Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 17, 1954

The Church Versus The Individual

Robert C Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

Those who contend for the church support of human institutions are using the specious argument that the church can do anything which the individual may do. Sometimes they even go so far as to say that anything the individual who is a member of the church does the church also does. Occasionally they argue from the viewpoint that if there is only one Christian in a community he composes the church in that community, hence everything which he does the church is actually doing. Those who exercise care in the statement of their premise are not so loose in their expressions. Many have been known to make a similar argument, but representative of such statements is the following from a church bulletin of February 14, 1954, by W. L. Totty:

"Allow me to say again as I have said many times in the past that there is not a man living who can show by the New Testament that it is right for an individual Christian to do anything as a religious act and yet wrong for a whole congregation of Christians to do the same thing. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for a tree is known by his fruit.' (Matt. 12:33)"

End Justifies The Means

He does not describe the specific application to be made of the passage quoted; but it is presumed to be applied to the theory that the end justifies the means. He implies that the passage teaches that if an individual (the tree) does a good work (the fruit) that the same good work can be done by the church; and that if it is a good work the church must be good which does it. If that be a correct application of the passage, the Baptist Church is a good tree because it supports colleges and orphanages. Actually, though, the passage does not refer to the church, it refers to individuals (see the context). He makes a general premise of a statement which is specific. He has yet to prove that the church may do what an individual may do. He must prove that this passage applies to the church as well as to the individual, and that it teaches that every good deed justifies the means used in doing it. In the statement he attempts to force others into affirming a negative. He must remember that he has the affirmative position; that is, of proving that it is right for the church to do anything which the individual can do.

A Religious Act

What is a religious act? He wants to limit the things done by either the individual or the church to religious acts. Would it be possible that if some individual action were pointed out which the church is not to do that these proponents would say such action is not religious? He fails to define the terms used. In the absence of a definition by him, surely he would accept as religious acts those acts which the New Testament commands or those for which there is an approved example in the New Testament. Necessary inference is not included here because there might be some discussion as to whether it be a necessary inference, and such will not be needed in this study. Examples will now be given of some acts which are taught by command or example which are individual but not church action.

Individual Acts

There is a passage which speaks of one's "following every good work." Some of those things are enumerated, but notice that they are required of the individual, even the kind of individual is specified. One verse only is quoted here: "well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath washed the saints' feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work" (1 Tim. 5:10). Washing of the saints' feet was one of the things required of this widow for this special enrollment by the church. Will Brother Totty say that this action can be engaged in by the church? Some Baptist and Holiness groups are known to make this a church ordinance. His proposition must praise their action, unless he decides that it is not taught in the New Testament for the individual widow to perform this act, or unless he limits his definition of a religious act so that this act is eliminated from that category. If he does the latter, then he also will have eliminated relieving the afflicted, for this is also one of the requirements. My, my, what a dilemma! Some of the things mentioned in this verse are required of the church; not because they are required of the widow here, but because they are required of the church in other passages.

Peter says to the elders of the congregation, "Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight . . . ." (1 Peter 6:2). Surely no one will deny that this is a religious act on the part of the elders. This "tending" and "oversight" is to be done in the church, it could not be described as action outside the realm of religious service. But the tending and the overseeing is not the action of the church, it is the action of the elders. Here plainly and specifically is a religious act which is not the action of the church, but is the action of individuals, the elders. The only way that it can be made a church action is for the church to have a pure democracy with every member an elder; a thing which would be rather hard for a proponent of church supported institutions to justify.

Women are taught to refrain from teaching or ruling over men; "But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness" (2 Tim. 2:12). If this is a religious requirement, then the advocate of the doctrine that the church is to do everything which the individual does will have to advocate some kind of Quaker meeting. These individuals, the women, are to be in quietness in such assemblies, surely this does not mean that the church will have to be in quietness; yet that is exactly the position which must be taken if we assume the premise that the church is to do everything which the individual does.

In obedience to the specific command of the Lord parents are to chasten their children, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Presumably the advocates of the doctrine being discussed in this article would insist that the church come around and give the child an application of the "rod" when the child needs it; for they say that the church can do anything which the individual is to do.

Is it possible to separate anything from religion which the Lord requires and say that one duty is a religious act while another is not a religious act? Who has the authority to be the judge? One of the fundamental principles of reading is to see to whom the matter is addressed. If the Lord addresses a precept to individuals let us accept it as applying to individuals, and if addressed to churches let us observe it. The examples given above may seem ridiculous to some, but they have been selected from a vast number, which could have been used, in order to show the absurdity of the argument. The champions of church supported institutions will need to find some better arguments than this to convince people that the church is not sufficient for its work.