Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 21, 1967
NUMBER 20, PAGE 8b-10a

Dangers Facing God's People

William C. Sexton

Institutionalism Examined

Paul informs Timothy of the Spirit's expression that in the "latter times" sone shall depart from the faith,..." After describing some of the doctrines that would be taught by apostates: "Forbidding to marry," and abstaining "from meats,..." he gave a brief explanation of the true nature of the matter. Then he adds: "if thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shall be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the word of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained." (I Tim. 4:6.)

Many people don't have the "same mind" as Paul; they don't want to hear anything about DEPARTING. Some will say "Amen!" while you preach the plan of salvation the terms on which one is accepted into the fellowship of the saints, but turn a deaf ear to any preaching on APOSTASY. Paul's evaluation of a preacher: A good minister warns of apostasy! A little thinking should cause one to see wisdom in this how many of those converted have "departed"? How many have been led astray down through the ages?

If there had never been a departure, there would be no modern denominations. Notice the origin of denominationalism: Men departed and developed Roman Catholicism, then men tried to reform it, which resulted in hundreds of denominations. If there had been no departures a century ago, there would be none of the "Christian Churches" in existence today. If there were no departures, there would not be the many divided groups of the Lord's people today.

I believe that there is a DANGER facing God's people today, in what I am calling INSTITUTIONALISM. I invite your attention. Give it a careful study, understand the concept, look around you, then decide if it is a danger. If it is WARN others, and have nothing to do with any setup that will involve you in such an arrangement. If I have seen a ghost, then assist me in recognizing what I have seen as such being without substance. I believe that it is real, and here is my reason:

I MUST DEFINE INSTITUTIONALISM. The word is not in the Bible, thus some will object to its use. But many ideas and concepts that are not in the Bible must be dealt with by "Men of God," such as Infant Baptism, Universal Bishop, Etc. These are practiced by religious people, thus they must be shown that these are unscriptural, as well as what the scriptures do teach. Jeremiah, had to "root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,.." before he could "build and ...plant." (Jer. 1:10.) To a farmer or a construction man, these figures are very meaningful; to the enlightened christian they should be meaningful also. Paul left nothing that was "profitable" untold, as he discharged his responsibility at Ephesus, (Acts 20: 20, 25-27.)

Webster defines the word: "A belief in and support of the usefulness or sanctity of established institutions." This is not sufficient for our study, thus we must give a "Stipulated" definition. Here it is; this is what we mean when we use the word in the rest of this article, unless we state otherwise: "A belief that the church has the right to build and maintain, and at times is obligated, to support certain institutions to do what some brethren call 'good works. "' My contention is some have departed "from the faith" in respect to these matters.

1. BIBLE TEACHING ABOUT THE CHURCH: The church is divine in ORIGIN and MISSION. Therefore, as God does all things well, it is sufficient to carry out all that it needs to do; to please God. (Eph. 3: 10-11) By the church the "manifold wisdom of God" is manifest "unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places"; it also has an "eternal purpose." God's word was to the end that it might be able to carry out its mission: "For the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph. 4:12)

That church is governed by Christ; it doesn't formulate doctrine. (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23-24.) It is an organism completely arranged and organized to function adequately and effectively. It has elders in each congregation, (Acts 14:23); their authority is limited to that congregation. (I Pet. 5:3; Acts 20:28) The fact that this church carried out its mission in the first century with such effectiveness should be proof divine that it is adequate.

Paul shows that in about 30 years it had "preached to every creature which is under heaven;.." (Col. 1: 23) Acts six gives sufficient evidence that it was adequate to care for the widows in need, and chapter eleven shows where the needs of other saints were taken care of. (Acts 6:1-5; 11:27-30) Instructions were provided for the christians, and without any additional organizations. (Acts 2:42)

2. SOME PRACTICES AND TEACHINGS OF TODAY: Some are unaware of some of the things that are being advocated by certain brethren, and often stare in "unbelief" when told. Some think that such are just big stories, someone is trying to be funny or is half crazy. To such a person or persons, we assure you that such is not the case, but rather that such is being done. We shall give proof, so you can check for yourself, and we encourage you to do just that. We'll notice first, what some are teaching; secondly, what some are doing. Of course we'll be able to give only a few examples, just some samples to make our point. Much more could be presented on each point, but we want to deal with the principles, rather than personalities. Look for the principle, and apply it in other areas.

A. That the church can build and/or maintain "institutions to care for "Orphans." Brother J. D. Thomas, in We Be Brethren, pages 178-185 argues that the "Orphan Homes" are "organizations or institutions separate from the church." But that they can and "should be used and supported" by the church. He claims to find authority in (Gal. 6:10) for "both" individuals and congregations to "do good unto all men." Then affirms that the church can support the institution, and charges all who oppose with "Pharisaic Legalism."

Brother Batsell Barrett Baxter, in Questions and Issues of the Day, on page 16 says: ".., when we come into the realm of benevolence and face the responsibility of caring for orphan children, it is not possible for the church in its organizational framework to provide the care that is needed." In this he is trying to show that the Missionary Society, which has as its mission - preaching the gospel, is not needed and is in fact sinful, but that the institutional home is necessary. Quite a job indeed! He fails miserably, it seems to me.

