Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 22, 1959

What Is Wrong With A Missionary Society?


James W. Adams, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

(Editor's note: The following two articles appeared recently in the Gospel Visitor, the regular weekly publication of the Tenth and Francis Streets Church, Oklahoma City. We combine the articles in this issue, and commend them as a much-needed discussion of the real basis of our objection to any kind of missionary society — with or without abuses.)

What Is Wrong With Them?

What is wrong with Baptist Associations, Baptist Conventions, Conventions of the Disciples of Christ, and the Missionary Societies of various religious bodies? Our brethren have for 100 years opposed such as being unscriptural. Why? Since present issues over "centralized control and oversight" have arisen among the churches of Christ, considerable attention has been given to this question. Those who promote centralization of the resources of many churches under the control and oversight of the elders of a single congregation contend that the only thing wrong with associations, conventions, and missionary societies is that they exercise organic control over the participating congregations, hence destroy congregational autonomy.

This objection is invalid because it is based upon a misrepresentation of the conventions, associations, and societies to which reference is made. This we are prepared to prove to any interested person — not by prejudiced sources but with documents emanating from the organizations themselves. Since the only objection our brethren, who are promoting so-called "cooperation," find to associations, conventions, and societies is invalid, it would appear that they must cease their opposition to such and promote such organizations among churches of Christ. If a little "cooperation" is good, a great deal would be far better.

Neither Baptist nor Christian churches sustain an organic connection to their associations, conventions, and societies that permit those organizations to dominate them or control their affairs. Participation is purely voluntary both as to its fact and extent. Withdrawal is possible at any time. Both Christian and Baptist churches believe in and teach the autonomy of the local congregation.

We do not deny that Christian churches and Baptist churches are in fact dominated by their associations, conventions, and societies. We do deny that such is organic in character. The domination is an abuse of the stated objectives of these institutions and not an organic attribute. The domination and control is psychological, accomplished through pressure and influence, and is not organic. If brethren, therefore, can find nothing more with which to indict such institutions and this they become guilty of opposing that which is right in principle simply because it has been abused by man.

When many churches of Christ centralize their resources under the control and oversight of a single group of elders in general evangelism or benevolence, they thus create a "cooperative" of churches with the elders of one church becoming its executive board of directors. Though such an arrangement may not be formally organized and chartered under the laws of the state, its existence is as real as though it were. It is not a local church, nor do the elders function as elders of a local church in the performance of their functions. They are ecumenical in character and function as the overseers of a "cooperation." Furthermore, such an arrangement is liable to the same abuses as an association, convention, or society. The power that such a centralization of resources creates is liable to abuse. Psychological pressure and influence can be brought to bear upon churches in such fashion as to dominate and control them. Not only can it be done, but it has and is being done by our so-called "sponsoring churches."

(More Next Week)

The Missionary Society

Last week, we had somewhat to say concerning associations, conventions, and missionary societies of churches. We demonstrated that the objection so often urged against them by certain brethren (that they are guilty of an organic dominion of churches) is invalid because based upon a misrepresentation. Baptist and Christian churches which employ these agencies view them as nothing more than "expedient methods of cooperation," "optional expedients," if you please! They deny vehemently that they are "super-organizations." They affirm vociferously their belief in the autonomy of each congregation. They declare the agencies mentioned above to be simply auxiliaries existing within the framework of the church which are servants of the churches, controlled by the churches, amenable to the churches, and in no sense over the churches. They are to them only a "method" for the administration of the cooperative efforts of the churches in matters that are the general responsibility of all the churches.

Brethren are wrong! The missionary society is not wrong because of its organic domination of participating churches. It is wrong: (1) because it is an organization unauthorized by the word of God — no statement of the New Testament commands, exemplifies, or necessarily implies such an agency; (2) because it usurps the functions of God's organization, the congregation under its own elders; (3) because usurping the functions of the divine organization or even supplying that which, by reason of the scriptural limitations placed upon it, it cannot perform, the all-sufficiency of the divine organization (the congregation) is indicted and the wisdom of its Creator impeached; (4) because it is predicted upon an unscriptural concept; namely, the activation and unification in function of the church universal.

