Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 15, 1954

Brotherhood Plans - The Cooperation Controversy

W. Wallace Layton. Houston. Texas

Surely there are none so blind but what they can see that the independence of the congregations is being, to say the very least of it, tampered with in our evangelistic efforts today. This then poses the danger and constitutes the one objective of the studies currently presented.

What is more, we ought to be able to see that the local church has all the organization, laws, and committees needed. Since the New Testament presents the complete equipment for the local congregation to function, and has made no provision whatever for Christians to act through any other unit, we must renounce any and all movements that cut through congregational lines.

The first step of the Roman apostasy was simple cooperation. Reformers never attempted to tear down the ecclesiastical machinery which resulted but merely fought the abuses. The Restoration struck at the root of the trouble and restored the autonomous congregations. The history of nineteen hundred years teaches us that the autonomy of the local congregation must be sacredly preserved if we are to remain loyal to the teaching of the New Testament.

Anything but congregational planning and congregational action is the human way substituted for the Divine Way. This has to be true because God ordained only the congregational plan. It is surely evident by now that if an example existed for any congregation to function through something other than itself, such an example would be named and the passage cited. Cooperation serves as an alibi to escape personal responsibility and substitutes an inertia for the life of the congregation. Let someone start an institutional home for aged preachers and the first applicants will come from children who are able and obligated to support their relative and who would verily never have thought of anything else if the institutional idea had not been conceived, and cooperation sought. Such action congeals enthusiasm and mummifies the congregations. Denominational churches reveal this state. Organized into hundreds of district and diocesan projects, the local flock turns to social functions to preserve its life and maintain its local existence. It is human nature to pass the buck anyway — why make it easier to do wrong? And again, why bury our talents in the form of institutionalism and let one sponsoring church function for us all?

If such cooperative plans be permissible, they can be seen to be wrong. If the cooperative plan interferes with the best plan, then it becomes an enemy of the best; and the best is the congregational, because it is the one ordained of God. If every church that is able to send a preacher into the field were to send one. there would be more missionaries in the field than are being supported by the tid-bit cooperatives we are using now. But we cannot beggar the question by suggesting that inter-congregational functions are right. They are the first step of digression from the Roman Catholic Church to the digressive missionary society in the Christian Church. It is only human that such movements will grow beyond the bounds of the intentions of those who start them. If we would avoid every appearance of evil, we must turn from all cooperative work between independent congregations. The force of history is utterly wasted if we do not sense the danger and act accordingly. The Lord's plan for each church to plan all it can do, and no more than it can do, may not cover the earth in this generation, but we have only done this once in sixty nine generations and that was under the Lord's plan of congregational action, as directed by the apostles of Christ.

Is Cooperation Right Under The Elders Of A Congregation?

Has there ever been an enterprise that has not at one time or another sought the shelter of a local church? We have all, more or less, encouraged that sort of thing for every time a thing of doubtful scriptural standing has run under an eldership somewhere, we have sheathed the sword and started nurturing it. It is time to ask and ask again, can an unscriptural work be hid behind a local congregation? We should expand our thinking beyond merely asking who is promoting a thing to inquiring whether the thing be scriptural.

It is just as easy for a local church to become a missionary society as it is for a group to organize one. Not who sponsors the work but the scope and nature of the work sponsored! What right has a local church to underwrite any work it cannot do in its own strength, in the event that those upon whom it is depending should fail to come through? If I signed a note for another, it would be taken that I was able to make good in the event that the note was not paid; otherwise, I have practiced deception.

Why do we object to missionary societies? It is not because their plan does not work. Any plan will work if you put a steam-roller pressure behind it. It is not because, from a human viewpoint, the method is faulty. A missionary society is by far, more intelligent than the cooperative plans now followed. There is human wisdom in a missionary society — and neither human nor divine wisdom is ours. The wrong of a missionary society is that it destroys the initiative and eventually the independence of the local church.

I respectfully and courteously affirm that any group of individuals or churches larger than a local church; or any individual church itself that begins thinking and planning in terms of what the whole brotherhood should do, and goes out to the congregations to see that they do it, and acts as an agent or agency through which the brotherhood does it, is to be condemned, not because it is similar to a missionary society. but because such cooperation violates the same fundamental principle the society violates — the initiative and autonomy of the local congregation.

Note: The thoughts herein are, for the most part, gleaned from W. E. Brightwell's writings in the Advocate some twenty years ago. — W.W.L.