Being Independent

Study No. 14

  Over the last several years, the Church of God has experienced many schisms and its membership has dispersed in many different directions. Some have left the faith entirely, others have started up or affiliated themselves with other organizations, and yet others have remained faithful, but have not become a part of any organization greater than their own family. In other words, these last are "independent" and looked upon as such by those in one of the organized groups. What is especially unfortunate is that some of those "Christians" who are part of one or another organization often treat the independent Christians with disgust and attempt to make "independent" a dirty word or sign of sacrilege or even satanism.

Is this the case? Is it wrong to be "independent" and not associated with some recognized organization? Is it somehow sinful to work apart from an organized group which has received some sort of official sanction from a "headquarters" of some sort? Is it Christian, on the other hand, to despise those who choose not to associate with a group? Are there any Biblical precedents or commands (or lack thereof) to substantiate either view?

The history of the Church of God has actually been strewn with break-off groups and splinter organizations. It is hard to tell just how those who were part of one group felt about the members of another group during much of the Churchís history. During the twentieth century the scene has been cluttered with scorn ó especially emanating from the "parent" group toward the group(s) which splintered off. It has also appeared from "brother" and "sister" groups ó groups which separately left the same organization ó toward each other, although these tend to seem less harsh. What seems particularly confusing is the attitude which comes from those who left one organization and formed another, when it is hostile toward those who leave the second organization for the same (or at least similar) reasons which caused the second group to leave the first. [For those who didnít quite follow that, that would refer to a Mr. Smith who left group A with some others to form group B, then being persecuted by the members of group B when he leaves it after seeing group B going off track similarly.] Somehow they seem to think that it was okay for them to up and leave, but it is wrong to do it more than once. That once you leave the first group and join the second, your moving days are over and you're stuck in the second one no matter what. It would seem similar to saying that it is alright to get sick once, but illegal to do it a second time!

What does the Bible say about such things? In fact, does the Bible even take a stand on "organization vs. independent" situations? In the Old Testament, the Church was organized and had specific rituals to perform and specific functions given to specified people. What needs to be remembered, however, is that this was part of the Old Covenant which existed with a physical people and involved only physical laws and only physical rewards. In fact, prior to the Covenant at Mt. Sinai, there is no sign of any organization or "headquarters" at all. Individuals made their own altars and offered their own sacrifices to God. Everybody was independent.

In the New Testament the Levitical priesthood is made obsolete. It is replaced by Christ Who became the supreme sacrifice for us. He taught His disciples to go out and teach others, but said nothing about any grand organization or doctrinal "clearing house" which was to be set up. Nowhere can you find any basis for requiring an organization being set up to which all believers must either belong or perish. In fact, there was apparently an organization and "headquarters" of some sort set up in Jerusalem (notice Acts 15) and God saw to it that it was split up and scattered [at least, He allowed this division to take place]. Think about it. Have you ever been a part of one of the larger organizations of the Church of God? If so, where were most of the best ministers located? Were they out preaching, teaching, baptizing, and otherwise ministering to the world? Or were they mostly sitting behind desks at "headquarters" and shuffling papers around and giving an occasional sermon to the "headquarters" congregation? How much public exposure did they have? How much contact with the "outside" world did they have? How many "new" members resulted from their activities? Yes, think about it.

Was it allowed in the early New Testament Church to go off and be "independent" and work without contact with "headquarters" or some other ordained man of authority? Did Christ ever say anything about it? Probably the best answer to the first question is found in Acts 8:26-39. What did the eunuch do after returning to Ethiopia? He had at best only a few hours of Bible training and there were no congregations or ordained ministers in the area. He had no Correspondence Course or local broadcast to guide him. Here, then, was a true "independent." Tradition has it that this man did a tremendous Work in Ethiopia and started what became a very large Church there ó all without the help and presence of some larger authorized group of ordained ministers. His only authority was God and He blessed him greatly in the calling given to him. God does not despise independent Christians, so a true Christian should not despise any independent Christians. In fact, Christ hinted at the possibility that there would be at least some independent Christians in John 10:16. It definitely shows that He would have followers in more than one group and quite probably several would not be associated with any organized group at all.

Christ did not command His followers to, "Go ye therefore into all nations, forming one large ĎTrue Churchí and establishing a recognized headquarters, teaching them to support that organization . . . ." You may look through all of Christís words and you will never find anything to support a master organization from which the "Work" would emanate and to which all true Christians would have to pledge allegiance and send money. Luke 9:49-50 relates an event during Christís human lifetime when an independent had gone off and was operating in His name. What was His reaction? Was it one of disdain? Was it one of anger? Was it one of spite? Did He immediately go over and order that man to "get clearance from headquarters" before continuing any further activities? NO!! He allowed the independent to continue to work independently and without interference and to use His name in the process! There is the example. There is the truly Christian approach and attitude.

Being independent has its advantages and, of course, its disadvantages. By working alone or as a very small group, you have only your own resources with which to work. Of course, if you are truly dedicated then God will always see that you have what you need. (Maybe not everything you might want, but certainly everything you will need.) Literature may be developed, but it is not necessary. Paul wrote his own material, but there is no indication that he ever distributed any flyers, booklets, reprint articles, or magazines. Christ apparently got by without any written stuff whatsoever. Few of the apostles had college or university degrees in anything ó much less theology and/or journalism. It is also reasonably safe to assume that none of them ever managed to buy any radio or TV time either (prime or otherwise). [Editorís tongue-in-cheek note: Ancient records indicate that KJER radio had offered James a half-hour slot at 11:30 p.m. beginning in March 71, but it was canceled along with everything else when the Romans nationalized it in 70.] The means you use most effectively will depend on your particular area, abilities, opportunities, and resourcefulness. When operating more-or-less alone, you have no back-up strength (other than God, that is), but neither do you have to wait for somebody else to get something to you or send somebody out. You donít have the large literature collection, but you donít have to worry about any doctrinal error (to the best of your knowledge, anyway) either. You donít have as large a sphere of influence, but you have a more direct participation in it. You have to do everything yourself, but you donít have the temptation to sit back and do nothing because the "organization" is taking care of things. You have a greater sense of accomplishment, but you also have a greater sense of responsibility. Instead of the "big boys at headquarters" taking the Ďblameí when somebody is mishandled, you shoulder the responsibility.

Whether you work as part of a larger organization or as an independent, to be a true Christian you must nevertheless work. God has given all Christians the commission to go, teach, baptize, heal, etc., Mark 16:15-20, Matthew 28:19-20. And that means to all Christians. Even if you are part of an organization, you still have that responsibility and need to fulfill it. As an independent, you tend to see and feel that responsibility even greater when you come to fully realize that this is what Christianity is really all about.

Being independent is perfectly acceptable to God, and any abuse you may receive from a professing Christian only displays the true fruits of that personís faith. Independent does not mean inactive. Every Christian must be constantly in active participation in the fulfilling of Christís commission whether it is done under the auspices of a group or done independently in the name of Christ alone.

ó written by Norman F. Rowe W

 

One Solitary Life

He was born in an obscure village.

He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty.

He then became an itinerant preacher.

He never held an office.

He never had a family or owned a big house.

He didnít go to college.

He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the public turned against him.

His friends ran away.

He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a stake between two thieves.

While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.

He was laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that One Solitary Life.

Bible Study Index