- 1955-1964 were years when 10% of the Churches of Christ split off from the main group over how to spend church money.
Why a split?
- Parachurch organizations such as evangelistic associations, radio broadcasts and orphan's homes were becoming popular among Churches of Christ in the 1940s and 1950s. These organizations solicited funds from congregations in the Churches of Christ.
- About 10% of preachers in the Churches of Christ opposed the pooling of funds to support a parachurch ministry, saying it was an unauthorized institution, unauthorized by the New Testament examples of how to organize the New Testament church.
- The preachers opposed to the parachurch ministries (or institutions) used two main arguments:
a. Churches in the NT never supported institutions. They supported evangelists, and poor congregations, nothing else.
b. The only institution authorized by the Scriptures to do the work of the church is the local congregation. Just as the only musical instrument authorized in the NT is the heart, the only institution authorized to do the work of the church is the local congregation.
- Numerous well-attended debates were scheduled for about 8 years. Finally preachers were fired, churches split and it was over. Many preachers in the noninstitutional churches who lived through the split are still talking about the trauma of the split fifty years later.
- The "noninstitutional" preachers (as they preferred to be called) did not oppose evangelism on the radio, or taking care of orphans; they only opposed the funding methods. However they did oppose the "social gospel" movement, whereby evangelism took second place to helping the poor.
- The "noninstitutional" preachers predicted that this step to pool churches' money was a step toward the slippery slope of a hierarchical denominational organization. This has not been true, but it is true that the "institutional" churches have continued to move towards mainstream evangelicalism. It is quite easy to tell a non-instutional church from a more mainstream Church of Christ just by driving past the church building: The more mainstream church building will have a basketball hoop in the parking lot, a church bus, and the church building will look more like a modern Baptist church building, perhaps with a school or a gym attached. The non-institutional church will usually have a smaller, more 1960s look, with no basketball hoop, no church bus, no gym or school attached. The sign out front will quote scripture somewhat challengingly: "The churches of Christ salute you."
- This split followed socio-economic lines as almost all splits have in the past. The non-institutional churches were usually poorer, more blue collar and more rural at the time of the split. The mainstream churches were more often wealthier, had more professionals among them, and were more suburban.
- The non-institutional churches refer to themselves as "conservative" to distinguish themselves from the "liberals". The mainstream churches referred to the non-institutional churches as "antis", meaning "against". The non-institutional churches send their college-aged children to Florida College, in Temple Terrace, Florida. When challenged that a college is an institution not authorized to teach Bible and to train preachers, they counter that they are not obligated to find specific authority for what individuals can do, they only have to have specific authority for what the local congregation does. (Florida College does not accept money from churches.)
- At the time of the split, 1964, most Churches of Christ were sectarian, believing they were the only ones saved. Only about 10% of the mainstream Churches of Christ believe that now, the rest moving forward to become mainstream evangelical. Here is an example of a sectarian website from the mainstream Churches of Christ.
- All local congregations were organized the same way in the NT.
- All local congregations have to be organized the same way the NT churches were organized in the first century.
- Specific authority is only required for local congregations, not for parachurch ministries like Christian book stores, or Christian colleges.
- When Jesus established the church he was more interested in the actual organization of the congregation than in whether the members obeyed the Sermon on the Mount. This is illustrated by the fact that people split congregations over the organization of the congregation, but not over whether they disobeyed the Sermon on the Mount.
One of the main organizations that kept the non-institutional churches of Christ together was Truth Magazine. Other magazines included Gospel Guardian and several smaller journals. (Churches of Christ are renowned for having the most journals per capita of any religious organization.) Gospel Guardian and Truth Magazine combined to form Guardian of Truth in the 1990s. There are a few non-institutional preachers who oppose the Guardian of Truth Foundation and Florida College because they see them as unauthorized organizations doing the work of the local church.
In the 1970s Edward Fudge was an up and coming preacher and writer in the non-institutional churches. He began preaching about grace and forgiveness, and was summarily drummed out of the Antis by the editor of Truth Magazine. Several preachers called for more dialog and less witch-hunting, but the damage was done. No-one would hire Edward Fudge again among the non-institutionals. He was not alone. This was done to any preacher who departed from the exclusive sectarian doctrine.
I attended Florida College alongside the editor of Truth Magazine's children. There is a story that one of his children broke down crying when he visited a home where they held hands and prayed before the meal. The editor's family was full of hostility and seldom ate together. One of his children told me that when they got in the car their parents never turned around to discipline the kids--the children loved to moon the cars they passed. The editor's wife engaged in shopping therapy. She finally divorced the editor. He relinquished the editorship of the magazine to his brother, almost as pugnacious as he was. When he died he was eulogized as a wonderful defender of the faith.
Edward Fudge on the other hand, has a much more positive family.
That editor of Truth Magazine epitomizes for me the heart and soul of the non-institutional churches of Christ I grew up in. Like daytime radio talk show hosts, often the most pugnacious and dysfunctional preachers have the most power.
They taught that the only institution authorized by the Scriptures to do the work of the church is the church. Just as the only musical instrument authorized in the NT is the heart, just so the only institution authorized to do the work of the church is the church.
It seems that when Jesus established the church he was more interested in the actual organization of the congregation than in whether the members obeyed the Sermon on the Mount. This is illustrated by the fact that people split congregations over the organization of the congregation, but not over whether they disobeyed the Sermon on the Mount.