Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 23, 1967
NUMBER 8, PAGE 18-26

Congregational Cooperation (A Sermon)

Earl I. West

(Note: This sermon was preached by Brother West at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in May, 1953. It was tape-recorded as delivered, and was later edited and corrected by Brother West himself. This sermon represents his belief and conviction before he aligned himself with the present denominational trend among the Churches of Christ. Brother West does not now adhere to the principles he so ably set forth in this discourse, but so far as we know has never published any explanation for his change nor outlined the reasons which brought it about. - Editor)

The subject of congregational cooperation is one that deals with a theme of how one congregation may cooperate with another to do the work of the Lord. That is one of the oldest problems that has come up in the history of the Church, and in a very few moments we are going to find out how that problem arose, and some of the answers that were early given to it.

The problem I think you realize, is very much alive in this day. How may one congregation work with another or cooperate with another to do the work of the Lord? Going back just a few years, most of us had the impression that the answer to the problems of the world lay in preaching the Gospel of the Lord. Most of us became convinced that such a thing as world peace would never be brought about by guns or bombs or airplanes, but rather when men and women were converted to the primitive gospel of our Lord. I believe that there was a feeling which swept most of the congregations at the end of the war, that somehow or other when the war finally would end, we would all try to do more to preach the Gospel than we had ever done before.

Now, there were many congregations as well as many individuals that decided to do the work of the Lord in foreign mission fields. Some of the finest of the men that we have in the church today, some of the most noble of Christian characters, decided that when the war was over, they were going to go to foreign countries like Italy, Japan, Germany, or France to preach the gospel and try to convert the people. Some of the young men were in the Army overseas during the war and saw the need for it back in those days. When the war was over, they began to interest all of us in a campaign to do more in the way of preaching the word of the Lord.

After the work started, however, there also followed in the wake of it, a thought on the part of many individuals that the congregations were not working together by the New Testament principle to do this missionary work. As some examined the Scriptures, they started to have serious doubts that the principle that we have been following is the principle that really has been outlined in the Bible. Nobody, particularly, is to blame for it. Although a number of years ago the problem of how a congregation could cooperate with another was much alive in the church; yet for the last 40 or 50 years it has been more or less dead. It has been dead, really, because we have been dealing with so many other problems, mainly premillennialism. In giving so much attention to that particular line of thought, our brethren simply did not take the time to really investigate into the question of how one church or congregation ought to cooperate with another, and it has only been with the last 5 or 6 years that the old problem has been brought up again. Once again our brethren are thinking about it, studying about it, and trying to come up with the right answer on the basis of New Testament teaching.

For the past three or four years, I have studied this problem seriously. I don't come to you tonight to speak on the subject with any idea at all that I have solved all of the problems in connection with it. I am not coming tonight with any idea that I know all of the answers to every phase of the problem. Yet, I do believe on the other hand, that there are principles involved that everyone of us ought to see very clearly, and I am not speaking tonight with any intention whatsoever of discouraging any kind of mission work that our brethren are doing in the world. As a matter of fact, those that are now in the foreign fields doing this mission work are men that I respect very highly, and, I say it tonight, not with any feeling of bragging about any modesty, but I recognize in spiritual qualities, their superiority to me. I appreciate the sacrifice that they are making. I am not proposing in any sense of the term to try to say anything that will at all discourage anybody in preaching the gospel anywhere in the world. What we need is more of the Word preached. We need more and more and more congregations of the Lord established instead of assuming attitudes that are going to discourage people from doing that work of the Lord. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that you and I can in the midst of our enthusiasm allow ourselves to be carried away from New Testament principles.

There are people that apologize for an incorrect practice on the ground that there is good being done by it. Why, I know people that are supposedly good Protestants, for example, that apologize for the Roman Catholic Church and think what they are doing is right simply because, after all, they do some good. We have our brethren that seem to say: "If we are doing good, that is all right regardless of whether the principle involved is right or wrong."

