In the November 1987 issue of The Examiner I discussed plainly "the MYTH of the institutional church" showing that in reality there is no such INSTITUTION set forth in God's word. The local church organization as it exists today is the result of man's wisdom and doing. It is a figment of a blind imagination to think that the Scriptures provide a "pattern" for all the pieces and parts of "the local institution" such as Church of Christ Churches (C of CC) and Independent Christian Church Churches (ICCC) have today. This is an indisputable fact, even if most Church people refuse to recognize this truth because they are so wedded to and dependent upon "the local church" Church members are helpless spiritually without this institution to order and control their lives, their total service to God.
It was made clear that the English word "church" has no justification at all for being used in the Scripture. It is not a translation of the Greek word "ekklesia." The word "church" was retained in the King James Version because King James himself edicted that the translators use it rather than actually translate the word "ekklesia" by equivalent English words like "assembly" "congregation" or "gathering.'' The Greek word "ekklesia" does not mean church as that word was commonly used then or as it is used now. The erroneous use of the word "church" is tragic and responsible for a complete misconception of what the ekklesia of Christ was, and is. This error has led to the widespread religious institutions or denominations of today; of all sorts and kinds. The Church, universal and local, is considered to be an institution or organization; not simply the ekklesia, the assembly -- God's people.
In Part II of the discussion, I considered some results that would occur if the local church institution should fall or be removed. (That issue is exhausted, but I wish every Christian who is concerned and willing to really study these matters, had a copy of his/her own. We will have a hundred or more returned copies that we could send upon request, if you will send a $1.00 donation for it. It will cost us 73 cents just to mail it.)
Among the things discussed were these:
(1) If the local church institution is removed, the entire clergy system, our hired professional Pulpit Minister and all other Minister types will fall with it. Reasons why were given.
(2) The Eldership/Lordship, the rulers or managers of the local corporate body, will also fall. There will be no corporate Church to manage and run!
(3) With the removal of the local organization; the Church Membership ripoff and enslaving process will fall away. You will be free to work for the Lord as His disciple rather than working for the local Church institution! You would belong to Jesus, not to the Church!
(4) No longer would the institutional Church be the repository for your financial contributions; or, any other contribution for that matter. You would determine the use of your contributions.
(5) There would go the greatest misuse, abuse and robber of your money -- the Church building, Sunday School building, Family Life Center, recreation facility, parking lot, and the upkeep of all these unnecessary items having to do with this world, our pride of life and creature comforts.
(6) The denominational name, like Richland Hills Church of Christ, would be no more. The saints would no longer be divided into these separate, independent, autonomous institutions called "local churches."
(7) Also the other leech-like, money-devouring attachments to the institutional Church would fall away, many of them drawing off millions of dollars from generous, financially blessed, well-intentioned disciples. These para-church organizations like Church-sponsored preacher schools, colleges, seminaries, etc. These 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 works of men.
The above should give the new readers some idea of what was presented. I promised that I would write about some of the benefits and blessings that could come to the individual saints with the dismantling and removal of' the institutional Church and the realization of individual freedom in Christ.
(1) There will be a mighty freeing of the SLAVES of the Institutional Church!
Maybe Martin Luther King's refrain will be in order: "Free at last, free at last, praise God Almighty I'm free at last." As things now stand, the disciples "belong to the church" as "members of the church," something about which nothing is said in the Scriptures. Most Christians have no real idea of what it means to be free in Christ; they have always been slaves of the Church and its Rulers. They do not know how to stand on their own feet, spiritually, make their own decisions about what they will do in serving the Lord; how, when, where they will serve and follow Jesus. In current practice, the local Church organization, controlled by the Board of Directors, makes all the decisions, at least the major ones, for all the member-slaves!
