Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 21, 1964
NUMBER 3, PAGE 1,10-11a

The "Great Preacher" And Church Cooperation (Fourth In A Series)

James W. Adams


The "Great Preacher" begins his study of the church cooperation phase of "the questions and issues of the day" with a question. He asks, "Is it scriptural for churches to cooperate?" By implication he thus charges that those who oppose "sponsoring churches," such as those involved in the "Herald of Truth" and "Campaigns for Christ" cooperatives and institutional benevolent cooperatives, do not believe in church cooperation. This is a charge commonly made by the digressive promoters of these unscriptural cooperatives, but it disappoints us to find the "Great Preacher" stooping to such misrepresentation inasmuch as one does not ordinarily associate "greatness" with petty sophistry.

Strangely, the man whose name David Lipscomb College bears — the college in which Dr. Baxter serves as head of the Bible department — was often charged by the digressive element of his day with not believing in church cooperation because he opposed its missionary society. It is, indeed, ironic that the head of the Bible department of David Lipscomb College should thus stigmatize those who occupy, on the subject of church cooperation, a position identical with that espoused by Brother David Lipscomb in life. If Brother Lipscomb were to come back from the dead and appear on the campus of David Lipscomb College, he would not be permitted to teach his views on church cooperation in the "hallowed" classrooms of the Bible department of the institution which he founded and which proudly bears his name.

The "Heart Of Christianity" Antagonized

It is the "Great Preacher's" concept that congregational independence antagonizes "the heart of Christianity." Hear him:

"In seeking the scriptural answer to this question (Is it scriptural for churches to cooperate? JWA), I would begin by pointing out the over-all emphasis and teaching of Christianity in the direction of love of the brethren, fellowship, common faith, mutual interests, and similar goals. The very heart of Christianity is love which ties people together rather than separates them. The emphasis of Christianity stands solidly in favor of unity and oneness. Only because of geographical necessity there were separate congregations of the Lord's church. (Emphasis mine. JWA, Booklet, p. 7)

This is an amazing and revealing statement of the loose thinking and liberal philosophy on church government now prevalent in high places among the churches.

It is interesting to observe a Doctor of Philosophy and Bachelor of Divinity who professes to be a New Testament Christian seeking to establish scriptural authority for a religious practice on the basis of unfounded inference from an indefinite, nebulous, ambiguous proposition such as "the very heart of Christianity is love which draws people together rather than separates them." Void of qualifications, this proposition is universally acceptable and potentially subject to all kinds of wild, fallacious inferences. From it, the Roman Catholic can infer his papal hierarchy, the Methodist his episcopacy, the Presbyterian his diocesan presbytery and General Assembly, the Baptist his convention, and the constituent of the Disciples of Christ denomination his convention and missionary society, as logically as Dr. Baxter can infer his congregational and institutional cooperatives. If the good doctor cannot see this, undoubtedly somebody "slipped a cog" in granting him a doctorate in the field of philosophy.

We should like to pose a question for the "Great Preacher's" consideration: From whence came his prerogative for justifying, on the basis of this proposition, his cherished congregational cooperatives while at the same time denying Roman Catholics and Protestant Denominationalists the right thus to justify their congregational, cooperative systems? None could deny that here is a great deal closer functional unity (in the sense in which Dr. Baxter uses the term unity in his amazing statement quoted above) among Roman Catholic and Protestant Denominational congregations in their hierarchies and cooperative organizations than in the arrangements for which the "Great Preacher" contends. If "the heart of Christianity stands solidly in favor of removing barriers and walls of separation in favor of unity and oneness," why does Dr. Baxter not initiate a movement to organize churches of Christ into a world-wide functional unit? Such an organization need not have the objectionable feature of dictating faith and morals as does the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It could exist solely as a means of expediting congregational "oneness and unity" (which Dr. Baxter avers are so dear to "the heart of Christianity") in functioning in those matters that are of mutual interest and responsibility. This concept was basic to Alexander Campbell's endorsing and participating in the formation and operation of the first missionary society growing out of "the Restoration Movement." If a little congregational togetherness rejoices "the heart of Christianity," why would universal togetherness not be the ultimate "in breaking the alabaster box?" Tell us why, Dr. Baxter!

