Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 7, 1953

Institutionalism And The Church

W. S. Thompson, Sylacauga, Alabama

That God is the author of institutions, all admit.

The three basic institutions of which God is author are: 1) the home, 2) civil government, and 3) the church. There is an interrelationship between these institutions which is natural and expedient. The home produces members which compose each of the three; the government furnishes protection, and regulates and controls the relationships of members of itself, the home, and the church (from a moral standpoint); the church instructs, and through this method, controls and prepares members for responsibilities in all three, and for final reward. This relationship may be so organized that the same person may exercise responsibility in all three institutions at the same time. For example of this we may view the Patriarchy where the man was the father and husband of the family; the judiciary and executive official of government, and the priest and intercessor of the spiritual relations with God. In regard to government, he might have had additional position of legislator, or potentate, depending on the society and circumstances in which he lived.

Under the Mosaical relationship we find these three different institutions a little better defined and divided in their respective spheres of responsibilities. Yet, their interdependencies were basically the same. For example Moses could have been and perhaps was a father, a lawgiver and judge and executioner, and the intercessor between God and man.

This responsibility was divided up as soon as the preparation of responsible leaders in each of the three institutions was made. So we see Moses continuing in the position of lawgiver and intercessor for a time. Still, the home was to rear the people, the government was to regulate and control the relations between the people and their God. This government was peculiar in that it had laws designed and given by God, through Moses, and was both moral and divine in its nature. It regulated the acts between man and his fellow being, also his acts between man and God. The church had the responsibility of teaching the laws and offering the animal sacrifices to God.

When this division of responsibilities became further pronounced we see that there was the home furnishing the people; the government protecting the homes and church; and the church instructing the moral and religious principles which controlled all three. This union of church and state, or church and government, could or did obtain though only in this situation where Israel composed the state and church, with the family as the basic unit of both.

When the church was extended under the worldwide commission and became universal in its scope, it was then improbable, if not impossible, for it to have a universal law or government. This because of differences in races, climates, and mores of the earth's inhabitants. Neither was this necessary from the standpoint of man's progress and best interests throughout the ages. Man's religious responsibilities were different from this though; because God in His infinite wisdom prepared a sacrifice and law or gospel which were age lasting and universal in their scope and application. This is easily seen when we consider the fact that in no matter what kind of government one lives; whether it be monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy, he is still subject to the same divine and eternal being and under the same law or rule of faith and practice.

Let us come then to consider the church of our Lord in its respective position with relationship to man's needs and as an institution in and through which he is to receive the earthly benefits of citizenship and prepare himself for the eternal heritage above. We know that when the Lord established the church, he made it a perfect institution; not leaving it to man's wisdom or intuition to devise or execute. In doing this he endowed man with the Holy Spirit, to enable him to preach the first gospel. After this he endowed man with different spiritual gifts, for the building up of the saints until they came into the fullness of the stature intended. These worked, and the church prospered. This efficiency continued as long as men with these special endowments lived. Then, with the decease of the last of those men with spiritual gifts the church was left to the supervision of men, who should have been, and perhaps were, trained for every eventuality which came along; now under the direction of the word of God, which has been given in its completeness under the former order. Here we see failure resulted: not because God had not established it as it should have been: not because of the insufficiency of directions in his word; but rather because of man's own shortcomings and lack of wisdom to follow specifically and faithfully the methods and obey explicitly the commandments which God had given him.

This failure was at least sensible enough to recognize but without the proper concept as to the course of remedial measures. Therefore, instead of his going back to the all sufficient means which God had given him, and restoring the principles, as God had provided, and making his life conform to the divine precepts and examples of religious endeavor; it was his best judgment to try to correct his failures and shortcomings by some means which he himself could devise and apply. Thus the beginning of human institutions. Needless to say that the motive in the establishment of all of them has been good. Man has deplored his failures and has sought to correct them. His desire has been to in some way expiate his guilt for lack of accomplishment in his relationship with God. He simply did the best he knew how from the standpoint of his own wisdom and better judgment. He set up something to expedite his services in order to approbate the pleasures of his eternal God. He fixed himself an institution; not with the intention of supplanting the church; but to help the church, to assist it in doing the things that he could see that it ought to be doing for his material and spiritual needs.

This institution, in man's judgment, did expedite the work of the church. He could realize a revival of interests and accomplishments in things wherein he had formerly failed. Two necessary results inevitably followed: 1) Because of accomplishments in and with the help of his own institution, he was inclined to attribute his newly found success to his own contrivings, and 2) because of this and because the thing of his own establishment was better known to him than was the divine institution, it soon gained the ascendancy of his ways. It demanded much more of his time and attention than did the church.

Therefore, the human institution was no longer an adjunct to the church, in his esteem; it was the church. Finally becoming so much more prominent in his work than the church, man's next inclination was to leave the church and pursue his course through his own invention. Because in every age there were some wise enough and bold enough to try to thwart such a departure from divine precepts and insist that it was erroneous, there followed a breach with the ones catering to the institution of their own devices usually exceeding, by far, those loyal to principles, a new organization was born.

Each succeeding time a restoration to the ancient order of worship has been attempted a repetition of errors and the forthcoming of another institution and new organization has followed. This is true of every innovation from the inception of the hierarchy that eventually led to the apostasy down through the ages to the use of instrumental music and societies in the church.

Their usefulness as expedients in doing the work which the church is admittedly failing as its duty is the only logical, if at the same time to say, unscriptural, reason for their existence in the world today. Notwithstanding this fact, instead of the decline in number of such institutions, on the basis of undesirable experiences, the number is being multiplied.