Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 1, 1956
NUMBER 42, PAGE 8-9a

Observations Concerning Human Benevolent Institutions

Bill Cavender, Cooper, Texas

The controversy over institutionalism and the "sponsoring church" type of cooperation has raged for many years. Issues are being discussed and debated that were discussed a hundred years ago by brethren and a casual reading of the arguments then will convince anyone that the same digression that troubled brethren then troubles them now. While the controversy has centered mainly in the field of evangelism, it has been recognized that whatever principles apply in that field of scriptural work also apply in the field of church benevolence. If it is right for churches to do their benevolent work through human institutions such as Tennessee Orphan's Home or Boles Home, it is also recognized that it would be right to do evangelistic work through a human institution such as the missionary society. Yet, brethren have generally rejected the society as being unscriptural, but continue to uphold Boles Home and other like institutions under a board of directors as being scriptural enough for churches to support. Likewise, it is admitted that if one church and its elders can scripturally "oversee" a program of evangelism involving many, many churches, then it is scripturally right for one group of elders to likewise "oversee" the benevolent work of many, many churches and aged homes, orphan homes, hospitals, colleges, etc. All would be scriptural if under the eldership of a local church.

This conflict over these questions has brought forth many unique positions and departures from previously held positions on the part of many. Some time ago an elder of a Dallas church told this writer that there never should have been an issue made of the missionary society, that the society was nothing for brethren to fuss about and divide over. He had been driven to this thinking by his efforts to uphold human institutions being supported by churches.

Brother Reuel Lemmons, editor of the Firm Foundation, has been another anomaly in the current controversies. He has entered the discussions since he became editor of the Firm Foundation a year ago and now he spends about half of his editorial space writing about the issues. As yet he has not touched side, bottom, top, inside or outside of the issues involved. He has not correctly stated the issues nor correctly represented his opponents in his writings. In my candid judgment no one has done any more puerile or sophistical writing concerning these issues than he has. My impression is that he is trying hard to straddle the fence and leave the impression that he is in favor of and endorses all the institutions and promotion schemes of the brethren.

In the Gospel Guardian of April 21, 1965, there is found a letter that Brother Lemmons wrote to Roy Cogdill. He informs Cogdill in this letter that as a high school kid, he (Lemmons) cut his teeth on the "Institutional Orphan Home" issue, the kind that has a board scattered all over the country; that he taught then that such a set-up could not be defended; that he hasn't changed his mind about it since; that all this was twenty years before Cogdill even knew there was such an issue. To me this letter was most enlightening. Why didn't Brother Lemmons ever publish it in the Firm Foundation? Why doesn't he now tell his readers that the "Institutional Orphan Home" with a board scattered all over the country cannot be defended and tell them WHY such cannot be defended? Why doesn't he tell his readers in an editorial if there are such institutional homes among us now and warn of their unscripturalness? If there are no homes in existence now, will he tell his readers how an institutional home would have to be organized and what it would have to do before it would be unscriptural? Will he make a list of those homes operated by brethren and churches now and tell us which are scriptural and which are unscriptural, which he can defend and which he can't? I don't believe Brother Lemmons has the courage to write against any "Institutional Orphan Home" which he says cannot be defended. Were he to do so, many of his institutional-minded readers would be most offended.

