name, it was theirs and not a part of the common fund or church treasury. There is a difference in what a Christian has and what the church has in the way of resources. The New Testament recognizes the right of the individual Christian to some resources which do not belong to the church treasury. Giving them into the treasury of the church is a voluntary matter and the decision can rightfully be made by the Christian individual. There is no stipulated amount of one's personal possessions or earnings that must be given under the New Covenant. The grace of liberality and the need determines one's duty in such matters.
3. While the resources remain in the hands of the individual, control over them is retained by him and they are not subject to the control of the elders of the church or to brethren in the church where there are no elders. But when the resources are contributed by the individual into a common treasury according to God's plan, he surrenders control over those resources to the church - to elders, if any, - and to the church in general if there are none.
The funds given into this common treasury in Jerusalem were "laid at the apostles' feet". I take it that such was not literally done but that the expression simply indicates that they were turned over to apostolic control and direction. Up to this time there were no elders in Jerusalem as far as we know. Today, of course, such congregational funds would be controlled by the elders of the congregation where they are contributed. There is a vast deal of difference in an individual Christian controlling his own funds, elders controlling the funds contributed into the treasury of the church where they are elders, and a brotherhood eldership or some kind of conclave or board controlling the pooled resources of many churches.
There is a vast deal of difference in a number of Christian individuals contributing their individual funds, as individuals, to some enterprise in which they might be commonly interested, right in its nature, but separate and apart from the work of the church, and those same individuals contributing on the first day of the week into the treasury of the church. Brother Thomas is unable to see this difference and "hoots" at the idea that there is any. According to him, if a number of Christians met on Saturday to engage in some kind of wholesome recreation such as fishing, made up a pot by contributing a like amount into a fund out of which to pay expenses and turned it over to a certain person in the group to disburse, they had just as well pay the expenses of that fishing trip out of the treasury of the church into which they contribute on the Lord's Day. I don't know whether there is any chance of helping an individual that blind! A man who doesn't know the difference between a group of individuals, all of them Christians, forming an organization to engage in some business enterprise and, each of them contributing to the capital stock of that organization and those same individuals establishing a local congregation to carry on the work of the Lord in some community and that congregation having a treasury into which they contribute their proportionate part is. So badly confused that I doubt if there is any help for him! It is amazing how little our brother knows about the church of the Lord.
If our brother is right in his contention that "whatever the individual does the church is doing" and there is no difference, then there is no difference in the obligations resting upon the elders of the church and the rest of the church. Elders are Christian individuals and what they do the church does, and whatever they can do, the church can do, then how on earth can they have any duties separate and apart from the duties of the church as a whole? They can be members of the body of Christ without serving as Elders! One does not have to be an elder in order to be a member of the body! Yet there are duties and obligations belonging peculiarly to the elders, as such, to be performed individually by them which the other members of the body cannot perform.
It is also true that those elders have duties as individual Christians even in the church which are no part of the peculiar duty belonging to one as an elder in the church of the Lord. Not all of their duty is "official" duty. Moreover they must perform many duties as Christian individuals which are no part of the work of the church, and which they do not perform as elders in the church. Suppose a man is an elder of the church and also a director in the bank in his town, are his duties in the bank the same as his duty as elder in the church? Does he exercise the same control by the same authority in both relationships? Surely not! Yet Brother Thomas does not know the difference. If a Christian engages in the grocery business, do the elders of the church have the same control over his grocery store that they do over the Church? According to our brother the answer would have to be yes!
Do the elders of the church have the right to control brother Thomas's household? Can they tell his wife how much she can afford to pay for a dress? Can they control how much is spent for a place to live - a house? Can they determine what kind of an automobile the Thomas family can drive? Determine how many children they shall try to rear? In what they shall make an investment? When their children need discipline and what kind? Do the elders of the congregation where Brother Thomas is a member have as much control over his family affairs as they do the affairs of the church? As Christian individuals we are subject to the elders in the church as long as they rule in harmony with the will of the Lord, but when they try to assume control over the affairs of our homes, we should and probably would rebel, The elders of the church, in the Lord's plan are over the church and nothing else!
Abilene College in which our brother is employed as a teacher is not under the control of an eldership. It should not be! But why? Is it an association of Christians to do a good work! Doesn't that make a church out of it? According to our brother's reasoning (?) it would! Brother Thomas actually does not know the difference between a group of Christian's getting together to have a picnic or pot-luck dinner and meeting to eat the Lord's supper on the First Day of the Week. He must not — for he doesn't know the difference between a group of Christians operating a school and the church doing so, In fact, his argument is that if individual Christians do it, the church is doing it.