The God of Heaven has charged the church with a specific mission: the edification of the saved; (2) the evangelizing of the lost; (3) the relief of needy saints. For the accomplishment of this mission he has endowed her with a specific organization, the local congregation under her own elders. The organization with which God has endowed the church is all-sufficient, i. e. wholly adequate, for the accomplishment of the mission with which God has charged her. The creation of any other agency by man through which the churches function to perform their mission is, therefore, an indictment of the all-sufficiency of God's agency and an impeachment of His wisdom.

The universal church is not an organic body. It has no mission as such, no earthly organization, and no function. It is a spiritual relationship — the saved relationship. The creation of such agencies as conventions, associations, and missionary societies is an effort on the part of man to give organic eternity to and, therefore, to activate the church universal. Baptist and Christian churches do not recognize these organic bodies as having any prerogatives in the realm of faith and morals. They exist solely as agencies through which the churches universally may function in the performance of such duties as are the general responsibility of all the churches. The agency exists as a feasible, practical, and democratic means (from a human point of view) of centralizing the resources of the churches and coordinating their efforts for the accomplishment of the maximum good. From a human point of view, we should not be disposed to argue with these good people, but from a spiritual point of view, such an arrangement is without Divine authority and, therefore, to be repudiated and avoided. The New Testament makes no provision for centralizing the resources and coordinating the efforts of the churches generally through and under the oversight and direction of a single organic agency. To the contrary, it teaches the independence, autonomy, and equality of each local church. The missionary society is, therefore, wrong.

The so-called "sponsoring church" among churches of Christ is a camouflaged missionary society. Like the society, its existence is predicated on the necessity of activating the universal church through a central agency. In the sponsoring church, the universal church is activated within the framework of the organization of a single congregation. The work "sponsored" is general in nature as to interest and responsibility. Participating churches centralize their resources in and delegate their responsibilities to the "sponsoring church." The elders of the "sponsoring church" thus become ecumenical rather than local. Participating churches and elders thus subordinate themselves to a single church and its elders with regard to the work undertaken, hence destroy the equality of the churches and elders. The perfect equality of all 'New Testament churches and elders is a fundamental New Testament concept. Any arrangement subversive of this equality is sinful.

Blind, indeed, is the Bible student who cannot see in the "sponsoring church method (?)" of "cooperation" the same unscriptural principles that are found in the "missionary society method (?)" of "cooperation." In each arrangement (1) the functions of the local church and its elders are usurped; (2) the equality of elders and congregations is destroyed; (3) the activation of the universal church is attempted. In the sponsoring church, the very nature of the eldership of a congregation is perverted. The New Testament limits the work of an elder to the membership, resources, and activities of a single congregation. The sponsoring church arrangement turns the New Testament elder from a local into a "brotherhood" elder.

The "sponsoring church" is not as some contend an "optional expedient" nor is it simply a "method" of performing a Divine command. Methods are always optional, never binding. Some talk about "binding methods." There is no such creature. That which is binding is an integral part of the command and not a method of performing a command. Be it observed that there is no generic command in the New Testament for churches to cooperate. There are specific examples of many churches assisting a single church when her own, peculiar responsibilities became greater than her ability to carry them alone. (Acts 11:27-30; I Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 8, 9; Rom. 15.) It is a violation of every known rule of interpretation to infer a general or generic from a specific. The Christian church would have quite as much right to infer from this specific a generic command for "churches to cooperate" and from the generic thus obtained infer the scripturalness of the "sponsoring church method ( ?) of cooperation." There is neither generic command nor specific example that would justify many churches contributing to a single church to enable that church to function in the accomplishment of that which is the general responsibility of all the churches. The New Testament does not prescribe any method of evangelizing or relieving the destitute. It does prescribe the organization through which these duties are to be performed — the local congregation under its own elders functioning independently, autonomously, and equally from and with all other congregations.