But Brother Gayle Oler, irate superintendent of Boles Home, says in effect that Brother Lemmons is all wrong, that the "Institutional Orphan Home" with a board scattered all over the country, is the only kind that can be defended. That's the kind that Boles Home is. Brother Oler is on record as saying that benevolent institutions under elderships are unscriptural. Hear him: "This basic, inevitable fact must be remembered: when the elders of the church place in their budget the care of the fatherless children, and provide an allowance therefore, the money for the care of such children must be sent to some home, public or private, where such children are kept; and that home, whether public or private, must have no organic connection with the church . . . There may be a contractual relationship between the church and the home, and their sympathies and interests certainly are alike in the desire to care for the fatherless, but the home is not an organization within the church nor of the church; nor is the church an organization within the home nor of the home. Organically, they are two separate things. The elders of the church never collectively ruled over any home in the New Testament. They rule the church. Their office is a church office. Their province and spiritual habitation is the church. When they rule anything other than the church as elders they have left their proper habitation. In their individual capacities they may rule their businesses, and their own homes, directing their financial, social, recreational, educational and physical affairs. But neither God nor the congregations expected them to oversee anything but the "flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops." (Acts 20:28.) They were to "feed" the church, oversee and direct the spiritual work." (Boles Home News, Nov. 25, 1954.) Again, he says, "Boles Home is not an organization within the church, nor of the church. There was never any organization under the elders of the New Testament church except the local congregation. We believe that the simple New Testament arrangement must be held inviolate. Private homes, hotels, radio stations, children's homes or anything else that render service to churches of Christ must retain their status as separate organizations, and that is where Boles Home stands." (Boles Home News, Feb. 25, 1954.) And again, "An institution or facility serving the church, or doing a good work as the church's servant, is under no obligation to prove itself "scriptural," authorized in the scripture as to organization, origin, or practice, i.e., hospitals, utility companies, banks. Even so as of orphan homes. Elders of the church never ruled over anything but the church of Christ in their capacity as elders. As "head" of their houses they ruled their homes, but they were not "elders" over their own homes or any other homes. They may have been "owners" of businesses, "directors" of corporations, "heads" of their houses, and "elders" of the church all at the same time, but that did not mean that their businesses, corporations, or houses had any organic connection with the church, were a part of it, or that the church was a part of them." (Boles Home News, Oct. 10, 1956.) From the above quotations, we learn that Brother Oler condemns the "sponsoring church" homes, makes room for human institutions under a board, and that he believes that his type of institution is the only one in harmony with scriptural principles. But Brother Lemmons thinks that this is the kind that cannot be defended. Wouldn't it be fine if Brother Lemmons and Brother Oler could and would debate their differences in the Firm Foundation?

The 'Gospel Advocate these days also presents a strange patchwork of articles justifying church support of all institutions and sponsoring church arrangements. The ace writer of "Old Reliable" used to believe that only benevolent homes under an eldership were scriptural and that to contribute to a college from the church treasury was wrong, but now all kinds of orphan homes, aged homes, colleges, hospitals, etc., operated by brethren are scriptural and worthy of church support whether under an eldership or under a "board scattered all over the country." The Advocate has justified human institutions and sponsoring church set-ups by the following methods: (1) Greek professors, traditional views, and sectarian commentators; (2) they come under the rule of expediency; (3) the examples of church cooperation in the New Testament are actually sponsoring church arrangements, although it isn't too apparent in the English Bibles but is found in the Greek; (4) Brother Warren's involved system of human reasoning and profound logic (?); (5) any who would dare to question these institutions and sponsoring church arrangements are hobbyists, ignoramuses, guardian boys, trouble-makers, factionists, anti-cooperation brethren and absolutely destitute of the milk of human kindness. The last point, number 5, is about the only one of the five that most of the human institution and sponsoring church brethren are agreed upon. So the Advocate teaches that Brother Lemmons and Brother Oler are both wrong, that there is no cause for argument for the Advocate decrees that all institutions and sponsoring arrangements are scriptural.

If the institutional-promotin', writin' brethren could ever get together and make up their minds how their institutions can be scripturally justified, and present the scriptures that teach it, it might help to enlighten many of the "guardian boys" and cause them to no longer be "ignoramuses." As it is now, if these brethren don't get together and present a common argument, many of us are going to get confused, a state of mind that has already violently afflicted one ardent Advocate, Firm Foundation and Boles Home supporter, Brother Tillit S. Teddlie. However, most of us knew Brother Teddlie was confused before he just confessed up and admitted he was. A little more scripture and a little less human reasoning on the part of these brethren would go much farther in convincing all of the scripturalness of the brotherhood projects, and of bringing about the unity of God's people.