Are Non-Institutional Churches Right?

“Non-institutional” churches do not support institutions other than God’s institutions of the church and the home. Are their convictions merely opinion or necessary to following Christ? The sincere convictions of these churches and their Christian examples are admirable and encouraging. However, are some of their beliefs wrong? If any such brethren are reading this, this author pleads with them to reconsider.

Where is the Authority?

Non-institutional churches are right in so many things regarding salvation, baptism, worship in assembly, and elders in church organization. However, the leadership of these churches need to reexamine the use of scriptural authority for consistency. They ask, “Where is the authority?” A worthy and necessary question for things for which God has specifically addressed, but misleading otherwise if God has given liberty.

Regarding things that God has specified in His Word, they are right that Christians need biblical authority. However, God’s specific authority does not extend beyond anything that God does not address in Scripture. For example, God gives no authority for driving cars to a congregation’s building. “Non-institutional” congregations do not need authority for using websites and using PowerPoint presentations in the assembly for which they use. To the non-institutional churches, God’s authority does not apply to what God has not specifically addressed in Scripture.

When is authority not needed? When God does not specify how Christians are to accomplish a command, then there is freedom. When the Scriptures have not given any specific instructions, this leaves liberty. Otherwise, when specifics are given in God’s Word, then Christians must observe these instructions completely. When considering worship in assembly and church government, Christians must have God’s authority. Why? This is because God has given specific commands regarding assembly and polity. Therefore, one must care to not include matters of liberty and expediency by misapplying the necessity of authority.

Posing the question, “Is that authorized?,” can go beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). How? Consider: Where is authority in the Bible to teach the Gospel using projectors? There is none. Why do Christians have no problem with a projector that God did not authorize? Because the Bible has no specifics on how believers display the words of Truth, but God blesses Christians when they do. What about the use of codex books and not scrolls? Where is the authority? The first century church initially used scrolls until the use of the codex. There is no authority for this change, and yet no one judges the non-institutional churches for using books without scriptural authority. Christians are free to choose unless God specified otherwise in His Word.

Ask for authority all day. However, disputing over authority about subjects that God did not specifically address is avoidable. Such disputes are unfruitful and distracting. The authority of God’s Word does overcome the traditions of men. Adding incense to prayers, prayers to the dead, and sprinkling and pouring for baptism are wrong for adding to God’s Word (Gal 3:15; 2 John 9). Yes, unauthorized worship is wrong, because God has specified the true worship that God authorized. Unauthorized church government is wrong, because God has specifically authorized Christ as the Head, and He established elders over individual congregations. Unless the aim is to cause many divisions by a neglectful misapplication of biblical authority, then all Christians must plead for authority according to what God has spoken. Christians must speak the oracles of God and nothing more (1 Pet 4:11).

Are Sponsoring Churches Wrong?

One of the doctrines that non-institutional leaders consider a sin is giving financial support from one congregation to another congregation who would deliver that support unto missionaries and other workers. According to “non-institutional” leaders, churches must give directly to missionaries and to needy Christians, and never pass their giving through the hands of any other congregation, organization, or person. They find that giving to other churches through another church to missionaries is to give authority to another congregation to govern these missionaries like a missionary society. They find that some congregations have made themselves into missionary societies that bypass the authority of other church elders. This is true if passive elders turn their oversight over to another eldership. The non-institutional brethren are right that missionary societies are not scriptural. Missionary societies do bypass the autonomous government of churches. If a missionary society were simply a group of missionaries, then this would be of little concern, but rather these missionary societies are most often boards who circumvent church autonomy and govern missionaries. These also neglect the personal fellowship between congregations and missionaries.

A valid plea of “non-insitutionalism” is that a congregation could act as a missionary society, and so one eldership could bypass the elders of other congregations. Yes, this is wrong for any eldership or board to govern the work exclusing other elders and churches. This would is an unscriptural hierarchy and denominational in practice. However, this is not always the case.