Many are the debates in book form, wherein men have contended that the church has the right to build and maintain an institution separate and apart from the church to care for the needy. Thus our point is made, as to what men are teaching in this respect.

B. That the church can build and maintain COLLEGES to educate the people. Brother H.A. Dixon, in a book: Saving Faith and Other Sermons, Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tenn. 1963, page 132 says - "The Christian school is but a means through which a part of the work of saving souls may be done." Also, "We only desire to show that the support of Christian schools is not a violation of the scriptures." He was emphasizing that he was not "advocating" that CHURCHES start supporting them now, but that they have the right to. Of course, once he has convinced people that it is scriptural, no doubt that he'll start advocating that they do that which they have a "right" to.

Brother Baxter says on page 27 of his QUESTIONS - "If Christian schools are needed and can be used by the church to train its young, does this not establish a strong implication that the church might have some responsibility in starting such schools and causing them to be available when young people have need for them? If Christian schools are needed to train leaders for the church, does this not imply that the church needs to help get the schools ready to provide such training?" He has already stated, on page 26, "Under the authority of this principle the Christian school is a decent, orderly way of doing a job that God wants done the training of our young people." On page 29 he says: "Actually, the church has depended upon the schools for many years to play a major role in the training of preachers, elders, teachers, and others. Is it not right that the church should provide the funds for the training of its own leaders?"

Brother J. D. Thomas says: "It is the thesis of the present author that churches can scripturally make gifts to the support of Christian schools." He argues this point in pages 186-194 of his book, We Be Brethren.

These are sufficient to show that many brethren are contending that the church has the right to build and maintain institutions to do the work that the Lord has charged the church with doing.

C. That the church can build and maintain HOSPITALS to care for the sick. Notice Dixon's book, page 131; Baxter's page 24.

D. That the church can buy and operate radio stations over which to preach the gospel. Baxter's, page 24.

Briefly, now we notice what some are DOING TODAY: Many homes are begging for money from churches. I trust that we'll not need to give proof of this, it is so well known. Few Colleges are openly asking for support from churches now, but most will take it if offered. More, no doubt, shall quickly begin doing it; when the time seems to be right, when they can do such without too much protest.

A paper called ACTION, in June 1965 Issue, tells of the CHURCH OF CHRIST facilities in Korea - "A medical clinic in Seoul serving those who can't afford to pay. A home for widows and fatherless, .." Also, "A farm and dairy in Seoul. Two junior high schools in Seoul, Korea Christian College in Seoul."

From the Christian Worker, Jan. 6, 1966 we find that, "The church of Christ mission hospital was built with $70,000 donated by churches of Christ" in Tanzania. Also, in this issue, we find that the church in Lubbock, Texas has built and is operating a "Service Center."

3. THE WAY THESE THINGS ARE PRESENTED: By those who advocate these things it is made to appear, that when one opposes these INSTITUTIONS BEING SUPPORTED BY THE CHURCH, one is opposed to these WORKS BEING DONE. Often they indicate that those who oppose these are MEAN at heart, OPPOSING God, and are IGNORANT concerning the needs of man and the will of God.

A. There are some facts that must be understood by those who would be pleasing to God. All who have the right heart before God, are concerned to the point that they are willing to search out the truth and try to understand it. Let it be understood by all: THAT TO OPPOSE THE CHURCH BUILDING INSTITUTIONS, is not equal to OPPOSING THE WORK THAT IS DONE! A fallacy that is too common is the "Either Or" fallacy where one concluded without sufficient evidence that there are only two alternatives. In this case, one concludes that if the CHURCH CAN'T BUILD THE INSTITUTION, the work cannot be done. That is just not true. No one is opposing that the Orphans be cared for or that the needy be cared for. In fact we insist that these people are to be cared for. Our point: Let it be done by the agency God appointed!

B. The work of the church needs to be understood. Christ came to "seek and to save that which was lost." (Lk.19:10) It was not necessary for the Son of God to die for the physical needs of man. God has a mission for His church, and it is not secular, rather it is spiritual. Individuals may engage in business to obtain money, (Eph. 4:28) but the church has a divine mission and way of obtaining its money, (II Cor. 16:1-2)

C. There is a point, I suggest that all need to ponder: "If the church can build ONE institution, why not more? Where can you STOP? Once you have started, as long as brethren judge something to be a 'good work', the church can build the institution necessary to carry it out." I believe that some have let the gate down, and they couldn't stop it if they tried. The seed has been planted, it will bear fruit after its KIND.

I have no hope of TURNING those men who are leaders in this matter. They, I believe, are so "wrapped up" in their big projects that they cannot see the dangers; they are blinded by their "Success" and their ears are stopped by the "cheers and praises from the crowds" so they can't hear the warning signal. But there are some who are not fully aware of what is going on, of what is really involved. I trust that they will listen, and investigate. If so, I am convinced that they can find the truth. Being informed, and having a heart that desires to do right, perhaps they will find the courage to stand up. Once I was confused, I searched and found. That is what I am asking all to do. See where this leads, decide if you want to go along. I believe that you'll say "No!" There are other problems, but this is one.