"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.VIII No.II Pg.44-46
October 1945

Just Thinking

V. A. Grant

It would doubtless be very gratifying to write upon subjects that one knows all about. That would enable the writer to speak with confidence and authority. But such writings are too rare for the practical purpose of filling our religious journals. There are some fundamentals upon which we can and should be settled. But in pursuing the work of the Lord, we must not only talk about, but employ means and methods about which there are no direct and specific instructions. The plan we follow should harmonize with the spirit and principles of the Scriptures. Methods should assist us in getting the work done effectively. They should contribute to, and never detract from, our interest in the work. The work should not only be done, but done with such dignity and acceptance as to command the respect of all who do it, and all who observe it.

If the method of getting a good work done produced discord among the workers, cheapened religion in the view of the world, or weakened the spiritual fiber of some, either at the giving or receiving end of the line, it would be a strong presumptive evidence that the method was not scriptural in principle. Our methods should enable us to do good, and no harm at all. They should aid us in making the gospel attractive to all men. They should not weaken its influence at any point.

We have developed religious institutions and have experimented with plans and methods for a long time without possessing a well-defined and comprehensive philosophy of these things. Why can we not study them in the light of the Scriptures and our experience, to see how we are getting along? We do not want to be contentious and technical, and thereby neglect to do the work that should be done. On the other hand, we do not want to exalt the importance of "doing something" to where we shall be indifferent to the spiritual results. I have heard that the latter is the lesser of the two evils. I do not know nor care which is the greater or less evil. That would be an idle speculation; for it is not necessary to do evil that good work may be done, and to the extent that evil is mixed, the value of the good work is destroyed. We must both do good works, and do them in a good way. Some have only an academic interest in the work of the church. They run to the theoretical side. They had rather argue or speculate than to do. Others put too much stress on merely doing something; and it often happens that those who do so, do—not really do any more than the one who takes it out in talk, so far as real spiritual results are concerned. People can be as busy as bees without producing honey.

There is more involved in the spiritual utility of a plan of work than mere success. Plans do not work. They have to be worked. Any sane plan will work, if somebody will work it. But the quality of the work depends upon the rightness of the plan. There are dead works! Dead works do not appear to be dead; they are not without some elements of success; otherwise, they could not properly be called "works." They may sound just as loud and shine just as brightly in a report; but somewhere along the line, there are broken connections; otherwise, they could not properly be called "dead."

Is God honored? Are those who do the work strengthened? Are souls being saved, or bodies clothed and fed, with a view of the salvation of the soul? Are men being taught and trained in the direction of salvation? If there is a breakdown anywhere along these lines, the works are to that extent dead. Somebody must be helped for it to be a good work; but some very foolishly conclude that if the man at the receiving end of the line is blessed, that is all there is to it. That is, I dare say, the smallest part of it. If that were all, how could Jesus have said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive?" And how can it be a good work, unless God is honored? Why should God be honored? If God is not honored, the receiver cannot be saved; for it is God who saves. Why should the receiver be saved? To honor God? Why should God be honored by the receiver? That others may see and be saved. Why should the giver honor God? Not only that the receiver be saved, but the giver may be saved also. We must not merely honor God once in primary submission, but continually, to save ourselves and others. The receiver becomes a giver. Any plan of work that interferes with all three parties involved being blessed, is, at least, partly dead.

Let us now narrow the discussion to institutionalism as the chief source of dead works. Let us have a clear understanding of the term institutionalism. It does not ordinarily mean, and is certainly not here used to signify, merely the doing of work through institutions. The word carries an onus; it is so used here. If the onus consisted merely in working through institutions, that would by implication mean that all institutions were bad. Surely we all think that some things can best be done through institutions, else we had surely better study the question; for we do work through them. On the other hand, I take it that all of us think that all work that can be done by the individual or the congregation and should be so done.

Paul exhorted Christians as they had opportunity to do good unto all men. He did not exhort the brethren to take the easy way out by contributing to a fund to support some other individual or an institution to do the good. He did not put the premium upon paying for good to be done, but doing it. It just happens to be a psychological fact that the greatest dividend from a good work is in the doing of it. It is spiritual suicide for one to hire a substitute to do a good work. The work freely done by Christians is worth more to them than it is to the cause for which they work. It is a potent means of grace, that should never be neglected, when it is possible.

In addition to doing all the good he can personally. the disciple should help support other individuals in going where he cannot go, and doing what he cannot do. If the work is of such a nature that an institution is necessary to the performance of the function, he can help support the institution. When a scriptural institution does a scriptural work in a scriptural way, nobody would think of applying the epithet "institutional" to it; but that term is rather applied to the unnecessary, excessive, and improper use of institutions or organizations to do work that should be done by the individual or the congregation. It is the abuse, not the proper use, of institutions that is called institutionalism. The term churchanity is not given to the act of working through the church; but is rather applied to a false emphasis placed upon the church. It is an excessive resort to the legitimate idea of legality that is dubbed legalism.

By institutionalism, I usually mean the disposition to resort to some kind of organized effort to avoid working personally—the effort to buy one's way out of his duty. When the elders of a church tell the preacher to do all the work, that that is what they are paying him for, they are demonstrating the spirit of institutionalism and of folly. In this instance the preacher is the institution. The elders are treating him as an institution, instead of a fellow laborer in the Lord.

