Preachers from the "Institutional" and the "Non-Institutional" C of C, Churches gathered in Nashville, Dec. 1-3, 1988 "to discuss their differences." Probably as many as 400-450 preachers came from all over the country. The so-called "non-institutional" preachers outnumbered the "institutional" preachers by three or four to one. Why? Well, I suspect that I could pretty well tell you, but I won't do so now.
The "non-institutional" label or description is interesting, and it is inaccurate. Both groups are "institutional" in the same basic way. Both believe in "the local church" institution; and that institution is the all important institution in their belief and practice. Here there is no fundamental difference. Both factions are institutional! The non-institutional faction is opposed to doing any of the local church institution's work through any other organization save the local church organization. In their view, the only organization or institution through which the local church organization can do its work is the local church institution. The other faction thinks that it is scriptural for the local church institution to use other organizations or institutions through which to do the work of the local church organization. Understand? This difference, along with some other somewhat sideline issues, alienated and divided these brethren into at least two groups of institutional churches, called "institutional" and "non-institutional." This is a case of man-designed institutions (local church institutions) dividing over the use of other man-made organizations. Keep in mind that all forms of institutionalism originated with men. The Lord Jesus did not build or authorize a corporate institution of any sort of kind.
Both factions claim to be the one true, faithful church institution; the exclusive one! This is especially true of the so-called "non-institutional" sect. They have marked and branded the "institutional churches" as digressive or apostate church institutions. Hence, these faithful, sound 'Non-Institutional" church institutions can have no "fellowship" with the "Institutional" local churches. Well, that's their position, except in the special meetings where the preachers (the clergy) of both groups are the only participants!
It is interesting that if for three days these preachers/clergymen could "officially" (when they call a meeting, it is official!) meet together, pray together, sing together (and the singing was indeed fabulous!), study God's word together, fellowship one another, treat each other as acceptable brethren, and even take up a contribution (on a day other than Sunday), it does seem that they should be able to practice the same all the time and everywhere. Don't you think so? If they can do it for three days, surely they can do it for thirty days, or thirty years. Or, was it right just because it was an assembly ("church") of preachers? Yes, for three days they had a "church" or assembly of preachers. And every preacher there well understands that that assembly or "church" of preachers was NOT an INSTITUTION or corporate structure like the local church institution of today. Yet during that time they engaged in four of the sacred "five acts of worship" and could have observed the Lord's Supper had they stayed over for Sunday; and this would have all been fully scriptural, just as the early saints did it as recorded in the divine record. They did not have any local church institution or corporate structure, simply an assembling or gathering of disciples.
Incidentally, the taking up of a contribution created some concern and chagrin after it dawned upon some what had occurred--a contribution taken up spontaneously from generous disciples on a day other than "the first day of the week." Apparently some felt guilty (of sin?) and embarrassed. More money was needed, but in deference to those "weak in the faith," they decided not to pass the "plates" to the assembled disciples, but to get the money from individuals, one by one. This is legalism and a distortion of the teaching of the Scriptures "gone to seed." It would be funny if it was not so sad, so pathetic.
For three days these preachers engaged in three of the prescribed "five acts of worship" and on one day these good hearted brothers engaged in a fourth one - taking up a contribution. Maybe they should have gone all out and had the Lord's Supper at the Thursday evening gathering as the Lord and His disciples did it. They would have been following an "approved example" for certain. And surely, surely none of the preachers can believe that Jesus and His little company constituted a "local church" institution! Some of these preachers preach that "approved examples" like Acts 20:7, are "binding examples" or law, but somehow they refuse to consider the example of the Lord and the disciples observing the Lord's Supper on Thursday evening. Are saints allowed to follow this example? If not, why not?
I was there for the entire affair and am thankful that I could be there for several reasons. These are my people, my brethren; and many of them I have known and loved for many, many years. It was so sad to me that they approached these studies from their fixed positions; with their minds firmly, set. They tried to cover too many topics and did not give serious study or exchange on any subject. It appears that nearly everyone left with the same opinion he had when he arrived. Apparently it was the consensus, expressed publicly and privately, that nothing of real value was accomplished. They will each go back to continue as he had been doing, working within his faction or sect. When will we realize that you can't unite church institutions or corporate organizations? Scripture says absolutely nothing about such a thing. Let us learn that it is NOT our responsibility to establish or arrange UNITY among the Lord's disciples. The Lord has already handled that in His death. Wherever God has a child I have a brother or sister. We are all members of the same family. We have all been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We "are all ONE in Christ Jesus! Oneness or unity is already in place, provided by the Lord. Our responsibility is to "keep" or "preserve the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:1-6). As children of the one Father, can't we learn to "preserve" the unity the Lord has provided?
The unity of the Spirit was seen demonstrated for 3 days in Nashville. These preachers, my brethren, were able to accept and treat one another as brethren for that time. They were civil and nice to one another even while pressing their views. Isn't that amazing and wonderful? If they can do it for three days, why can't they do it all the time? They preserved or kept the unity of the Spirit for that time, surely they can do it all the time. We absolutely MUST learn how to differ on some positions of teaching, even arguing or debating them, and yet remain loving brethren, accepting each other. It is downright inconsistent, if not hypocritical, to do this wonderful thing for three days, and refuse to do it except in agreed upon spurts like the "Nashville Preachers' Meeting."
It is very interesting that this whole affair was instituted and carried out by preachers, the clergy. It was not the work of an Eldership or of elders, who are said to be the chief overseers and rulers of the local church institution and all its activities. This should tell everyone who looks at this three-day synod who the real "power brokers" are in these church institutions.
My appraisal of the meeting is that little, if anything, was accomplished toward resolving differences or removing the alienation and division so that they can all accept one another and work together. Each one expressed his views on his assigned subject. It seems to me that it would have been far better if they could meet on a far less formal basis, perhaps with fewer divisive subjects, and discussed how to resolve the differences or how to work together in spite of them. Here again we see the evil of the local church institutions. Here is the main problem. For three days these brethren had fellowship one with another, but to bring about fellowship between humanly-spawned local church institutions, that are said to be independent and autonomous is an utter impossibility. Being independent and autonomous absolutely precludes such and keeps God's people divided from one another. Can't you see that?
All these brethren are able and competent and they did well in their presentations. In my opinion, Calvin Warpula made the most informative and best delivered speech of all. He delivered a powerful, Scripture-based lesson. When he finished, the audience was "stunned" at what they had heard and the force of it, seemingly not able at the moment to fully comprehend what they had heard. I want a copy of that speech and I urge you to get a copy. - CAH