Noninstitutionalism (the Antis)
- 1955-1964 were years when 10%
of the Churches of Christ split off from the main group over how to spend
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 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. 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 noninstutional
church from a more liberal Church of Christ just by driving past the church
building: The more liberal 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 noninstitutional 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 noninstitutional 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
- The noninstitutional churches refer to themselves
as "conservative" to distinguish themselves from the "liberals". The
mainstream churches referred to the noninstitutional churches as "antis",
The noninstitutional 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.)
- 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
noninstitutional 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 noninstitutional 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 noninstitutional 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 noninstitutionals. He was not alone. This was done to any preacher who departed from the
exclusive sectarian doctrine.
I attended Florida College alongside that editor'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 someone almost as pugnacious
as he was. When he died he was eulogized as a wonderful defender of the
Edward Fudge on the other hand, has a much more positive
That editor of Truth Magazine epitomizes for me the
heart and soul of the noninstitutional 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
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.