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|Churches of Christ (non-institutional)|
a (non-institutional) church of Christ building in Lubbock, Texas
|Separations||Disciples of Christ|
|Churches of Christ (non-institutional)|
a (non-institutional) church of Christ building in Lubbock, Texas
|Separations||Disciples of Christ|
The label "non-institutional" refers to a distinct fellowship within the churches of Christ who do not agree with the support of para-church organizations (colleges, orphans' homes, organized mission efforts, etc.) by local congregations. They contend that the New Testament includes no authority for churches' support of such institutions. Instead they feel that it is a responsibility and duty of the individual to assist those in need. These local churches became separated from "mainline" (pro-institutional) churches of Christ because of these viewpoints, developing into a distinct segment of congregations by the 1960s. Whether a congregation supports the "sponsoring church" custom is one way to distinguish between the "non-institutional" and "mainstream" congregations. The congregations that advocate financial support or the pooling of resources for the benefit of other entities or organized external evangelical efforts are sometimes called "sponsoring churches" and identified as "mainstream."
This non-organized fellowship of non-institutional congregations is estimated at about 120,000 members, accounting for around 9% of the members of Churches of Christ in the United States and for about 15% of congregations. The degree to which members of a congregation associate and interact with members of other Churches of Christ varies greatly by area, from none at all to a considerable degree. Its preachers are trained in a variety of ways. Some study at Florida College, which has no formal ties to any church, and a faculty and student body who are largely associated with the non-institutional churches of Christ. Most of the preachers are mentored by a more experienced preacher or may be self-trained. No formal degree requirements are needed for an individual to be employed as a preacher in the churches of Christ.
These congregations generally accept the description "non-institutional", although they do not officially identify as such on signs, letterhead, or other official documents; they reject the epithet "anti" with which they were labeled by some in the larger mainstream Churches of Christ in the 1950s and 1960s, and likewise the similar term, "non-cooperation movement". They identify as part of the original church started by Christ. The 19th century Restoration Movement resulted in an increase in the number of U.S. members.
Many outside of these churches sometimes conflate them with other Churches of Christ having similar roots, which serve the Lord's Supper using a single cup, and/or which refrain from having divided, age-distinct Bible classes ("Sunday School"). In addition, another small group within the Church of Christ is known as the "mutual edification" congregations. They do not use paid preachers, but encourage members of the congregation to speak and lead the worship activities. While the one-cup, non-class, and mutual edification congregations are almost always non-institutional, they became independent from the mainstream well before the main 1950 division among congregations over institutions. Members of the three groups have little association, with the least occurring between the institutional and non-institutional branches.
Because churches of Christ are autonomous with no central governing body, doctrine may vary between congregations. In general, these churches subscribe to the more conservative positions associated with churches of Christ in matters of authority, organization, and worship. Most congregations in this number can be differentiated from mainstream churches by their strict adherence to the principle of congregational autonomy and by a differentiation of the role of the individual Christian and the congregation.
As a result, they oppose the following practices that became widespread in other churches of Christ during the mid-twentieth century, namely:
The diversity among autonomous congregations makes it difficult to document their history, either individually or as a group of common interest. Most activity is either the action of an individual congregation (and thus local in scope) or the activity of individuals separate from churches (and thus technically not an act of the churches as institutions). Their activities have been noted through issues that bring about debate and division. Non-institutional churches have faced two major issues in the past century: institutionalism and marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
The lack of denominational infrastructure leaves a vacuum for intercongregational discourse among Churches of Christ, one that often has been filled by publications and extra-church institutions such as colleges. These organizations, though overseen and run by members of Churches of Christ, were usually considered the work of individual Christians separate from the churches themselves. Among "brotherhood papers" in the mid-twentieth century, the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation were the oldest and most influential. Among colleges, the largest were Abilene Christian College, Pepperdine, Freed-Hardeman College, David Lipscomb College, and Harding College.
Prior to World War II, the practice of local church support for outside institutions (mostly colleges) was uncommon in churches of Christ, but not unheard of. Such arrangements tended to be kept quiet, and the Bible colleges loosely associated with churches of Christ always denied they lobbied churches for money. These denials were not always true, but they helped to defuse dissension over the issue, as most objectors were loath to interfere with church autonomy.
In the 1930s, however, some men began actively promoting church funding of Bible colleges. The most prominent of these was G. C. Brewer, who throughout the decade engaged in a running debate with various people on the issue. He had begun advancing his theories in a speech at the 1931 Abilene Christian College Lectures. In 1933, he had written a series of articles in the Gospel Advocate arguing that churches should support educational institutions and charities from their treasuries. He continued this line of argumentation throughout the decade.
