"That There May Be Equality"
"For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack" (2 Cor. 8:13-15). These verses from Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth have caused the supporters of the Herald of Truth type of cooperation no little concern. It seems that their difficulty lies in the fact that this statement by inspiration completely overthrows their design and purpose. Indeed, they act as if it is the only passage that must be coped with, and if they can successfully show that their practice is in no way a violation of the principle expressed by Paul in these verses they will have won their battle. But the Herald of Truth type of cooperation not only violates the principle of equality that should and must exist among the churches, it also violates the principle of independency that should exist among the local churches.
But let us notice Brother Lyles' treatment of the passage. "The idea that he meant for churches to be equal, nobody believes that. Really if they did, if the idea of equality means there that all churches are to be equal, from the standpoint of finance, if you have any more here than they have over yonder, you've got to divide it with them next week, so that you'll all have the same amount. Nobody would carry that thing to that ridiculous place or point. But nevertheless, if the idea means that churches have got to be equal, none can have any more than the others from the standpoint of money — that's what it means — but that is not what Paul is talking about. There is no reference here ter the subject at hand anyway. This doesn't have a thing in the world to do with preaching the gospel, but merely the relief of the brethren who are in Judaea."
Brother Lyles quotes Macknight's comments on these verses — for what reason, I do not know, for he made absolutely no use of the things Macknight had to say. Perhaps he was just using up time. However, had he noted the things that Macknight has to say in his footnotes on the phrase. "that there may be equality." he would have had little difficulty in arriving at the point that is contained in the verses. Macknight explains, "The equality which the apostle recommends, is not an equality of condition, but such an equality, as that our brethren may not be in want of the daily necessaries of life while we abound in them."
Now, whoever heard of anybody who thinks that there should he an equality of money among the churches — that is. all the churches have exactly the same amount of moray? That is ridiculous to the extreme!
Macknight explains: "Corinth being an opulent (wealthy) city, we may suppose, that among the brethren, there were some able to contribute liberally to this charity." The thought contained in these verses establishes a principle in connection with cooperation that must not he violated if one is content to follow the teaching of God's word in this matter.
Of course, Paul is not talking about the matter of preaching the gospel in these verses. Luke was not discussing the matter of preaching the gospel in Acts 11:27-30, either, but he does set forth the pattern of cooperation among the churches as practiced in New Testament days. As a matter of fact, there are very few passages in the New Testament that deal directly with the subject of cooperation among the churches in the preaching of the gospel. In 2 Cor. 11:8, 9 Paul says, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied; and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself." Here Paul indicates that the churches in Macedonia cooperated with him in the preaching of the gospel in Corinth by sending the money or supplies direct to him by the hand of messengers. In Philippians the fourth chapter, Paul states that he received in Thessalonica the gift from the church at Philippi. Thus the Philippian church cooperated with the church in Thessalonica by sending support to Paul while he preached the gospel there. And that is about the extent of the teaching of the New Testament on the matter of cooperation in the preaching of the gospel.
But that is not the point. The point is that there are certain principles involved in the matter of cooperation that must be upheld whether the cooperation is in the matter of preaching the gospel or benevolent work. There is a pattern clearly set forth in the New Testament that must be followed in this matter just as there is a pattern set forth in the matter of baptism, or the Lord's supper, or worship.
In the matter of cooperation there are three essential elements in the pattern, viz., (1) The proper action, (2) The proper subjects, (3) the proper design. "That there may be equality" is the proper design. Before the churches in Macedonia and Achaia sent to Jerusalem there was inequality, that is, the churches in Macedonia and Achaia had "abundance" (more than Jerusalem) while the church in Jerusalem was in want. After Macedonia and Achaia sent to Jerusalem there was equality — not that they had exactly the same amount, but they both were equally supplied with the necessities of life, as suggested by Macknight. My brother and I do not have the same amount of this worlds goods — he has many, many times more than I do, but we are equal, that is, we both have enough to eat, clothes to wear, and a shelter over our heads. Now, if I did not have those things and he did, then he would be obligated to share his with me so that there might be equality.
Now, the Herald of Truth type of cooperation does not fit the New Testament pattern. It violates the New Testament teaching concerning the subjects and the design of congregational cooperation. Therefore it is wrong. That is the argument that Brother Tant made in the Lufkin debate, and Brother Lyles has not touched top, side, or bottom of it.
Let us look at 2 Cor. 8:14 in the light of the context. Remember, Paul is encouraging the Corinthian brethren to be liberal in their contributions to the poor saints in Jerusalem. The eighth and ninth chapters contain his remarks in regard to this matter. Verse fourteen sets forth three things that make for equality. "Now at this time" indicates that the giving was a temporary affair, that is, when the need was supplied at Jerusalem, the Church at Corinth would no longer be under obligation to give. "Your abundance may be a supply" indicates that the church at Corinth must give out of their "abundance," which would preclude the practice of a church that does not have "abundance" sending to one that has. "For their want" indicates the purpose for which the contribution is to be sent. "That there may be equality" indicates the end in view, that is, before the contribution was sent inequality existed between the two in that one had an "abundance" while the other was in "want." When Corinth shared her "abundance" with Jerusalem, then they were "equal," that is, neither of them was in want. That is the equality of which the apostle is speaking. That is the principle behind all cooperation whether it is in the matter of preaching the gospel or doing benevolent work.
Brother Lyles assumes that because some of us are opposed to the type of church cooperation that is being carried on by the Highland church in conducting the Herald of Truth radio program, we are opposed to cooperation, PERIOD. I say, he has assumed it — he certainly has not proved it — and there is not much likelihood that he or anyone else will; for IT SIMPLY IS NOT SO! To the contrary we are in favor of church cooperation on a scriptural basis; and the scriptural basis is that which is set forth by the apostle Paul in the passage just cited.
Now, if Highland church was in "want" and could not of herself carry on her own work, it would certainly be right and within the bounds of the principle set forth by the apostle Paul for other churches to come to her assistance. That would certainly be a case of the churches in "abundance" supplying the wants of Highland. But no such condition exists, and therefore no such cooperation is necessary.
Furthermore, the preaching of the gospel is a responsibility that rests equally upon all the churches. The preaching of the gospel to the whole world is no more the responsibility of the Highland church than it is the responsibility of the 1080 other churches that are sending her their contributions.. They stand equally related to the responsibility. When Highland church assays to become the central agency by which all the other 1080 churches do their radio evangelism, then she destroys the equality that once existed. And when these 1080 churches turn their funds over to the Highland church whose "elders make the decisions" in regard to the expenditure of the money, they surrender their autonomy and thereby become a party to the crime. Why people can not see that is more than I can understand.
The idea that one church can become the central agency through which all the other churches can do their work is what led to the first apostasy. The bigness of the church or the work it is doing is not the thing that is wrong. No one should criticize a big church or a big work simply because it is big — as a matter of fact, it has been my observation that the larger a church is the more work it can accomplish. But when that church becomes so "big" that it thinks it can dictate to other churches what they can and must do, then it is too big — big enough. in fact, to be in Rome.
Next week we shall consider the remarks that Brother Lyles makes in regard to the manner in which the Bible teaches a thing — direct command, approved example and necessary inference.