Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 3, 1951

The Issue Of Institutionalism -- No. I

Bryan Vinson, Dallas, Texas

To institute is to set up; originate, and establish; found; organize; hence, to set on foot. An institution, therefore, would be that which is established and organized. Institutionalism is defined as "the upholding of institutions, of their usefulness, validity, or, in the case of established institutions, of their authority and sanctity."

The issue of institutionalism would necessarily involve either the discussion of the usefulness and validity of a proposed establishment, or the inauguration of an organization, or the authority and sanctity of an existing one. Unfortunately, the first of these courses is rarely, if ever, pursued; ordinarily, men first foster and set in operation some pet project without a prior testing of the scriptural validity for it, and only afterwards (when and if it is challenged) attempt a belated defense of it. Frequently even that defense is lacking, and those questioning the scriptural authority of the organization are either ignored or classed as cranks and trouble-makers. Such a course is not only unmanly, but, when eternally evaluated, is disastrously ruinous and constitutes a flagrant disregard of the apostolic injunction to "Prove all things and hold fast that which is good."

Current Discussions

It is to be fervently hoped that the current discussions on this subject, as it relates to colleges and the formulated programs for preaching the gospel in foreign lands, shall stimulate the brethren generally to think through to a proper and safe position. Especially is there a need for a thorough study of the church in relation to its obligation to the needy and how that responsibility can be scripturally discharged. To such an end are these lines being written. There is certainly no desire to foment any kind of strife, nor to say one single word that will discourage any Christian or congregation from doing the right thing, but rather the desire is to provoke a greater interest in determining exactly what the will of the Lord is, to the end that it can be more acceptably performed.

There are a number of orphan homes now operating under the claimed "auspices" of the church of Christ, and the number seems to be increasing rapidly. The nature of the appeal made by these homes, and the power of their influence, stems from the sympathy which every normal persons feels for the unfortunate. Here, indeed, is a challenge to the generosity of the saints. The potency of the appeal is evidenced by the very general and well nigh universal response by the church in supporting such, and responding to the calls for help. The churches are told that such assistance is the work of the church; and that a failure to respond constitutes a breach of our divinely imposed obligation. Also, (in some instances at least) the world is solicited for support. Business firms, civic orders, and women's social clubs are appealed to. A strange and inconsistent procedure if these institutions are truly the work of the church! Why is the world's support sought and secured for these homes if they are indeed "the work of the church?" If it is the obligation of the Lord's church to establish, maintain, and support such homes, how can anybody justify the practice of appealing to the world for support? I am sincerely interested in an answer to this question.

Papistical Philosophy

The general acceptance which is accorded these institutions by the church is predicated on a papistical philosophy. This may be noted in these particulars:

1. Traditional. We know that with the Catholics tradition is invested with greater authority than the Scriptures. The term "tradition" simply denotes a giving over, a handing down. The merit or demerit attaching to any particular tradition depends on who delivered it, or who handed it down. The Jews made void the commandments of God by their traditions, and so have many others. The Catholics have surely done so in our day. Such weight given to tradition arises from the persuasion that what "my church" teaches and practices must be right, or else it would not be practiced and taught!

Such an attitude is, of course, gross assumption, and the very essence of sectarianism. It creates complacency and nurtures self-satisfaction in a state of religious inertia, regardless of how erroneous the position may be. The present generation of the Christian Church doubtless entertains no misgivings at all respecting the missionary societies and the organ. These things have become "traditional" with them, and are accepted without a moment's hesitation. But on the principle of "teaching no other doctrine" than that of the apostles, and an adherence to the rule of "doing Bible things in Bible ways" a complete repudiation of this mode or reasoning is required. Every generation, and every individual in every generation, is under the most compelling necessity to take nothing for granted; but, on the contrary, to "search the scriptures daily" to see what things are true. To the law and to the testimony we must go, and must ever recognize the pertinency of the query: "What saith the Scriptures?" In our next article we will deal with a second phase of this papistical philosophy: the appeal to expediency.