Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 7, 1950
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1,14

The Gospel Advocate On Institutions

Cled E. Wallace

This title does not have reference to the Gospel Advocate "1950 style" but to the Gospel Advocate "1932 style" a few years before the present editor took over and changed the policy and emphasis of the paper. He is very sensitive on this point and declares that any suggestion that the policy of the paper has been changed is a "misrepresentation." He must know that "facts are stubborn and embarrassing things." I have about twenty bound volumes of the Gospel Advocate covering as many years, stacked around me, some of them covering periods before World War I. It may shock some "Johnnies Come Lately" among us to learn that two editors preceding the present one occupied and advanced the same position on the church-college question that the Gospel Guardian is now advocating, yet the present editor calls us "Sommerites." A young preacher, who is a graduate of a Christian college writes in and informs us that we are preaching "a new doctrine" and he calls it "Cogdillian." He probably does not know any better. I am herewith handing over to our readers an article written by brother F. B. Srygley, which appeared on the editorial page of the Gospel Advocate in the issue of January 11, 1934. "We reproduce the entire article as the inimitable" F. B. Srygley "wrote it." Brother Srygley was contemporary with David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, F. W. Smith, M. C. Kurfees, J. C. McQuiddy and other giants of Advocate fame. He was one of the strongest writers on the Advocate for many years, and enjoyed the confidence of its greatest writers. Here is "the entire" article on "Institutions."

"The church of the New Testament, though not called an institution in the Bible, yet according to the meaning of the word, is one—a divine institution. An institution is something organized or established. The church, home and school are given as examples of institutions. There seems to be an idea in the minds of some that when Christ built his church he did not build much, but left it to man to complete the institution by adding to it such human organizations as would complete the church and make its work effectual. The average denominational preacher seems to think that Christ gave only a few fundamental principles, and allows man to add to it everything in the way of an organization which in his judgment is necessary.

When men add the things which they think are allowable, they become naturally very much attached to them. They are the creation of man, and man has always loved his own creations. The true, faithful Methodist is naturally prouder of his Methodist episcopacy, with the bishops and presiding elders, class leaders and other things which man has made, than he is of the body of Christ. You will get an argument quicker out of some religionists when you condemn something that man has started than you will by condemning that which is divine.

It grieves me to see some of those who contend that the New Testament is sufficient, and that the New Testament church is complete, making heroic efforts to justify religious organizations other than the church. Some will say that it is not wrong to do anything as a church which an individual Christian has the right to do. That seems perfectly reasonable; and if a church could do it with the organization that Christ has supplied, without adding anything to the divine body, it might be correct. An individual can give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple and not lose his reward, but it would be rather difficult for a church to do that with organizations not authorized in the New Testament.

An individual can send his means directly to the preacher who is on the field preaching the gospel, and so can a church, provided it sends it directly to the preacher. If two or more churches put it into the hands of any kind of a board, though the board may be made up of the elders of one of the churches, we have a very nice beginning for a missionary society to try to take charge of the churches. Much of the missionary machinery of this country started exactly that way. The scripture relied upon to support that thing has usually been the example of the churches under the direction of the apostles in sending their means to the elders of the Jerusalem church to support the poor saints. I do not know that this would furnish an example for supporting the preacher, or preachers, of the gospel. I am not sure that these brethren could prove that this money was used anywhere outside the jurisdiction of the Jerusalem church.

There has for a long time been an effort made to prove many different things by one thing that differs from all the others. When one wants a thing, it takes but little testimony to satisfy him. It seems to be rather far-fetched for one to try to prove all kinds of organizations that brethren want by the statement that it is necessary to have more organizations than the church to hold church property. I do not know that there is such a thing in the Bible as church property. Meeting houses ought to belong to the people that build them. The house is no part of the church. It is only a place for the church to meet. I suppose it should be controlled like any other property—as the law provides. Why should we take a piece of property with a house built by man to prove that we can add extra organizations to the house built by God.

If one wants to prove that anything the brethren want is scriptural by the deed to the meeting house, let him just prove that the deed to the meeting house is scriptural. That is the same old meeting house argument. But they may say that the meeting house, or its equivalent, is necessary in order to obey the command to assemble. Very well; let us use the equivalent if we have to add to the divine building in order to have a deed to such property. Men have a right to build a public hall for the use of the public, and the church would have the right to meet in it, because it is a place to assemble.

It seems that some of the brethren think that there must be some extra organization in order for Christians to teach the Bible on Sunday. It may be true that some really have some organization other than the church to teach the Bible on Sunday, but I am unable to see that it is necessary. When one contends for such an extra organization, it seems to me he opens the floodgates to everything that anyone thinks we need. The brother who endorses these extra or outside organizations would fare rather poorly in a debate over the missionary society. I know that he might argue the fact that these missionary societies take control of the churches; but suppose his opponent should say that it is an abuse of the missionary society, and should promise to help in reforming it at this point. Is it not the tendency of any extra or outside organization to try to control the church?

But the brethren sometimes argue that the church can organize anything it feels that it needs. I do not grant this, but it is my observation that individuals start these things for the churches to support. Who is to say how many and what kind of institutions the churches need? I do not think the church as a divine institution needs any of them, but some of them do need the church, or churches, to support them. As was said by another: 'If the organization of institutions continues, the church will be literally but a peg on which to hang institutions.' We are told again that any number of churches have the right to do collectively what one church has the right to do, and therefore, churches can be hung together by institutions other than themselves. On its face this seems to be true, but hanging churches together with a separate institution is lacking in divine authority.

There are, no doubt, divine reasons for not tying them together with any kind of an institution which are not revealed to us. One trouble that we might be able to see is that human organizations are liable to go wrong; in fact, most of them have gone wrong when they stood long enough; but when only one church is tied up with an institution, only one church will be injured by the failure of the institution. But when many are tied together, many are liable to injury by such a failure.

In the early days of the discussion of this matter those in favor of extra organizations argued that there could be no cooperation without organization. But this was not true then, and it is not true now. 'Operate' means to work, and 'co' means together; therefore, when a Christian operates as the Bible directs, he cooperates with every other Christian who operates in the same way. When a church operates as the head directs, it operates with every other church which operates under the same directions.

If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:6, 7) Let us spend our time walking in the light of God's truth, and then we will have fellowship with God, with Christ, with apostles, and with all others who walk in the light of the same word. Let us not get out of step with each other by adding extra organizations to the church, for in so doing we might so far get out of step with God as to be lost."

Comments On The Above

Brother Srygley, brother Boles and other writers in the Advocate, had much to say along these lines years ago. A few hotheads piled into them occasionally, but got cooled off pronto. Now, how often do you see articles of that sort in the Gospel Advocate "1950 style"? The present editor goes along with the prevailing style among the churches. We wonder if any kind of a departure could alarm him.

Brother Srygley evidently believed that when horses switched their tails in "cooperation," each horse switched his own tail so to speak. We have more articles from both brother Srygley and brother Boles and probably others, right out of the files of the Gospel Advocate, which are calculated to prove who is "misrepresenting" whom.