A Basic Error Revealed

Dr. Baxter's statement reveals a basic error which accounts for his erroneous concept of church cooperation. Alexander Campbell embraced this same error, consequently he endorsed the missionary society. Dr. Baxter's involvement in this error has led him to endorse congregational cooperatives which are identical in principle with the missionary society. The error to which we refer is inherent in the statement, "congregations of the Lord's church."

The Lord's church does not have congregations. The Lord's church is a congregation. The terms "church" and "congregation" are synonyms. Each may be used universally or locally, generically or specifically. Dr. Baxter uses the term in its universal or generic sense. The members of the church universal are not congregations, but individual Christians. The church in its universal sense is composed of all those who are in a saved relationship with God through Christ; it is not an organic body. The church in a local or specific sense is simply a group of Christians in any given locality associated together in an organic body for purposes of New Testament work and worship. Its members are also individual Christians. Some brethren have argued for current cooperatives among the churches on the ground that the church universal is called "the body of Christ." They assume that congregations are the members of this universal body, hence must be joined together by some sort of organic tie to function properly. This has been seriously advanced as an argument in public debate. Christians, not congregations, are members of the universal body, which is not an organic body but a spiritual relationship.

"Geographical Necessity" The Only Barrier?

Dr. Baxter says, "Only because of geographical necessity were there separate congregations." We think all will agree that had there never been but a few Christians in Jerusalem there would have been but one congregation. Certainly, the multiplication of members plus the spread of the gospel geographically brought into existence the separate congregations of New Testament times. Dr. Baxter's statement is, therefore, in a broad, general sense, true, but in a particular sense, it is absolutely false. Dr. Baxter is discussing the cooperative functioning of congregations. He is seeking to prove that congregations existed solely as a result of geographical necessity, hence that no principle other than geography need constitute a harrier to their amalgamation in any sort of cooperative arrangement. Having assumed his proposition to be true, he concludes that it is unquestionably scriptural for churches of Christ today to pool their work and resources under the oversight and control of a "sponsoring church" with its "sponsoring eldership."

The "Great Preacher's" assumption that there is no scriptural barrier to congregational cooperation such as he defends except the limitations imposed by the physical distance between the communities in which the congregations are located is utterly ridiculous and untrue. A tyro should be able to see that, while distance might preclude the possibility of all Christians meeting together for worship each Lord's day, it has no bearing whatever upon the existence and effective operation of a universal organization of Christians and churches under a central head either now or in apostolic times. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is a living and indisputable witness to the truth of this observation. There are Roman Catholic congregations all over the world embracing hundreds of millions of people, but they are effectively governed and their functions efficiently coordinated from a central authority in Rome. If geography had been the only barrier between congregations in New Testament times, there would be clear evidence in the New Testament of some sort of central organization binding them together for functional purposes. The very absence of even a hint of such organizational structure is prima facie evidence that geography was not the only principle involved in congregational relationships.

Dr. Baxter's assertion, if true, simply means that there is no such thing as congregational autonomy. Yet, he and his colleagues vehemently protest any suggestion that they are not completely loyal to the concepts of congregational independence and autonomy which for so many years have been jealously guarded and stoutly maintained by the faithful. If, but for geography, congregations might scripturally constitute a single functioning unit, then churches may scripturally unite in a world-wide functional organization because, as we have demonstrated, geography is no barrier to such an organization. In such an organization, congregational independence and autonomy could not exist. If, as the "Great Preacher" contends, "the heart of Christianity" yearns for "oneness" in the sense of the joint functioning of all Christians and congregations, then any successful system which human wisdom can devise for circumventing the only barrier, i.e. geographical limitations, would necessarily be scriptural and pleasing to God. On the basis of such reasoning, the elders of a great church in a central location might well become the universal overseers, in a functional sense, of the cooperative work of all the churches. This is the logical consequence of Dr. Baxter's statement, hence the reason we regard it amazing. This is Romanism, void only of its domination of faith and morals.

In our next article, we shall be discussing the "Great Preacher's" use of the scriptures in his effort to find Bible authority for his views on church cooperation. We ask our reader's indulgence in the use of so much space in our reply to Brother Baxter. His arguments from scripture might easily have been answered in much less space, but we feel it imperative that brethren generally see in its true character the loose, liberal, even wild thinking that is basic to the human institutions and church cooperatives which the "Great Preacher" and those who travel in his company promote and defend.

— 3105 N. W. 35th Place, Oklahoma City, Okla.