Some non-institutional church leaders accuse other churches of doing this too hastily. Let Christians not hear a charge without two or three witnesses (2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19). However, no such practice is prevalent. Where are the testimonies and accounts of such abuses? Have elders given to other churches whose elders pass their gift to a common missionary? Yes. Does doing this give one eldership a higher authority over another? No. Have these supporting elders who give to another church also given up their oversight and any personal relationship with the missionary? No. This is all cooperation between churches. Is such cooperation scriptural? What does the Holy Spirit of Christ say in His Word?

Sending financial support by cooperation with other congregations is practical and less expensive. Most importantly, this practice is scriptural. The churches of Galatia (1 Cor 16:1), the churches of Macedonia (2 Cor 8:1), and the brethren in Achaia (Rom 15:26) all worked together having their collections gathered together and delivered to the church elders in Jerusalem for needy saints. They did this all together. This is something that “non-institutional” churches do not practice and believe this is wrong, because this would either support a central church, person, or group of people as an “institution” that could bypass the oversight of elders of other congregations. However, church cooperation is scriptural.

Some “non-institutional” leaders are misleading by propagating such a law. If “non-institutional” churches existed in the first century, these “non-institutional” churches would have a strong disagreement with the Apostles and these sound churches for supporting an unauthorized institution through the apostle Paul and other messengers of the churches who operated as an “unauthorized institution.” They would have also considered this practice as error among the church at Ephesus, the churches in Judea, or any central congregation who received or oversaw the delivery of this support as a “sponsoring church.” This would also mean that the church in Jerusalem was a “sponsoring church” when other congregations in Judea received support through Jerusalem. Were any of these first churches bypassing the elders of other congregations? No, they were simply cooperating.

Were the churches in Judea “sponsoring churches”? These Judean churches received help in their famine and these churches oversaw its distribution (Acts 11:29–30). On this occasion, which elders determined who got what support? Were elders in Judea bypassing the oversight of other elders by receiving the blessing of all the elders of churches throughout the world?

The later giving to Jerusalem for which 1 Corinthians 16:3 shows the church at Corinth participated with the churches of Galatia to send money by approving of someone to go with Paul for delivering their gift to Judea. Was Paul another “unauthorized institution”? Was he bypassing the elders? This cannot be! Furthermore, if when Paul received support from congregations for his work and shared such with other Christians who helped him like his scribes (Tertius, Luke, or Sosthenes), messengers (like Epaphroditus), teachers (like Apollos), and those he trained (like Timothy); would Paul have then established an “institution” contrary to the church of Christ? No. Would giving to Paul and his fellow workers support an institution contrary to the church? No. Would he then have bypassed the elders? No.

Anyone could label any other person’s organization for Christian service as an “institution.” This is the overt fault of “non-institutionalism.” God did not authorize such behavior. Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul sent Titus with another man chosen by the churches. Were these men sponsored messengers and their home congregations “sponsoring churches”? However, the churches employed such men as the “messengers of the church” (2 Cor 8:23). Did this bypass the elders of other churches when each church selected a messenger? No. Congregational support can pass through the care of others even when they organize, and yet this is not making any person, group, or congregation an unauthorized institution that bypasses the authority of an eldership, which is something that all Christians must oppose.

Is Institutionalism a Sin?

“Institutionalism” is a broad term and ambiguous to concisely define. Non-institutional leaders teach that there is only one institution of God, the church (maybe two including the home as an institution). They assert that churches bypass the authority of elders when they support any organization of Christians or an individual Christian within the organization serving in benevolence, evangelism, education and, or training preachers. 

Non-institutional churches refuse to support from their collection an organized group of house parents, counselors, and managers that make up a home for orphans. These churches refuse to support an organized group of teachers, evangelists, and preachers training students, who form a school, college, or university. Instead of generally giving to an organization, these churches give only directly to such people who may work independently from any such organization. There is nothing wrong with their giving like this, but this is their opinion and wisdom, which if bound upon other churches excludes them from fellowship. These Christians are very generous and often do support these institutions from each person’s own giving.

