Vol.XVII No.II Pg.5
April 1980

The Basic Issue May Be Ignored

Robert F. Turner

Restoration could take place only to the extent that individuals recognized a direct relation and obligation to God via His word. "The church" censured Thomas Campbell for communion with those outside its pale, and he had to decide between "church" sanctions and Bible sanctions. We like to believe he gave up fellowship with an institution, to have fellowship with God. We are saddened to realize that many look back upon this period as the Restoration of The Church instead of seeing it as a restoration of individual independence to study God's word, putting direct obligation to God before institutionalism.

When we say, "But the church that censured Campbell was a man-made denomination!" we are not thinking too clearly about what distinguishes the Lord's church from human churches. Is it unbroken historic ties with some body politic, traced back to Apostolic days? To bring this into modern focus: is the church of which you are a member "the true church" because it "came from" a true church, or because its faith and practice conform to Bible teaching? Campbell's "church" could have sincerely believed that it was the "true church" but we contend its practices were still subject to examination in the light of the Bible. Now, who is going to do that examining? What is the "higher court" if it is not the conscience of each individual who should examine its faith and practice by the Scriptures before sanctioning and fellowshipping it. Institutionalism substitutes loyalty to the "party" for loyalty to God's word on an individual basis. It looks to an institution for salvation. The Lord gave His saints collective responsibilities. He intended that they should work and worship together as conditions made this possible, and He gave instructions for the oversight and functions of these local churches. In a legitimate sense each local church is an institution and saints who so covenant together have responsibilities to this team. But never to the extent of overriding the individuals direct responsibility to God. Nor should we abdicate individual responsibilities because "the church" shares some of our work. My responsibility to my brethren is not removed because I support a church which cares for indigent members. My responsibility to teach my neighbor is not removed because I support a church radio broadcast of truth. I must not embrace "institutionalism" by surrendering parental responsibility to teach and train my children to the "church" school.

I strongly support an active work program by the local church, but such a program that discourages individual initiative is not to the best interest of the saints. The local church "program" should be made for the saints, not the saints for the program. It seems to me that "together" prayer, singing, edifying, giving, and the Lord's Supper are all for the building up of the saints; to assist and strengthen them in the "every minute of every day" life they must live before God. We will strengthen the church only as we strengthen those who make up the church. We must teach and encourage loyalty to Christ rather than "party" loyalty — the very essence of "institutionalism."