McGarvey On "Mission Work: A Word For Peace" -- No. 4
This review of an article by J. W. McGarvey (Gospel Advocate, February 11, 1891) is intended to give the reader the views of an advocate of missionary societies in the days of their beginning within the churches of Christ. Pendleton was an extremist, but McGarvey was rather conservative in his ideas concerning them. His arguments have a striking similarity to the arguments being made by brethren now in the advocacy of societies and methods in doing church work. Three of his premises have been considered in former articles of the series. In his progression of premises he has attempted to prove that individuals and churches may form an organization which makes them work as an entity in doing mission work. His next two are of a negative reasoning, placing limitations upon such a society.
"4. No band of individuals or of churches thus associated for mission work has any proscriptive right to the aid of brethren in any given territory; but all other churches and brethren have precisely the same right.
"5. No band of brethren or of churches thus co-operating can rightly exercise any control whatever over churches, preachers, or private members. These are just as free to manage their own affairs in their own way, as if such cooperation, by whatever name it may be known, had no existence."
If McGarvey could have lived only a few more years he would have found his "self-evident" propositions violated by the societies which he upheld. In fact, his own statement is contradictory. If all churches and brethren have the same right to the aid of brethren in a given territory, then the principle is violated for a group of churches or brethren to have any right equal to the individual church. For example: if a number of people have each an equal share in an estate, it would then be foolish for some of them to group together and ask for a share in the name of that group. If all churches and individuals exercise the right which McGarvey claims for some of them, what more could each of them gain than they would have if they use their own resources? For example: If three people each have ten dollars to spend they will have no more by each asking the other for his amount. The very fact that some churches or individuals would form a society and ask others to give to the society indicates that they do not expect those others to exercise the same right. Is that not true of today's practices in mission work? The very fact that one church will ask others in a given locality or over the country to contribute to its program indicates that such a church does not expect other churches to do the same work. For example: how much has Broadway church in Lubbock contributed to Union Avenue in Memphis? Or, how much has Union Avenue contributed to Lubbock?
Could McGarvey say that the United Christian Missionary Society does not now feel that she has proscriptive rights over the churches and individuals? Though he could not see it, such power is inherent in a body that is formed to function for the group. One could as easily expect a nation of people to form a government which has no control of the people, as to form a society with no control over its members. This same thing is happening with reference to charity work. Childhaven is advertised as the orphan home in Alabama for brethren of Alabama to support, and they want the Alabama churches to keep it going and growing. Do they not feel that they have a peculiar right to benevolent contributions in that "given territory"?
McGarvey says that the society cannot rightly control, in any way, churches, preachers, or private members. Yet if he could see the present manipulations of the societies he would find that they are doing this very thing. Brethren now are insisting that these grand centralized systems of mission work are free from any such control. But, in effect, is not this involved in the action of Grove Avenue church in San Antonio with respect to Richard E. Smith in the Germany work? He was called home, for no immorality or false teaching; he had merely opposed a part of the system involved in the German work. Grove Avenue is supporting Lubbock in her work over there, as well as taking funds from other churches for the support of Brother Smith. Their control of the church and the preacher in Karlsruhe, Germany, is seen in the following statement from their article in the Gospel Advocate, May 7, 1953
"We are interested in the success of the work in Karlsruhe, as well as in other points in Germany, and we have plans for supporting another worker. We are not interested, however, in supporting a preacher in Germany, or anywhere else, who would maintain a critical view, to the point of opposition, regarding other work we are doing in that field, when the critical view is based on a matter of judgment. The building in Karlsruhe is ours, with St. Elmo, and for our part we are not willing for a hobbyist to use it."
Further enlightenment concerning the control exercised in this system is evidenced by the letter from the Broadway elders (Gospel Guardian, March 19, 1953):
"However there are some parts of the work being done in Germany that we do consider to be our responsibility, being the work of this church together with the cooperation of others that are helping supply the money. These projects include the operation of the Training School in Frankfurt, the radio program, printing of the monthly paper and tracts, the tents and equipment and any other projects that are financed with money that we receive from various churches in America . . . . However, we prefer to consolidate these and have only one committee to handle all the matters we are responsible for, and we hereby ask the following brethren to serve on this committee:
Otis Gatewood Weldon Bennett Richard Walker
Any who are working in the school or any of the above described projects are asked to cooperate with these brethren."
If this does not place a committee or board over "churches, preachers, or private members" in Germany, what could do it? It was deplorable that McGarvey could not see that the missionary society was violating a principle which he said was self-evident. It is still more deplorable that brethren now cannot see that their systems are violating the same principle.
McGarvey wanted to be right in the matter, for he asked for a correction if it could be found:
"If any thought which I have expressed in these propositions is unscriptural, or if the expression of any of them is seriously defective, I trust that someone who is capable of making the correction will do so. But if the propositions are true, I think that the following practical conclusions should be accepted by all."
If brethren, who are now insisting upon schemes that are just as wild as were the schemes of those supporting the missionary societies, could just have this disposition announced by McGarvey, possibly better conditions of work and harmony could be reached, and that more quickly. These brethren, however, are not seeking for anyone to show them an error; instead, they are insulted if anyone dares to question their schemes and plans. The conclusions which he suggests will be considered in the next article.
(To be concluded)