Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1951

Two Conflicting Concepts


That there are two divergent concepts of the church among the brethren today is by now fairly well evident to us all. Much of the controversy that has filled the papers and the pulpits these last few years has its background in, and draws its taproots from, these differing views. Once these ideas are fully studied and discussed from the actual teaching of scripture, rather than being accepted or rejected from sentiment, emotion, or tradition, we will be much closer to unity and much more able to have an intelligent understanding of why and wherein any differences do continue.

The "Omnibus" Concept

One of these concepts might properly be called the "omnibus idea" of the nature of the church. It is expressed in the simple declaration, heard fairly often these days, that "A Christian is a member of the church twenty-four hours a day; therefore, whatever a Christian may do, the church may do; any cause to which a Christian may contribute money is a cause to which the church may contribute; since the Christians in any given community constitute the church in that community, when those Christians act in concert, it is the church acting."

This idea seems fairly simple, and, on the face of it, rather reasonable. Growing out of this concept, one of our most prominent writers and preachers has signed his name to a proposition affirming that the elders of a church, as God's stewards, have the right to use the church's money in support of "any righteous cause." He had particular reference in that proposition to the matter of church support for colleges, and orphan homes organized under a board of directors apart from the elders of a congregation. But presumably (and certainly logically) he would defend the right of the churches to support a summer camp for boys, a hospital, a recreation center for young people, a Prohibition Association, WCTU, YMCA, YWCA, or any one of a score or a hundred other "righteous" causes. For a thing to be "righteous" simply means that it is "right, just, not sinful." And it would hardly be argued that any of the above named things is "sinful" within itself.

The "Specific Charter" Concept

Opposed to this "omnibus concept" of the church is what might be called the "specific charter" idea. This view holds that the church is given a specific, well-defined mission on the earth; that that mission can be comprehended under the three headings of (1) evangelism, (2) benevolence, and (3) edification; and that she is limited and restricted from any kind of work which does not come specifically within the scope of her mission.

The "specific charter" concept of the nature and mission of the church might be summed up in the declaration that "The church is adequate. She can do everything God wants her to do; her full and complete mission can be accomplished through the church, acting as the church, and there is no need nor place for a missionary society, a benevolence or charitable society, or any kind or character of organization separate and apart from the church."

The article by brother G. K. Wallace (front page, this issue) sets forth this concept with particular reference to the orphan home question. We commend it to a very careful reading, for we are certain it is solidly based on scriptural foundations. Opposed to this picture of the "Church At Work," working as the church, would be the building and operation of huge benevolent institutions such as the developing "Childhaven" in Alabama and the two million-dollar (per a recent auditor's estimate) Boles Home at Quinlan, Texas. Such mammoth institutions, collecting thousands of dollars from many hundreds of churches, as well as seeking and accepting support from the world, are certainly not "the church at work" in any proper use of the phrase.

The "Institutional" Problem

Here, then, is the background of the whole "institutional" problem. It is a clash between two conflicting views of the nature and character of the church. One view holds that the church, as such, can and should support "any righteous cause." The other holds that the church has a definite, specific, well charted mission on the earth, and that she can spend her money for no cause which does not fall within the scope of that mission—and neither can she attempt to accomplish that mission itself through some society, organization, or institution separate and apart from the church.

This second concept of the church recognizes that there are many activities which are right (or "righteous") in which the individual Christian may engage, but which are not the work of the church. Individual Christians may establish schools for the education of their children. These schools may teach every branch of learning: agriculture, art, chemistry, electronics, botany, metallurgy, history, astronomy, medicine, literature, or any other desired. Such schools, owned and operated by Christian men, will certainly make some provision for the teaching of the Bible—in exactly the same sense as a Christian farmer will use whatever opportunities he has, or can make, for teaching the Bible to the men who may work on his farm. But this is the work of individual Christians, acting as Christians; and the building and support of a college does not fall within the scope of the mission of the church. However "righteous" may be the cause, it is simply not the work of the church to undertake it.

We believe there are abundant and clear teachings of the scripture that will bear on these matters. The Guardian for some months has been seeking to point out the pertinent passages, and to show their application to present conditions. Articles by brethren Welch, Parish, Adams, Lewis, Otey, Wallace, Tallman, DeHoff, and others have dealt with these matters. We expect to publish further articles from time to time, and will welcome contributions from both sides of the issue. In full, honest, and open discussion of a brotherly sort we can achieve unity. The pages of this journal have been open, and shall remain open, to that kind of controversy.

— F. Y. T.