Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 20, 1950

Centralized Control And Oversight

Roy E. Cogdill

In the furor that has been raised by the criticisms published concerning the evangelism of Italy, many have entirely overlooked the question that is of real importance in the matter, which was actually the reason for the initial articles. This question is, "Does our work in foreign countries rest upon a scriptural basis?" We are vitally concerned about that matter, and every Christian should be. We are informed that some who are foremost in such work have expressed a serious doubt concerning the actual scriptural basis of the work as it is now being done. Can one congregation oversee the work of another congregation in territory outside its own community? Were contributions ever made by churches in the New Testament through other churches to work in fields separated from both? These are important questions, and their importance must not be lost sight of in all our enthusiasm. Nothing, positively nothing, is justified in the good that it may seem to accomplish when it is not the Lord's way and is not therefore in harmony with his will.

Acts 11:27-30

Brother Jack Meyer of Oklahoma City, in his bulletin of February 23, has taken the position that the plan upon which such work is being operated is scriptural, and has offered some examples that he thinks form a scriptural precedent for the plan. It is the purpose of this article to examine his position which he sets forth in these words:

"It has even been argued that it is wrong for one church to carry on a program of "sponsoring" some evangelistic program. Money, not only from Antioch, but over a wide area, was sent to the church in Judea, to be dispensed under the oversight of the elders, for benevolence. (Acts 11:27-30) See also the many references to the money being raised by Paul, as in I Cor. 16:2. If that could be done for benevolence, could it not be done for evangelism?"

Brother Meyer has not found a case in point at all. No one has denied that it is scriptural and right for more than one congregation to contribute to a certain need or program of work. What we deny is that the churches made this benevolent contribution through a congregation separated from the field where it was to be used. They did not so contribute in the very example which he has offered. These contributing churches did not send their contribution to Antioch, or to any other congregation, to be sent on to the churches in Judea. The supervision of the work of distributing this benevolence was not assumed by Antioch or some other congregation separated from the field where the work was being done. On the contrary, each congregation made its own contribution and sent it direct to the church in the field where the work was being done. There was no "sponsoring" congregation, and brother Meyer hasn't and won't find one in the New Testament. Let him do it, and we will be happy to join with him and the church where he preaches in such a program.

In the New Testament examples, the church in the community where the need arose had the responsibility for doing the work there, and other churches simply contributed toward helping them do it. This doesn't even begin to look like one church overseeing a work for many other churches in territory completely separated from all of them.

The Principles Stated

Here is the principle: each congregation had the oversight and responsibility for the work in its own community. When any church found itself unable to supply the need in its own community, other churches could and did co-operate with it by sending contributions. Whenever any work was undertaken in a distant field, contributions were sent in every instance to the field where the work was being done, and never to some intermediary church which was to "oversee" the distant work. This was the case in Acts 11; this was also true when the contribution was made up for the poor saints in Jerusalem. (I Cor. 16) When the need covered the whole of Judea, the contribution was sent to the churches of Judea; when the need was in Jerusalem, the contribution was sent to Jerusalem. Messengers carried these contributions to Jerusalem exactly like the mail today carries contributions to the field in need. But in no instance (and we challenge brother Meyer or anyone else to find the case) did any church forward its contribution to another church, separated from the field, and delegate the oversight to that church—a church that was no more responsible for it than any other congregation separated from the field where the need was.

What Difference Does It Make?

Someone asks, what difference does it make? The answer is that if one is to respect God's way, it makes a lot of difference. It makes the same difference as whether one sprinkles or immerses. It makes the same difference as it made whether Moses spoke to the rock as God commanded or struck it taking glory to himself. It makes the same difference that it makes whether the church wears a scriptural name and is scriptural in its worship, or does not. It makes the same difference that it makes whether we do right or do wrong, whether we follow God's way or follow our own way. We have always preached that we will "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent." We have understood that this principle applies to action the same as it does to preaching. What we are calling for is a New Testament example for the evangelistic and benevolent combinations that we have today in churches such as Brownfield and Lubbock in Texas, and Memphis in Tennessee, not to mention others that have joined the parade in later days and to smaller degrees, but which violate the same principle.

The principle violated is the independence and equality of congregations in their responsibility for the work of the Lord. God did not provide for any concentration of power in one congregation, but gave the same jurisdiction to all, and made each responsible for its own work. No congregation has the right to delegate that responsibility to another church. Whenever congregational lines are crossed, God's provision for the safety of his church is violated, and God's ways are once again deserted for the ways of man.

Congregational Co-Operation—how It Was Done.

More than one church contributed to the poor saints in Jerusalem, but each church was responsible for its own response to the need that existed. Antioch sent to that need. Corinth sent to that need. But Corinth did not send through Antioch and leave the oversight of the work to Antioch. Both sent alike to the field where the need was being met, and both remained on the same equal plane relative to the work that was being done. That is the example God gives. Today, we would have Antioch take the oversight, be the sponsor, promote the work, attract great publicity to the work, and then all the other churches desiring to help in that work would contribute through Antioch (or perhaps we should say to Antioch). There is a fundamental difference between these two plans, and it should be respected. No man can condemn a missionary society and defend a congregation acting as one for all the churches. We will not be any more surprised at anyone's trying to do it than we were at' Jack Meyer; but we are sure that neither he nor anybody else can do it successfully.

More than one church contributed to Paul in his work. Philippi sent to his need. Perhaps Ephesus, Antioch, and others did likewise. He said, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you." (II Cor. 11:8) He went out from Antioch and made his report to the whole church in Antioch. (Acts 13 and 14) But the churches that supported him did not send their contribution to Antioch, but rather they sent it directly to Paul (Phil 1:5; 4:15-16).

No congregation is responsible to God for more than it is able to do. When any congregation assumes the responsibility for more work than t is able to do, it assumes a responsibility it cannot fulfill. Is there any reason why the churches cannot be made aware of the need, and each assume the portion of responsibility for that need that it is able to assume, and do it independently and yet in cooperation? Certainly, there is not. If Lufkin is able to support a man for only half time, and Brownfield is able to support one for only half time, can they not agree to each assume one-half of his support and thus work together, sending their support directly to the man in the field, and each bear the same relationship to the work that is being done? They not only can, but should, for that is God's way of doing it.

In contrast to this simple plan, we have allowed huge combinations and centralization of power to be assumed by one congregation, and all that other churches can have to do with it is to send their money. This is a position that God gave to no eldership in any church, and therefore one which scripturally they cannot assume.

But some may say, if it is done that way, each church sending directly to the man in the field, will not some greedy and avaricious preacher take advantage of such, and become rich at the brethren's expense? To this we reply that this would be but the abuse of God's plan, and any plan can be abused. Could not the eldership of some church handling hundreds of thousands of dollars for the churches at large misuse the money thus entrusted to them? Is there any reason for assuming that any man made plan is fool proof? Should we not have as much confidence in the preachers as in the elders? Besides, with the means of communication we have today, there is no reason for the churches not knowing what is being done by each other. While we are "supposing" objections and hindrances to doing it according to the Lord's example, suppose we get back to the New Testament in our practice as well as in our preaching!