Finally, Brewer's unscripted remarks in support of church funding for colleges at the 1938 Abilene Christian College lectures provoked great controversy. Several writers, such as Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and W. W. Otey, wrote and spoke in opposition to Brewer; Otey's 1938 article in Firm Foundation included statements from leaders of colleges that they "regretted" Brewer's statements. Publicly, Brewer's position received little support; privately, however, prominent men such as B. C. Goodpasture, N. B. Hardeman, and Robert M. Alexander agreed with the proposition, though most were noncommital when asked specifically about their position. World War II largely suspended the debate, as the question of pacifism took center stage in "brotherhood papers." However, division had not been prevented, only postponed.
After the conclusion of World War II, several factors worked together to bring the institutional question back to the foreground.
First, many of the previous generation of perceived leaders (such as Daniel Sommer, J. D. Tant, Joe Warlick, and F. B. Srygley) had died, leaving others with different beliefs and dispositions to take their place. The most notable of these was Goodpasture, who had ascended to be editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1939; he is generally regarded as the most influential figure among Churches of Christ at this time.
Also, the Depression and war had led to lower enrollment at many Bible colleges; this in turn caused many of the colleges to postpone expansion and even maintenance. However, the G.I. Bill brought with it an influx of enrollment at these colleges. Bible colleges thus found themselves in need of immediate funds to renovate and expand to meet a swelling demand.
Finally, evangelism in Europe became possible after the war. However, the expense involved was considerable. As a result, some congregations and individuals began experimenting with various methods of congregational cooperation. The most notable of these was the "sponsoring church" arrangement, where one congregation oversees a project using resources pooled from other congregations. The best-known of these efforts was the Herald of Truth, a nationwide radio program begun by the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, in 1952.
The issue of church support for institutions arose anew quickly after the war. Many of those who had been silent before now saw much to gain by raising the issue. No longer was it a mere hypothetical question, but one where a strict interpretation of congregational independence and separation of the individual and the church would, in their estimation, lead to lost opportunities.
The pro-institutional camp learned from the experience of the 1930s and the tepid support for sending money to colleges from the church treasury. They tried a different tactic, tying church support of colleges with church support of other institutions, namely orphans' homes. As N. B. Hardeman wrote in 1947, "I have always believed that a church has the right to contribute to a school or an orphanage if it so desired... The same principle that permits one must also permit the other. They must stand or fall together." This statement serves as a summary statement of the "institutional" or "mainline" position.
The addition of the emotional element of "starving orphans" proved successful at persuading many who had been on the fence to the institutional side during the 1950s. However, it also led to rancor; what had previously been a largely civil debate erupted into name-calling and bitter dissension. Those who objected to churches funding private institutions were often referred to as "orphan haters", "Pharisees," and the like; for their part, non-institutionals such as Foy E. Wallace, Jr. returned (and at times initiated) the rhetorical fire. Well-known preachers with ties to the colleges became increasingly assertive in condemning anyone who disagreed. Accusations of coercion and intimidation swirled around the colleges. Those with outside businesses, particularly on the non-institutional side, often found themselves facing boycotts organized by those opposing their position.
The leading voices of the institutional movement were men such as G. C. Brewer, N. B. Hardeman, Robert M. Alexander, and B. C. Goodpasture. The non-institutional side of the debate was led by men such as Foy E. Wallace Jr., Roy Cogdill, and Fanning Yater Tant. From the beginning, the non-institutional side found itself outmaneuvered by the institutionals, who held the reins of power at all the large Bible colleges and the most popular of publications. It was not aided by infighting between the various proponents, climaxing in the 1951 split of the Fourth and Groesbeck Church of Christ in Lufkin, Texas, leading to two congregations, one with Cogdill as preacher, the other with Wallace's brother Cled preaching. Foy Wallace, the most polarizing figure in the debate, thereafter ceased arguing for a non-institutional position; indeed, by the mid-1960s, he associated himself exclusively with institutional churches.
Late 1954 provided two factors key to the developing split. First, in October, G. H. P. Showalter, the editor of Firm Foundation, died and was replaced by Reuel Lemmons. The paper had in previous years stood opposed to the colleges on many matters and had positioned itself under Showalter as a place for balanced debate. Under Lemmons, however, the paper took an increasingly pro-institutional position.
The second, and more important, action was publicized in the Gospel Advocate in December of that year. Goodpasture called for a "yellow tag of quarantine" to be imposed upon any who espoused the non-institutional position. The historian David Edwin Harrell contrasted B. C. Goodpasture with the "fighting style" of Foy Wallace: "Foy Wallace scorched heretics; Goodpasture warned them they would lose their position within the brotherhood." Goodpasture's political style led him "to cut his losses and to consolidate his assets," in the words of historian Richard Hughes. He recommended expelling non-institutional members from existing congregations, firing preachers who took this position and cancelling their meetings at institutional churches, and blackballing congregations that resisted conforming to institutionalism. The institutional movement turned from persuasion to isolation of its opponents.
