Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 7, 1961
NUMBER 31, PAGE 5,13b

"Sorry, It's Too Late!"

Wm. H. Lewis, Knoxville, Tennessee

Recently this quote was run in the local paper. Sorry, it's too late to agree with me, I've already changed my mind." I thought how beautifully this describes the condition among some preachers of the gospel today.

A few years ago I had no scruples against the church support of benevolent and educational institutions, and the centralization of church funds under one eldership in the field of evangelism. In fact, it was my practice to take part in these things. I did this because I had never questioned the scripturalness of such practices. When I learned that there was opposition to such, I began to "read up" on the subject and to study the subject of the "work and organization of the church." After reading what the Bible says on this subject, and reading the writings of some of our gospel preachers, I realized I had been honestly mistaken in teaching and practicing the above mentioned things. But to my dismay, when I changed my mind on these matters, I found that I was too late to agree with some of our "big" preachers whose works I had been reading, for they too, had changed their minds. Where they once taught that the local congregation was the only organization through which the "church as such" was to do its work, they now teach that the "church as such" can work through human organizations to do its work. Hence, I was "too late." Here are a few examples of what I mean:

C. M. Pullias:

"A great apostasy, maybe, is being planned unawares in the various things that local churches are doing under the eldership. Institutionalism is dangerous because it is a departure from the apostolic way. Human societies to do missionary work is wrong, but no more so than some human organization to take care of the orphans or old people or even the young folks. Happy is the man that condemneth not himself in that which he alloweth. Why not take care of all the work of the Lord as in New Testament times? Do you say that times have changed? Then the church is not sufficient, eh? Look out for a great fall!" ("The Life and Works of C. M. Pullias," page 577.)

Guy N. Woods:

"The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sandbar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is a characteristic of the age. On the theory that the end justifies the means, brethren have not scrupled to form organizations in the church to do the work the church itself was designed to do. All such organizations usurp the work of the church, and are unnecessary and sinful (Emp. mine - W. H. L.) ....This writer has never been able to appreciate the logic of those who affect to see grave danger in Missionary Societies, but scruple not to form similar organizations for the purpose of caring for orphans and teaching young men to be gospel preachers." ("Abilene Christian College Lectures," 1939.)

"The self-sufficiency of the church in organization, work, worship and every function required of it by the Lord should be emphasized. This lesson is much needed today. Religious secular organizations are always trying to encroach on the function of the New Testament church, interfere with its obligations, and attempt to discharge some of its functions. The church is the only organization authorized to discharge the responsibilities of the Lord's people. When brethren form organizations independently of the church to do the work of the church, however worthy their aims and right their designs, they are engaged in that which is sinful. (Emp. mine. WHL) All ecclesiasticism is wrong. Any movement to force churches of Christ to bow to the behests of any paper, clique, or group in the church is ecclesiasticism. There is a very definite trend in this direction in the brotherhood today. In some of the larger centers groups of preachers meet and formulate an attitude and then demand that the churches support them in such attitude, and if they will not, the churches are stigmatized and accused of holding to false doctrines. Preachers have no right to exercise such powers over the free churches of Christ. Only the church itself, through its divinely authorized elders, has the right to formulate its policies. And in so doing is answerable only to the Lord." ("Annual Lesson Commentary," p. 338, 1946) (I know of no place where this prediction has been fulfilled any more than right here in this section of the country. — WHL)

"In line with the fact that our lesson today deals with the autonomy of the church, we point out that the contribution here alluded to was raised wholly without the high pressure organizational methods characteristic of today. There was no organization at all; the churches, in their own capacity, raised the funds, and they were gathered by brethren specially appointed for the purpose. This is the Lord's method of raising money, and it will suffice in any case. There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church. It is the only charitable organization that the Lord authorizes or that is needed to do the work the Lord expects his people to do." (Annual Lesson Commentary," p. 340) (Emp. mine. — WHL)

G. K. Wallace:

"That the care of orphan children is a responsibility of the church is not denied, except by a few brethren north of the Mason-Dixon line .... Most of my brethren admit, however, that it is the work of the church. If it is a work of the church we wonder why the church cannot do this work without forming an organization to take over the work for the elders."

"Caring for orphans is a work of the church and since it is a work of the church it should be done by the church .... There is a parallel between an orphan home that has a board of trustees other than the elders of the church to do the work of the church, and the United Christian Missionary Society. The United Christian Missionary Society is an organization to take over the work of preaching the gospel. An organization other than the church, to take over the work of caring for orphan children, is a parallel with the Christian Missionary Society." (Emp. mine. WHL) (G. K. Wallace, Gospel Guardian, Vol. 1, No. 28, Nov. 17, 1949, page 1.)

John D. Cox:

"Now word has been getting around that I am opposed to Child Haven — to that Orphan Home — but it seems that the word is not getting around as to why I am opposed to it and upon what basis I oppose the churches as such supporting that home out of the Treasury or as different congregations putting money into that home. And so the time has come, since people have been asking me and I have learned in an indirect way that my position has been the subject of conversation, and some are at a loss to know just why I would take the position I do, so they want to know just why I take the position I do. Some have jumped to the conclusion that I am opposed to taking care of orphans; that I don't believe the Church should take care of orphans. Nothing could be farther from the truth.... I hold no ill will toward anyone; I don't intend to agitate the issue, I simply state my position and I stand ready by the word of God to defend it at all times. Now that's my attitude plainly.... (I wonder where all of that courage has gone since brother Cox has changed his position? I doubt if he would make such a bold statement with regard to his present position. — WHL)

The issue is not whether the Church should or should not do such work, but the issue is through what organization should it be done — through the Church or some institution or organization that has been set up by men supported by the church. Now that's the issue right now." (This is taken from a sermon preached by brother John D. Cox, on the subject "The Church and Works of Benevolence," at the Sherrod Avenue church of Christ, Florence, Alabama, February 12, 1950. Brother Cox gave a copy of this sermon to brother John T. Lewis, of Birmingham, Alabama, my uncle, and he gave it to me. I have the sermon now. — WHL). On and on we could go, but this is enough. What could be expected of one that read the works of such outstanding gospel preachers in days gone by? After carefully considering what preachers had to say, as well as what the Bible teaches on the work and organization of the church, I realized that I was wrong in once believing that the church can build and maintain some HUMAN BENEVOLENT SOCIETY through which the church is to do its work. I changed my mind, only to realize that was "too late" to agree with these brethren, because they too had changed their minds!