“Institutionalism” is an invented sin in contrast to the Scriptures. First, God has established His greatest institution of the church (Mat 16:18; Eph 3:10–11), but this is not His only “institution.” God’s first institution was the home (Gen 2:24). Should the church not aid needy Christian homes? Should orphans have a Christian home? Second, the churches that work together to support Christian efforts like teaching and caring for orphans are scriptural. Third, supporting an organized group of Christians is not wrong as seen in the Scriptures. Fourth, when Christians work together in the church, this is a good thing and scriptural too. Fifth, elders should still know who they are supporting and that they must have a say in overseeing in whatever financial support for which their congregation gives.

Should There Be “Christian” Schools?

Now, the non-institutional church leaders ask, “Where is the authority for ‘Christian’ schools?” They mean this in two ways. They do not believe in supporting such organizations by congregational support, and many do not believe in calling such an institution “Christian.” However, these Christians do support such schools as individuals apart from the church collection. There is nothing wrong with such convictions until these opinions divide Christians. All Christians on all sides of these issues should sincerely consider Romans 14.

What does the Bible say about schools? The early churches supported the apostle Paul to teach in the school of Tyrannus for two years (Acts 19:9–10). His teaching in this school was to convert and to teach Christians. Paul was rightly supported by congregations, and yet he was not usurping the authority of elders. He was evangelizing, making disciples, and most likely training others to become teachers (cf. 2 Tim 2:2). Who was supporting those who were training? Would Paul have used his support from churches to support his students or must congregations and individuals give directly to each student? Does this mean that congregations could not help needy students except individually and by their parents? No. Those who supported Paul supported those who he trained.

A school is simply an organization of teachers instructing and training students, and such a school often includes other people who are necessary aids to the teachers and students. If Christians compose such an organization for the education of Christians to teach a trade or for the training of Christian preachers and teachers, then the adjective “Christian” does describe them in their organization. This is reasonable and scriptural for the word “Christian” to describe disciples of Christ in an organized labor.

Should Christians Eat in the Church Building?

As strange as this may sound, many of the non-institutional leaders find that kitchens in church buildings are unauthorized, and yet they accept bathrooms and baptisteries. The Scriptures authorize none of these, and yet these are not unauthorized either. Some of these churches refuse to fellowship congregations who have inherited a building with a room large enough to serve others and provide a place of fellowship. While there is no reference to churches purchasing their own places of meeting from the church collection, non-institutional churches reject this practice of building rooms for “socializing,” which others call “fellowship.”

What is wrong with a congregation using the kitchen that they have inherited or purchased in the building? Is there anything wrong with a congregation building a room for Bible studies and other meetings? This is not unauthorized. What would be wrong in eating in such a room outside the assembly? What would be wrong in having the supplies and appliances available to prepare meals for those in lengthy studies and labors of the church? Must those laboring around the building leave the building for every meal when Paul did not in Acts 20. Can they not do a day’s work without returning home, going out, or stepping off the property to eat a sack lunch? Why cannot needy Christians eat on the grounds apart from such “unauthorized” kitchens?

If eating in the place of the assembly in wrong, then someone should have told the apostle Paul when he ate his own meal at the meeting of Christians in Troas (Acts 20:7, 11). There is apostolic precedent to eat in such a place. However, Christians are not to eat a common meal during the Lord’s Supper or in the assembly (1 Cor 11:17–34).

Also, remember that Paul taught that the Lord’s Supper is not a common meal or a meal to feed one’s hunger. The Spirit of Christ spoke through Paul saying, “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is filled. […] But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come” (1 Cor 11:21, 33). These are the Scriptures used to condemn eating together in the meeting room of the congregation. Yes, outside of the assembly, they broke their bread together in their houses (Acts 2:46), and yet Paul ate in this meeting place of the assembly.

