Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 30, 1961
NUMBER 46, PAGE 2,10-11

"Intercongregational Cooperation In Evangelism"

Hoyt H. Houchen, Abilene, Texas

"Intercongregational Cooperation in Evangelism" is the title of a mimeographed article, written by Weldon B. Bennett, preacher of the church on Graham Street here in Abilene, Texas. He attempts to refute arguments made by "those today among us who cry out against one church helping another church in any evangelistic work." This, his opening statement is misleading, for there are none among us to our knowledge who deny that one church can help another church in any evangelistic work. His conclusion is that because brethren oppose the sending of funds to another church to do evangelism, they therefore are opposed to helping another church in any evangelistic work. Our brother fails to deal with the real point of issue in his article, he assumes a position that we do not hold, as seen in his opening statement, and he attributes to us an argument that we do not even make.

The phrase "Intercongregational cooperation" in the title of the article under consideration is nomenclature that is contrary to congregational independence as is taught in the New Testament. Webster defines the word "inter" as "a prefix meaning among; between, together; as interlace, to lace together." (Collegiate Dictionary, 5th edition, p. 525) There was no federation, ecclesiasticism, or combine of churches in the New Testament. There was no universal organization of the church but each church of Christ was an independent and self-governed body. (Acts 14:23; 20: 28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet, 5:2) "All the churches, in those primitive times, were independent bodies; or none of them subject to the jurisdiction of any other." (Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Murdock edition, Vol. I, Book 1, Century 1, pg, 72) Our objection is not to aiding another congregation to do evangelistic work, but it is to funds of churches being combined and centralized under the control of one eldership. This becomes "intercongregational" activity.

Webster defines the word "intra" as "a prefix meaning: within, inside." (Collegiate Dictionary, 5th edition, pg. 528) With respect to organization, intra-state activities mean those within the state and regulated by the state. Interstate matters are controlled and supervised by a larger agency than the state. The Interstate Commerce Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1887 to regulate trade which crossed state lines. Interstate commerce, therefore, is regulated by the federal government. When each church does its own work and directs and manages its own affairs, doing its work within its own framework, it is "intra-congregational" activity. "Intercongregational cooperation" necessitates a control and direction of funds beyond the oversight of each congregation. In contending for "intercongregational cooperation" in evangelism, brother Bennett is contending for the very thing that he denies is in existence when churches send funds to another church to do evangelism, namely, centralized control! If it is not centralized control, then it is not "intercongregational cooperation," If it is "intercongregational cooperation," then centralization exists inherently, the very thing that he denies.

Our brother charges us with an argument that we do not make when he says that we put forth the argument that "There is no New Testament example of church cooperation in evangelism." At first it was believed that this surely was a misprint — that he did not intend to use the negative "no" in his statement but by reading farther down, he cites a passage to show that there is a pattern in evangelism, so it cannot be a misprint. This reviewer refuses to believe that his false charge is malicious or intentional, but rather that he is confused, not understanding what is involved in the present day issue of church cooperation. We know of no one who contends that there is no New Testament example of church cooperation. In our controversies with these brethren, it has been our contention all along that there is an example. If there is no example, no pattern of church cooperation in evangelism, then the Missionary Society is justified.

What is the example of church cooperation in evangelism? Churches cooperated with Paul while he labored in preaching the gospel. He received wages from other churches while he was at Corinth. (2 Cor. 11:8) Philippi sent directly to Paul. (Phil. 1:3-5; 4:10-18). These funds were sent to Paul by an individual messenger, Epaphroditus, (Phil. 2:25) In the field of evangelism, New Testament churches sent wages directly to preachers in distant places, and no intermediary controlling agency existed between the preacher and the churches that contributed to his support. This is the Bible way and it cannot be improved upon. The church here at North Park sends directly to two preachers and we have Bible example for doing it. But where is the scripture that authorizes a sponsoring church, churches sending funds to one church which in turn supports preachers in the field of evangelism? Where is it?

Acts 11:22-24 is the only passage referred to by our brother in his article and he misapplied it. The passage reads: "And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch.... he exhorted them and much people were added unto the Lord."

