The Cooperation Controversy -- No. 9
When article No. 8 was written, we had no intention of adding more to this series. Neither do we now think it necessary to say more to refute the Gospel Guardian's ridiculous contention against the scripturalness of the sponsoring church method of cooperation in mission work. But we have decided to submit this one supplemental article, to say something more about expediency and abuses and to discuss briefly the side issue of mass meetings not touched upon in our preceding treatises but given a great deal of prominence by the Gospel Guardian.
Abuses Not Upheld
The purpose of these discussions has not been to uphold any abuses of which any sponsoring church or any of its members or representatives may be or may have been guilty, if indeed such is or has been the case in any instance. And we would not uphold any if we knew it. We are as much opposed to abuses as anybody can be. Yet we do not believe in opposing or outlawing a scriptural principle or method just because it may be or may have been corrupted or perverted or abused by somebody, somewhere, sometime—or even if it should be abused or corrupted by certain persons or groups all the time. We believe in condemning any and all abuses that may be known, but in upholding the scriptural principle or method being abused or perverted—if such is the case.
Accordingly, we have not attempted to affirm the scripturalness of any particular mission program in operation. If an abuse should be brought to light in connection with any given work, we should not want to be found upholding it. Moreover, if the facts of any congregation's work have been or might be misrepresented by critics, it is in better position than anybody else to correct such misrepresentations—if it thinks it necessary to get them public attention. So we have attempted to affirm only the scripturalness of the sponsoring church method of cooperation when it is not abused—when it does not (1) form any federation of congregations or (2) bring into existence any super—or other extra-congregational organization or (3) in any other way violate congregational autonomy—which it certainly does not and cannot do unless abused or perverted.
And even our endorsement of the Houston-Music Hall meeting pertained only to the scripturalness of the "basis" of its cooperation as described by the Gospel Guardian publisher—not to any abuses that may have been or may now be alleged as having been connected with it. The Guardian publisher reported no abuses. And his description formed the sole basis of our approval. We agreed with his affirmation that what he described was an example of cooperation of the highest sort, carried out without the combining of congregations and without the interference of human organizations. And we affirmed that the "basis" of that cooperation, as described by him and which was pronounced scriptural by him, is likewise scriptural for work in any other field—which is what the Guardian inconsistently and arbitrarily denies.
Though we affirm that the sponsoring church method of cooperation is scriptural, and believe it to be expedient in many instances, we admit that it could be inexpedient at times. When Paul was at Thessalonica, only ninety-three miles from Philippi, it would hardly have been expedient for the Philippian church to send to him through his "sponsoring" church, as the Guardian editor called the church at Antioch. The Antioch congregation was several hundred miles away. Contributions had to be sent, or usually were, by messenger. And the journey to Antioch and back to Thessalonica was long and slow and tortuous. In that instance expediency dictated sending directly to the man in the field, though, as the Guardian editor admitted in the issue of August 18, 1949, page 7, it would have been "right" to send through Antioch—right but not expedient. Other conditions might also conceivably make it expedient to send directly. Yet there may just as surely be circumstances making it more expedient to send through a sponsoring church.
The above-mentioned issue of the Guardian quoted in part a letter from G. K. Wallace, as follows: "Can you imagine what some men would do, who are good promoters, if they were to go to a foreign field and could go among the churches, getting them to send to them personally. There would be no check whatsoever on the number of churches contributing nor upon the amount received. A good promoter could raise for himself a hundred thousand dollars a year by such procedure." To which the Guardian editor replied, "We recognize the weight of brother Wallace's observation."
Also sending through a sponsoring church is oftentimes a matter of convenience and economy for the missionaries. In the Gospel Advocate of September 4, 1930, page 856, was this information: "In most countries there is exchange to pay on all checks and drafts, and it costs as much for a small check as for a large one. When checks are sent directly to the missionaries, many times it costs them more to get them cashed." And in the Advocate of December 4, 1930, page 1179, was this additional statement: "The missionary has to pay exchange fee every time the banker cashes a small check. Some of the missionaries are where there is no bank, and they have to send their checks back to the coast or elsewhere to get them cashed. It is generally better to send your contributions to the worker"—that is, the treasurer—"here in America who is appointed by the church that sent the missionaries out to handle funds for them. In this way the exchange charges are cut to the minimum, since larger checks are sent, and the worker"—the treasurer—"here knows exactly how to handle the funds so as to get the best and most prompt service."
This last-mentioned consideration—knowing how to handle funds so as to get the best and most prompt service —is of much more importance than many persons realize. In the Christian Chronicle of July 7, 1950, page 6, Cline Paden of Frascati, Italy, wrote of the great risk in sending money to Italy through the mail, and told of instances of checks never reaching him and his not knowing they had been sent until after the contributors had inquired through the church sponsoring him. He added: "This is the reason we have urged you to send your contributions to Brownfield, Texas, instead of sending them directly to us in Italy . . . They (the Brownfield church) are acting simply as a forwarding agency, and thus making sure that the money reaches its destination. We believe this to be the best and only sure way of getting money to Italy."
