Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 15, 1951
NUMBER 40, PAGE 8-10

Churches -- Individuals -- Institutions

. H. Tallman, New York, New York

In the November 16 issue of Gospel Guardian I noticed an excerpt from the Christian Magazine from the pen of brother George DeHoff on the individual and the church. He is writing on a subject of considerable importance. However, he confuses the issue somewhat by mixing a singular and a plural concept, and then comparing them as if they were both singular or both plural. He probably should have entitled it Christians and the Church, since most of us think of the church as a number of Christians. Possibly one individual may in some sense be a church, but most of us do not conceive of the church as one individual.

Consciously or otherwise we make a distinction between the church and Christians, and much of our reasoning is based upon this unproved assumption. Until we establish the Scripturalness of this assumption much that is written about human institutions, what Christians individually or collectively may do that the church may not, the question of stewardship and many other things will be nothing more that opinionative assertions which we seek people to swallow as Scriptural doctrine. It is easy for men to build a great logical superstructure without examining the supposition that is its foundation. Have we asked the fundamental question—What is the church? I mean have we asked it as it applies to this question—When are Christians not the church? Over what part of the Christian's life and activity have the congregational elders unmistakable oversight? Is a church a church in any sense before the appointment of elders and deacons? What is prerequisite in form or activity or geography for Christians to be considered a church?

I recognize that the "church" or "called out" has a universal sense, Eph. 1:22; a community, Acts 14:23; or a household I Cor. 16:19 sense; and a sense of those assembled for worship, edification, etc., I Cor. 14:28, 35; but that does not answer the question—What is the church as distinguished from Christians? In each case the church is the Christians whoever they be, or the Christians of a community or household, or the Christians assembled for whatever purpose. In each case the church and Christians are equated. I think it is impossible in honesty to dilute the idea of the New Testament church to that of the assembled Christians, and its work to that done through the Lord's day contributions. Yet it seems that this is about the definition of the church underlying our thinking when we talk about what Christians may do that the church may not.

We say that Christians individually and collectively may publish papers to further Christian education and evangelism, or may operate schools for a similar or broader purpose, or may operate orphans homes for Christian education and benevolence, but it may not be done by the church, or as some have even added—it may not be done in the name of Christ, for they reason if it is not done through the "church treasury" it is not done in the name of Christ. On the other hand we say it is the church's responsibility to preach the gospel or make known "the manifold wisdom of God," and we conclude that the church has a benevolent function since Paul either instituted a Lord's day contribution in Galatia, Corinth, etc., for this purpose, or else appeal to the churches to lay aside the Lord's day contributions for this purpose. From these considerations we conclude that evangelism, Christian education and benevolence is "the church's work." "Christians" may not do these things as a collective enterprise in a missionary or benevolent society for this would usurp "the church's" authority and work and detract from its glory. It would be imposing "human societies" to do the work of the "one divine institution" and would sap the life of the church like the mistletoe destroys the live oak. However, Christians may associate themselves (form a society) for writing, editing, publishing and distributing a religious paper to further Christian education and evangelism. In so doing they may, and usually do, cut across congregational lines and get their personnel from here and there and thus form a supra-congregational society that seeks to mold the opinions of Christians and elderships, much as the supra-congregational missionary society tried to mold the viewpoints of elderships, etc., on evangelism domestic and foreign.

Christian education, evangelism and benevolence when performed through the Lord's day contributions is the "church's work." When performed by societies such as colleges, orphans' homes and religious papers it is "secular" work. When performed by a missionary or benevolent society it becomes the "church's work" again, and the societies are anathema because they are "human societies" doing the work of the "one divine missionary and benevolent society"—the church. To say that colleges, orphans' homes and newspapers are businesses, therefore secular, is to deny the genuine intent of all three. The purpose is not to make money or provide employment but to perform a religious or church function. Or are we going to repeat with tongue in cheek that Christian education, evangelism and benevolence, although church functions, are in this case not church functions.

I have scanned most of the volumes of The Gospel Advocate since 1859 reading the articles related to the so-called human institutions, etc., without once finding anyone attempting seriously to define the terms which were a source of the differing viewpoints. In the articles was ample evidence that the conception of the church and its work was limited to something short of Christians and their work. Yet no effort was made to justify this distinction scripturally.