Brother Bennett says, "There is a clear-cut example of one church assisting another in evangelism." No one denies that one church can assist another church, but it takes a long stretch of the imagination indeed to see in this passage that Jerusalem sent funds to Antioch to be disbursed in evangelism. Not one word is said or one hint given in this passage or in any other that the thing was done for which brother Bennett is contending. Jerusalem did not send funds to Antioch for disbursement by the Antioch church. There is a vast difference in a church sending a preacher somewhere to preach the gospel and sending funds to a church in order that it will in turn direct the funds in the field of evangelism. But he raises the question, "If it was right for Jerusalem to send a preacher to assist in evangelism, would it not have been right in the absence of the preacher to send funds to supply the need?" He wants to know the difference. The difference is, we have New Testament authority for one and we do not for the other! When it comes to the Lord's work, we must do it in the way that He has directed us to do it and we are not to do any supposing in the matter. As long as brethren suppose that they can engage in a practice for which there is no Bible authority, we shall continue to have division. The New Testament pattern of evangelism is for churches to send directly to the preacher, God intended for there to be a direct connection between the church that supports the preacher and the preacher. When we are willing to lay aside human opinions and take the Bible for what it does say and not what it does not say, then we shall have unity. (See Jer. 10:23) Every substitution that has ever been made for God's way is based upon the assumption that something else is just as good. The advocates of mechanical music in worship argue that playing on a mechanical instrument is no violation of the command to sing. Their contention has always been, what difference does it make? It grieves our hearts that brethren today are using the same human reasoning in their efforts to justify their practices that are unauthorized by the word of God.

Brother Bennett thinks that he has found inconsistency among "our brethren who offer objection to intercongregational assistance." He makes reference to a church that received funds from other churches to construct a new building in place of one that had burned. He asks, "Have they sent back the money to those who 'sinned' in this cooperative enterprise?" This is typical of these brethren in their attempts to justify their practices. Unable to find a passage of scripture that authorizes their projects, they evidently suppose that they have justified them if they can prove that somebody else is inconsistent. If everything that we have done in the past is wrong, it would not prove that the enterprises for which our brother is contending are scriptural. Furthermore, if he found an inconsistency, then we propose to him that his discovery can work two ways. There are churches that once contributed funds to the Herald of Truth. They do not do so any more because they believe that it is a kind of cooperation that is unscriptural, Is the Highland church inconsistent because it had not sent back the money to these churches that formerly contributed to the Herald of Truth? Tell us about it, brother Bennett.

The author of the paper under review propounds the question, "If the church sends money to a missionary, is it 'doing its work through a man?' Were the churches of Macedonia and Achaia 'doing their work through another church' when they sent money to the Jerusalem church to help needy saints?" We answer in reply to his question, if our brethren with whom we differ will do just what is stated in the foregoing question we shall have unity upon the matters of cooperation in benevolence. Why are they not willing to simply adhere to what was done in the New Testament and what he admits was done in the very question that he raised? We are pleading with brethren to follow the New Testament pattern. Churches met the need of preaching the gospel when they cooperated in sending funds to preachers to support them (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 1: 3-5; 4:10-18) and when there was a problem of benevolence, churches cooperated in sending relief to those churches where there were needy saints. (Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 9:1, 12, etc.) In the New Testament, churches sent directly to preachers in the work of evangelism, but they did not send funds to a preacher who became a sponsoring preacher. They sent to churches for the relief of their needy saints, but they did not send through any church that became the radiating, distributing center. Churches are not doing their work through a sponsoring preacher when they send funds to him for his support and churches are not doing their work through a sponsoring church when they send directly to churches for the relief of their saints who are in need. Our writer seems to be unable to distinguish "to" and "through."

Next, he inquires, "If the sending of funds by churches to another church for evangelistic purposes constitutes `centralized church control," then why would not the sending of funds by two or more churches to help a preacher proclaim the gospel be 'centralized preacher control'?" It would be if the preacher would become the distributing, sponsoring agency to support other preachers. This would be a one man missionary society and those of us who oppose the sponsoring church type of cooperation would oppose this just as readily. When churches sent funds to Paul, Paul did not become an intermediary agency between the churches that supported him and other preachers in the field of evangelism. There is a difference in what churches did in supporting Paul and churches sending to a church that in turn disburses funds in evangelism.