The only thing that I am interested in tonight is have you study with me the principle involved in how one congregation may work with another congregation. I am not interested in trying to say anything that is going to discourage the work of our Lord anywhere. I hope not to be able to say anything tonight that will at all interfere with any good work, but rather I hope tonight to be able to say something that will help us in the good that we are doing, to see that it is channeled along the line of following the right principle... the Principles outlined in the Bible. What does the Word of the Lord teach? Let us first investigate the Bible to see what the Word of the Lord has to say.

Cooperation In New Testament Times

The eleventh chapter of Acts is the first example of cooperation. We have, first of all, in this chapter beginning with verse 19, an example of cooperation of the Jerusalem church with the church in the city of Antioch. I am not suggesting this example because it solves all the problems because it doesn't. I do want to have us see as we go through the New Testament what the problem is and to notice these cases. Coming then to the 11th chapter of Acts, we observe that certain brethren — mainly from the Island of Cyprus — had gone over into Antioch in Syria for the purpose of establishing a church. When they came into that city, they preached the Word for a time and the Bible tells that there were many people added to the Lord.

Now you notice the text with me. Acts 11:19-23:

"They therefore that were scattered upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the Word to none save only to Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who when they were come to Antioch spake unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number that believed turned unto the Lord. 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: who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord."

That is not all of the story but it is a part of it, so let us stop and emphasize it. We observe, then, that the city of Antioch was, as we might call it, a mission field; for there was not a congregation there at all. It so happened that among those who came to Antioch, were people of Cyprus and Cyrene. They came there, the Bible tells us, preaching the Word of the Lord; and the hand of the Lord was with them and many people were added to the Lord. When the news of what had occurred in Antioch reached the church in Jerusalem, the brethren in Jerusalem decided to send forth Barnabas to them. When Barnabas came to Antioch, he went to work preaching the Word. Barnabas had not been there very long when he remembered his friend, Saul of Tarsus, was preaching over in Cilicia or in Tarsus. Barnabas said "goodbye" momentarily of the church of Antioch, went over to where Saul was, found him, brought him back to Antioch. Barnabas and Saul labored together in that mission field to build up and to plait the New Testament church. Let's stop and think just a moment about it. Here is a case where the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to the city of Antioch for the purpose of working with, indoctrinating and planting more firmly the church that was already located there. For a whole year, Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus preached the Word in Antioch and the Bible tells us that "much people was added to the Lord." Now that is the first case in the New Testament that we have of one congregation cooperating with another to do the work of the Lord.

There are many things about that case that are not recorded for us in the Bible. For example, we might notice that the church in Antioch did not ask the church in Jerusalem for any aid so far as we know. Nor was there any record that Jerusalem sent any money, but they did send the preacher and I am sure that all of us could see that whether they sent the preacher or whether they sent the money to hire a preacher, is immaterial to the principle involved. They, nevertheless, sent Barnabas to Antioch, and he worked with them. So far as we know, Antioch did not ask for help. We might pause here long enough to emphasize this. So many times our brethren get the idea that they are not going to do anything for the Lord unless their arm is twisted and they just have to do it. That was not the spirit of the Jerusalem church. They saw that Antioch needed some help. They did not wait to be asked. They saw the need; they arose and met it. They sent Barnabas up there.

Who was Barnabas? We know from Acts 4:36 that he was the man from Cyprus by the name of Bar-Joses, a good friend of Saul's right after Saul's conversion, at a time when Saul had no other friends. The Jews hated Saul for turning a traitor to their cause. The Christians were suspicious of him because they only remembered him as one that persecuted them. Barnabas came along and gave Paul a helping hand. We do not have much more about him other than that; nevertheless, Barnabas was sent up to do this work. Barnabas asked for Saul and Saul came down and together they preached the Word of the Lord. All I know is that the Jerusalem church apparently voluntarily decided to send aid to the brethren up at Antioch to help them plant the cause. Now there are a lot of things I would like to know, that I just do not know. I would like to know what part inspiration had to play in it. The Bible does not say, I would like to know whether they were asked or who sponsored the work but I do not know. The Bible does not say and I don't want to get any more out of the recorded than Luke, the inspired historian, put into it.

Let's look at a second example. In Acts 11:27 we read these words:

"Now in those days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius. And the disciples every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea; which they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul."

And then in Acts 12:25:

"And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark."