If we insist that the church may do only certain good things, but that Christians individually and collectively may do other good things besides; or that Christians may do some of the same things as the church but may have greater liberty in how they may do them—then we are defining the church in one way and Christians in another. Why, according to some, may Christians cooperate in Christian education and evangelism through writing, publishing and distributing a religious paper; but the church or a church may not do this? May a church which may not spend some of its money to publish such a paper spend some of its money to support this secular enterprise through purchasing and distributing the paper? Or are we going to back down and say it is not a secular enterprise, but a religious one, and a church may do it? If it is a religious work that the church may do, then it is one that a supra-congregational "human society may not do, for it would be taking away the work and glory of the church and be subverting the autonomy of the local elderships.

We are told that what we give out of our right pocket into the Lord's day collections goes to the work of the church. What we give out of the left pocket to support evangelism, Christian education and charitable works is given as Christians. What we give out of the left is "ours." Our right pocket's contents is held in stewardship for God. What we have in our left pockets is ours to do with as we please. Should the church be "given to hospitality" or may only Christians do that? If the Christians in a given congregation are hospitable is that a hospitable church, or would that be a misnomer? If one were to describe a church as hospitable would one have to conclude from that that visitors were given money for bed and board from the "church treasury." Is this the only way a "church" could be hospitable? Likewise, if the widows and orphans in a community were visited "in their affliction" by Christians who supplied their needs out of their left pockets could it be said that "the church" visited the "orphans and widows in their affliction" or would "the church" be visiting them in their need only if the money came from the right hand pockets of "church members" through the "treasury" to the needy?

Someone says a church must have elders and deacons. Were the congregations in Crete churches in any sense before Titus appointed bishops there? If they were churches why were they churches? If a congregation should for some reason fail to assemble on the first day of the week would it cease to be a church as a result or would it be a church remiss in its duty? I ask all these questions to ask again—What is the church as distinguished from Christians? Are Christians the church of Christ because they assemble, worship together, hear the instruction of elders and evangelists, give into a common treasury, spend their money for evangelism, Christian education and benevolence under the supervision of elders and deacons? Might it be a church, though a deficient one if it neglected one or all of these for a period? Are they not his church in hospitality, benevolence, worship and evangelism done as individual Christians or as groups of Christians cooperating in such works? Is this not church work? Could it not be that whatever Christians do under the headship and guidance of Christ they do as his "called out" or his church? What part of our thinking and doing ideally should be controlled by the will of Christ? What part may be severed entirely from any consideration of Christ's will? What part of "my" money may I spend without in the least considering that I am a Christian, a "called out" man? I wonder if we may forget we are "church men" when we are attaining an education, choosing a wife, living as a husband and father, or selecting and working at an occupation. Are we to consider that a church man may be, to quote brother DeHoff, "a husband, father, elder, evangelist, Christian, citizen of his state, member of the school board, and owner of his business," or should we consider him, and, what is more important, should he not rather consider himself a Christian husband, Christian father, etc., etc.? Or does Christ's headship over the church apply only to the right pocket, church treasury, common fellowship endeavors of all those who assemble to worship in one place?

Notice that brother DeHoff says, "In the church the same man may be a husband, father, elder, evangelist, Christian, citizen of his state, member of the school board, and owner of his business." He is saying—A man who is a member of the church may also be a husband, father, elder, evangelist, Christian, etc. This would indicate that a church member might be a person who is also a husband, father, Christian, etc. A "church member" would then be distinct from a Christian. Although they might have many things in common as a church member and a Christian, there nevertheless would be something he was as a church member that he was not as a Christian, or vice versa; just as there is something about the elder that distinguishes him from an ordinary church member. What is it; therefore, that distinguishes a church member from a Christian? Is a man a church member in assembling, contributing, etc., and a Christian in hospitality, personal visitation, etc? May a church member discipline his child in the capacity of father, or may only a Christian father discipline his child? Or stating it in the plural—Does the church believe (because the Bible teaches it) that church member fathers may discipline their children, or may only Christian fathers do so? Now, stating this same idea in its simplest and most condensed form—May the church discipline its children, or may only Christians do so? In each case we are talking about fathers who are churchmen or fathers who are Christians. Brother DeHoff has confused the issue by stating—"The church may not spank his children; as a father he may find it necessary." He would have stated the truth and have explained it at the same time if he had said—"The church may spank its children, for as Christian fathers they may find it necessary." But he asserts that the church may not spank its children although I am certain he agrees that Christian parents may. It is evident that he doesn't consider the Christian in his capacity of father as a churchman. He disassociates Christians in their capacity as fathers from the church. If a man is in or of the church is he not, if a father, thereby a Christian father? If a man is a Christian father is he not of the church? If a man is a husband, father, businessman, etc., and by conversion is "added to the church" does he not thereby become a Christian husband, Christian father, etc? Or conversion and being "added to the church" simply a change to a Sunday-go-to-meeting habit?