The non-institutional churches quote the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:22, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Assembly of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” These Corinthian Christians were shaming the assembly. The Corinthian Christians should have eaten their common meals outside of the assembly and not eat the Lord’s Supper for hunger and to fill themselves with drink. However, contrary to the non-institutional churches, this first-century occurrence has nothing to do with eating in a room of a church building outside of the worship of the assembly.

When any of these congregations need something, they often do not object to doing so through their preacher’s pay. Why not provide housing for the preacher with a large room and a large kitchen? Then the congregation could eat together, and these churches would see nothing wrong with this. However, this is the same thing that the churches with kitchens are doing when they provide a place for the ministers to eat and the church to fellowship. According to them, churches are not authorized to build a building on the church’s property where someone might eat and socialize unless that place is the minister’s home.

Those who say that the church had no buildings for meeting besides houses should reconsider. They met in synagogues (Jas 2:2 ASV; cf. Acts 18:7–8; 1 Cor 11:22, 34), halls (Acts 19:9), the porch of the temple (Acts 2:46), and upper-rooms, which were culturally for festal gatherings, funerals, and more (Acts 20:7–8). Upper-rooms were places of eating, and yet that room or the home below had a kitchen. It does not matter where Christians worship according to Christ as long as they worship in spirit and truth (John 4:20–24).

Should Christians Share with All from the Church Collection?

In the Scriptures, needy Christians received help from the collection. This is true. The non-institutional churches would say that the collection is only for Christians. However, their leaders contradict themselves allowing visitors to come into shelter, protection, and comfort their buildings provided and maintained through the church collection. In the Scriptures, visitors did come under the shelter of the building of the churches of Christ (1 Cor 14; Jas 2). Visitors to non-institutional churches use their roofs, walls, bathrooms, air-conditioning, heating, carpet, pews, songbooks, lighting, projector, and so on, which they purchased through the congregation’s collection. However, will they give them food or water purchased from the church collection? The visitors, who believed and were baptized as unsaved, enter into their baptisteries to rise saved in baptisteries provided by the church collection! Christians used the collection of the church to help the lost, but the Scriptures do limit this help (1 Tim 5).

The non-institutional congregations also aid God’s institution of the home through individual foster parents while objecting to helping house parents of an orphanage. This is because these house parents are a part of an organization or network and are not working independently as foster parents. Some even admit that their collection cannot go to help orphans, because these children are not yet Christians and may not have Christian house parents. This is not an accusation that these Christians have the heart of any Pharisees, and yet this does appear to many as the Pharisees’ Corban in Mark 7:10–13. The Pharisees refused to help their own parents, because they claimed their money for giving was given to God.

What does the Bible say about helping non-Christians? Second Corinthians 9:12–13 says,

For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while through the proof of this ministry they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all. (emp. added)

However, some Christians understand that this passage is referring to specific saints in Judea and the reference to “all” includes all Christians and not all people.

Suppose a non-institutional church survived a storm and God blessed them to purchase their own water tank with their collection. Would any surplus go to waste in the front of their building while others are in need? Would the church not give to their neighbors because the church believed that they purchased the water from the church collection. Could not the members take their share and give it freely to their neighbors and in doing so demonstrat the glory of Christ? Could they not have taken their individual shares and given that to an individual Christian to give to their neighbors? “Non-institutional” convictions would not allow them to do that. This is the end of result of such practices maintained consistently. These churches share their building, air-conditioning, and water in their bathrooms with their neighbors before they would give disaster relief via water purchased by their collection. What a shame and a waste of goodwill! For these churches are tender-hearted and kind caring for others, but their beliefs restrict them.

Other man-made laws include not helping Christian orphan homes and Christian elderly homes from the church collection. They only help if they are able as individuals. However, this is the purpose of the church collection to do what individual Christians cannot do alone. This means not supporting their own brethren in need by the collection when believers or unbelievers care for them in special homes. Their hearts are kind and generous in this, but they do their own harm.