Across the next decade, bitter division erupted in Churches of Christ throughout the nation. Debates were held over the issues, though usually positions had already hardened beyond persuasion. Preachers suspected of taking positions at odds with the leadership were ordered to publicly refute said position as a condition of employment; the Gospel Advocate became a forum for some better-known preachers to recant publicly previous positions opposing institutionalism. Some churches were forced to make token donations to institutions in order to avoid being called "anti's." Conflict sometimes ended in fistfights. Members who espoused a minority position in a congregation were expelled. Lawsuits over building ownership followed from some of these divisions. Exiles often banded together to form new congregations; some rural communities today are home to two or more small Churches of Christ as the legacy of this division.
By the end of the 1960s, the isolation of non-institutionals from the mainstream churches was concluded. Contact between churches and individuals across the divide essentially ended. Members of both branches practiced the beliefs which they held were the only correct ones.
Most non-institutional churches had to rebuild in the 1960s and 1970s, as in most instances, they had lost buildings, positions, and jobs as a result of the division. They were united by their beliefs during this period. The most significant discussion of this time reflected the "unity in diversity" debate taking place in institutional churches; but it was little accepted in the more conservative non-institutional branch. Men such as Carl Ketcherside and Edward Fudge preached this message.
Most within non-institutional churches refer to themselves as "conservative" churches of Christ and the non-institutionalists refer to the Bible college-supporting, "mainstream" or "sponsoring church" congregations as "liberal," which leads to some confusion since the "mainline" churches use the terms "conservative" and "liberal" to refer to two separate strands within their own congregations. Many in the non-institutional congregations are not aware that institutional congregations have their own differences, and consider them all as "liberal." Many in the institutional congregations do not know the history or existence of the non-institutional groups.
The late 1980s saw the beginning of the first widespread debate and division over beliefs and practices related to marriage and divorce. The typical view in that fellowship is that divorces for any reason save adultery on the part of one's mate are immoral. They believed that remarriage after such a divorce is likewise sinful. The noted non-institutional scholar and writer Homer Hailey had for decades held a divergent view. Then in his 80s, Hailey believed that those who were not Christians were not subject to Biblical commands regarding divorce. Therefore, even if the individual had a prior marriage and divorce, at the time of conversion, Hailey reasoned that God recognized the new Christian's current marriage.
Hailey shared his views with close associates but said he publicly taught them only twice. In March 1988, a public presentation led to open dispute among preachers and members of non-institutional churches. Hailey spoke by invitation on his marriage-divorce position to a small church in Belen, New Mexico; they had also invited Ron Halbrook, a preacher associated with the magazine Guardian of Truth and former student of Hailey, to present an opposing viewpoint. As the speeches were taped and circulated, by the end of the year, Guardian of Truth printed Halbrook's account. Various "brotherhood papers" picked up on the debate and generally opposed Hailey's position. (The churches of Christ boast more journals per capita than any other religious group.)
In response, Hailey wrote and published a booklet titled "The Divorced and Remarried Who Would Come to God." A response to Hailey's booklet was written by Royce P. Bell, another former student who was by then a preacher in Refugio, Texas. His view was published in the June 1994 (Vol. XX, No. 10) issue of Gospel Anchor magazine.
A side debate over fellowship with those holding such a position also arose. David Edwin Harrell wrote in Christianity Magazine that an individual's holding such a view (over marriage) was not grounds for disassociation with the person. Debate developed over a dozen related, yet separate, issues, and continued after Hailey's death in 2000. One group was associated with the Guardian of Truth (eventually renamed Truth Magazine) and the other was associated with Florida College and the now-defunct Christianity Magazine.
In the 21st century, some associated with Truth Magazine have advocated so-called "mental divorce" (they say that someone who was legally divorced for reasons other than adultery can "put away" a former mate who remarried.) They were criticized by some, and a controversy arose over defining the Biblical "putting away" in the context of American law and protocol. In 2008, Mike Willis, the editor of Truth, wrote an opinion piece saying that divorce (though not remarriage) is permissible for a number of reasons other than infidelity. More dispute has arisen among opponents to that view.
In keeping with the autonomous nature of these churches, many churches and members are unaware of or unconcerned about such controversies. They may matter only to the participants and not result in changes for the churches overall.
By 2005 there were between 2,200 and 2,300 non-institutional Churches of Christ, represented in all 50 states. Of these congregations approximately 13.5% were in Texas, followed by Kentucky and Alabama with 9%, and Florida with 7.5%. Although attendance figures for non-institutional Churches of Christ are impossible to determine, most reliable estimates place the attendance of these churches at between 130,000 and 145,000.
Note: Churches of Christ are autonomous; because of this, there are no "official" group-wide links. The following are the sites of individuals and single congregations.