Dear Brother Holt,
I have read with great interest the first four issues of The Examiner. At various times, I have also questioned many of the things contained herein.
As I have thought more about it, I have realized we need to differentiate between the Lord's Church, meaning the people belonging to Christ, and the church institutional corporation labeled the "Lord's Church."
Let's look at an example. You and your staff, as Christians, are part of the Lord's Church. But in order to further what you believe to be the work of the Lord, you and others have formed an institutional corporation called, "Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc." Thus, you believe there is nothing wrong with members of the Lord's Church organizing themselves into an institutional corporation for the purpose of accomplishing a certain task. Also, a large percentage of the Lord's Church membership is in some way or other a part of some type of human institutional corporation - either as a white or blue collar worker. In fact, in our present-day society, it is almost impossible for any sizeable group of people to accomplish any task together without incorporating themselves. For example, a group of Christians cannot buy and hold any real estate property without incorporating into an entity with a name. We cannot have all the separate names of, let's say, a 300-member congregation on a deed! If we did, then what would happen to each individual's right to ownership when families moved away and other families came in? There would be all sorts of legal battles and utter chaos. Thus, our laws of the land have created the separate entity called a corporation. The "corporation" owns the church building, pays the preacher, and meets other expenses.
But here is where I believe our brethren have made two basic errors. First, in their actions, they have labeled the local church corporation a divine institution, and have thus failed to differentiate between the true Lord's Church (people) and the merely HUMAN organization of the local church corporation - which the Lord's true Church merely operates through to accomplish its group purposes, as opposed to each Christian's individual responsibilities before God. And second, due to the first error, many of our brethren have elevated the local church corporation to the status of the Old Testament Temple, when it should only be equal to the Old Testament synagogue. I believe these are the two basic errors in our thinking and actions.
Yes, the true Lord's Church, meaning the saved people of God, IS indeed a divine institution. However, the local church corporation is only a divinely "okayed" human organization - NOT a divinely commanded one! There is a big difference. If our so-called secular corporations are not also divinely "okayed," then members of the Lord's Church who are a part of those corporations are committing a sin. So, there is a big difference between God's permissive will and His direct commands. Therefore, just as it is not a sin for us to work for, or have stock in, General Motors; and it is not a sin if we DO NOT work for, or have stock in General Motors, so it neither is a sin if we do or if we don't belong to a local church corporation. It really doesn't make any difference to God one way or the other - just as long as we keep in mind that our church corporation is only another human organization, and we don't go elevating it to the status of the O.T. Temple.
It seems our brethren have confused the church corporation with the Lord's true Church. Many believe that when one is saved through baptism, one automatically becomes a part of the corporation as well as a part of the body of Christ. But here, our denominational friends are more correct than we are because they believe one can be a member of the body of Christ separate from the local church corporation. Therefore, they ask people to "join" their corporation after presumably becoming saved. But the churches of Christ are more like the Roman Catholic Church in that they believe salvation and becoming a member of the local church corporation are one and the same thing.
As a result of the previously mentioned errors in our thinking and actions, we have developed a clergy system within the churches of Christ; and the elders, while supposedly "shepherding the flock" have actually become the Board of Directors of the local church corporation. Therefore, it is time that the brethren separated the truly divine institution of God's people from the purely human institution of the church corporation. From Matthew 18:20, Christians CAN obey the Lord and be saved without belonging to ANY church corporation if they do not desire to do so. But most brethren now believe active participation in a church corporation is a requirement for salvation. If one is not active in said corporation, one is judged as being "unfaithful to the Lord." But in truth, one may still be faithful to the Lord - but just "unfaithful" to the corporation, that is all. And just being "unfaithful" to a human corporation is certainly not a sin in God's sight. Our salvation is not in the local church corporation - it is in Christ! Our brethren keep forgetting that in their thinking and actions. - From a brother in Florida.