The Eldership/Lordship controls everything! You control nothing! You have no freedom in the corporate local Church. The Rulers seek to "rubber stamp" every member into total conformity with their pattern for you. This body of officials run the show, with no questions asked; at least, no exceptions are allowed. The Eldership/Lordship decisions are claimed to be the very decisions of Jesus Christ, whether it is the hiring of a professional Pulpit Minister or paving the parking lot. All decisions relative to the Church and its operation belong to this Board of Church officials. Like the Pope to the Catholic Church, these Rulers stand in the place of Christ to you. You are to obey the Board, as a slave-member, in all its decisions and decrees. You are to report in at the appointed headquarters building, at the appointed times, to do the appointed things in the appointed way, just as this body of Lords have laid it out! You are to submit -- fully. Remember your clergy preach that to obey this Board of Church officials is to obey Christ (do you really grasp the significance of that statement?) and to disobey this local pontificial Body is to disobey Christ! Are you gullible enough to swallow that and bow your heart, will and life to the enslavement to men?
As a Church member, YOU are in slavery to a Church institution under the absolute control of men! If that isn't slavery, then there isn't any such thing as slavery. C of CC member-slaves and ICCC member-slaves need to realize what their situation really is. The Church directs and controls your life and service to the Lord. You are not free. You have no voice or vote in anything. Slaves never have such a right. Your role is (1) to obey and (2) to pay.
The slave has a master! Jesus said: "No man can serve two masters.." (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). The apostle Paul plainly taught: "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men" (I Cor. 7:23). Note that you were bought with a price -- the life of Jesus, so you belong to the one who bought you. Jesus is your Master. No one can serve two masters. You are to receive your orders and directions from the one Lord (Ruler), Jesus Christ. He is the head over all things to His ekklesia, His redeemed people. He never placed the Master role on the Pope of Rome. Neither did He place that responsibility upon any other man nor any group or body of men, even if they do claim that the Eldership has such authority and control. It is another big lie, like the claim of the Pope. Jesus Christ is the one and only Master and Lord. Is He your one and only Lord?
Remember that Paul said: "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey..:' (Rom. 6:16). Consider carefully: When you go forward "at Church" to present yourself for "membership" as a servant or slave, that you are agreeing to obey The Eldership (men), to submit to that rule, to that Master!! You thus become a slave of men and you give up Jesus Christ as your Master and Lord, for He said Himself that no man can serve two masters. You go forward (as the C of CC ritual now requires) to "agree to work under the authority and oversight of the Elders" Did you do that? If so, you are a slave of men! Not Jesus Christ! If you ever were before, you are now no longer a slave -- servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can't have it both ways.
This is the unholy place that the recent apostacy into the doctrines and commandments of men has led people, those who sincerely want to be slaves of Christ. This is what institutional religion will do and necessitates. This is the result that, "the local Church" as an organization, brings upon the Lord's people. It follows Rome, not the Lord Jesus. Can't you see this truth?
You were bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus; do not become slaves of men. If you have done this, and all Church members have done it, even with honest intentions, you must cease being slaves of men and human institutions. Slaves in or to an institution of men is to become slaves of men. Slaves of Christ, Yes! Slaves of men, institutions, or religious systems, No!
Come out of slavery, my people! Give your entire allegiance to Him who bought you (and owns you) with His life. Serve Him and Him alone! Have the faith and courage to come out from the bondage of men.
My prayer is that God will give each of you the willingness and courage to honestly consider what I have presented above. Whose slave are you?
(2) The blessing of individual responsibility. This is vital. The acceptance of the duty and right to make your own decisions relative to serving the one Master. You have His instructions in the Scriptures. You can know for yourself what He wants from you. Available to you is everything anyone can know about the Lord's will for His slaves. Don't allow a body of men, a clergyman, or anyone else to decide for you what you should do as a slave of Jesus. Ask your Master (cf. James 1:5). You have been provided all truth, "all Scripture...profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God (including you, male or female) may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Please consider this: Why do you have to have a hired professional Pulpit Minister (clergyman) to study and decide for you? Certainly we need teachers or pastors to help us learn and understand; but it is your personal responsibility to examine everything carefully and decide for yourself. The clergy nor the Eldership have any right or authority to hand down a "ruling" on what the will of God is about anything.
