Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 1, 1964
NUMBER 21, PAGE 2,12

"Church Responsibility Vs. Individual Responsibility"

Harry Pickup, Jr.,

In the course of a previous article, "Institutionalism: A Virulent Cancer," I endeavored to show these things: (1.) What institutionalism is; (2.) The Church of Christ, either universally or locally, is not an institution in the sense of the definition given; (3.) Some brethren currently have fallen victim to the virus of institutionalism.

Bro. J D. Hall, Jr. has reviewed my article and has charged me with "readily accept (ing) institutionalism with reference to ... the 'local church'." Bro. Hall has judged me guilty of holding a "materialist institutional concept of a local gathering of Christians." The evidence used to sustain this charge is my statement that the local church "has collective function and human government." He has also written another article (the one now being reviewed) in which he specifically denies that a local church ever functions collectively. He views "church responsibility" and "individual responsibility" as things necessarily inconsistent with each other and mutually exclusive. His second article is a complete explanation of his main criticism of my article, "Institutionalism: A Virulent Cancer."

Bro. Hall strikes hard, and in many ways capably, at the institutional concept of Christ's Church. He correctly establishes the individualistic emphasis in the "faith of Jesus." We join with him in endeavoring to understand "true Christianity" and in attempting to help others also to understand it so that "true Christianity" in all its beauty and simplicity will shine forth and all the present issues will melt away."

Without wishing to minimize the true conception of Christ's Church — especially since many so desperately need to understand it — I wish to answer the charge which has been made against me. I wish to do this in three ways: (1.) By showing that "Church responsibility" and "individual responsibility" are not necessarily versus each other; (2.) That the New Testament scriptures authorize collective function; (3.) That Bro. Hall himself actually believes in "collective function;" he only insists on calling it by another name.

The Nature Of Men

In the course of human endeavor, men sometimes oppose error on a larger scale while unconsciously practicing the same error on a smaller scale. When the criticism of inconsistency is made against one who believes he clearly understands a serious error the human inclination, at best, is to ignore the critic. But, a moment's reflection on the fallibility of men and the possibility of even the teacher being taught, should promote more noble thoughts. No scholar is so well trained that he cannot profit from the studies of others. No Christian is so mature that he cannot be nurtured by another Christian.

It is also of the nature of men to disagree over expressions while believing themselves to disagree over principles. I believe this is the case between Bro. Hall and me. However, the threat of institutionalism is too serious and real to ignore a sober criticism from a thoughtful brother. On the other hand, the work of the Lord is too great, and the devil's threats too powerful for Christians to use time and effort arguing over "words and names."

The Local Church And Its Responsibilities

The local church is most certainly not a "religious organization, composed of individual congregations (Christians), being at the center of dependent and supplementary social organizations — such as schools, welfare agencies, hospitals, etc. — which necessarily aid it in fulfilling a collective social and spiritual mission." (This definition of "institutionalism" was given in my previous article). I do readily admit that the possibility of thinking of the local church in these terms is just as probable and real as so conceiving of the universal church.

While the local church is not an institution as defined above, it does function collectively; it does have human government. Are these statements antithetical to each other? I think not. Let me give an example of a relationship having organization but yet not being an "institution." A home — husband, wife, children — is pure relationship. And yet it has organization. The husband is the "head" of the wife. He "rules" and "takes care" of the family. See I Tim. 3:4, 5. The wife "rules the household." I Tim. 5:14. All responsibilities of this relationship are fulfilled by individuals. Sometimes the individuals act collectively to fulfill them. So, a church acts collectively.

Here is what I mean by "collective action": action "pertaining to a number of individuals taken or acting together." There are various kinds of collective actions. In some of them the individual is completely lost sight of; he becomes no more than a cog in a vast machine. The scriptures do not authorize such action and we are not defending such. But they most certainly do authorize Christians acting together. Just a few illustrations will establish this fact.

1. The Christians in Jerusalem, acting together sought and selected men to serve "over this business " Acts 6:3. "This business" — caring for indigent saints — was a function of many Christians acting together.

