Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 28, 1951
NUMBER 9, PAGE 10-11a

Institutionalism Vs All-Sufficiency

James W. Adams, Longview, Texas

In a previous article, the "all-sufficiency' of the church of God was discussed and the conclusion reached that: "The church of the New Testament as God made it possesses an organization perfectly adapted to, and wholly adequate for, the accomplishment of the mission with which God has charged it." This article proposes to show how that "institutionalism' antagonizes the all-sufficiency of the church of the Lord.

Institutionalism, What Is It?

The word "institution' means: "That which is instituted.' The verb "institute' means "To set up, erect, establish, appoint,. to form and prescribe.' The word "institution" is, therefore, more fully defined as: "That which is prescribed, appointed or set up. An organized society, established either by law or by the authority of individuals, for promoting any object, public or social." The suffix "al" means: "Of, belonging to, or pertaining to." The suffix "ism" means: "A doctrine, theory, practice, system, or principle; the abstract idea subjoined to that signified by the word to which it is subjoined.' The term "institutionalism' means, therefore, "The theory and practice of many with reference to the erection and maintenance of human societies through which the churches of Christ operate in the performance of their divine mission.'

The New Testament Church Is The Lord's Institution Through Which His Work Is To Be Done

Though the Bible nowhere calls the church an "institution," it can be seen from the definition given above that it is in the sense that it is an organized society, set up, established, appointed for specific purposes. The church was set up by divine authority, endowed with a divine organization, and charged with a divine mission. We have shown in a previous article that the divine organization of the church is all-sufficient for the accomplishment of its divine mission in the world. It has also been established that the church of the Lord is congregational in organization—each congregation being independent and self-governed, amenable only to Christ, his law, and the oversight of its own elders, bishops, or pastors. The church of the Lord, therefore, must accomplish its mission through the local congregation and its God-ordained organization. The local congregation being the only authorized unit of organization, it follows that any work that binds together two or more congregations in any sort of an organization is unscriptural. It has been said many times, and it bears repeating that "any organization in religion larger or smaller than a local congregation is unscriptural." If a church must operate through human institutions in the performance of her divine mission, her all-sufficiency is indicted.

Institutions Antagonize The All-Sufficiency

The estimate of the nature and power of any institution reflects upon its creator. Our estimate of the church of God, discernible from our teaching and practice concerning it, reflects favorably or unfavorably upon its creator. There are at least two ways in which we can reflect upon God in an unfavorable light with reference to our attitude and practice concerning the church. (1) We may concede the dignity and power of the creator of the Church, and yet in our teaching and practice deny the sufficiency of its object or purpose. Some do not even grant that the church has a specific, well-defined mission. Only a few years past there were some of our own brethren asking in the papers, "What is the work of the church?' This is as much as to say, "She does not have a God-ordained mission.' Others seem willing to grant that the church has a divine mission set forth in her divine charter, the New Testament, but in their teaching and practice deny the sufficiency of her mission. Such reflects upon the wisdom and benevolence of Jehovah. If it be granted that the church has a divine mission set forth in a divine charter, she may not participate in any activity not authorized by her charter without engaging in an illegal operation. In law, the specific purposes of a corporate organization are set forth in her charter. Any business transaction by such an organization that is not specified in its charter is an illegal operation. There are churches that either endow, subsidize, and support institutions for secular educational purposes, publishing houses, hospitals, and recreational activities, or else endorse the right of the churches to do so. It is conceded by some of the most institutionally minded among us that these activities are no part of the mission of the Lord's church. Brother G. C. Brewer denies vehemently, for instance, that the operation and support of such institutions as David Lipscomb College and Abilene Christian College, can "come within the scope of the mission of the church." Yet he, and others, defend the right of the church to endow, subsidize, and otherwise contribute to such institutions. This involves such persons in the unenviable position of affirming the scriptural right of the church of God to engage in activities that are no part of her divine, mission. In so doing, she would vitiate her charter and manifest contempt for divine law. I personally, am willing to deny the right of the church of God to participate in any activity not authorized by the New Testament as a part of her mission in the world.

(2) One may concede the all-sufficiency of the mission of the church of the Lord as revealed in the New Testament, and by teaching and practice deny the all-sufficiency of her organization in the accomplishment of that mission. Such reflects on the power, genius, justice, and wisdom of Jehovah. We all recognize that the mission of the church of God as set forth in the New Testament includes (a) evangelism, (b) edification, and (c) benevolence.

With reference to evangelism, the all-sufficiency of the organization of the church is indicated by those who establish, support, and work through the Missionary Society. These churches and persons concede the worthiness of preaching the gospel to the lost of earth, but deny the ability of the church as God gave it to preach it unto all the world. Hence, the society is established to make it possible for the church to fulfill her mission. Some in recent times have brought into being a new species of cooperation called the "sponsoring church' which is but an embryonic missionary society under another name. The elders of a local church become the official board of a missionary cooperation through which many congregations operate in the preaching of the gospel. Churches surrender their funds to the board of elders who plan, oversee, and accomplish the work. In principle, such an arrangement is not one whit different from the missionary society. They are the same in every essential feature. Divest each of its abuses and they are Siamese twins. Brethren, do we oppose the Missionary Society on the ground of the principle involved, or the abuses that have attached thereunto?

Concerning edification, the Christian college stands in the minds of many between the church and edification. A few years past, the right of churches to contribute to the colleges was defended and urged on the ground of "the conserving influence' of the college. Others urge such on the ground that "it prepares our preachers,' or "furnishes the church with her elders.' Others urge that it is "authorized by the great commission.' Thus the all-sufficiency of the church of God is indicted. Churches must operate through colleges to fulfill the divine mission of edification, and to insure the perpetuity of the church. Such would make the perpetuity of a divine institution dependent upon the existence and work of a human institution. Divinity thus would bow to humanity, and divine wisdom would sit at the feet of the wisdom of man.

With regard to benevolence, churches operate through orphan homes, old folks' homes, etc., operate under the control and oversight of an institutional board made up of members of various contributing congregations. It is very difficult to understand how that some brethren justify the churches doing their benevolence through an institutional board and condemn the churches doing their evangelism through an institutional board. Why is it scriptural to perform one phase of the mission of the church through an institutional board and unscriptural to perform another phase in this manner. One is just as unscriptural as is the other. Both antagonize the teaching of the New Testament concerning the all-sufficiency of the church of God.


In conclusion, let it be noted that there is nothing wrong with human institutions in and of themselves. They are wrong when they propose to do the work which God has ordained for the church. They are wrong when they become adjuncts to the church, auxiliary organizations. It is wrong for the churches to endow, subsidize, or support them from their treasuries. Such institutions are scriptural and proper when they do not propose to do that which is exclusively the work of the church of the Lord. Christian colleges, publishing houses, hospitals, etc., are scriptural and defensible when maintained and supported by individual Christians; they are indefensible when they are established and supported by the churches as such. Why not put such institutions on the scriptural and defensible basis and leave them there? "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.' (Eph. 3:21)