Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 23, 1956
NUMBER 16, PAGE 8,15c

The Church -- What Next?

John W. Wilson, San Bernardino, California

For more than 20 years in public life in the church as a gospel preacher in more than half of the states in the Union in gospel meetings, public debates, on the printed page, over radio stations, and in the class room as a teacher, I have contended that we can identify the church of which I am a member, known to me and my brethren as the church of Christ, in the Scriptures. There are four outstanding marks of identity to which we appeal. These marks of identity are Origin, Name, Doctrine and Practice of the church. Find these facts in the Scripture and find the church in the world that can identify itself with each of them and you will have found the New Testament church in the world. Find what people had to do to become members of the New Testament church in the Bible, and do that today, and you will become a member of the same church. If not, why not?

Space forbids that I discuss here any of the marks of identity fully. Under the origin we would discuss the time, place and purpose. We would also discuss the originator, the one founding the church.. Under the name we would discuss the terms kingdom, body, vineyard, etc.; as they regard different aspects of the church. We would discuss the difference in the terms by which the church is called and the name and terms given to individual members. Under the doctrine we would discuss the fundamental teaching or terms of salvation. Under the practice we would discuss the work, worship, edification and organization of the church.

Under the title of this article we will discuss briefly the practice of the church. The church may apostatize in any point of identity. The word identity means "essential or practical sameness." In organization the church consists of "all the saints in Christ Jesus, with the bishops and deacons," in every congregation. (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:2B.) The bishops were the elders. (Titus 1:5-7.) The elders were limited in oversight to the "flock which is among you." (1 Peter 5:1-2.)

Since any program of work and worship requires some system or organization to carry it into effect in an orderly manner the Scriptures authorize this simple organization on a congregational basis. No organization larger than, nor smaller than, nor other than, that of a local congregation is known in the Bible. To identify ourselves with the Bible church then, we must have the same organization as that found in the Bible. Each congregation must be complete, independent and self governing under Christ as the head. Any program of work on a larger scale than can be controlled, promoted and supported by a local congregation would require an organization unknown to the Bible. No congregation in Bible times ever sent funds to another congregation to be used by the receiving congregation except to relieve the distressed condition of the receiving congregation. We now have a few congregations who have appointed themselves to receive funds from other congregations and individuals all over the country to carry on programs of work larger than can be promoted, controlled, or supported by any one congregation. Since these programs of work are on a brotherhood-wide scale, requiring funds from many congregations, it is obvious that more power to control these works must be concentrated in some organization than the Lord hasplaced in the hands of any group of elders of a local congregation. Brethren we already have many congregations begging money from the whole brotherhood to carry on a work larger than they could support, promote, control and oversee simply with "all the saints, with their bishops and deacons," in any one congregation. We have institutions which are no part of the church being supported by the church to do the work of the church. We have congregations seeking to provide entertainment and recreation as a church function for their communities. We have schools teaching secular subjects and engaging in competitive sports being supported out of the treasury of the church. We have congregations with an organized ball club wearing the name of Christ and holding membership in the religious ball league of their town, being church sponsored. Many other departures from the original pattern are on the horizon. The church — what next? Where will we go from here?

I do not claim to be a prophet, nor the son of a prophet; neither am I herdsman, nor a gatherer of a sycamore fruit (Amos 7:14), but I will venture some possibilities if the tide is not soon turned. If one congregation can solicit funds from over 1,000 other congregations to put on a nation-wide radio program on one network, why can not the same congregation also solicit funds to put on a similar program on all major networks? Why can this not include both TV and radio? Why not also include national magazines? Why stop at this? The movie houses are not dead yet. Lots of people attend them. Why not make film with dramatic sketches to emphasize what big things we are doing, and buy the time and right to run them in the movie houses? Of course these would have to be non-doctrinal and would have to be skillfully produced. All of this would still be under the oversight of one big eldership. Since they have so much experience and ability now, why limit them? Why not put them in charge of all our traveling preachers and let the supporting congregation apply to them for a man suited to their particular needs for their meeting work? Then, too, they could have charge of sending out preachers to needy places. All such places would surely know about them through such wide publicity as they would have, and would only have to apply to them for a preacher when desired, and they would investigate to determine the type preacher needed, and send him out. Their super ability would prevent any preacher from being over paid and no loose livers, high spenders, or debt dodgers would escape their infallible eye. The poor innocent, ignorant, unlearned brethren would not be imposed upon then by scheming, designing, wicked preachers.

Why not also put all benevolent work under their efficient management, for we want that to be done most effectively too. To facilitate the care of the old folks (most of whom have one or more ailments requiring the services of a doctor) the sick and afflicted, the widows, and orphans, they would need an old folks home, an orphan's home, a hospital; with a staff of doctors and trained nurses. Then what about visiting those in prison?

Could it be that they might build a CHURCH OF CHRIST PRISON and petition the state for all subjects who might respond to spiritual therapy? Of course we should have a CHURCH OF CHRIST MEDICAL COLLEGE. The Adventists do. Since we would need Doctors skilled in OUR DOCTRINE so that they could give "spiritual medicine" along with antibiotics, why not?

Do you inquire what would be wrong with the above? Back to the practice of the New Testament church to close with the work of the church in the Bible was limited to preaching the gospel, edifying the members, and the care of its needy. No man can find another duty enjoined upon the church in the Bible. This was done by the church as the church. No outside or extra organization was needed or used to do this work. (Eph. 3:21.) When the Samaritan found the half dead man who fell among thieves, he did what he could for him and took him to the Inn. He paid for his care and left instructions that he would pay any additional amount needed to put the man back on his feet when he returned. The Lord said, "Go, and do thou likewise." (Luke 10:30-37.) He did not say go and build an Inn to take care of many more, and put it under the oversight of an eldership, and beg funds from the 'brotherhood to support it. When preachers were sent out and supported by more than one congregation in the field the church sent the wages to the preacher (Phil. 4:16; 2 Cor. 118), not to some sponsoring church who then sent it on to the preacher. Do we still do Bible things in Bible ways? call Bible things by Bible names? Where then does this "sponsoring church" lingo come from? Brethren, let us return to the old paths and seek the good way and walk therein. Let us again cry aloud for a "thus saith the Lord" for everything that we teach and practice in religion. May the Lord give us enough true Christians in every section of the world to stay the tide of digression now upon us and save a large remnant true to his word. This be my prayer; to this end I labor. Will you join me, my brother? The church — what next? It is up to us today to do what we can to determine the course the church takes.