As a Church member, you have no voice or vote about anything. Your teachers are selected for you. The Pulpit Performer is not your choice. Your role is to submit and obey the Lordship body, to do as you are told. As a member-slave of the corporate organization, you function only as, when and where you are permitted. You do not exercise your own will about anything. You are the slave. You must be "faithful to the Church," which means be fully submissive to the will or rule of men, the Eldership.
The Board of Elders decide what you will be taught and who will teach it. No dissenting or different views will be allowed. The local papacy determines what is truth for the local Church members. Dissenters or non-conformists will be dealt with by being cast out. Remember Diotrephes (3 John 9)? The modern man-devised Eldership/Lordship set-up excels Diotrephes in power and control.
It should be emphasized that exercising individual responsibility is not easy. Many disciples don't want to accept it. They prefer a proxy religion. They are afraid. Today it appears that most Church members have "copped out" for an easier, proxy arrangement: "Let the Church/Eldership do it all and we will just obey."
Remember the Israelites when they came out of the slavery of Egypt? They did not know how to be a free people. They did not like the hardships and responsibilities of freedom. Many of them longed for the leek and garlic of Egypt and wanted to go back. Can you imagine that? One can adjust to a slave role where he merely obeys. Like some prisoners get accustomed to being provided for and will commit another crime to get back into the security and control of the prison.
Paul said that "each one shall bear his own load" (Gal. 6:5). We may reject it, but in the judgment we will account for our failure.
Personal freedom and individual responsibility is the way of growing in grace and knowledge of the truth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18). It is the way to maturity and God-approved leadership so badly needed in our day for the people of God. Leadership is not position-determined, but is character/competence determined! Jesus is the supreme example of such. Though He has all power/authority in heaven and earth (positional authority), He does not exercise any of it in winning disciples or in directing their service to Him. Everything we do must be willing service of our own free will and choice. He forces no one. He wants servants/slaves to be sure, but not for His benefit but for their own! He does not need or want anything from us for His benefit, but for our own. He is our Lord, Master, Ruler, Head, and King, but He is our "suffering servant" in that He gave His life for us. He wins and leads us by service and example. What a contrast to our modern Diotrephes-type of Church Lords/Rulers today, who exercise in full measure the power and control of official position. They are not leaders or servants or teachers or pastors. They are little tin gods, little popes!
Brother, sister, do you really want your individual responsibility, the choices and decisions and actions that come with it? Are you certain? Do you prefer the slavery of the local Church institution where your freedom is forfeited? The choice is yours. But you can't have it both ways; you cannot serve two masters.
If you want your full individual responsibility, then take a look at some obligations as examples:
(a) It would return to the parents the primary obligation for teaching your children the way of the Lord. The father and mother would bear this burden rather than leave it up to the Church Sunday School operation, which is largely a failure in these days. "Fathers...bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). If you are a father and a slave of Christ, that is His order to you! Stop turning your children over to the Church institution, the Youth Minister. (What in the name of common sense does he really know about what he is hired to do? They are young and inexperienced. Some are not married, they have no children. Apparently parents want to shed the responsibility so badly that they will turn them over to anyone who will try to help. It is a shame and disgrace!) God seems to tell us that older saints are to teach the younger saints. Peter said the younger are to submit to the elder (older). But what does God know about it?
Stop turning your children over to the public (or private) schools, the television, the movies, the in-crowd, etc., and get in there and do it yourself. Stop trying to get obedience by bribing them or buying their cooperation. Start early with corrective discipline, even corporal punishment. Stop seeking help from Dr. Dobson and others of that type and seek help and instruction from God's word. What do these modern psychologists and doctors know for sure? They just talk and publish books to make a fortune from frustrated parents who will pay money for some easy shortcut to rearing children. Go to God's word. He has given us all we need. The trouble is we don't like it. Besides, we become concerned far too late.
