Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 21, 1956

"Make It As Sure As You Can"

R. A. Ginn, Meridian, Mississippi

In the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, verse 65, we find the words of this article heading. They were spoken by Pilate when the chief priests and Pharisees wanted everything possible done to prevent Jesus' disciples from stealing his body from the tomb. A large stone was placed in the entrance of the tomb, thus "making it sure" that the fears of the Jews would not be realized. My brethren have long been using that text to teach men to have confidence only in what the Bible actually says, rather than to take chances of being wrong with some other way. This lesson is sometimes called "Safe or Sorry." It usually goes like this: The Bible teaches men to: (1) believe in God; (2) become followers of Christ, Christians; (3) be baptized for remission of sins; (4) partake of the Lord's Supper every Lord's day. Nothing is lost when we do exactly what God says, even if he should require less of us in judgment. Obedience brings personal benefits and contentment. If implicit obedience is demanded, however, as the Scriptures lead us to believe, then what chance will men have who have done less than what is specified?

It seems to me that the present controversy among brethren over how churches can and cannot cooperate falls into the same type of reasoning. Patterns for church cooperation in both benevolence and evangelism are clearly set forth in the Scriptures. These patterns are as clear as that of the early church meeting on the first day of the week to break bread. Congregational autonomy is so plainly taught in the New Testament that nearly all will concede the point. As for how churches can cooperate, we are told in 2 Corinthians 8:13, 14: "For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality." That this was the general pattern followed in supplying the needs of the destitute saints in Jerusalem may be seen from 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. The pattern embraces these points: (1) a church with relative abundance (2) sent funds to a church in distress (3) in order that there might be equality, that is, that neither might be in want. No mutual eldership or institution was empowered or employed to do a work of benevolence or evangelism for other churches. Each church did its own work, assisting those needy churches around them as it had ability.

No church that respects this pattern of cooperation has been or will be the object of criticism in any undertaking, whether large or small. All of us are agreed that when such a pattern is followed, no scriptural precedent is violated. However, many churches have lately come under attack by sincere brethren who have objected to the manner in which they have undertaken to accomplish certain ambitious projects. No voice has been raised in disapproving the nature of such work as radio programs, the care of orphans, and the sending of evangelists to distant fields. These are all necessary works in fulfilling the mission of the church. (James 1:27; 1 Timothy 3:115.) The opposition has not been to the work itself, but to the setting aside of scriptural patterns in doing it. It seems there are those among us who still insist on a "thus saith the Lord" in everything, even when it brings forth reproach from others.

There are only two possible ways for the big-time "promoters" to justify themselves: (1) Prove that the "how" of church cooperation is not specified in the Bible, and that we are to use our own judgment in such work; (2) Point out other patterns of congregational action in the Bible similar to activities now going on. It is foolish to attempt the first, unless one has lost all respect for apostolic examples, and it is futile to undertake the second. It has been tried several times recently, but able men have been miserably unsuccessful in finding something in the New Testament that might conceivably justify their brotherhood institutions and practices of "sponsoring church" evangelism. Whether by delving into the Greek, or by "reasoning" around plain Bible principles (as Brother Tom Warren has done), no one has yet found anything that resembles such practices. It cannot be done! It would be as easy to find an alternative in worship, in the design of baptism, etc., as to discover another way and reason for churches to cooperate with one another in doing the work of God.

The Bible pattern for cooperation among churches is the safe way, to say the very least. It is the only one for which Bible authority can be found. It is a safeguard against apostasy (super-organizations have always instigated widespread departures from the truth). It is the most efficient means of fulfilling our obligations as individuals and churches. We can all unite, then, on this plan as being scriptural in every way. Why not be content to "make it as sure as you can?" by standing for a pattern you are certain of finding in the Bible? Why defend things that are uncertain because they are foreign to revealed truth?

Even those who promote these controverted practices claim that they are all "expedients," and that the before-mentioned pattern is just as acceptable to them as any other. Should they not then, if just for the sake of unity, be willing to forgo that which is in doubt in the minds of many? Some are beginning to suspect that this "institutionalism" is not so much a matter of indifference with those who advocate it as they would have us believe. As Benjamin Franklin said about those who pressed the introduction of the instrument: "The profession of indifference is without foundation, only as they wish those opposed to it to be indifferent enough to submit meekly, and let them bring it in." Instead of their willingness to abandon their promotions and do God's work in a way all of us can conscientiously accept, they are warning the brotherhood that those who oppose their efforts pose a grave threat to the progress of the church: the work is being hindered by their refusal to "go along" in these matters! The late R. L. Whiteside had a lucid comment about their "warnings": "When a man can see danger in speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent, he is so intoxicated on fermented ego that he is liable to see anything!"

There is everything to be gained, and nothing to be lost when we "do Bible things in Bible ways." Unity will prevail, and the Lord's work will prosper. Then, "make it as sure as you can!"