It is better to do work individually or by congregations where it is at all practical, for the following reasons:

1. Misplaced Loyalty

While discussing the trend of this article with my wife, she suggested a caution which had already occurred: "You will have to be very careful, or they will think you are fighting institutions." My answer was: "That is my first reason for wishing to avoid working through an institution when possible." Why this super-sensitiveness about "our religious institutions?" I think it must be because in our subconscious mind we have a notion that maybe they are "ours." People usually get angry more quickly over something about which they have some misgivings. Sometimes anger is a sort of whistling by the cemetery. Also they are prouder of something in which they have a part. Brethren will flare up much sooner and stay madder longer over something that reflects upon a religious institution in which they are interested, than over any aspersion upon the church in general, or of the congregation of which they are members.

When some one calls in question something the preacher has said, the same principle is illustrated. If the point questioned is one upon fundamental teaching, the preacher is not apt to become angry. He may feel sorry for the dissenter; but after all, the matter is plain, and the issue is between the man and God's word. The preacher can be philosophical and serene. On the other hand, if the preacher has indulged himself in a choice morsel of speculation, if he has aired out a pet opinion, it puts a different face on it. Unconsciously, he takes it personally, and appropriately so; for after all his quarrel is not with God's word but with the preacher. The man has stopped investigating truth and gone to fighting the preacher!

Do institutions provide a ripe opportunity for focusing the loyalty of the member upon something visible and close at hand, which should all be centered in the Lord Jesus Christ? Institutions provide an objective for religious pride. Whereas the teachings of the Bible would probably prevent pride centering upon the church itself, the religious institution seems to be the logical objective. Sectarian churches have become so much alike, have so minimized their differences, and their members know so little about their own faith, that about all they have left is denominational pride, and that centers chiefly in their traditions and their denominational institutions.

2. Built upon Failure.

Some of our religious institutions seem to be predicated more or less upon the failure of the church, or the members individually, to do their duty. If our abortive and freak one-man missionary societies can be dignified by the name of institutions, they have used that excuse almost exclusively. Doubtless some congregations have contributed a few dollars to foreign missions, which would not have done so, if the opportunity on a small scale had not been brought to their door. But in addition to being thoroughly unscriptural, wholly irresponsible, subversive doctrinally, the means of building up a faction in the church, and petty nuisances, they have by satisfying the consciences of some churches, turned out to be real enemies and hindrances to missionary work. There are a number of congregations now which individually are supporting more preaching than these societies ever supported through their much-publicized efforts.

It is generally conceded that the best plan for handling orphans is for members of the church to adopt them. That eliminates the constant fight for funds, and imposes no burden upon the ones receiving them into their homes. The financial problem is worked out almost without any noticeable effort, and without any cost of overhead and buildings. The adopting parents feel adequately paid for their efforts and usually cease to regard it as a special act of Christian service, when the children have merged into the family circle. It is the natural, normal way of life, and usually the best thing that could happen for all concerned.

3. The Emergency Permanent.

There is a strong tendency to make the failure in the response of the church to its duty permanent when institutions are started to supply the need. The work of the institution becomes visible and vocal, and the brethren begin to think in terms of the activities carried on there. The churches were satisfied to send their pittances to the field through the so-called missionary who had contacted them. They did not make as much effort to institute a work of their own. The institution thrives and makes a good showing. How much preaching is done since orphanages have become so numerous and efficient to get members of the church to adopt orphans? The integrity of the home should be maintained as long as possible; but the first thing the brethren think about is sending the children to the home. It has led me to wonder whether or not, if when the home first appeared upon an emergency basis, we had spent as much time and effort and money to teach Christian men and women their duty about providing places in their homes for orphans, if the problem could not have been solved that way. Could it not be possible that by being satisfied with the substitute and surely the finest orphanage that can be designed is merely a substitute for a real home--is a case of the good becoming the enemy of the best?

If the orphanages are really essential and it is not likely that we will ever change—then we would certainly not hurl the charge of institutionalism at those who are laboring so earnestly to give the best training to the children under their care. But personally I feel that every brother who does no more than contribute a few dollars to this work, and prefers to have it that way, because it is easier to pay than to work, is himself guilty of the crime of institutionalism, with all the onus that attaches to the word.

4. A Bad Bargain.

Sometimes cheap goods are the most expensive.

The institutional way of work is naturally more expensive; for there are only two working units that charge no fee—the individual and the congregation. Institutions are almost always promoted and maintained by a system that makes the work cheap at the giving end—namely, by small amounts from numerous sources. There is no greater waste of money, nor deader end to religious work than for small amounts to be given by a comparatively strong congregation. The average member of such congregations does not know anything about the contributions. Sometimes the elders do not know where the money is going. Nobody knows but the treasurer who sends out the checks each month. Therefore, it cannot do the church any good which sends it. There is the broken connection, the shortage in the plan of doing good work.

If the work is done by an unscriptural institution, or in a manner not consistent with the divine will, God is not honored. He is left out. If the congregation or individual does not send his love along with his gift, he is not blessed neither is God honored by the giver. And when a church contributes ten dollars a month to a project, and the members do not know that it is being sent, there is nothing that goes but the puny check. It may do as much good to the receiver; but the giver and God are left out. The performance of every Christian duty requires thought and effort. Mere pittances sent without the thought of those sending is nothing but sordid money. It is strictly a financial transaction.

A very small congregation might be conscious of the contribution. It might even be considered a sacrifice in rare instances. And the members of any church could know, and they could go, and see the work, and give something besides cash; but the way it is generally done makes it dead works at one end of the line, and so far as those thus contributing is concerned, it is strictly institutional. It does not mean a thing except so many dollars to those who are receiving it.