Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 9, 1954
NUMBER 31, PAGE 8-10a

Emergencies, Orphan Homes And Church Autonomy

Cecil Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

The number of letters of inquiry that come to us indicates that many honest seekers of truth are turning to the Gospel Guardian for answers to their questions, solutions of their problems and information on the vital issues confronting the brotherhood today.

This leads me to conclude that the Gospel Guardian is rendering a service that should be appreciated highly. Pertinent questions pertaining to these issues on which good brethren disagree are discussed frankly and fairly, without evasion, because we want to help our readers to understand the eternal truth of the gospel. We cannot answer through the paper all the inquiries we receive: limited space forbids that; also, many of the questions are repetitions of that which has already been answered and discussed fully.

Every point in the questions contained in the letter that I am presenting below has been discussed in the Guardian during the last six months; but several young preachers evidently had a part in composing this letter, and lest some failed to see the back numbers of the paper, I shall answer here. This letter is from Searcy, Arkansas, and is dated November 1st.

Dear Brother Douthitt:

I have been following the cooperation controversy with great interest, along with other young preachers. We are still attending school but are planning to preach.

Such being so, we are disturbed by some things that are arising in the body of Christ today and desire to take a stand with the scriptural position. We are still young in the faith and most definitely are not Bible scholars.

There have been certain questions that have arisen in our conversations that need answers. We realize that some of them may seem foolish to you, but we desire to have scriptural answers to them.

If you could find time in the near future to answer scripturally the following questions, we would be humbly grateful.

We are too young to know first hand anything about the Missionary Society battle of the last century. There has been a great deal said about the parallel of the MS and the Herald of Truth. We would like to know:

  1. What New Testament principle does the MS violate?
  2. What New Testament principle does the Herald of Truth violate?
  3. What is church autonomy? Examples.
  4. 1 Cor. 16. Would the contributions cease at the end of the emergency? Should we continue to give on the first day of the week with no emergency existing as was the famine? Why ?
  5. Did the churches above lose their autonomy? Whose work was it?
  6. Would a surplus of orphans and widows (above ability to assist) constitute an emergency enough to call on help of other congregations?
  7. How many orphans constitute an orphans home?

If you would answer the above questions, we would be very grateful. If you so desire to answer this in a brotherhood paper, it will be alright provided you do not use my name. Most humbly yours,


I do not know why these young preachers do not want their names revealed, but I presume they have their reasons, therefore I shall comply with the request for secrecy, and answer their questions by number.

1. "What New Testament principle does the MS violate?" These students say these questions "need answers," and "we desire to have scriptural answers to them." Can't they get a scriptural answer to this question from their teachers at Harding College? Have they asked their teachers for the scriptural answer to this question? If not, why not? If so, why didn't the teachers answer? Why are these Bible students still in "need" of scriptural answer? Is Harding College graduating preachers who do not know what is wrong with the missionary society?

I do not understand why these boys who are "planning to preach" and who are in Harding College to learn how, do not know what New Testament principle the missionary society violates. I can understand why Brother E. R. Harper will not write on what is wrong with the missionary society; he would condemn Herald of Truth, if he did, and nearly everybody knows it. But I do not understand why the Searcy teachers do not answer it.

These Harding students say, "We are too young to know first hand anything about the Missionary Society battle of the last century"; therefore, they must have help, if they ever learn what New Testament principle the missionary society violates. They ought to be thankful that there is a Gospel Guardian; where else can they get help on this question?

Here is the answer: The missionary society violates the New Testament principle of local church autonomy. The scriptures declare that the elders of the local church must exercise the oversight of the work allotted to them (1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28), and "one church, by simply turning its funds over to another for handling, would surrender its autonomy, and place the other in control" (H. A. Dixon), which is done every time a church sends a donation to a missionary society.