4.) Our brother wants to know, "Do dollars become tainted or affected with some kind of taboo as soon as they fall into the church treasury?" (Page 198). No, they are not "taboo or tainted" but when an individual Christian gives his money on the Lord's Day into the treasury of the Lord's Church, that money then becomes the Lord's and passes under the control of the elders of the Lord's Church and can be expended by them only in accordance with apostolic authority. That is what "laying it at the Apostles' feet signified in the Jerusalem church. After it enters the treasury of the Lord, it can be used only for what the Lord has authorized and even the elders of the church cannot exercise their own will in the matter of what it can be contributed to or spent for but must be guided by heaven's will as revealed through the apostles in New Testament scriptures. What a group of individuals may decide to contribute to on Saturday is one thing and what the money in the treasury of the Lord's church can be used for is an entirely different thing.
It is amazing that a man who puts himself forward as a teacher of the Bible anywhere does not know that such a difference exists!
But we hear him again:
"Why do we feel in some cases that it would be sinful for a check to be drawn on the church treasury for a project; but we will permit a special service for the project? Is Christianity this technical and legal? Does mere camouflage please God? Can we cover a sinful action with a little "window dressing" and make it holy?" (Page 198)
This is our brother's conception of the differences between us today concerning how to use the Lord's money. He either does not know what the issues are on these questions or he will not represent them correctly. A" collection taken in a church service" for any purpose is, of course, church action as anyone with any common sense should know. If it is for an unscriptural purpose or wrong in any manner, it is sinful and displeasing to God and that displeasures would rest upon anyone taking part in it or assenting to it. If one in the audience in that church assembly could not conscientiously give to such a cause as that for which the collection was being made, then he could refrain and by doing so avoid violating his conscience. More than that he could file his protest against such action on the part of the church and thus fulfill his duty in the matter. But when an individual contributes his money in a service to a general fund out of which, by his knowledge, some unscriptural work is being supported there is no way in which he can avoid responsibility for taking part, in violation of his consciences, in that which to him is wrong. Rom. 14:23. If some liberal brethren should take a notion, and some of them likely will, to make a contribution out of the treasury of the church to a Billy Graham Revival Meeting, a conscientious Christian could not contribute into the treasury of that church. He would be as guilty as the rest if he did. If a group of the members of that same congregation were to make up a contribution, apart from the treasury of the church and the Lord's Day contribution, and send it to Mr. Graham's meeting, those conscientiously opposed would not be necessarily a party to such unscriptural procedure. (II Jno. 9-11) They would not only be privileged to refrain from giving of their own funds to such an unscriptural cause but they would be at liberty, consistently and sincerely, to try to teach those who did contribute to such a cause that it is wrong to do so. But our brother thinks that it doesn't matter what some of the members of the church contribute to on Saturday, it had just as well come out of the Lord's treasury into which they contributed on the Lord's Day.
We quote him further on this point:
"The consequences of this doctrine is that the church treasury is a 'bottleneck' and is a great limitation to the progress of the kingdom of God. By this doctrine, all Christians in a church could meet on Saturday, put their contributions into a common check for the Orphan Home and one for the Christian school; and their joint and collective action would be perfectly scriptural and would also be very efficient in promoting the welfare of the kingdom of God. But the same Christians could not put the same money into a common fund on Sunday and let the elders decide to send it to an Orphan Home or to a school — for this would be a rank sin. So this doctrine means in consequence, that the best way to get the Lord's work done, is not to give it through the church, but for individuals to send this money to these "Lord's work" projects privately! Remember now, that those who oppose church support for orphan homes and colleges do however approve of the institutions as such, when privately supported! They believe them to be efficient and expedient!" (Page 198)
It would be difficult to find a paragraph anywhere containing more flagrant misrepresentations than this paragraph contains. 1) What is the Lord's work to which our brother refers? Is he talking about the work of the Lord's Church? If this is what he has in mind, then he is either ignorantly or wilfully misrepresenting all of us. We readily and gladly deny that any institution to which an individual may rightfully contribute his money but to which the church cannot scripturally contribute is the "the Lord's work" in the sense that it is any part of the work of the church. Abilene Christian College is not the "Lord's Work" in the sense that it comes within the scope of the mission divinely assigned to the church by the Lord. If our brother wants to affirm that it is, there are many of us who will gladly deny his proposition. Even brother G. C. Brewer, as liberal as he was counted to be on this matter, refused to affirm that such schools as Abilene College came within the scope of the mission or work which the Lord assigned his church to do. We have him in writing to the effect that he would deny such a proposition. Such institutions cannot be supported by Christians individuals as "the Lord's work".
