Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was forcefully making a cogent, non-institutional argument before widespread debating on the issue took place. He wasn’t the first, but he probably honed and articulated the argument as well as anyone else. He would later denounce this position and any association with the non-institutional group, but he certainly led the charge in the discussions, and other non-institutional preachers certainly looked up to him.
In an article entitled “Concerning Colleges” in the September 1938 Bible Banner issue, Wallace contended that he was not fighting the existence of the college but their extremes, their worldliness, their tendency toward ecclesiastical control, their doctrinal weakness, and their general departures. He argued that Bible colleges filled an important and scriptural function. They were scriptural as an auxiliary to the home but not to the church. The distinction between the individual and the church became an important distinction for the non-institutional argument.
Wallace elaborated on the means for establishing biblical authority with the following quote:
The home and the church fill distinctly different spheres. One is the sphere of moral right and privilege; the other the realm of scriptural authority. In the home, anything right, right in itself, is permissible; in the church, only what the New Testament authorizes, a “Thus saith the Lord” (emphasis FEW, Jr.).
This quote struck me because it made so much sense of what I have seen practiced, but I had not heard it explained that way. The explanation that I have generally heard would use a passage like Col. 3:17 to say that the process of scriptural authority applies to everything we do (not just the religious matters). While I think that Wallace would agree that everything we do falls under the purview of Scripture, he seems to be stating that there is a difference in the way the Bible informs church practice and individual practice. Matters related to the church require positive, divine authority whereas individual matters are more governed by morality.
This argument would become one of the hinge-points of the institutional conflict among churches of Christ with the mainstream taking a more integrated approach to church and individual activity and the non-institutional segment drawing a hard and fixed line between the two. While the particulars of this debate are not considered relevant by most people any more, the debate reaches into many important areas. The mission and work of the church is still a hotly debated topic. The existence and practical aspects of a sacred/secular divide are also at stake.