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Question #79

What are anti-institutional congregations of the church of Christ?

Can you tell me what you know about “anti-institutional” churches and preachers. I am trying to educate the brethren here in my home town.

The Answer:

The issue about which you inquire was the cause of a division among churches of Christ a number of decades ago. A number of debates between brethren were conducted in the early to mid-fifties. It dealt with the extent to which and the manner in which local congregations could cooperate in the preaching of the gospel and the support of missionaries. It may be an overstatement to say that the Herald of Truth radio program and the manner in which it was supported were at the heart of the disagreement, but it doesn’t miss the mark too far. It would at least have qualified as the “poster child.” The Herald of Truth was supported by many congregations, each of which exercised its autonomy to deciding to support the program by sending money to the Highland congregation in Abilene, Texas. Highland exercised its autonomy is overseeing the program. Congregations that objected to the manner in which Highland conducted the program or what was taught on the program, could again exercise local autonomy by ceasing support.

Those who opposed this type of cooperation among local congregations contended that II Corinthians 8:13-15 was a binding pattern that governed when one congregation could send money to another and the purpose for which it could be sent.

“13 For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; 14 but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality: 15 as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack.”

Of course, these verses deal with the Corinthian collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The conclusion was drawn that a church that could afford it could send to another, but for the purpose of equality, i.e., that the poor congregation, like the congregation with abundance, might not be in want. The accusation was made that for one or more congregations to send to one congregation for the purpose of preaching the gospel was unscriptural. This was especially so, it was contended, when the receiving congregation was not needy, or, if it was, it was only because the congregation had chosen to inaugurate a program in excess of what it could afford on its own. A parallel was drawn between the “sponsoring church” and the Missionary Society that had played a role in the division between churches of Christ and what became the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A primary difference overlooked was that the Missionary Society was not the church. Once the funds were released to it no church had the oversight of what was done. No elders were involved, unless individuals who ran the society just happened to be elders. That would not matter, of course, since they did not run the Missionary Society as elders. Such an institution beyond the church and above the church clearly contradicts scripture.

Another aspect of the movement was the manner in which mission work was done. It was contended that churches could support missionaries, but that it could not do so by sending money to another congregation that had the oversight of a missionary. Each congregation that wished to support a missionary could only send money directly to the missionary. It was considered unscriptural to send it to the church for which the missionary labored in the mission field which would in turn pay the missionary.

The New Testament does not contain binding patterns in these matters. Those who bind patterns are binding laws that God has not bound. No divinely bound pattern can be ignored; no non-apostolic humanly bound pattern should be enforced.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)