Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 27, 1951
NUMBER 21, PAGE 1,3b

A Lesson From History

Herschel E. Patton, Russellville, Alabama

"Organization" is the wedge that divided the body of Christ a number of years ago and gave birth to the "Christian" Church or the "Disciples of Christ" Church. While the restoration plea was being made during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many turned from sectarianism where organization existed on a major scale, to stand on the Bible and the Bible alone. But among the many thousands who came from denominationalism were some who were not fully clear in their own minds concerning the place of "organizations" in God's plan.

Among these who entered the movement without being fully converted was a Mr. D. S. Burnet, a Baptist preacher, who had once served as secretary to a Baptist Missionary Society. Arguing that such societies had worked well in the Baptist Church, Burnet began to push the idea among his friends to introduce such organizations into the Lord's church. Many outstanding brethren were led aside, and began to urge that societies be accepted in the church. The great Benjamin Franklin not only argued for them, but once served as corresponding secretary for a society. In 1867, however, after studying the whole question carefully, he completely reversed his position, and came out with a series of articles in the "American Christian Review" in which he listed six major objections to the societies.

In the year 1855 an attempt at organization was made in Danville, Kentucky. "Late in 1855 nine congregations met in Danville, Kentucky, to organize themselves for work. The purpose for this meeting, as they stated it, was to form an association or union of Christian churches in the counties of Garrard, Lincoln, Casey, Mercer and Boyle. The association was to be called 'The Kentucky Christian Union.' It was composed of gospel preachers, one elder from each congregation, and one other representative from each church. After being formed, the union specifically stated that it would reserve the right to punish all forms of heresy. G. T. Anderson was chosen as president." (Gospel Advocate, 1946)


When the "organization" issue first raised its head, many outstanding gospel preachers protested vigorously. Tolbert Fanning, editor of the Gospel Advocate at that time wrote, "The church of God is the only divinely authorized missionary, Bible, Sunday-school, and temperance society, the only institution in which the heavenly Father will be honored in the salvation of the world, and in and through no other agency can man glorify his maker. It is not only the extreme of folly for Christians to talk of other benevolent institutions, but we cannot see, and never have seen, how it is possible for any people professing the Christian religion to attempt to do the work of the church through merely human agencies, such as missionary and Sunday-school societies, etc., while we have so full provision for all spiritual labor in the body of Christ. Furthermore, we have not seen how it is possible for human institutions to engross our time, energy, and money without our losing sight of the church and her agencies." (Gospel Advocate, 1857)

Again, Fanning wrote, "Plainly, deliberately, and firmly we declare to all whom it may concern that it is our solemn conviction that the adoption or substitution of an expedient society, or plan for Christian work, besides the Kingdom not of this world, is an insult to God and a disgrace to the Christian profession." (Gospel Advocate, 1866)

The Present

Today this issue is again before the brotherhood, and as brother Homer Hailey has said in his book, Attitudes and Consequences, concerning the original Missionary Societies, "It was a question, fundamentally, of an attitude toward the Scriptures. Do the Scriptures furnish authority and pattern for the organization of societies, or should the work be done through the local congregation?" So it is today.

There are a few able brethren today who contend that the Lord's work can be done through organizations other than the local church, as was the case years ago. However, by far the majority of gospel preachers today, I believe, are contending for the New Testament pattern for doing the Lord's work. Brother George W. DeHoff speaks the sentiments of these thousands of loyal brethren when he says, "What is God's institution to educate and train men in the gospel? Answer: the local congregation. What is God's institution for doing charity and relief work? Answer: the local congregation. What is the sole and only organization God has said anything about using to preach the gospel? Answer: the local congregation. What other organization has God authorized Christians to establish to do any of his work? The answer is none, simply none at all. If the local congregation can not do what God wants done, then God has authorized a work without telling His children how to get it done. Who can believe such?" (Christian Magazine, January, 1961)

Brother J. L. Hines of Dallas, Texas, said in a radio address over KLIF, Dallas, last winter (also published in the Gospel Advocate): "It is not the mission of the church to build and operate places of business, such as grocery stores, dry goods stores, publishing houses, restaurants, or the like. It is not the mission of the church to build and operate schools. It is not the mission of the church to build and operate orphan homes as separate institutions. It is not the business of the church to build and operate old folks' homes as separate institutions. It is not the business or mission of the church to build and operate hospitals and clinics. It is not the business or mission of the church to build and operate any kind of recreational "center"—or off center! Today with thirty-eight institutions, not the church, connected directly or indirectly with the church, the church is only a sort of clearing house, handing out the money, which the organizations willingly accept; and of course, many who should be giving their time to preaching the word, but instead are serving tables, will not like what I am saying. I am not opposed to any of the things I have mentioned—but I am opposed to giving glory to any except to Christ and the church."