2 The Corinthian Christians acted together to, 'approve" men as messengers of that church. I Cor. 16:3. This was a decision made by saints acting together.

3. Epaphroditus was the "messenger and minister" of the Philippian church. Phil. 2:25. He could be the "messenger and minister" of a group only if the individuals of the group had agreed together for him to be.

4. The Philippian brethren "fellowshipped" — were partners with each other — "in the furtherance of the gospel." Phil. 1:5.

5. The words "bishop," "oversee," "rule," "over you," "obey them," definitely establish a governmental arrangement among Christians.

The above Scriptures show that the Lord's commands are sometimes carried out collectively — Christians acting together. In the light of this definition and of these Scriptures, it is not Biblically accurate to make "church responsibility" versus "individual responsibility."

Brother Hall admits that Christians are authorized "to work together;" have "a common fund (this means the funds belong to no individual separately but to the individuals taken together) for any righteous and worthy cause;" "to assume their proper share (here is the idea of partnership and collective action) of the cost of the meeting place, the support of widows indeed and elders who serve 'in word and in doctrine'." These statements accurately establish what I mean by collective action of the local church.

Bro. Hall objects to the terms we would call the ideas we express by the terms. He would call the rose by another name. The last two sentences of his second article clearly show this: "It ("the physical gathering of saints," as Brother Hall prefers. H. P., Jr.) does not labor under any commands of the Lord as a collectivity. All instructions from the Lord are directed to the individuals who must carry them out as individuals whether they do 'so singly or in conjunction with other individual Christians." By admitting that Christians, may act in conjunction with other Christians, our brother has admitted the Scripturality of collective action. Here is the definition of "conjunction:" "the state of being joined together, or the things joined; combination." I will not argue for the word "collective" over the words "combination" or essentially the same.

Brother Hall insists the word "church" is not an accurate translation of "Ekklesia." The evidence presented is worthy of more than passing consideration. Along this line and for further study see, "Restoration Quarterly," Vol. 2 No. 4, "Ekklesia": A Word Study," by Roy Bowen Ward. If the word "church" connotes an institutional church; if it is a borrowed Catholic ecclesiastical word; if it is responsible for the rampant spread of institutionalism among God's people, then, by all means, let us use another word.

Man is a social being — so made by God. God saw it was not "good for the man to be alone." Woman was made a "help meet" for him. Man needs help from someone who is complementary to him. What is true of man generically is true specifically of men "in Christ." A church of Christ serves this need. Christians are "help meets" for each other when they gather together to "consider one another;" "to provoke (one another) unto love and good works;" "to exhort one another" Heb. 10:24, 25 As men being spiritually sustained by "holding fast the head," Christians "fellowship" each other. They make decisions together (I Cor. 16:3); they make plans together (Acts 6); they work together (Acts 9: 28). When a church works scripturally, individual responsibility is not minimized to merely paying of monies while others actually do the work. As the gospel is preached each Christian is reminded that he is "created in Christ Jesus unto good works." A church works as Christians personally participate in doing the work authorized by Christ and to which these workers have agreed together to do.

Institutionalizing The Local Church The warnings which Brother Hall gives with reference to institutionalizing the local church must not be ignored. The threat of "materialistic Christianity" is very real. Some churches of Christ are already seriously ill with this disease. The manner in which God's people influence the world is characterized by the working of leaven rather than the power of a corporation.

The local church is institutionalized when "good works" are seen to be nothing more, for the majority, than financially supporting the "church's program." When Christians feel themselves to be spectators with reference to gospel work; then they consider their money as grease to the wheels of a church machine; when Christians form and attach to the Church dependent agencies to do the work Christ has laid upon a church; they are sick with institutionalism.

We need to forget about "the church's community image." Leave such to institutional churches. We must understand the true nature of the Church. With all of our might let each Christian practice the precepts of Christ. Then the world will not see us as another religious organization competing for its place in the sun. It will behold a brotherhood of Christ-devoted, truth-dedicated men, unique and distinct in principles and practice Then "true Christianity in all its beauty and simplicity will shine forth and all the present issues will melt away."

— 1161 Boston, Aurora, Colorado