This is another case of cooperation. A famine was prophesied so the brethren in Antioch, every man according to his ability, sent aid down into Judea and delivered that relief unto the hands of the elders. Antioch knew there was an emergency in Judea... a need greater than they could furnish. There isn't any record that the brethren in Judea asked the brethren in Antioch for any help at all. The brethren in Antioch foresaw a need and arose to meet that need. The famine was something that was beyond their power to meet. The brethren in Antioch decided: "every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea." There is an important principle involved in this. The only time that Antioch saw any need of helping Judea was when the church of Judea could not help themselves. They were desperately in need so the church in Antioch, seeing the need, sent them relief according to their ability.

Here is something important for us to consider. Sometimes brethren get the idea that they ought to go around with a hand out, all the time begging some congregation to help them. Brethren begging isn't a sign of strength, it is a sign of weakness. I will beg if I get weak and have to do it, but I am not going to do that. Begging at any time is a sign of desperation. It is a sign of weakness on our part. We ought not to think that we are strong and powerful because we do it.

In the brotherhood today, any congregation of any size is getting on an average of five to ten letters a week begging for money for this or that or for something else. It has gotten to the point almost that we do not need elders anymore... all we need is a committee to take up the money and to simply parcel it out to one place after another that happens to have its hand out.

Back to the famine in Judea. They needed some help; they could not do the work by themselves. For the brethren in Antioch to refuse them would have been wrong. Therefore, as they could, they sent the relief. Now then, when the relief came down, you will notice this, that it was delivered over unto the hands of the elders. Now what that relief was, I do not know. I used to think it was money and I read that Scripture that way. It does not say money. It says relief. As a matter of fact, I doubt if it was money. The trouble in Judea was that they just did not have any food. They did not need money. What they needed was bread. They, the brethren in Antioch, gave what relief they could and sent it by Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas and Saul were nothing more than the messengers. They were the delivery boys in this case. That is all. As far as their action here is concerned, they did not exercise any authority whatsoever. The brethren took it up, Barnabas and Saul acted as kind of a mailman would act and just delivered it down there to the elders of Judea.

Now notice another thing about the Scripture. When they made the delivery, they delivered it to the elders in Judea... TO THE ELDERS. It was given to the ELDERS to distribute and if some of our brethren were right, this ought to have been turned over to the deacons to distribute. Let's stay by the New Testament Pattern. The elders are the overseers of the congregation. The deacons are men known for their anxiety to work and they just work wherever the elders of the congregation may see fit to put them to work. That is the Bible way.

What I want you to notice in this case is that when it comes to the matter of the delivery of this, the Bible says it was done through the elders in Judea. Sometimes brethren imagine that it was done just to Jerusalem. That is not what the Bible says. It was given to the elders of Judea. There were many congregations in Judea, not just one. There were many of them and the relief was turned over to the elders of the congregations in that territory. What did the elders do with it? They simply distributed it among the needy members of the congregation over which they were the elders. Did the elders here assume the oversight of a work bigger than the congregation over which they were members? Certainly not. The elders of the church were overseers of the congregation, so they took the resources which had been put at their command and used it among the needful members of the church. There is no authority granted to these elders more than that which they had in the local congregation of which they were members.

Let us notice a third example of cooperation. There are more cases in the Bible, but let us notice II Corinthians 8:6-24 where Titus and two unnamed brethren were sent to Corinth to take up the collection for the saints in Jerusalem as the apostle Paul had planned in I Cor. 1:1-4.

A fourth example: II Cor. 8:1-5 and Rom. 15:25-26. The churches of Macedonia through their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. They asked Paul to help them by receiving their gill for the ministering to the saints in Jerusalem. Again the same principle is involved.

Another example is found in the 4th chapter of the book of Philippians. Paul had gone out of the city of Antioch to do his preaching. When Paul was on his second missionary journey, he went to Philippi, planted the church there, and shortly afterwards, went on across Macedonia into Thessalonica. Then to Berea and other regions and finally down to Athens and Corinth. In the 4th chapter of the Philippian letter, Paul writes to the congregation:

"And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need. Not that I seek for the gift; but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account. But I have all things, and abound: I am filled."