When one is "added to the church" is it to make him religious for a little while each week when he worships, gives of his means, and listens to the gospel, and then for the rest of the time to make him innocuous? Or is it the remaking of his whole life under the headship of Christ?

Are a group of people church members or the "Called out" Sundays, Christians whenever they are doing good in any capacity other than in concert with the rest of the local congregation, and then secular individuals when they are making a living, seeking entertainment, relaxations, etc.? Or must even those distinctions be revised?

Is the Gospel Guardian a church work, Christian work or a secular work? I suppose you deem it not a "church work" even though it is doing church work—evangelizing and educating. Eph. 3:10 says this is the church's work. You are therefore doing work of the church, yet you would deny that the church through you is doing it. Rather you will be inclined to say that you as Christians are doing it. But since Christians may not form supra-congregational associations to do church work, you must deny that it is church work. It becomes of necessity secular work or at best a Christian work of a secular nature rather than church work, for that at all costs, must not be admitted. You can call it a business and deny the main purpose of its existence. But does a change of name change the reality?

This paradox can be resolved satisfactorily only through a clear delineation between a church and Christians. Until these definitions are made and scripturally supported all of the arguments based on the assumed distinction become themselves mere corollaries of this basic unproved assumption. Most of the arguments about divine and human institutions rest on this assumption. Most of the ridiculous dilemmas we find ourselves in can exist, surely, only because our definitions made consciously or otherwise are themselves wrong.

It is neither fair nor honest to take positions based upon an assumed distinction and condemn all who disagree with our conclusions when we ourselves seem not to understood or define the distinction. We have been using terms for a hundred years without having enough wisdom or enough honesty to ask their meaning. We have insisted that there are distinctions and anyone who did not make them as we did were dishonest. Yet when we have been called upon to give distinctions such as that purportedly existing between the church and Christians we have stammered endlessly, and have covered our embarrassment by blustering and accusing others of lack of respect for God's word. But have we not confused their lack of respect for our poorly supported position, with a supposed disrespect for God's word?

Brother DeHoff's article is typical. His reasoning is based on a distinction he cannot support. He calls on the man who disagrees with his conclusion to disprove the assumption that he (DeHoff) could not prove. He affirms that there is a distinction between a church and Christians, but by combining singular and plural ideas in his reasoning he is able to confuse the issue and call upon the opposition to prove the inverse of what is his own burden of proof or affirmation. It is the man who makes a distinction and bases his argument upon it who it required to offer proof of the distinction. A negative proposition cannot be proved yet he asks his opponent to affirm a negative—that there is no distinction between Christians and a church. Or as he states it—whatever the individual may do the church may do.

The viewpoint to which brother DeHoff objects, briefly stated, is—Whatever Christians do the church does. Does the church look after widows under 60 who are widows indeed? The answer of this viewpoint is—Yes. The church does look after them through individuals who assume their responsibility as Christian children, nephews, etc. If any man does not provide for those of his own house "he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." The church in this acts through the line of first responsibility first—the Christian relatives. The ones over sixty who were widows indeed who were "taken into the number" I Tim. 5:9, were to be supported by those of the church who were not their relatives. It could have been done through contributions from "the treasury" or a widow might have been given into the keeping of one or more families in the church not related to her in the flesh. Which way it was done, or whether it may have been done one way in one place and another way in another place according to circumstances, no one will profess to know, unless someone will insist that the example in Acts 6 became universal law in this. The fact stands out that the church through relatives of the needy, or by common offering or by unrelated Christians sharing in some way the benevolence looks after the widows.

The conclusion that what the church did, it did through its "treasury" accumulated by regular Lord's day contributions might have some semblance of force if it could be proved that the churches everywhere had regular weekly contributions. To try to prove so much from Acts 2:42 is to force a viewpoint into the passage. The contributions Paul received from Macedonian churches in support of his preaching may have come from regular weekly contributions handled by a church treasurer. They might have been sent by individuals in those churches. In either case would it not have been the churches doing it? Certainly it would be if we will equate Christians with the church, and admit the probability that the New Testament churches were not organized, purposized, and budgetized financially according to our strict 20th century monetary practice. The one regular weekly contribution we read about in the New Testament was of the Corinthians and Galatians at the instruction of Paul to meet an emergency distress situation in Judea. What honest person will insist that this is proof of a universal perpetual weekly collection for all church work? How was money raised for world evangelism, etc.? Maybe it was the same way, maybe not. It should be apparent how much our view of the church may influence our thinking on how it did things. Have not some of our dogmatic ideas about the work of the church come from our preconceived ideas about the church? Again the question—What is the church?