You don't really want individual responsibility, do you? Freedom isn't so easy after all, is it? No! The price of freedom in Christ is high and demanding. It is too hard and requires too much. You did not realize how "happy" you are in slavery, did you? But, one day you will account to your real Master for your fear of freedom and lack of service to Him.
There is a great need for "Home Schooling" in God's word. That's God's place to do it. But who is going to do it? Fathers are too busy with work (climbing the corporate ladder), fishing, playing golf, keeping the yard, attending club meetings, etc. There just isn't any time left for "home schooling." Mothers are no longer primarily in the home. They have all gone to work -- away from home and family. The hand that is supposed to rock the cradle no longer has time for such trivial matters. Kindercare or the nursery school does it all now. The double-salary is a lure of the devil to weaken the family and destroy the people. Now women constitute about 51% of the work force of this nation and it will increase. So children are neglected, the home deserted, the family scattered, as all seek for more of the things of this world.
Of course, some time is spent in "going to church" or attending what is called "worship services" in feeble hope that this will suffice to please the Lord. It is merely a cheap substitute for what the Lord requires. (Nobody in the Scriptures ever did such things, nor is there any teaching for saints to do whatever these are!) The family is doomed! Things will get worse.
(b) Growing in grace .and in the knowledge of the truth m a lost individual responsibility. Nobody has time for such. In lieu of that the Church slave-members run down to the building one to three times per week to go through the rituals as a cheap substitute for individual spiritual growth and service to others. Sitting in a pew lacks a lot being the same as following Jesus! Besides, the Church institution hires professionals to do this for you with a pulpit speech. Real teaching of the word itself is almost never heard in modern pulpits and not a lot in the classroom. Preachers deliver sermons, punctuated with a good joke or story, mostly generalizing, with a Bible text. It is sad and a poor excuse for teaching that gets the proper results; that is a savor unto life and a savor unto death; that separates the chaff from the wheat. The teaching done won't save the Church, much less reach the lost with the gospel. But the modern Church member/slave doesn't know the difference; especially the younger ones. And the older ones have forgotten what solid Bible teaching and gospel preaching are like. (Yes, there are some able teachers and preachers of the gospel around, but they are more and more the exception.)
As was true of ancient Israel so it is today among C of CC/ICCC people (pewsitters) -- "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" of His word. In every case where this condition prevailed (and it happened over and over), the people of God drifted into idolatry and apostacy. God then had to deliver them into persecution and/or slavery for a few generations to bring them to repentance, clean them up, and turn them from their wicked ways back to Him. In my judgment, God is at work now in the affairs of men to bring about the conditions necessary, preparing a similar fate for His true people and all who profess to serve Him. We are proud and arrogant, selfish and worldly; in love with this world and superficial in our love and service to Him. Jesus described those of this character as religious pretenders, hypocrites, those who "honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."
There seems to be a diminishing number of really committed disciples, who love the truth. They can't be in love with what they don't know.
(c) Personal responsibility for converting the lost. You don't want to do this, do you? You don't have time. You don't know enough to do it. Most Church members don't seem to understand what the gospel is, which alone is God's power to save. They think it has to do with preaching the Church of Christ Church as the true church and converting people to the Church. We send our "missionaries'' to other lands and establish the Church of Christ Church as the way of salvation. Thus they carry all the divisions, troubles and trials of the various brands of US Churches over there and reproduce such sinful conditions and divisions. Preaching the Church of Christ Church has nothing whatever to do with preaching the gospel of Christ and saving souls. Do you know what the gospel is? For sure?
These are just a few ideas about what individual responsibility can mean. There are others, but this illustrates the point, I hope.
There are other benefits and blessings that can come to the saints and their service to their one Master, but perhaps these are enough for this time. I have identified at least eight more; some are very critical. Should I discuss them with you in this paper?
I have written plainly, from my heart, setting forth what I believe to be eternal life-and-death issues. My prayer is that God will bless each of you as you consider carefully what I have offered. It would be encouraging to hear from you. -- CAH.