Our scribe states that by such coined expressions as "centralized control," we "have been able to scare many brethren and thus hinder many fine and noble works." In the first place, the expression "centralized control" very simply describes the situation when one church exercises control and oversight of the funds sent to it by other congregations. We cannot expect our brethren who promote this to particularly relish the term that so aptly describes it. Concerning the matter of brethren who oppose "centralized control" hindering "many fine and noble works.' as our brother charges, we are reminded of some past history. History is indeed repeating itself. The advocates of the Missionary Society accused its opposers of hindering a good work. In the Otey-Briney Debate on mechanical instruments of music in worship and missionary societies, a debate which every member of the church should read, J. B. Briney had much to say about the good that was being accomplished by these societies and how brother W. W. Otey and those with him were opposing such a noble work. In this debate, hear J. B. Briney in his defense of the Missionary Society, pg. 289, 290: "Now, I call attention to the fruit that this missionary tree is bearing throughout the length and breadth the world....the Foreign Missionary Society has belted the earth with its mission stations, and hundreds of men and women stand in that line, preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, turning men and women from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. There is the fruit that this tree is yielding....some of it at least. Is it good or evil? Do you think he would turn to my brother Otey and say, brother Otey, grind your axe and go lay it to the root of that tree and destroy it?" So reasoned J, B. Briney, and the same old familiar tune is heard today. Does the author of "Intercongregational Cooperation in Evangelism" oppose the Missionary Society? No doubt he does, but when he speaks out forthrightly against it he will surely be accused of hindering "many fine and noble works." We insist that we can only please God when we do His work in the way He said to do it. The end does not justify the means.

Our author inquires, "Has the autonomy of the church been destroyed when it sends money to another church for the purpose of proclaiming the truth?" He thinks that the objectors to this have used this as a "scarecrow" to hinder cooperative evangelistic efforts. Again he misrepresented us. We state again for emphasis that the New Testament does furnish a pattern for cooperation in evangelism and we have shown what it is. (Phil. 1:3-5; 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8) We are not opposed to cooperation in evangelism but we are opposed to churches doing their work through another church by sending their funds to it and having them controlled, directed, and disbursed by that church. The idea of combining resources in a general fund to be distributed and used in evangelism was the very conception that gave birth to the Missionary Society. J. B. Briney argued on page 168 of the Otey-Briney Debate in defense of the Society: "The congregations cannot pick themselves up and walk off, one going here, and another there, and another yonder, in the accomplishment of the work; but by combining (emphasis mine, H. H. H.) and putting the matter into a wise committee, chosen with reference to their knowledge of the work being done, their knowledge of the men who may be selected to do it, and this committee in the name of the congregation they represent takes up the work and it starts ....Now, when you have a committee like that, you have a missionary society. It may have this form of organization or that form or the other form, but it is an organization nevertheless." When churches contribute to another church which in turn prints advertising, rents facilities, and thus becomes a radiating distributing center in behalf of the contributing churches, these contributing churches have surrendered their autonomy to that extent, this in spite of brother Bennett's assertion that the idea is absurd. In an article The Truth Between Extremes, brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr. wrote in the Gospel Advocate, 1930: "On the same principle, if the elders of one congregation solicit the funds of other congregations for general distribution, then the elders of one congregation usurp the functions of the congregation, whose funds they receive and disburse. It is the same in principle as if a society or individual should do so." Highland church here in Abilene, for instance, is a brotherhood agency. It receives funds from several churches. The power and control over these resources are combined in one congregation, We have asked before and we ask again: If one church can surrender its funds to be used by Highland in evangelism, can 10,000 do so? If 10,000 can do so, can every congregation in the world do it? If several congregations can send part of their money, can they not send all of it? If these congregations can send funds to Highland to do their evangelism, can they not send funds to Highland for it to do their benevolent work too? If not, why not? Where is the stopping place?

Finally our brother writes, "Our prayer it that these brethren who have set up laws which God has not made may see their error." That our readers may see just who it is who has made laws which God has not made, we submit the following:

Chart Goes Here Churches Sponsoring Churches

There is scripture for this There is no scripture for kind of cooperation in this kind of cooperation in

evangelism: evangelism:

We have begged and pleaded with these brethren who practice the sponsoring church type of cooperation to find the scripture that authorizes it. WHERE IS IT?

Is brother Bennett making laws which God has not made when he opposes the Missionary Society? He is a teacher in the Bible department at Abilene Christian College. Brother J. D. Thomas, Professor of Bible in Abilene Christian College, contends in his book, We Be Brethren, that churches may contribute to such schools out of their treasuries. Does brother Bennett believe that they can scripturally do so? If he does not, is he opposing it? If he does oppose it, is he "making laws which God has not made?" If he should speak out courageously in opposition to churches supporting the schools out of their treasuries, it is possible that he will be branded as an "anti" along with the rest of us.

We are pleading for the truth. Truth has nothing to fear. Truth will stand investigation. We pray that these brethren will return to the Lord's plan as revealed in the New Testament.