Here is an example of a congregation cooperating in the work of the Lord. What was Paul's relationship then to the church at Antioch? Sometimes brethren have said, "Well, Paul was related to the church at Antioch as though we were under the elders of that congregation and responsible to them." Normally, you and I would say that is true. But it so happens in the case of Paul that there is a different problem that enters into it and that is the fact that Paul is an apostle and inspired of the Holy Spirit. Paul did not need to be under anybody's elders to do the work of the Lord... Paul was an ambassador, friends, not of any church; Paul was an ambassador of Christ. He had been sent by the Head of the church, Christ, to go out and 'to preach the Gospel to all places. When it came, however, to Paul's needs, these had to be taken care of and Paul said to the church at Philippi: "You sent time and again unto my needs, first in Thessalonica and then in other places as well."

What do we find then? We observe that when Paul went out into the evangelistic field to preach, HE received contributions. II Cor.11:8-9; Phil. 4:16. Instead of these churches sending their money to Antioch for Antioch to send their money to Paul, the church at Philippi sent the money directly to Paul. That is the way it was done in New Testament days. Instead of sending it to the church at Antioch as the head over Paul's work, they just sent the money directly to the man in the field. There was not any need of going through any other congregation to get the money to the man in the field that needed it.

We have been studying the method of cooperation as set down in several examples in the New Testament Pattern. Now let us turn to the methods used today and during the Restoration period to see whether we have been following the New Testament Pattern. I want you to understand that as far as I am personally concerned, what Alexander Campbell taught, what David Lipscomb taught, or what any other man taught does not weigh one bit with me. Our final authority is: what does the Lord teach on the matter?

Cooperation In The Restoration Times

Back in a very early day when there were men like Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott who did so much preaching here in the Western Reserve; those men faced the problem of how the churches may cooperate with one another. All of you recall that the answer they gave to the problem was that we may go to work and establish another organization and through that other organization channel our activity so that the gospel of the Lord is properly preached. Here on the Western Reserve there was the earliest of all of the human organizations founded for that purpose. In those days, Alexander Campbell was yet a member of the Baptist Church. Not because he believed in the Baptist doctrine, not because he had any sympathy for it whatsoever. As a matter of fact, when the old Brush Run congregation joined the Red Stone Baptist Association, it was with the understanding that they would ascribe to no creed any further than that creed may be in perfect harmony with the teaching of the Word of God. Because Alexander Campbell did not agree with them, he was forced out of the Association. On the Western Reserve they established what was known as the Mahoning Association. The Mahoning Association proposed to have all of the churches belong to it, but allowed each congregation an absolute freedom so far as the maintaining of its own work was concerned. The congregations merely sent representatives to the Association. They had their regular annual meetings from the time it was formed in 1823 until it was dissolved in the year 1830. During those years, they met and brethren sent out the evangelists. Walter Scott was sent out by them and many of the churches here on the Western Reserve were established by the work of Walter Scott along in the years 1827, 28, and 29.

After a while Scott, particularly, began to have some doubt that the Association was the right way in which to work. This did not mean at all that Scott was weaned entirely away from them. He seemed to be confused as to whether the Association was right or wrong. Afterwards, brethren began to come together in various localities such as Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and all over the nation to form what they called their district cooperation meetings. They were called Cooperation Meetings and the first were held purely on a district basis. That simply meant that a geographical area was more or less segregated and all of the churches in that area sent their messengers to an annually designated place to discuss the work of the Lord.

These cooperation meetings were very much lacking in machinery. They had their treasurers to be sure, they also had their assistants or secretaries and officers of the meeting. Each of the congregations by means of their representative sent messengers to that organization to make plans to do the work of the Lord. As time went on, we had the beginning of State meetings. There was the formation of an institution here in Ohio in the year 1853, and this year they are celebrating their Centennial. We had one formed in Indiana in 1839, but there were state organizations and all of the churches in the state worked through these for the purpose of getting their missionary work done. There finally developed the national organizations. In the year 1849 one was established in the city of Cincinnati and called the American Christian Missionary Society.