Would they think the Apostles would have hesitated to have aided widows living together and cared for by organized caretakers? The Apostles did not have much problem caring for widows neglected from the “daily distribution” in Acts 6:1, which distribution came from the collection. Acts 4:34-35 depicts, “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” However, according to the non-institutional churches, helping organized Christian caregivers from the collection is wrong; although, doing so supports their elderly or orphans. They believe that one should only help from one’s own income as God blesses them. This is how they apply and observe James 1:27, which reveals, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit [look after] orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

A few among these congregations believe that the congregation should not have Bible studies in their building outside of the gathering of the whole congregation. In other words, they do not have separate classes for children. Not all of these churches believe this, but some do. They are right that the assembly should include the whole congregation (1 Cor 14:23), but this does not exclude using the building for other studies and other works. Is it a waste to use a building two or three hours for one day a week? Many of these congregations look down on Bible studies called by other names like “VBS,” “Bible School,” “Ladies’ Day,” and “Bible Class.” This is because the descriptive names for such Bible studies are not verbatim in the Scriptures and may sound denominational. These names simply specify the different kinds of studies for the evangelizing the world and for the edification of the church. Christians should use other terms without denominational similarities, but this does not change the scriptural work of studying together and with all people. From the beginning of the church, there have been different studies for children, for women, and for evangelism (Titus 2:3–5). However, many object when a name is given to the study. Would they have not referred to these studies in specific ways when the women gathered for teaching or when the children regularly gathered to learn the words of Christ? Again, an inconsistent misuse of biblical authority supports these conclusions; although, the New Testament gives freedom.

How are Non-Institutional Churches Right?

Church collections do have limits. Those who do not work do not eat (2 Thess 3:10). The Scriptures teach that widows are first helped by their family and then by the church (1 Tim 5:16). If Christian widows are first helped by their family, then would this not apply that all Christians first seek aid from their family? This is the principle behind this Scripture, “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Tim 5:4). “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). This is how Christians are to honor father and mother. Christians are to show piety and support to their own families first.

Why would some easily give money to needy unbelievers before caring for their own? The collection should aid the family of God before unbelievers. The congregational collection should first be distributed to needy Christians like those in the first-century famines and true widows in constant distress. At the same time, this does not mean that churches, who are able, cannot show charity to their denominational, unbelieving neighbors, and their families from their abundance after they have served their own. No need to write large checks or give cash to the denominational preacher or the atheist around the corner, but rather Christians can give a cup of water, a bag of food, clothing, or shelter to everyone whether as an individual or if need from the collective support of the church. Giving to the lost and unbelievers is not the primary purpose of our collections, but the purpose of the collection is for the needs of the congregation, the needy in the congregation, needy Christians throughout the world, the church’s evangelists, and then to all. This is where non-institutional churches are right.

One minister personally observed thousands of dollars going to handouts among the community in Christian love, and the people of the world never considered the gentle invitations to come to Christ. They never stepped through the door on the Lord’s Day to hear the Gospel of Christ that compelled these Christians to give to them in the first place. In fact, he found that may find that many resented the faith of these Christians who sought first the kingdom of God and God added all their needs to them (Matt 6:33). Christians must become or remain stewards of the collections. There is a priority for the collection to first support the saints. In observation, Christians would be better to give from collections to the needy saints that they may thrive and then give to unbelievers out of one’s own pockets. Those unbelievers would more likely consider the personal charity and faith of individual Christians and disregard mass distribution from a church to no gain for Christ.

Should These Matters Cause Division?

Let the non-institutional churches have their convictions and work by the wisdom that God has given them. May God bless all Christians to become humble and love one another so as to cause further study. However, noninstitutionalism is a position confusing many believers. This writer encourages all to continue to lead by their generosity, example, and pattern of right giving. Whether intentional or not, noninstitutionalism appears misleading, divisive, and false in its premises. For this, this writer pleads with them to reconsider. Likewise, may all Christians consider further biblical ways to give and maintain the church collection. May no one push “non-institutional” believers away as “legalists” or “antis.” May God help all Christians so that there are no divisions among the church.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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71 Responses to Are Non-Institutional Churches Right?