2) If by the "Lord's Work" our brother means such church established and supported institutions as "Boles Orphan Home, Inc.", then he is woefully misrepresenting us again. We do not agree or given any kind of assent to the idea that individual Christians can rightly support Boles Home as it is presently operated. In fact, we believe that one cannot contribute to this and like institutions in their status without being a party to the wrong they are committing any more than one can scripturally contribute to the Salvation Army or the Methodist Church. These organizations are "church institutions". Oh, we are fully aware that Gayle Oler denies that Boles Home is a church institution. He thinks by now that it belongs to him! That is very evident. But it was built by the churches before any "board" ever controlled it and before Oler became its superintendent. If it belongs to Oler and the "board" now, how did they get it? Did they buy it or have they just appropriated it? The fact is that churches built it and churches have sustained it through the years and still sustain it and only a short while ago Oler was bodily affirming that it was "kingdom business". Because of its status as a church institution, without scriptural authority to exist as such, having fastened itself on to the church as an auxiliary organization to usurp the function and even control over the churches, it is a sin for any Christian to support it. So brother Thomas, get it right and correct your misrepresentations.
This does not say that schools cannot be individually operated by Christians and supported by them out of their own funds, and the Bible be taught in them, if they are not made into church institutions. We have always defended the right of individual Christians to go into the "school business" and teach the word of God in that business just like they can in any other legitimate business, if they wish. These schools cannot be made into "societies of evangelism" however, as many of the brethren are trying to do now. There exists currently the idea and it is often expressed by "school enthusiasts" among us, that the best way to "evangelize" a foreign field and build up the church is through building a school. This is rebellion against God and a complete reflection upon his wisdom in building the church. Any man who thinks the church of the Lord depends upon a school is first cousin to an outright unbeliever, if he knows anything at all about the will of the Lord. A school is a means of parents fulfilling their obligation to their children, to give them a proper education under the proper environment but they are unscriptural, sinful and wrong when we try to make them an adjunct to the church.
Neither does this say that individual Christians could not support an individually operated "orphan home" or benevolent institution of some other variety as long as it does not undertake to be an auxiliary institution to the church and do its work for it. This is the aspect that disregards God's divine arrangements, scraps his plan for the accomplishments of his work, abandons his way, and invents ways of man's own instead. God intended for his church to do the work he wants done. Brother Thomas, that is what we are insisting upon! Let the "Lord's work" be done by the organization which God has built to do it and to which the Lord assigned it. It is that simple.
On page 198 and 199 of his book our brother sneers again at an effort made upon the part of brethren somewhere to maintain fellowship in spite of their differences on these matters.
"A case is known where Legalistic influence, is strong enough to make the elders afraid to send "church" money to a school, so the elders appointed another treasurer, separate from the regular church treasurer, and he collects "The Lord's money" individually from Christians and forwards it to the school. This sort of subterfuge of course satisfies the Legalist — he has no point at which to rest his criticism, but what we all need to see is that Christianity will never get very far unless it rises above Legalism and the hampering restrictions of petty creed-making. And something is definitely wrong with somebody's creed when the logical consequences of it are that we can do more and better work for the cause of Christ by making our contributions NOT through the church, but circumventing the church treasury and wise judgment of the elders! This doctrine means that the congregation hinders the cause of Christ, rather than helps!" (Page 199)
We do not know about this specific case to which he refers but we think there would be a good bit of "ground upon which to rest some criticism" of it that were our purpose. If, however, the purpose of the elders, in making some other means available to those who wanted to contribute to the school, was to avoid forcing those to contribute who were conscientiously opposed to the church doing so out of its treasury when they worshipped with that congregation and contributed in that worship, then we believe that they were more considerate of their brethren and more interested in BEING BRETHREN than brother Thomas is in spite of all his pretension. We believe it should have been left to the individuals without any arrangements upon the part of the elders. But at least they made it possible for brethren to continue to worship with them without being forced to violate their consciences. Brother Thomas would have forced his own judgment upon all of the rest. He would not have been "afraid" to do so! He would have taken the attitude of the instrumental music brethren of many years ago — you can either be a' party to the church contributing to the school, violate your conscience or get out! He would have been "legalist" enough to lay his judgment down as the rule and demand that other opposed bow down to it in violation of their conscience or worship elsewhere. It is this kind of dominating "legalistic Liberalism" that is splitting the church all over the country today and it is over what our brethren like J. D. Thomas admit to be an "optional expedient" in their conception of things. As long as they are willing to cram their "optional expedients" down the throats of their brethren or divide the church they had as well get up "off their knees" and quit praying for unity for they destroy it faster than their prayers can mend it. That much is sure!
