Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Institutionalism: An Abuse of Authority

In our last article on authority, we documented several “digressions” which resulted from a lack of understanding of how Bible authority is established.  The three general apostasies we mentioned were: 1) The establishment of the apostate church (Catholicism); 2) The embracing of human creeds in the Protestant Reformation; and 3) The apostasy in the late 1800’s which led to the establishment of the Christian Church denomination.

In the more recent past God’s people have been troubled by digression.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s issues arose in the church, which led to division among God’s people.  The digression again came because men either lacked respect for or understanding of the authority of Christ.  In this case the digression surrounded the work and organization of the local congregation, and the sufficiency of the church to do the work assigned it by God.

In the first place, some began to advocate taking monies from the treasury of the local congregation (authorized in 1 Corinthians 16), and giving it to man-made institutions such as orphan’s homes and colleges.  This despite the fact that there is no divine mandate or example of such in scripture.  Not only did this practice violate the scriptural pattern of each congregation sending benevolence directly to needy saints, it expressed an unwillingness to accept the sufficiency of the church to do the work assigned it by God.

Second, men established a “sponsoring church” arrangement to carry on work that would be too costly for an individual congregation to handle.  The arrangement had a sponsoring church, with its elders, to oversee a work that is undertaken by many congregations.  The contributing congregations would send money to the sponsoring church to perform works of benevolence, support preachers, or do other types of missionary work.

Again, there is no example or intimation of such a practice in scripture.  In the first century, each congregation did its own work, and each eldership oversaw only the brethren, “among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28), (i.e., oversight ended on the congregational level).  The idea of a set of “sponsoring elders” overseeing a “brotherhood project” is alien to the New Testament.  Too, such a practice expressed an unwillingness to accept the sufficiency of the organizational pattern established for the church by God to accomplish the work He gave her to do.

Third, men began to emphasize a social gospel, utilizing the means and focus of the Lord’s church to meet the social and recreational needs of the community and her members.  In the New Testament we find only three works within the realm of the local church.  She is to evangelize the lost (Acts 8:1); edify her members (1 Thess. 5:11); and practice benevolence to needy saints (1 Cor. 16:1-2).  There is no statement, example, or implication in scripture of any recreational or social activity as being a responsibility of the local congregation.  Too, by claiming that a social emphasis is needed in serving the world and brethren, men have expressed an unwillingness to accept the sufficiency of the gospel to do its work in saving men’s souls.

As is the case in the previous digressions mentioned, many who practice these institutional errors seek to minimize the importance of their departures from the divine pattern.  One institutional preacher, when confronted with the lack of scriptural authority for his practices, responded, “We do many things for which we have no authority.”  His statement, in which he equated the generic nature of some of God’s commands with no authority at all, is indicative of the ignorance many have of these issues.

It doesn’t matter if the one guilty of such a departure is a denominationalist or a member of the Lord’s church, there is no justification for such flippant attitudes toward authority.  We must have the authorization of our Lord before doing anything as his servants.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).