By Andy Sochor | Kentucky, USA

As we look at the work God has given to the church, we find a great amount of work to do. Jesus told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). This means that there is plenty for all of us to be doing. Each local congregation has much work to do. There will never come a time as long as the earth stands when the Lord’s church has done all the work it can do.

Some look at the overwhelming amount of work to be done and try to devise a better way to do the works of evangelism, edification, and benevolence. One method men have created is what has been referred to as institutionalism. That is, they form organizations separate from the church to do the work of the church. However, when we read the New Testament, we find no organization other than the church that God has approved to do these works. This is not to say that we, as individuals, cannot perform these works. Individuals can spread the gospel (Acts 8:4), edify other Christians (Hebrews 3:13), and help those in need (Galatians 6:10). In fact, we are to do these things. But the only organization or collective we find in Scripture authorized to do these works is the church. We simply find no authority for Christians to form human organizations to do the work God gave the church to do.

As controversy has arisen in the past on the issue of institutionalism, the primary point of debate had to do with churches funding these organizations from their treasury. As we already noted, we read of no organization other than the church in the New Testament to do the works of the church. One of the basic rules of hermeneutics is that when God has specified something, everything else is excluded. This principle was applied by the Hebrew writer to make the point that Jesus could not have been a priest under the Old Law. Why? “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (Hebrews 7:14). Since God specified that priests were to come from the tribe of Levi, all other tribes were excluded from this role. Likewise, God has specified the church as the organization to do the works of evangelism, edification, and benevolence. Since God has specified the church, all other organizations are excluded and, therefore, are unauthorized.

However, it seems as though that point has been largely ignored in the institutional controversy. The primary argument used against institutionalism had to do with churches funding the institutions from their treasuries. Because of this, it appears that some in the church see this as the only thing wrong with the concept of institutionalism. They reason then that an institution is all right as long as it does not receive funds from churches. Yet the primary problem with the concept of institutionalism is that it forms an organization to do the works of evangelism, edification, and benevolence when God has specified the church as the organization to do these works.

The church in the New Testament did not use the aid or agency of a human organization to carry out its work. We see local churches doing these works among the brethren in their location (Acts 4:32-35; 5:28). When they engaged in the preaching of the gospel in other locations, they did so by supporting preachers directly (Philippians 4:15-16). When they sent aid to needy brethren, they sent it to the elders of the congregation(s) where the need existed (Acts 11:29-30). We find no organization being used by the church to carry out these works. We also see the local church as the only organized collective through which Christians worked to perform these spiritual works.

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