In the editorial I dealt with "the myth of the institutional Church," showing that in reality there is no such thing in God's word. It is the result of man's wisdom and doing. This is an indisputable fact, even if most Church people refuse to recognize it because they are so wedded to and dependent upon it. They would be helpless without that institution to order and control their lives, their total service to God.
Let's consider this: If the Church institution should fall or be removed, what are the results? What else goes down with it? Let me enumerate some of these.
(1) The entire clergy system, our hired professional Pulpit Ministers and all other Minister types fall with it. The clergy system depends upon the Church institution. The Church of Christ Churches (institutions) had to come first. With the institutionalizing of the Lord's people into autonomous, independent local Church entities, corporate bodies, the groundwork was laid for the clergy. It is like a leech fastened upon the institution ("the local Church") and derives its sustenance from it. Before the local Church organization was born a few years ago, we did not have the Church employee known as the Pulpit Minister, with his so much preach/teach/minister for so much pay. The institution hires and supports them and makes hirelings out of them (and most of them chafe under this yoke). In the language of our clergy they "preach to and for" the Church that pays their salary. Can you fail to see why "the local Church" organization is so critical of these professional employees? Yes, the clergy system as we have it would fall.
(2) The Eldership or Lordship, the rulers or managers of the corporate body, the local Church institution, will also fall. If there is no organization to manage and control their work is gone! This body of corporate officials manages budgets and buildings, the hiring and firing of corporate employees, and the selection and removal of teachers in the corporate Sunday School. These men are not pastors/teachers nor shepherds or overseers of the flock, the individual lambs and sheep. They would have no organization over which to exert their authoritarian rule. This pecking order will go down the drain. There will be no local "lords," only the one Lord Jesus Christ.
(3) With the removal of the corporate Church, the Church membership ripoff will fall away. There will be no institution to join or in which one can "place membership." The early disciples were not members of anything but the body of Christ, and Paul plainly says that there is only one body (Eph. 4:5). The saints in that day did not hold membership in any institutional Church that directed and controlled their hives.
(4) No longer would the local institutional Church be the repository for your financial contributions; or, any other kind of contribution for that matter. You would not be beat and banged on by the Pulpit Minister to provide the money to pay all the financial obligations of the corporate Church; financial obligations made for you by the ruling lords and relative to which you have no voice or vote. One of the largest financial obligations is the salary and fringe benefits for the various Minister-employees. Can't you see that they have, by the very nature of the whole set-up, a definite self-serving interest in the budget and an increasing revenue. Increasing the corporate revenue usually means an increase in the salaries of the corporate employees who can bring in the "sheaves" like these! You, brother and sister, are the source of the revenue. You must "foot the bills" you do not make. In fact, you likely have no real information about how the corporate income is used!
(5) With the going of the Corporate Church there will go the greatest misuse, the greatest abuse, the biggest robber of your money - the Church Building, Sunday School building, Family Life Center (which should be the home, of course!), recreation hall, parking lot, and upkeep and maintenance of all these worldly items that are wholly unnecessary! In most cases this is probably the greatest financial burden laid upon any group of disciples who have been institutionalized or "local churchized." Many of these investments in cathedrals, elaborate sanctuaries, run into the millions of dollars. It is a tremendous investment in the things of this world! They will all perish with the world and are wholly unnecessary for any requirement of the Lord. Yet one Fort Worth Church institution recently sunk $10 million into a Church institution complex that looks like a shopping mall, I am told. "God, forgive them for they know not what they do." Have they never considered that "the God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything..." (Acts 17:24-25)? The Lord does not need such a place nor does His work depend upon such. Good, honest, God-loving saints have been deceived and the thousands of poor needy are not helped, because our people must have their elaborate "place of worship."
(6) The denominational name, like Richland Hills Church of Christ, will be no more. There won't be any Preston Road Church of Christ corporate entity or institution to wear such an unscriptural, divisive label. There will be no need for a big sign out in front of a building proclaiming that this (building) is the Temple Terrace Church of Christ. The disciples could then be called Christians (Acts 11:26) and not Church of Christers. They will "belong to" the Lord, not the Church.
(7) Also the other leech-like, money-sucking attachments to the institutional Church will fall away, many of them draining millions from the gracious, well-intentioned disciples. First, will be all these institutional Church-sponsored preacher schools, which serve as a part of the incubator system for producing Pulpit Performers. These schools won't be needed to train and indoctrinate the preacher/clergy, for there will be no Church to hire them! The Church schools may find their source of revenue gone, hence they may fail or fall. They should; they are not needed.
Especially endangered would be the larger colleges and universities, like the $18.5-million Church of Christ Seminary at ACU that is gearing up to provide Church institutions with theologically trained Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry clergymen. Since there would be no Church institution to hire, use, and pay these professionals, they likely will have to go to work in something other than "sacred" work to earn a living (and in the business or real world a theologian is about as out of place as a buffalo!)