For about 7 or 8 years Alexander Campbell had been working methodically preparing the ground for the establishing of this national organization. Everyone had given a good deal of thought to the question of organization. The answer that Campbell was giving to the problem was that the congregations can best unite their efforts by means of the formation of another organization and through that organization do the work of the Lord.

Almost from the very beginning until the day the Missionary Society was formed, there were occasional voices heard that doubted whether that was the Scriptural plan. Barton W. Stone had his doubts about it and carried on a discussion with Walter Scott in the year 1826 in Stone's paper, THE CHRISTIAN MESSENGER.

There were others like T. M. Henley of Virginia, who was one of the earliest of our preachers in that state. Their voices, however, were much in the minority. The influence of a man like Alexander Campbell was so great that almost everybody lined up behind him. Many do not understand Campbell's real thinking on the question of how the Missionary Society came to be organized. You and I would say that a man as great as he ought to understand that a Missionary Society was not to be found in the Word of God. But, on the other hand, Campbell had a certain kind of reasoning which has been followed by men of the Christian Church from that day on down to this.

Campbell went on back to the use of the word "church" as that word is found in the Bible. Campbell said that the word was found in the Bible in two different senses. First, we have the use of the term in its LOCAL sense. There is such a thing as "the church at Corinth" and "the church at Jerusalem." The term merely designates the word "church" with reference to a local congregation of the Lord's people under the oversight of elders or bishops. Second, Campbell pointed out that the word "church" is also found in the Bible in its "universal sense." The word "church" is used sometimes in the Bible with reference to all of the people of God that may be found the world over.

When you and I think of the church today, we may think of it very correctly in each of those two senses. First, you may talk about the church in Cuyahoga Falls, meaning by that, this local congregation. Second, you may talk about the church in general; meaning the brotherhood in its entirety...the congregations of all of the people of God. Just imagine for a moment that there are 10,000 congregations in the brotherhood. When you speak of all of these 10,000 congregations, you use the term "church" in its universal sense.

In substance, Campbell reasoned that God gave to the church the responsibility of preaching the gospel to save the lost. When God told the church to save the lost peoples of the world, in which sense of the term was God using that word? Was God meaning by that the church in its UNIVERSAL SENSE, or was God meaning the church in its LOCAL SENSE? Campbell suggested that God was thinking only of the church in its universal sense. Therefore, it was absolutely essential for Campbell to get people to ignore the church locally. He believed we should forget the local church and think only in terms of the universal church or the brotherhood in its entirety. In other words, God has given to them the responsibility of preaching the word that souls might be saved. Campbell reasoned that the church universal is to do that work of preaching the gospel. How can the church in its universal aspect do that work of proclaiming the gospel? Campbell's answer to the question was that the church has no way that is designated for it in the Bible; therefore, on the basis of that, the church universal can go to work and devise any scheme on the apology of its being an expediency. Each one of these 10,000 congregations that go to make up the church universal may send a messenger to another organization. If they choose to set themselves up a Missionary Society and through that society do their work, that's their right and their privilege. God has not told the church universal how it is to do its work. Therefore, the church universal is allowed to go along on any plan that it may desire to do its work.

In this reasoning Campbell overlooked that the church universal has no organic existence on the face of the earth. The only Scriptural organic existence that there is for the church is the church in its local sense. The largest single unit of God's people to be found on this earth is a local congregation. The most powerful individual so far as God is concerned on this earth is the elder, the overseer of the congregation of the Lord. The church universal has no organic existence whatsoever. The church universal can operate only by the means of the local congregation, and just as each one of the local congregations does its work, as each one of them properly organized moves along to do its work, the local congregation then not only glorifies God in Heaven, but the church in the aggregate also glorifies Him.

The Church Universal As Spoken Of In The Bible

The church universal has only one head, according to the Bible, and the head of the church is none other than Christ Jesus our Lord. When Paul said in Colossians 1:18 that "he is the head of the body, the church" he meant that the Lord was not only the Head of the church in Colosse or in Ephesus, but rather, Paul had in mind all of the brethren, the church universal. This suggests that there is only one officer that the church universal has...that officer is the Lord Jesus Christ. When congregations begin to imagine that they can go together and operate as the church universal, whether they mean to do so or not, that which always results from their efforts is one that supersedes or takes the place of the Lord Jesus Christ. It never has failed. It never will fail.