It is also a fact that when money is sent through a sponsoring church, the minimum promised to the missionary is more likely to be sent regularly and on time. Individual contributors are many times late or irregular in sending, whereas the sponsoring church will ordinarily send covenanted sums regularly and on time whether contributions from other sources have been received by it promptly and in anticipated amounts or not. Thus the missionary's support is likely to be more regular and dependable when received through a sponsoring church. This is not mere theory, but a matter of actual experience.
Lack of space prevents describing other decided advantages. But it is common knowledge that the sponsoring church method of cooperation has been productive of more mission work, and of more effective work, than has any other method followed in this century and for many a century by faithful disciples. And since it is eminently scriptural it should be continued and encouraged unless and until some other scriptural way is proved more generally effective and expedient. Yet, while practicing and encouraging it, all abuses and corruptions of it must he carefully and scrupulously guarded against.
In some instances mass meetings have been held to promote mission endeavors. In such meetings reports have usually been made regarding certain projects, and appeals issued in their behalf; and in most of them—but not in all —contributions have been given and promises of future contributions have been made. But the Gospel Guardian has very severely condemned this method of solicitation and money-raising in behalf of mission work, charging that such a plan is "one of the most vicious, destructive, and dangerous proposals we have ever seen in a New Testament church." (November 30, 1950, page 4.) Of course, by now we should not be surprised at anything the Guardian says or condemns or at any superlatives and invectives it uses. Yet its numerous inconsistencies and absurdities and its record of recklessness and inaccuracies should not keep its objections from receiving whatever consideration they deserve.
The matter of mass meetings, however, is simply a side issue, and is not directly related to the issue of sponsored cooperation. Mass meetings could be right if sponsored cooperation were wrong, and wrong though sponsored cooperation were right. In other words, the rightness or wrongness of one does not depend on the rightness or wrongness of the other. Much sponsored cooperation has been practiced without any mass meetings being held to promote it. And many mass meetings have been held that did not pertain to sponsored cooperation in mission work.
Surely nobody would say that mass meetings or any other kind of meetings could not be made productive of evil. They, like anything else, could be abused. They might also be inexpedient under certain circumstances. But a meeting is not necessarily wrong just because it is a mass meeting—that is, a large or general assembly of people, not made up simply of delegates or representatives. The regular assemblies of large churches are mass meetings. Evangelistic meetings, if attended by large numbers of people from one congregation or many congregations or from no congregation at all, are mass meetings. The Houston Music Hall meetings and the Hardman Tabernacle meetings in Nashville are conspicuous examples of mass meetings for evangelism. If mass meetings for evangelism are right and proper (and they are), why would it be wrong to have similar meetings to tell of evangelism and of the needs of evangelism elsewhere, and to appeal for help in such evangelism? Surely that within itself could not be wrong.
Why, then, does the Guardian object? Well, it charges that solicitations and collections and pledges in such meetings "circumvent" or "by-pass" the elders of the churches. That is, individual members might be led to give to projects not provided for in the church budget or that the elders would not see fit to include in the budget; or they might give without their contributions going through their local church treasury. Also it could cause money to be given for a distant project that otherwise might be contributed into the local church treasury, thus depriving the elders of that money for work that had already been planned for the congregation. Does that sound bad? Well, the Guardian tries to make it do so as it relates to mission work being done by the churches—by the divinely ordained missionary societies.
But when it involves something that the Guardian, a purely human institution, wants to do, it sings a different tune altogether. It describes it as "wonderful" if there is a good response from the brotherhood to its mass appeals. (Guardian, December 14, 1950, page 5.) And when it wants to promote itself and extend its influence, it does not hesitate for a moment to do in principle what it dubs as circumventing" or "by-passing" the elders if done to solicit funds for mission work by the churches. It calls upon what it styles "All our thousands of readers"—a great mass indeed—to send (1) their own renewal subscriptions, (2) as many gift subscriptions as they "can afford"—which is going quite strong—and (3) all other subscriptions they can solicit—all subscriptions being two dollars each—thus making the Guardian's appeals to be for multiplied thousands of dollars. (Guardian, November 30, 1950, page 5.) That is mass appeal if there ever was such—an appeal to the masses that "circumvents" or "bypasses" the elders just as much as any mass meeting possibly could, and more than the average mass meeting does nor can—an appeal for all that the traffic will bear all that brethren "can afford"—an appeal against which could be lodged the same objections that the Guardian hat raised against mass meetings to solicit money for missionary programs promoted by churches. That makes it look very much as if it is not the principle of the thing that the Guardian is interested in, but rather the finding of some pretext for fighting against prominent churches engaged in promoting mission work. Anyway it lays itself open to the condemnation of Rom. 2:1, which reads as follows: 'Therefore thou art inexcusable, 0 man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things."
