Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 11, 1967
NUMBER 2, PAGE 8b-9a

They, Too, Stand Or Fall Together

Colly Caldwell

Many years ago Gospel preachers were confounded at the lack of knowledge exhibited by many when they argued that the church can use an instrument of music in the assembly because it is right for the members to have one in their homes. This reasoning was easily answered by the New Testament teaching that there are many things which are good for us to do privately in our homes which are wholly unrighteous when done by the assembly in worship (cf. Matt. 15:1-9; Heb. 13:4).

Though they were once astounded at such logic (or lack of it), many of the same preachers are today using the same old line of reasoning to defend their own unauthorized practices. Amazingly it has come to the point that one of the most used lines of argument in favor of churches caring for those who are not saints, building and maintaining orphanages, infirmaries, colleges, hospitals and the like, is the assertion that if the individual can do it out of his own pocket, it surely cannot be wrong for the church to do it. "After all, it is a good work, isn't it?" they ask. "And just where does the devil get into it? When does a good work become sin?" Carl Spain, instructor at Abilene Christian College, put it this way, "I don't push a button one minute to be in the church, and another button the next to be an individual Christian!"

Now that might sound good if the Bible did not sound so many discordant notes. The first is the fact that while the church is composed of individuals, the individual is not the church and the church is not the individual. Jesus taught this lesson, among others, in discussing the action of a Christian when another sins against him (Matt. 18:15-17). The child of God is to keep the matter on an individual basis and thus solve it apart from the church (the collectivity) if that is at all possible. He is to submit it to the church for recognition and action only as a last resort. Now were the church and the individual member the same, the teaching of the Lord concerning this matter would be meaningless.

The distinction between individual and group action is seen in so many activities of life. A young businessman becomes a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He is not the Junior Chamber of Commerce and it is not the young businessman. He is continually a member of the organization. He is expected to work in behalf of the association. He contributes to its treasury that it may survive. His activities reflect either for good or bad upon the group. That body is made up on individuals (just as the church is composed of members). But the Jaycee is not the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Christian is not the church!

Just this past week in Chicago the head of a local chapter of one of the major labor unions of our country got himself into all kinds of trouble because he thought he was the labor union and could speak for all the members. When he pronounced his own private conviction relative to the political issue he was discussing and said that that was the conviction of the union, he found out right quickly that he was not the union and the union was not he. Why cannot our brethren see that they get themselves into all kinds of trouble with the Lord by claiming that they are the church and the church are they.

The second discordant note is the fact, that while the member of the church is under continual obligation to give of his means into the treasury of the church, his finances are not the property of the collectivity (until he so renders them, of course) and the finances of the collectivity are not his to use as he wishes. Peter, in disgust at the lie told by Ananias, asked, "Whiles it (the land Ananias had owned) remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:4). Members of the church often fail to realize that when they "lay by in store" a portion of that which "God hath prospered them", that part becomes the Lord's property and is no longer subject to their desires as to how it will be used. The Master has declared the way in which the collection of the saints may be used and man may not use it for anything else.

Likewise, the church has no right to govern the pocketbooks of the individual members. Peter affirmed Ananias' right to do with his own as he saw fit. Each member has the same right and the elders of the church, the deacons, the preacher, or the church as a group cannot take it away from him. The use of the "greenbacks" in his wallet is not legislated by the church. On this point, at least, we have no argument with our brethren.

And the third discordant note is the fact that while individuals are given good works to perform, the same "good works" may not be "good works" at all when assigned to the church. Every indication, for example, is that the Lord considers caring for the needy in the proper manner a good work. None denies that. But when the same "good work" is done in a way which is not directed by God, or by a person or group prohibited by God from doing it, it no longer is a "good work". The man or group thus acting is not blessed for the activity at all, but is condemned for "going onward and abiding not in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9). You say, how could that be? Listen to Paul as he declares, "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 which are widows indeed" (1 Tim. 5:16). Now the care of the widow with relatives is a "good work" for those relatives to do. The Lord ordered them to do it and they will be damned if they do not. But the same care if undertaken by the church is not a "good work". You ask, why? The Lord said, "Let not the church be charged." Now that does not sound as if the Lord considers it good for the church to do that work, does it? If he does not consider it a good work, how by any stretch of the imagination may we. Again we insist that an individual good work may not be a good work at all when assigned to the church.

We respectfully submit that when our brethren can in their own minds justify their institutional beliefs with the theory that it can be done by the church because it can be done by the individual, then they have but to realize that they can justify the instrument of music on the same ground. As Batsell Barrett Baxter so ably put it in referring to the orphanage and the college, "THEY STAND OR FALL TOGETHER."

We ask, why should these brethren continue to argue with the Christian Church about playing an instrument. Surely a great union could be established quickly with at least many of those congregations if they discontinued the disagreement. In many instances this is the only difference between the two. Why not unite and make the effort together. Surely for those who have left the New Testament pattern in other things, it cannot but occur to them sooner or later and be accepted.