"This heresy is best briefly described as 'Individualism,' in that its adherents deny that the Lord has ordained an organized collective functioning of His people, and they exalt the individual."
Does the above statement mean anything to anyone? It means little to me and I'm supposed to be an adherent! Come to think of it a lot of clergymen (preachers) are doing their best to make a rather simple matter too complicated for the average member to understand. The clergy has always endeavored to make it (Bible) complicated... during the middle ages the Scriptures were written in Latin that only preachers (clergy) could understand. In the 1950's and 1960's "cooperation" was a mystery that preachers could not explain without a series of complicated charts. Many of today's preachers write in their own form of Latin (a kind of clergyease) for the same reason...knowledge is power...if Christians can interpret the Scriptures for themselves they have little need for a pulpit preacher doing the work of elders and members. These pulpit ministers would be forced out of the comfort of their air conditioned studies into the highways and byways to actually preach to the lost.
What I am fighting is the idea that the church of Jesus Christ is a Corporation-like Organization. (Like AT&T or General Motors.) Consider a few corporation-like characteristics of many modern "churches of Christ".
Corporations are impersonal. They show little concern for the individual. Did you ever get the feeling you are just a number when trying to get the phone company to respond to a problem? Ever get one of those impersonal recordings: "I'm sorry but the number you have dialed is not in service at this time...". "Churches of Christ" match this impersonal (anti-individual) attitude. One congregation in central Indiana was hit by a natural disaster...a tornado tore through town leaving Christians homeless, without food and proper clothing. An appeal was made to a corporation-like church in the Indianapolis area for immediate aid. The response came back: "I'm sorry, today is Monday and the Elders [board of directors] can't meet until Wednesday to consider your request." Who helped these Christians in need? Other individual Christians who saw an immediate need and relieved it without waiting for the corporate machinery to begin its slow creak toward movement.
Corporations have an organization or chain of command. This chain starts with a Board of Directors who in turn select a president who handles day to day operations. When I was a student at Florida College, Jim Cope was president and often made the statement that he "served at the pleasure of the Board of Directors." The Board has the power to hire and fire. "Churches of Christ" also have a chain of command. The Elders serve as a Board of Directors and preachers are their employees serving at their pleasure. (Preachers want to deny this fact and claim they are not the employee of the Elders, yet who hires? Who fires them?) How often will a preacher move into a new work and claim he made the move because he saw a great opportunity to reach the lost and exhort the Saints. Yet, when a few months later the board of Elders fires the preacher, does he stay to preach to the lost in the area where he saw the "great opportunities" or does he go look for another "preaching job"? Preaching has become a job like any other job.
Preachers are given varying amounts of autonomy and power by the Elders. Their basic area of responsibility is numbers. The numbers are contribution and attendance. If these numbers show an annual improvement then the Board of Elders is pleased; too many negative numbers and the preacher is history. This is no different from a corporation like Chrysler. How did Lee Iacocca obtain his job? The previous president of Chrysler posted too many negative numbers. The real emphasis in spiritual realms is missed and the church becomes a corporation.
Corporations are created to limit liability. If Ford Motor Company makes an unsafe car like the Pinto, the officers of the corporation have their personal assets (homes, cars, savings) protected. The assets of Ford can be taken, but not the personal assets of the officers of the corporation. The corporation is responsible, not the individuals who are part of the corporation.
This same theme of limited liability is in the corporation-like organization of many "Churches of Christ". The members feel that it's their responsibility to pay into the collection but they are not responsible for how the money is spent. Their liability is limited as members...its the Elders who will be held accountable for how the money is spent. If there are needy Christians in central Indiana and the Board of Directors refuse to help them, then members feel they have limited liability, they are not responsible.
Corporations have their place in business but they do not belong in the Lord's business. Jesus exalted the individual by dying for the individual so that the individual could have eternal life. Jesus cares so much for the individual that "the very hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:30-32). Further, Jesus will judge the individual not the corporation. There is no limited liability. "But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother, or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of God" (Rom. 14:10). The individual will be judged…not a corporation-like church!
Finally, if the lost will be reached, it's the individual who will do it...not a corporation-like, AT&T-type organization. We sing: "Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way; He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how he died, He has no help but our help to bring them to His side." And yet we are allowing "Corporationism" to lull us to sleep and leave us feeling smug that we've done all we need to do after attending and dropping some money in the basket. "Corporationism" serves Preachers with money, Elders with power and Members with a feeling of security that all is well. God's word says that God will hold me (the individual) accountable as His servant and not as a member of an organization. If people are to be helped, relieved and taught I best get out and be about my Fathers' business.