  1. Rudy Schellekens says:

    This seems to be an OLD discussion. The question that keeps coming up in my mind? If we truly believe in the autonomy of the LOCAL congregation, why should this even be an issue?
    Authority? Really? So many things are done in both groups that has no biblical authority. Treasury – show me a passage that “authorizes” it.
    OWNING real estate? Where do you find that passage?
    PAID preachers? Nowhere to be found. Missions- yes. Supporting the needy, yes. But paid preachers? Nowhere.
    “Sips and pinches” to celebrate the Lords Supper? The EXAMPLE is in the context of a meal.
    And yet – we all want to claim “authority.”
    I am familiar with a congregation from the NI persuasion, and regularly assemble with them. Impressed by the generosity of the members, practicing what they preach. When a member is in need, they dig into their individual billfolds and provide.
    So what if they don’t think you can eat in the building? That is not what our faith is all about! Let them believe and act on that.
    I’m a member of a congregation which supports three missionaries – and a children’s home. A congregation where about an average of 15% of the funds go towards helping those who are in need, and where much money is donated apart from the budget to help needy.
    I KNOW I can find clear and obvious references in scripture for those. In both congregations God is honored by what members do for those who are in need.
    As a member of the one congregation I have no business judging the other. A sinful rift was torn. Based on PERSONAL preferences, not on biblical principles. As such, we should repent of such behavior. It is not my place to condemn a part of Gods family (Who are you, to judge the masters servant?). I may disagree with the conclusions. But the needy are provided for in either congregation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. larry suttle says:

    The NI folks of whom I am familiar will not use their buildings even for funerals or weddings. The authority matter as is exemplified above by ozanark is typical. It is a bottomless pit and an endless road when taken to the extreme which it most always is by the person who knows well the arguments which he obviously does. All the while the unbelievers and denominations mock us! More tragically people are lost. I wonder what does the Lord think as he approached all such religious questions in such common sense ways and in such human-need ways such as the Sabbath controversies. — Larry

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sigmund says:

    Thank you for the respectful and honest way you handled this issue. Though we differ in our understanding on this issue, you have earned my respect in being respectful yourself, and intellectually honest.

    First off, I for the most part agree with your assessment of the problem of authority. Whether we call something general authority and the necessary expediencies to accomplish such or authority with liberty, it is really the same thing. We are commanded to preach, and without further command, we preach using the tool set that works. It is helpful to remember that part of the word that we are to follow was left in the examples recorded, not only in the commands left for us. Even if examples of the church are less black-and-white, they are no less binding (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6).

    In light of this, the question must be asked: What is the New Testament example for using church money? And following that, how specific are these examples?

    The way the church was to gather funds is a case of positive example, by way of command by Paul to churches, especially the Corinthians. Because this example is specific, gathering in other ways would be adding wrongly.

    The operational control of funds was to be conducted by the church. the unit of governance is the church under the oversight of the elders (you can nuance this in little ways saying “the elders oversee the money” or “the church does, but the elders oversee the church”) but the point really is the same. The church is responsible for the money it raises. So far, I believe we are agreed.

    We begin to differ in considering how a church can allocate their funds.

    First is the issue of “sponsoring churches” you addressed. Looking at the evidence in the passages you listed (paragraph 3 of the section) the picture is not readily painted of churches “cooperating” as you said it. Those passages do not completely eliminate such as a possibility, but they do not show us a example of such cooperation. What they do show is an example of an active Christian (Paul) asking churches to support needs saints elsewhere. The cooperation in the terms you were expressing was between Paul and the churches in these passages. Further, the example of the money being disseminated throughout Judea is of little worth, as we do not have any data on how that was done. You can speculate that it was done through a major church in Judea (like Jerusalem), and I can counter-claim that it was done by being sent to the churches or people directly. We don’t know how exactly it happened.