Back in the Dark Ages, for example, the gradual Apostasy from New Testament principles finally resulted in the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic church is, of course, a name that designates the idea of a church universal. There isn't anything wrong with the word catholic. In spite of the fact that sometimes we are a little afraid of it, the word "catholic" just means "universal" and that is all that it means. Now, take the Roman Catholic Church, that church that claims to be universal, and ask the question: "Who is the head over the church? Who is the one that guides it in all that it does? Who is the one that dictates to every local congregation what it must do?" In the final analysis the one that does that is none other than the Pope in home and the result of it is, as they put it, the "vicegerent" of Christ upon this earth. Now that word means the "pope" is none other than the earthly Christ. He exercises the powers of Christ on Earth. He is to the Catholic what the Lord is and to all practical intentions and purposes, to ignore the Pope is equivalent to ignoring Christ. According to Catholic doctrine, the pope is the head of the church here on this earth, and the only difference between the Christ and the Pope is the fact that Christ is up there in Heaven where you can't see Him, and the Pope is down here on earth where you can. As far as their power or authority is concerned, there is not any difference. The point I wish to emphasize is that whenever one tries to get the church universal, to do anything to guide the directions of the church universal, it always results in the formation of the same kind of a monstrosity — something that is not in the Bible but rather that challenges the dignity, the power and the authority of the Son of the Living God.

One may take this same principle and follow it right on down and apply it to the Protestant churches. Protestantism denies a belief in the Pope of Rome. But you may study any denomination that you desire, and you will find that it has something else. Using the principle of the church universal concept, they have all the churches of the denomination welded together into another organization. That organization might be called the General Assembly or some other name, but in every denomination, there is some kind of headquarters or assembly that makes the laws and passes the rules and regulations for its various congregations. Admittedly, the Protestant churches have not gone as far as Roman Catholicism has. Yet, when you take the function of this organization that guides and directs the local congregations and welds them together; what is that organization? Whatever it be, whether it be an organization or whether it be one man, or whether it be a committee of men what do you have but again something that assumes the power, the authority, the dignity and the honor that belongs to the Lord?

There isn't a man on this earth, I care not if he is an elder, a preacher or who he is, there is not a man on earth who has any right from God to make one law governing the people of God. The duty of the elder is to see to it that the law of God is respected; but he is not the lawgiver. Whenever any body of people exists for the purpose of making a law, it then takes the prerogative that belongs to our Lord. Not that it has been done intentionally, not that it is even obvious, but it is there, nevertheless. Whenever you delegate to this organization, the Pope of Rome, to a committee or to an organization the right to weld the congregations together to make laws for them to guide them in what they are to do, you have, therefore, done something that challenges the authority, the power and the dignity of the Son of God.

I say all of this, brethren, in order to get you to think about this fact: Anytime there would arise among us brethren that want all the churches as one, moving forward together in some sort of an organizational capacity, you and I ought to look twice before we leap. We ought to be sure that we are not on the highway to Rome rather than to Jerusalem.

The Christian churches followed Alexander Campbell's plan and all of them were welded together into the Missionary Society. A few years have gone by and now look about and see what happened! Who is it that owns the property of the church universal? The Missionary Society. For all practical intents and purposes, the Missionary Society is the head over the Christian church and, I say to you without hesitancy, that it functions in the very way that the Pope of Rome does. Even as the Pope of Rome has usurped the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, in that very way has Protestant denominations through centralized control usurped the power of our Lord. The first defense that was made for the Society was to forget the church local, then think only of the church universal and allow the church universal to act in any way that it decided the best way. This was one answer to the problem of how congregations should cooperate.