2. "What New Testament principle does the Herald of Truth violate?" The Herald of Truth violates the same New Testament principle that the missionary society violates — the New Testament principle of church autonomy. The churches that contribute to Herald of Truth do not retain control and exercise the oversight of their own work; they, too, violate 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:28, by simply turning their "funds over to another for handling," and they surrender their autonomy thereby. The Highland Church in Abilene retains its own autonomy in its refusal to delegate "any authority to any person" (Highland brochure, page 2) but it violates the autonomy of the contributing churches by begging and accepting the control of the funds of other churches, in precisely the same way that missionary societies and benevolent societies violate local church autonomy.

3. "What is church autonomy? Examples." If these college students had not stated otherwise, I would have thought that they had studied this subject in class, that they had reached a conclusion as to the meaning of church autonomy, and that they had framed these questions in the hope of trapping some one with whom they do not agree; then I would have dropped their letter in the waste basket after reading it once.

But they state that they "are disturbed"; that they "are still young in the faith"; that they "desire to have scriptural answers"; that they "would be humbly grateful for answers"; that they "desire to take a stand with the scriptural position." Under such circumstances I would not fail to give to them "scriptural answers."

The Bible department in Harding College may be embarrassed by the fact that these students who have gone to Searcy to learn what and how to preach do not know what church autonomy is, and that they do not know of any New Testament example of church autonomy. But why shouldn't the elders and teachers in the churches from which these young men have come be embarrassed too?

These and similar questions which I receive indicate to me that too many preachers, churches and Bible colleges are neglecting some fundamental New Testament principles. And you, my brother preacher, how often do you preach on church autonomy and show what it includes, what it excludes and how it is violated and how it is kept and preserved? on church cooperation and show how New Testament churches cooperated and how they did not cooperate? on what is wrong with the missionary society, the benevolent society and other agencies for ecumenical action? The Lord has always wanted the teachers and leaders of his people to "be strong and very courageous." (Joshua 1:7.) If some courageous preaching is not done by the preachers of today, the generation of tomorrow will see the Bible colleges, pulpits and churches filled by people who know no more about church work, polity, independence, government and autonomy than the average Catholic knows.

"What is church autonomy?" Words are both inclusive and exclusive in their meaning; therefore, one must know what a word includes and excludes in order to understand it.

Church autonomy includes and requires that the local church, under Christ, (1) control its own resources, (2) exercise the oversight of its own work, (3) manage its own affairs, (4) discipline its own disorderly members, (5) provide for its own worthy indigent to the limit of its ability, and (6) govern itself in all matters of judgment or expediency.

Church Autonomy Excludes And Forbids A Church's:

(1) "simply turning its funds over to another for handling," as is done when a church sends a donation to a missionary society, benevolent society, Herald of Truth, or any other ecumenical agency; (2) permitting another to manage its affairs, as has been done by some of the Mexican and Negro churches, and by some of the churches in Germany; (3) becoming a centralized authority for brotherhood charity work to which all the contributing churches are equally related, as Broadway Church in Lubbock and a few others are trying to become; (4) begging, collecting, using and controlling the funds of other churches in a nationwide evangelistic work to which all the contributing churches are equally related and obligated, as is being done by the Highland elders in Abilene; (5) meddling in the internal affairs of another congregation, as the Highland elders in Abilene did when they went to the College Church elders and tried to "high-pressure" them into disciplining Glenn Wallace when he raised a question as to the scripturalness of the way Herald of Truth was being operated.

An article on church autonomy by a devotee of the "sponsoring church" hobby, stating and illustrating what autonomy includes and what it excludes, would be interesting; I should like to study and comment on such an article, if it is ever written.