    However, lets look a little more at 1 Corinthians 16:3. There, in a passage where Paul is calling on the Corinthians to support needy saints, Paul does not suggest that he should carry the money. Rather, Paul calls on them to select their own representative to go and deliver the money, perhaps going with that person, perhaps not. That seems like Paul is making sure that the control of the Corinthians’ money stays under Corinthian hands.

    Further, since we have an example of sending money by such a representative, which can be interpreted as a specific form of any means of using money in a direct, controlled-by-the-church fashion, anything that does not fit this model must either find a way to fit in it, find another model in scripture to work under, or (and I think this one works) it must not be scriptural.

    As to the passage in 2 Corinthians 8. First of all, the passage does not necessarily allude to men representing the churches in the way that we are considering (though it seems plausible). But even if it does, those people were chosen by the church. Thus they are under the authority of the elders of that church to exercise the decision of the church, in a similar (arguable same) model as a deacon who can go and exercise judgment on behalf of a church under the broader judgment of the elders. That person is then a representative, but by no means are they circumventing the authority of the church, but rather exercising on behalf of it. (I know that wasn’t the most clear, sorry)

    To look at the other points, another idea must be established. What is the work of the Church? If it is to feed bunnies, then everything from our funding to our preaching should be focused on feeding bunnies. I like bunnies, and feeding them is a good thing to do. But the work of the church is not any and every good thing. In fact, the work of the church is not everything a truly good Christian should be doing. Rather our central mission is that mission outlined in the great commission. That great imperative: save the lost. But wait! Didn’t Paul say to do this or that? Didn’t James say to do this or that? Yes. They did. But those are always in respect to the broad imperative of the New Testament: Save Souls.

    But what does the New Testament say about the Church’s work beyond its central mission? Acts shows that the church united to care for its own. Paul told us that we should help needy saints, both among our own (Widows indeed) and abroad (i.e. Judea). Most of the extra stuff tends to call the church (acting together) to help their own.

    But what about James? Well, first of all, there is no clear sign that he is speaking to churches and not individuals, and by that themes the letter is addressing, it seems most likely to me that he is writing with individuals in mind, not with churches.

    Of course, there are a good number of things that Christians do that a church doesn’t. Just as the Temple tax wasn’t for the poor, but for the priests, so our treasuries are for the central work of God. Of course, we cannot follow the Pharisees in saying since I gave to God, I don’t need to do good on my own. The people were of course to give to God, and that was to be used for the work of God, and not for anything else, but then they were to be generous and giving in all else. (note: example of the water in the emergency could well be equated to the showbread with David: not allowed under law, but under the greater law of grace of course it is allowed)

    As to the details of the sections you addressed:

    A “Christian School” – The mission of the church would provide for teaching, much like Paul did in the School of Tyrannus. But that teaching was in effect preaching the word. So Paul was really just using a readily available Greek setting (kinda like Mars Hill in Athens) to preach and teach the gospel. If a church were to do this, or to supper this, or something that is in principle the same, the that would be fine. But schools in the modern sense are not this. While learning about psychology or chemistry or whatever is nice, that is clearly secular education (even if in a “christian worldview”) and is not under the same sort of thing as preaching the gospel.

    Also, there is no example that Paul supported his Trainees. In absence of an example the method of “I think it would make sense if it worked like this” simple does not cut it.

    Eating in the Church building – there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eating in the same building as we assemble in. But, we do need to remember what the focus of the church is. This will govern how we pursue our use of funds on the expediency of a building. A building for assembly is an asset to fulfill the command to come together on the First Day of the Week, and further, it is a tool for preaching and teaching, which are the primary goals of the Church. A kitchen does not advance this goal, nor any goal that is outlined as a work of the Church in the New Testament.

    Helping non-Christians – the examples of helping the lost to come to be saved by them enjoying the benefits of the building, and eventually the baptistry, are examples of the primary work of the Church, and so there is no question that this is to be supported. Again, the passage in 2 Corinthians 9 does not point to collective support of non-Christians. It speaks of generosity, but that can be collective or individual.

