Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 1, 1964
NUMBER 21, PAGE 4,13a

The Trend To Centralization


In this year of national political elections the American voters will be hearing a great deal about the dangers of an increasingly powerful "centralized government." There is an unending conflict between the government and the governed; in every age and under every type of rule this has been evident. The government (or governing powers) will seek always to increase power; those governed seek always to resist such a tendency. Sometimes the conflict becomes so intense that the governed rise in revolt and repudiate their government completely — as the American Colonies did in our War of Independence; sometimes the rule of the governing power becomes so strong as to make any effort at revolt seem hopeless and foredoomed — as, for example, the rule of an absolute monarch or a ruthless dictatorship.

We should not be surprised that the same human forces and natural inclinations which make for an increasing centralization in political powers make themselves evident in the church. The arguments for such centralization are fair and winsome — and specious. It is argued with convincing logic that the task of world evangelism is far too great to be accomplished without "cooperation" (a euphemism for centralization of funds and authority); simple little incidents are presented, innocent beyond question, in which one church "cooperated" with another by lending chairs or song books; various "cooperative" meetings of the past are cited as precedents; and the person who dares question "cooperation" (meaning centralization) is castigated as a radical, a fanatic, a crank and a crackpot.

But calling names and hurling insults will not solve the problem. When the last ugly epithet has been applied, there is STILL the question as to "centralization of funds and authority." It is not simply the problem of a church with ability sending relief to those in need (as, for example, Antioch sending to the brethren in Judea; or the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia, sending relief to the poor brethren in Jerusalem); but is rather the action of one church in a continuing role as a "receiving, managing and disbursing evangelistic committee" — to borrow a phrase from Dr. Carroll Kendrick. This is not the case of a needy church being helped; it is the case of centralization of funds and authority under a single eldership.

Students or the New Testament have long since realized that the Lord made no provision at all for any such plan or arrangement. When Paul and Barnabas had established a number of congregations in Asia Minor, they returned "and appointed for them elders in every church." (Acts 14:23). Paul told Titus he had left him in Crete that he might "set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city." (Titus 1:5). This Is God's plan; this is the established order. Any time a church, or eldership, seeks to enlarge upon that plan, gathering funds from thousands of congregations to be under the control and administration of one eldership, in order to accomplish a general work either of benevolence or evangelism, there is a "going beyond that which is written," there is an acting without authority.

This is the crux of the "anti" problem; this is the focal point of the controversy. All the emotion packed pleas for relief of starving children and tearful appeals to precedents of the past are immaterial; they do not deal with the problem at all, but serve only to becloud and confuse the issue. So far as we know no Christian on earth opposes the feeding of a hungry child; indeed, the very name "Christian" implies mercy and compassion for all suffering ones. It is unworthy of the Lord's disciples to inject such false issues into the serious and troublesome problem with which we all are wrestling — the problem of centralization.

It will be interesting, indeed, to see how our nation grapples with the political problem. It may be that the tide will be turned back for the time being; but let no one think the battle will stay won (if it is won at all). Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; and that vigilance must not only contemplate forces from without which might endanger the nation; but, in truth, the far more dangerous forces from within It is almost a truism that rarely, if ever, can a great nation be overcome by any force from without; it is nearly always the forces within which weaken and finally destroy the nation. And one such force is the tendency toward centralization of power and authority. Such a movement carries the seed of its own destruction; for, sooner or later, it is almost certain to foment rebellion.

Within the body of Christ there must be the same diligent and unremitting watchfulness, the same careful effort to prevent and avoid even the first smallest departure from "the divine pattern." For "centralization" feeds upon itself; once it has begun to get hold of a people its progress is powerful and persistent — and its final result is deadly. Let every faithful disciple be constantly "on guard." Indeed, this very journal exists as a "guardian" of that gospel which is so precious to us all.