"Examples" of church autonomy? The New Testament contains many: the church at Corinth is one example. Let us notice it.

a. They were told to discipline the sinner in their own congregation. "Put away the wicked man from among yourselves." (1 Cor. 5:1-13.)

b. The Holy Spirit rebuked them for not finding a "wise man" in their own group to settle differences among themselves. They violated the New Testament principle of church autonomy when they turned this work over to an outside arbitrator. (1 Cor. 6:1-9.)

c. They selected their own messengers to carry the funds and to contact the receiving churches during that charity work in Judea. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; all New Testament churches, without exception, selected their own workers of every kind, when under the direction of inspired men; 2 Cor. 8:18-23; Acts 6:3; and many other passages).

d. While Paul was performing the mission assigned him by the Lord (Acts 26:16-18), "other churches" sent wages to him when he was at Corinth. The church at Corinth did not become the "sponsoring church" for Paul's work, and it did not beg and try to convince "other churches" to send their funds to it, lest Paul get too much or too little money. If they had, that would have been a violation of church autonomy, and of course Paul would have condemned it just as he condemned centralization of ecclesiastical power in the man of sin. (2 Thess. 2:1-10.)

4. Of course the churches in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia did not continue to send money to the elders of the churches in Judea after the emergency ceased. Does anybody in Searcy or anywhere else think they continued to send funds after the famines ended?

Several churches, including the one of which I am a member, sent relief to the Santa Rita Church in San Angelo immediately after a cyclone in that place. Our contributions to that church stopped when its needs were supplied. Is any man so blind that he cannot see how dangerous, foolish and sinful it would be for churches to send charity money to a church whose members are as well off as the contributing churches?

Every Christian certainly should continue to "lay by him in store, as he may prosper" (1 Cor.16:2), even with "no emergency existing as was the famine." Because laying by in store, "as he may prosper," is an act of divinely prescribed worship, and it must be rendered unto God with exactly the same frequency as the Lord's supper. (Acts 20:7.) I thought all members of the church of Christ knew that. Under some circumstances a Christian may be required to give more than "as he may prosper" (Acts 2:45; 1 John 3:17), but never should he give less, regardless of the lack of emergencies.

5. In two or three articles which already have appeared in the Gospel Guardian I have explained that the contributing churches did not surrender their autonomy when they sent donations to the elders of churches in Judea during famines in that area. The contributing churches did not bear the same relationship to that charity work in Judea as the receiving churches bore. Does anybody think that sending money to a church for emergency relief of its own members is analogous to sending money to a church to make that church the sole authority in a brotherhood work to which both the receiving church and the contributing churches are equally related?

Relieving the saints in Judea was the work of the churches in which those poor saints were members. They were unable to do that work, because of famines. Therefore, it was the duty of other churches to send funds to the elders in the afflicted churches to make it possible for the receiving churches to do a work which strictly was their own.

A colored congregation was not able to buy song books, Bible and other literature which it needed for its own work. Two white churches gave this colored church the money with which to buy this literature of its own selection. Does anybody think that this is parallel to sending money to that colored Church to make it the sole authority in the selection and distribution of gospel literature for churches all over the nation? I cannot make it any plainer than that.

6. If as many as one orphan or one widow is the responsibility of a church which is unable to provide for that indigent person, then "other congregations" certainly should send funds to make it possible for that poor church to do its work. (2 Cor. 9:12-14.) Does anybody think this is equivalent to a church's gathering up widows, orphans and aged people from all over the country, and then begging other churches for their contributions to take care of them? If it is God's will for the Broadway Church in Lubbock to gather up the poor from all over the country and to beg other churches for control of their funds to feed them, then of course it is God's will for every church in the world to gather up the poor from everywhere and to beg all other churches to place their funds under its control for the relief of the poor. Or, has God granted special privileges and power and authority to Broadway and a few others?

7. Only one orphan in a home would constitute an orphan's home; it would be the home of that orphan: therefore, "an orphan's home." If the word "orphan" means a child with no living parent, then it does not take any orphan at all to "constitute" an institution called "orphan home."

In 1951, I visited a so-called "orphan home" in which there were forty six children. In answer to a few questions, the superintendent said that not a one of the forty six children in that institution was parentless; that he had had one there with no living parent, but she had married a few weeks before and had left the institution.

Therefore, the answer to question No. 7 is: In the correct meaning of the term, as many as one orphan may constitute an orphan's home; but it does not take any orphan at all to "constitute" an institution erroneously called "an orphan home."