    Again, thank you for treating this issue respectfully, and for having a heart to be hurt over division. It is my prayer that we can see more eye to eye, and that God’s Church can grow as God intends.

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    • Brother Sigmund,

      Thank you for your gentle response that compels me to honestly reconsider your points. For the most part, I agree with your statements and positions. Yet, the places where we do disagree appear to be induction. This is what concerns me about dividing about these matters. Personally, I do not like the idea of churches building entertainment rooms for teens, gymnasiums, etc. Although, I do not find this to be a hard line of withdrawing from these congregations. I believe as your focus is that we should return our focus Christ and bring our purpose of evangelism and worship from Him. I know that with a critical eye I could hold many innovations against various non-institutional churches, because I find their measure to be inconsistent. I believe that I have thoroughly address this in the article above.

      With that said, I am currently at a congregation in which we inherited a kitchen and small hall for other meetings. A kitchen may be defined very simply to be a place for preparing food and include storage of food, utensils, dishes, washing sinks, and also appliances. While I find these kitchens should be small and useful toward sustaining those laboring in the Word, I find that we go too far to make our stipulations and draw a hard line of fellowship.

      I was curious about your description of the authority of elders. How do you understand the elders’ leadership in 1 Peter 5:1-4 as compared to Matthew 20:25-28 (Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27)?

      Lastly, I believe the section above about sponsoring churches is still my sufficient reply to your concerns. I encourage you to ask yourself some questions about the cooperation of churches. Consider how Paul received support when teaching in the school, how would his disciples have received support and what cooperation would they have between their supporters and their home congregation? Consider 1 Corinthians 16:3, would the Corinthian messenger travel with Paul and other messengers of other congregations to deliver the support to Jerusalem without cooperating? How would the Judean elders have delivered the aid to other Christians in other congregations without cooperating with those congregations?

      May God bless you in grace and peace in Christ.

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  4. I’m sorry, but as a member of a congregation currently that embraces the Non-Institutional viewpoint, I see several places where you have misdefined the arguments.
    The NI viewpoint is NOT that it is wrong to “eat in the church building”. That was never the point. The point is that the treasury should not be used to support or oversee social events. This covers also Family Life Centers and extra buildings that are just for eating.
    Schools are not thought of as wrong. Neither are orphan homes. I know many people who believe themselves to be NI but they still support homes – as INDIVIDUALS. And that is what we have the command to do – as INDIVIDUALS, not as the church corporate. Florida College is a school used by many NI brethren … you say you grew up NI, so I believe you knew this already brother, and you skipped over it. They simply do not accept donations from churches – individuals only.
    “The non-institutional congregations also aid God’s institution of the home through individual foster parents while objecting to helping house parents of an orphanage.”
    That is simply not true. Again, you mistake the individual giving with what the church can do.
    And there is the crux of the argument – authority. You rightly say that where there is no command there is liberty. But where you make the mistake is assuming there is no command as to what we should do with our giving, and that simply is not true. We are limited in what we use the church treasury for. Therefore, there MUST be authority in what we use that money for.

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    • Hi brother,

      From my experience, I have yet to find a brother holding to NI that did not oppose eating in the building using 1 Corinthians 11:17-20. Yet, I did not suppose that many do not believe this. I agree with you on the extreme of which churches may go in providing a community center, but I believe this judgment belongs to God for the intentions of such building.

      I did not say that the NI churches think schools were wrong or orphanages. I think I make that clear in the article above. I thoroughly noted that these are supported individually. Your quote from above is out of context, which was speaking of churches not giving from the collection and yet only individually.

      As also noted in the article, we are limited in our collection according to scripture, but the extent of the NI position is unscriptural in some ways and exclusive of other churches by rejecting cooperation of churches. These churches must not overlook that their collection gives to the unsaved attending their assembles. They must also not judge church, who inherit or build for their own fellowship.

      I know my article is long, but I sought to be comprehensive. I think you will find that I very agree and hold to limiting and wisely using our church collections.

      God bless and thank you for comment.

      Like

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