A Statement Of The Issue -- No. II.
These present issues involve more than the single question of the scriptural existence and support of confessedly human organizations, but also involves the matter of activating the church universal, or general; that is, of engaging in a work beyond the limits and capacity of a local church, but functioning through one congregation. The question is: can congregations pool their resources in a collective effort with one congregation, for the latter to do their work? That one congregation can help another congregation in a state of need, to accomplish that which is peculiarly the responsibility of the receiving church, no one questions. But that a church can assume to do the work of many congregations, and solicit and receive funds from them to do their work, is what is questioned.
For instance, if one congregation can set itself up as a sponsoring church to do the work of congregations generally, in any given field or undertaking, then another congregation can do the same thing in another area of operation. To such there is no end; and therefore, a number of churches, or even one can assume to do all the work for all the churches, and all they need to do is to send their money to this sponsoring church, and let it oversee the accomplishing of every phase of their work for the Lord, evangelistic, benevolent and even their own edification.
However, we hear it contended that in such arrangements the work done is peculiarly and exclusively the work of the sponsoring or receiving church; That when any church assumes to undertake a work, which, prior to the assumption, is equally related to all churches, it then becomes exclusively the work of this church. For instance, if a congregation decides on some area, state or nation as a "mission field" wherein it proposes to engage in the work of evangelizing, that such then is so related to this congregation as to be peculiarly and solely its work. Hence from this view if any other congregation desires to do a work in this field, it has only one recourse; that is, send its support to this church who exerted this prior claim. For instance, under this concept of the matter, while Jerusalem was the only congregation, it had the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the whole world. But with the creation or establishment of other congregations, they should have, acting on this principle, worked only through the Jerusalem congregation.
Should there, then, develop that condition wherein a few, or even any given number, of congregations exercised this act of preemption, then there would be no work to be done by the remaining congregations of the Lord. This inescapably destroys the equality of congregations, and be it remembered that in the New Testament no congregation had the preeminence. As evidence of this growing condition of preeminence claimed and enjoyed by some congregations, we have the spectacle of a congregation soliciting, it is reported, the property of members of other congregations to be left this congregation as provided in the wills of these people. The appeal is made that the elders of this congregation are men of such proven business ability as to render them capable of more wisely and successfully using these monies and property for a general work! In other words, these Christians or the congregations of which they are members are not capable of knowing how to employ their possessions to the best advantage for the Lord.
Among those who are engaged in such programs of centralization of resources and activity, there is not agreement as to whose work this is. Some say it is the work, exclusively so, of the sponsoring church, while others affirm it is the work, jointly, of both the receiving church and all the contributing churches.
Highland, in Abilene, claims that the Herald of Truth program is exclusively its own work, and, therefore, it is not the work of those contributing congregations. If such be true, then the contributing churches are not doing any work in this respect — they are only enabling Highland to do its work.
On the other hand, some contend such is the work of all, and that it is a cooperative undertaking in which all are joint participants in accomplishing a work that none of them alone can do. They employ the term "cooperation" in a partial sense, and then strongly excoriate some who do not believe in cooperation as they endeavor to identify and restrict its connotation. Cooperation and co-congregational are not equivalent terms. Neither does cooperation necessarily imply a concentration of money, resources and power. "I only give this as a sample, showing that the work is not a concentrated one; and cooperating in it is not in concentrating our money in a treasury, nor going to a Missionary Convention, but doing the same kind of work. It is the work of the Lord to turn souls to God everywhere, and he who does it is cooperating with all others engaged in that great work, no matter who they are, nor where they are. All the churches, everywhere, "shining as lights in the world," "sounding out the word of life," and all the individuals who participate in the same work, either by doing a portion of it themselves, or by sustaining those who do it — no matter how remote from each other, nor whether they ever heard of each other — are, nevertheless, cooperating in the same work. They are "laborers together with God" in his husbandry-workmen on "God's building." One may plant and another water, while God gives the increase; but the work is in the same cause, the same work — the Lord's. All who work in it are cooperating with all others who work in it." Benjamin Franklin, Gospel Preacher Vol. 2, page 498-499.
Franklin was the most influential force in opposition to the Missionary Society, at least until David Lipscomb began to exert a far-reaching influence in stemming the tide of digression. Brethren today, while rejecting the Missionary Society, have, nevertheless sought to have the same thing, in effect, in a particular congregation. They endeavor to circumvent the objectionable character of the missionary society as a human organization by claiming that a congregation, while doing the same work and functioning as a central agent is, nevertheless, divine rather than human, under its elders. There has developed the thought that anything or any arrangement which exists and functions under an eldership is, therefore, and for that reason scriptural. No elders in the New Testament existed as a general board, and for them to do so is to become ecclesiastic elders. When any congregation, under its elders extends its work beyond its own membership and engages in a general work for a plurality of congregations, the elders have transcended — and thereby transgressed — the limitations God's word imposes upon them. They are to take heed unto themselves and the flock over the which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. Acts 20:28. When they, therefore, extend their "heed" beyond these bounds they are acting presumptuously and wholly without divine warrant.
Thus we have briefly endeavored to state the issues as currently existing, and the principles which are involved therein. No extended effort has been made to defend the position we hold or to descend to particular aspects of it. It is hoped that this approach shall incite those who read these words to study the word of God in an effort to learn the way of the Lord more perfectly. Prejudice and ill-will, expressing themselves, respectively, in a refusal to consider what is said, or in misrepresenting those with whom we differ, will never contribute to ascertaining and establishing truth. And truth, independent of its popularity or lack of it, is that which we must learn, respect and obey if we are to be accepted of the Lord here and dwell with him hereafter.