These para-Church institutions, as parasites, drain off multiplied millions of dollars from honest and good Christians who are led to believe that they are doing God's service in contributing to these human organizations. Saints all over the country are bombarded with pleas and plans ("make a will and leave it all to us") from various schools, colleges, and universities for contributions of money, farms, land, buildings, businesses or whatever. The schools are like the grave, they are never full nor satisfied. In the long-run they are always a curse rather than a blessing, but people never learn.
(8) With the removal of the local Church institution all the fighting and dividing over matters like Church autonomy, Church independence, Church organization, Church work, Church discipline, Church or corporate worship, Church treasury, Church officers, Church employees, Church control and management will be pointless. Maybe then the saints could be at peace. Certainly if all of these non-biblical matters were out of the way, peace and doing the Lord's work would be far easier.
(9) If the Church institutions were no more there would be no fussing, fighting and dividing over which group of local Church institutions make up the one true, loyal, sound, faithful Church of Christ Church; the very one you can read about in the New Testament! There would be no divisions among Churches, as they mark and brand one another, refusing to recognize the other, because the Church institution would be gone.
These are by no means all of the blessings and benefits to the Lord's people if we all had the faith, courage, and knowledge of His word in sufficient quantity to begin to dismantle and separate ourselves from the Roman Catholic institutional Church concept and practice. We did not get in this condition overnight. It was not the result of evil men at work among us! No! But the gradual addition and change here and there, all seemingly insignificant, that in the collective or accumulated form have come together to make the local Church of Christ institution, a corporate entity, with all the appendages necessary for it to become a Church, another denomination among the hundreds of others.
The decision is yours - and mine - concerning what will be done about this underlying problem - the Church institution. Will we recognize this basic root from which all else has grown? Are we willing to "lay the axe at the root of the rotten tree" the tree that bears corrupt fruit? The clergy try to pass it all off as merely some "abuses." That is utter nonsense and it is difficult for me to believe any honest teacher can sincerely believe this. It is not "abuses," it is the ripened fruit of a corrupt, unscriptural concept - that the institutional local Church is based upon some imagined "pattern" in God's word; and the brazen assumption that the local Church, as we have it today is just exactly like what the apostles and early disciples had. It isn't! They had no such institution. You can as easily find all the parts and pieces, the pattern, for any other denomination as you can for the Church of Christ local Churches.
You can wave aside all that has been set forth above as the heresies and radicalism of some false teacher. That is likely the response of most of our clergy if they are required to give a response. They will ignore it if they can, give this "the silent treatment" acting like no one has ever challenged their Church institution. They will not defend it in any honorable public discussion before a gathering of the saints. They do not want this matter stirred at all. You are the beginning place for wise changes, not the preachers. Get some other disciples together in your home and seriously look at the Church of Christ Church as I have identified the matter in the editorial and in this article. Open up the new covenant writings and study for yourself, together with others. God will hold you accountable. Take your time. It is not easy to be objective and honest in examining ourselves and our practices.
What will you do about these vital matters? What I have presented is either truth or error. You are challenged to determine which by an honest examination of the situation in the light of God's word. It is very difficult to be objective about any condemnation of beliefs and practices that we hold dear. It is equally true of the Baptist, Presbyterian, and others; but we expect them to do so if they are to learn the truth about their denomination - that it is from men, not from God. An honest and good heart is necessary as we examine everything carefully.
I beg you, dear brethren, to spend a lot of time considering these matters. It has taken me years, with a lot of help from others, to put all of this together and finally accept what the basic problem really is. If we have a rotten tree that is spreading disease, it will do no good to do a little pruning here and there, merely treat a bad spot. The tree must go! Radical surgery is called for and it is the only solution to keep it from spreading to destroy all else. Be honest. Be cautious. But radical changes must be made - soon.
One more word: I have written in plain, strong terms that will disturb some of you. Some will even think I am unkind, even mean, maybe. No! I am dealing with life and death matters; heaven or hell. I must "cry aloud and spare not," even as God ordered His prophets! Time is of the essence. Our souls are at stake. Please note that in this exposure I did not speak of persons, but of institutions, systems, teachings, and practices! Do not overlook this vital fact. You do know the difference, don't you? These are my people. I love them all, even the preachers. I once stood where they stand. I can empathize with them. I understand their problems. They are caught in the evil web of ecclesiastical, institutional religion.
Wake up. Speak up. Pray - open my eyes that I may see if this be the truth, 0 God!
In the next issue I will write about the benefits and blessings to be obtained with the dismantling of the institutional Church and the realization of individual freedom in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God bless you, dear reader. - CAH.