Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 23, 1956
NUMBER 16, PAGE 12,15d

"By-Laws Or Human Creeds?"

Peter J. Wilson, Sunnyvale, California

Recently a brother in Christ brought me a copy of the Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of a congregation of the church of Christ here in the San Francisco Bay Area and asked for my appraisal of the document. The following excerpts will give you an indication of what prompted this article? (All caps are mine, PJW.)

In reference to the purpose of the corporation, it is stated first of all that its purpose is "to hold and manage all the real and personal property of the church." Now we all recognize that such is necessary under the laws of many states and is not out of harmony with the New Testament. However, it continues to set forth the purpose of this legal corporation as: "to maintain and support the ministry of the church, to provide the conveniences of a church building, and A PARSONAGE, to promote the growth and efficiency of the church as an ecclesiastical body; to inculcate the principles of Christianity, or charity, justice, brotherly love, felicity among members, to aid and help its members in living Christian lives, to promote their welfare and enhance their happiness."

Apart from the sectarian verbiage and the excess of language, any thinking person will readily see that it is NOT the purpose of any legal corporation, or board of trustees, to promote "the growth and efficiency" of the church. That is a spiritual work given to a spiritual body long before the laws of the State of California were ever written. Such work is not to be directed by a "board of trustees" but by the scriptural overseers of any congregation, the elders. If such work IS the work of this legal corporation, then such work MUST be carried out on a majority rule basis since that is the arrangement specified in the by-laws. Such a stipulation legally binds the members of said corporation to a form of government foreign to the New Testament and subversive to God's order.

In The "By-Laws" We Find This:

"the corporate powers of this church shall be vested in a board of five trustees who shall be members in good standing, HOLDING MEMBERSHIP CERTIFICATES in the church."

Concerning The Powers And Duties Of This Board Of Trustees We Read:

"the board of trustees shall have power to call special meetings of the church when they deem it necessary .... and APPOINT AND REMOVE AT THEIR PLEASURE ALL OFFICERS, AGENTS, AND EMPLOYEES of the church and shall PRESCRIBE THEIR DUTIES AND FIX THEIR COMPENSATION"..."the board of trustees shall have power to conduct and manage, and CONTROL THE AFFAIRS and the BUSINESS of the church, to MAKE RULES, not inconsistent with the laws of the 'State of California for the GUIDANCE OF ITS OFFICERS and management of the affairs of the church."

Brethren, for any congregation of the Lord's church to legally bind themselves to be managed, controlled, and governed by a group of men with such widespread powers is nothing short of rebellion against God's government.

Notice, they have power to:

1. Appoint and remove at their pleasure all officers of the church (this would include elders).

2. Hire and fire the preacher and set his salary.

3. Prescribe the preacher's duties (as though Christ had not already done that).

4. To make rules, not inconsistent with the laws of California. What about rules inconsistent with the law of Christ? The very fact they have such power to make rules would be completely "inconsistent" with his will.

In this entire document there is not the slightest mention of the authority or headship of Christ, of the New Testament as the rule of faith and practice, or of the elders as God's scriptural and ONLY overseers of a local congregation. This is worse than a human creed. A human creed is valid only insofar as the members voluntarily submit to its rules but this document legally binds the members to the authority, rules, and even the "pleasure" of a group of men who are not the elders of the church.

In Article XIII. Concerning Membership We Read:

"Any member of the church of Christ California shall be entitled to a membership card in lieu of certificate, which membership shall not be transferrable or subject to any assessment and shall be held in trust for the benefit of each member by the Board of Trustees. Each membership card will entitle the holder thereof TO HAVE A VOICE IN THE DECISIONS OF THE CHURCH .... each member shall be entitled to ONE VOICE and may speak or act by PROXY."

Where in all of the New Testament do we read of "membership cards," non-transferrable and subject to the approval of a board of trustees? We read in Philippians 3:20 that our "citizenship is in heaven" and in Hebrews 12:23 that our "enrollment" is in heaven. 'Where do we read of every member having a "voice" (or vote) in the decisions of the church? If each member has "one voice" or vote, then the vote of a 12-year-old babe in Christ would carry the same weight as the vote of the most godly and experienced elder in the church. What is more it could even be exercised by "proxy." We have all heard of "absenteeism" in the church but the idea of an absentee ballot is a new one on me.

Brethren, there may be many congregations which have such unscriptural and impractical legal documents binding them. Check up on the "By-Laws" of the congregation where you attend; it might be startling experience. There have been brethren who have used the legal powers contained in such documents to depose godly elders, to create factions that have stolen valuable property from faithful brethren, and to force a majority rule system of government upon the church.

We should never forget that there is no law in ANY STATE that requires a set of By-Laws that will conflict with the New Testament in any way. If such a law was ever passed, we would be forced to "obey God rather than men." The only requirement is that there be a responsible group designated to hold property and transact legal business. There is nothing that would prohibit the elders constituting the board of trustees or, if not that, at least a stipulation that the final authority rests in Christ and his word and in the elders as God's designated overseers. There is no law that requires a "majority rule" system of government. If the law states that certain decisions concerning the purchase or sale of real property must be agreed to by the membership, a unanimous approval of the elders' decision in the matter would be an expression of unity and confidence in their rulers. Brethren, be certain that your "By-Laws" do not constitute a "human creed."