If you are disposed to entertain the notion that our brother can be consistent in his twisting, turning, and meandering efforts to justify his "human organizations" then compare the above quoted paragraphs from page 198 and the paragraph that will follow from page 199 with this paragraph from page 162:
"We recognize, of course, that an elder's 'official' duties as an elder with oversight of Christians are limited to the congregation which he serves as an elder; but he has `Christian' duties and obligations that are not so limited and, just as any Christian, should let his influence radiate far and wide — indeed just as far and wide as it will. Still further, the elder cannot even dominate and control all the details of the Christians living, the attitudes or the actions of, the members of the congregation which he serves as elder. (Notice now - emphasis mine, R.E.C.) There are many things a local Christian can do, such, as choosing how and where he will contribute all of his money or whether he will help an orphan or a needy family, that are truly 'outside' the elder's normal oversight — unless the member should sin" (Page 162)
Brother Thomas you have been telling us that it is all church action? Do you mean that the elder of the church can act as an individual too? Which time is it the church acting? When he acts officially or unofficially? What are the details of the Christian's life that the elders cannot control? Do not the elders have the supervision of all the activity of the church over which they are bishops? Is not the church acting when the individual acts? Or are you surrendering your point so repeatedly emphasized in other connections? Do you mean by the last statement that it is all right for the individual to make a contribution out of his own judgment and his own resources, to something that the elders could not oversee? Would not the logical consequences of this be that "we can do more and better work for the cause of Christ by making our contributions NOT through the church, but by circumventing the church treasury and the wise judgment of the elders? This is what you charge on page 199 of your book when you are defending church contributions to schools. Which time do you mean what you say? The "legs of the lame are unequal" and your position is lame if one can be.
3) If, on the other hand, our brother in this reference, "those who oppose church support for orphan and colleges do however approve of the institutions as such, when privately supported! They believe them to be efficient and expedient!" means those schools and orphan homes "established and maintained by churches" then again he has woefully misrepresented all of us. We know of no one who believes any such thing. If such institutions have a right to church connection and relation, then they have a right to church support. If they have no right to church connection and relation, then it would be wrong for an individual to support them for the same reason that iris wrong for the church to do so. They have no right to exist - (notice brother Thomas) - as church institutions. Why can't you correctly represent the issues and those who differ with you?
God certainly intended for the treasury of the church to be a "bottleneck" small enough to strain out and prevent the church using the Lord's money to support anything which the Lord has not authorized the church to do. It is not a "bottleneck" in any sense for those "works" which come into the scope of the divine mission assigned it. But the man does not live who has the right to contribute "through the church" to anything which the Lord has not authorized the church to do. Use your "own" resources, while they remain in "thine own power" to sustain anything that is right and good that you desire, but when you contribute your money into the treasury of the Lord's Church, remember that it can then be distributed only by divine authority. There is no other principle that could direct the church in any of its activity. The best way to get the "Lord's work" done is through the church, if the work of the church is what you mean by the Lord's work, brother Thomas, but you have no right to support your own enterprises out of the resources that belong to the Lord's church. According to our brothers views, the money contributed into the Lord's treasury on the Lord's Day (I Cor. 16:1-4) has no more restrictions on it than a fund raised by a group of individuals on any other day and in any other way, provided they are members of the church. It is all church action anyway! Either the Lord has no more to say as to how the money given to His cause shall be used than he has to say as to how any other fund raised by Christians shall be used, or Christians have as much right to use the Lord's money as they wish without regard to whether or not the Lord authorizes it as they have to use any other funds they might have. Peter did not know what he was talking about when he said to Ananias "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" The Lord has not restricted, except by the principles of righteousness, the use of individual funds or the use of funds which by individuals might be combined or pooled in a community enterprise, but he has restricted the use of funds in the treasury of his church. They are under apostolic authority and eldership control.
I Timothy 5:16
"If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows — indeed."
In this passage of scripture we find specifically prescribed a matter of individual Christian duty which the church cannot do. Moreover we find also stated the reason the duty of the individual Christians must not be put off on the church. Paul specifies that if the Christian individual has a widow - that is in his family connection -- he, the Christian individual is to relieve that widow. The eighth verse of the same chapter teaches that a man who does not provide for his own household is worse than an infidel and has denied the faith. Then the apostle stipulates that the church is not to be charged or burdened with this obligation that belongs to individual Christians and the purpose is so that it (the church) might relieve them that are widows — indeed. We are to keep the church free from obligations and burdens that the Lord did not put on it in order that it may be able to do what the Lord intended for it to do. Brother Thomas' teaching makes sheer nonsense out of this divine instruction.