But do mass meetings to promote mission work actually "circumvent" and "by-pass" the elders? They could. But do they, ordinarily? If they were held without consulting the elders, or against the wishes of the elders, that would certainly be "circumventing" and "by-passing" them, they are arranged with the knowledge and consent of the elders, or by the elders themselves, and are conducted according to the permission or wishes of the elders, we emphatically deny that the elders are 'bypassed" or "circumvented." In such cases the elders and their wishes are in no wise ignored. And this is more than can be said about the mass appeals of the Guardian, which are made regardless of what the elders in some of the congregations whose members are solicited may think or wish.
But the Guardian objects to mass meetings for making appeals in behalf of mission work done by the churches, even if they are arranged under the supervision of the elders of a congregation and are conducted under their oversight. And it submits an alternate plan. It does, however, admit the right to make appeals. In fact, in an unusually generous moment, it even went so far as to say that a certain congregation had a right to send a representative into every part of the nation to solicit help for a foreign work it was seeking to promote. "Indeed," said the editor, "it would seem that it is the only logical and proper thing to do under the circumstances." (Guardian, November 13, 1950, page 4.) Though, of course, by another week he was in a less generous mood, and referred obliquely to congregations having the "stomach" to do such a thing. But here is the Guardian plan for making appeals so as to avoid mass meetings. Instead of making appearances and appeals before assemblies, go simply to the elders. The Guardian editor's own language is as follows:
"Let brother Gatewood, as a member of the Frankfurt congregation go to the elders of as many congregations in America as will give him a hearing, lay the needs of the Frankfurt brethren before them, and ask their help in building a house of worship. These elders, in turn, can, if they desire to have a part in the work, present the matter to their various congregations, asking the brethren to make some real sacrifices, if need be, to supply the need in Frankfurt. Thus the eldership in every congregation would be respected, a New Testament precedent would be followed, a danger would be averted, and the cause of Christ would he advanced." (Guardian, October 5, 1950.)
Surely nobody would say that the Guardian editor's plan violates any scriptural principle. But we ask for the "New Testament precedent" he says would be followed by that procedure—by going simply to the elders for solicitation, and not to the congregation (with the permission of the elders). We dare say it cannot be found. In fact, the assertion about such a "New Testament precedent" is mere fiction. There is no proof that Titus and the other solicitors mentioned by Paul made appeals just to the elders and not to the congregations. See 2 Cor. 8: 6-24. Neither is there proof that Paul made his appeals and solicitations simply to the elders and not to the membership as a whole. His letters to the Corinthians were not written just to the elders, or particularly to the elders, but "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth." (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1) And his appeals and solicitations were to "every one of you" in that church; and likewise in the "churches of Galatia." (1 Cor. 16:1-3) There just is no specific record in the New Testament of such a "precedent" as the Guardian describes. There is nothing wrong with the method suggested by the Guardian. But there is neither precept for it nor specific example of it.
If elders should grant permission for an appeal to be made to the entire congregation by someone other than themselves, what scriptural principle would be violated? Also if the elders of one congregation should invite other congregations to visit such a service and likewise hear the appeal, what scriptural principle would be violated? Or, if the elders of other congregations should assist the elders who make the arrangements for the occasion on which such an appeal is to be presented, and thus have a cooperative meeting for such a purpose, what scriptural principle would be violated? Just how could that be "most vicious, destructive, and dangerous," if the address and appeal itself should not abuse the privileges granted by the elders? Such a charge against such meetings sounds "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd," does it not?
In closing we wish to say that the task we now end—that of reviewing the cooperation controversy of the past year and more—has been anything but pleasant to us. We are not controversial by nature. And we would never take such vigorous public issue with brethren except for the sake of what we believe to be vital truth, when we believe it to be greatly endangered—in this instance, a truth vital to the success of much of our mission effort. Our opposition, even in this review, has not been against either the Guardian as a paper or any of its writers as individuals, but against what we believe to be their error—a very damaging error—described by one of our veteran preachers and debaters as "one of the most senseless and grossest of all errors, if it is carried on to its logical extreme." But if these efforts at refutation, though they have been a labor of sorrow, should help to clear away some of the smoke of previous battle; if they should assist in a proper evaluation of the Guardian's fight which its editor threatened to wage "even to the point of 'division' on exactly the same basis that those who opposed the instrumental music 'divided' the church seventy-five years ago"; and if they should aid in clarifying the thinking of confused brethren—if such results should in some measure follow, we shall feel amply rewarded. And if the Guardian should see what we believe to be its error, and should modify its fight so as to wage it against abuses only and not against scriptural principles and practices as in the past year, it will bring joy unspeakable. We pray the Lord that these efforts, though feeble they be, may be used of him to his glory.