Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 23, 1969
NUMBER 37, PAGE 6,9c

Identifying "Issues"

Wallace H. Little

In the current fight over institutionalism various individuals from time to time have redefined the issues concerned in order that all might clearly understand what these are. This is good because without frequent reminders it is only too easy to become misled into wasting a lot of energy, effort and no little heat on a subject which at best, is only of secondary importance. By allowing ourselves to be diverted from the primary issues we are also allowing the liberals both to avoid answering the main points under dispute and time in which to persuade others to follow them on the basis of highly emotional (and untrue) charges such as "he would let a little baby starve because he wouldn't take $.25 from the church treasury to buy milk but he would take $25.00 to buy fertilizer for the church lawn." I have never met the Christian who so believes, nor do I believe anyone else has, either. Nevertheless, diversionary tactics, especially on emotional but secondary issues do tend to take us off the main points. I fully agree that these issues ought to be clearly understood and that redefining provides for this.

But what are the main points? Most conservative brethren of my acquaintance generally hold to the following:

A. The local church may not take money from its treasury to support (build and maintain) any secular organization, be it for "the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, or the edifying of the body of Christ" or for any other "good" purpose.

B. Local churches may not combine their resources under the oversight of a single eldership.

C. The one allowable instance of one church receiving assistance from another or others is when the receiving church has a physical responsibility to its own members and is unable to satisfy this requirement with its own resources.

D. The only pattern for congregational support of a preacher is for this support to go directly from the supporting church to the supported preacher, whatever the means of its going.

E. The mission of the local church is limited, generically speaking, to the things outlined in Eph. 4:12.

F. That where our liberal brethren have violated any of the principles outlined above, they have "gone beyond what is written," and thus "have not God."

In classifying the "saints only" position as one of secondary importance, however, I would like to suggest that perhaps we may have made it easier for our ultra-liberal brethren to implement projects which as short a time as 10 years ago would have caused even the strongest liberal an uneasy stomach. It is doubtful that the downgrading of the "saints only" position has been solely responsible for this mushrooming of "way-out" projects but I believe the lack of consistent emphasis may have contributed to it.

Take a quick glance at Mission. This is a monthly published in Abilene, Texas, under the editorial board of Walter E. Burch, Roy F. Chester, Hubert G. Locke, Thomas H. Olbright, Frank Pack, J. W. Roberts and Roy Bowen Ward. Such a glance is startling. It brings the jolting realization that these men, their staff writers and other contributors have elected to involve the local church in the realm of social uplift with as much journalistic enterprise as they can muster. I have before me every issue since publication started. Each substantiates my charge. Mission does not represent just a "lunatic fringe" — its circulation is already large for a new (18 months) publication. If it meets the current plans of its editors, it will soon rival the circulation of the Gospel Guardian. In a brotherhood not known for its support of religious periodicals, this is remarkable progress indeed.

I have a letter from one of the members of the editorial board. In it he denies that Mission has a "position" as such on any of the institutional issues so disturbing God's church today. He insists that the positions expressed in each presentation are necessarily those of the individual writers. This evades the point. On the inside front cover of each number, a short short outlines the central theme. The contents make broad implications that the local church has a specific responsibility in the area of social involvement and improvement as one of its primary functions. This theme is fully developed in the writings which follow. Such articles as "No Tears For Absalom," "The Morality of Civil Disobedience," "Christianity's Last Frontier," the exaltation of the religious sectarian theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and N. Gordon Cosby as well as other articles which imply that "there are Christians in other denominations" and "don't you think that we Church-of-Christers are a little narrow in our one-church viewpoint?" underline the direction of this monthly. If the editorial board of Mission does not have a "position," it is a more than passingly strange editorial policy which will permit printing of material in basic conflict with the concepts of the editors, and not even challenge the conclusions presented. Or else, the board agrees with these.

What does Mission, its editors, their beliefs and the material they publish and the philosophy they push have to do with the "present issues," including the "saints only" position? Simply this: the door through which social involvement of the local church enters was a denial of the "saints only" position relative to the benevolent work of the local church.

On the premise that "if your enemy writes a book, buy it" — do so, and see if your conclusions are not the same as mine. The first and most basic step which must be taken before local churches can be persuaded to become "involved with social improvement" is a rejection of the Scriptural concept that the benevolent responsibilities of the local church are limited to saints, and its own at that.

This is why I believe the "saints only" position is one of the important issues in the present trouble and should be treated as such.