A second answer to the problem came up just a very short time after the Missionary Society was inaugurated. That was started out in the state of Texas, and was mainly led by a man by the name of Carroll Kendrick. Bro. Kendrick left Kentucky in 1851 because of his health, moved out into Texas which was then a very wide, open, wild and rugged country. Already a few congregations of the Lord had been planted there. Kendrick decided that he wanted to try to get all of the churches to work together in some way that would be Scriptural and in harmony, of course, with the Word of the Lord. He worked with that until the beginning of the Civil War. When the war came, the brethren in Texas were pretty much divided over the war spirit. After it was over, they renewed their associations and met in what was called "state meetings." They recognized very well the danger to which the Missionary Society might go. Carroll Kendrick saw the danger as all of them did; so they decided to have some means by which all of the churches could work together but avoid this danger of having an institution to tell the churches what to do. So, Kendrick asked the churches in Texas to get together for a state meeting. That state meeting in Texas was held every fall along about the 4th Sunday in October from about the close of the Civil War on up until 1886. There wasn't any machinery about it. They didn't have any treasurer elected, they didn't have any officer particularly. All they did was to come together.

When they got together, the messengers from all the churches gave reports: Since our last meeting we baptized 25 and we sent out two or three preachers to establish other congregations." In general the report was given and then following the report, they selected what they called their state evangelists. They didn't want the Society to do the work of preaching the gospel, so they decided to choose one local congregation, and put all this work under the oversight of the elders of this local church. Now there always have been brethren that get the idea that if you can put something under the oversight of elders, it is acceptable. Well, Kendrick had that idea, "Let's put it under the elders of the church."

For many years in Texas, Bro. C. M. Wilmeth was selected as the state evangelist. The work was done for many years under the oversight of the elders of the church at Sherman. The elders of the church guided the work and congregations that wanted to help support Bro. Wilmeth out in the field, sent their money to the Sherman Church. The elders in turn looked after him, sponsored him, controlled him, and more or less regulated his conduct. All of it was done under the oversight of the elders of the local church in Sherman, Texas.

In 1886, there came up a big battle in Texas — one of the worst that the church has ever seen at anytime in that state. The reason for it was that some of the men from the Missionary Society came over to Texas and said that instead of this state meeting they wanted to start a Missionary Society selected by all of the churches of the state of Texas. Many of the brethren knew that this attempt was going to be made; but each side more or less marshaled its forces, ready in anticipation of the coming struggle, and hoping they might stem the tide of the Society in Texas. In 1886 they had a very dramatic meeting in Austin, Texas in which there were men like old General R. N. Gano. Dick Gano, who was a confederate general during the Civil War, was an elder of the Pearl and Bryan street church in Dallas for many years. When an effort was made to start the Society, old General Gano stood up before them and wept like a child and begged them not to try to start the Society, but it did little good. J. D. Tant was just starting out as a young preacher and he tells us in one place that he was at the meeting but didn't know too much what was going on because he had gone there to court. At any rate, he listened to old General Gano who lost the effort.

The final result was the establishment of the Texas Christian Missionary Society. When that was started, the old question came up about what to do about these schemes. Carroll Kendrick's idea was to go along with the Society. The question received a thorough thrashing out back in the years 1885 and 86 in the GOSPEL ADVOCATE. There were men like Bro. John T. Poe of Longview, Texas who for many years was one of the outstanding Texas preachers, that debated back and forth whether this sort of a set-up was the Scriptural way. It was decided for the most part that this was not the way that God planned for the churches to do their Missionary work.

The problem subsided for a while, but in 1910 it came up momentarily again through a rather innocent gesture on the part of the church at Henderson, Tenn. The brethren had a meeting at the church in January of 1910. Bro. A. G. Freed was there, Bro. Hardeman, Bro. G. Dallas Smith and a good number of others, and when the meeting was held, they decided what they wanted to do was to sponsor a missionary in the destitute field of West Tennessee. G. Dallas Smith reported that they were going to put this work under the oversight of the elders of the church in Henderson and all the churches in West Tennessee were to send their money to the elders of the church at Henderson so that they could support the work.

Bro. David Lipscomb, then an old man, heard about it and started out to write articles. Bro. Lipscomb said that he was surprised that the brethren had started this. The brethren had had experience with it in Texas several years ago. We saw the end to which it had come. He was surprised that brethren had decided to start it again. The result of the matter was that Bro. Freed said that Bro. Lipscomb misunderstood them. They had not really intended to do it that way. Bro. Lipscomb then acknowledged the fact that he had misunderstood them and the whole matter was dropped.

From that day down to about five years ago, the old problem had never been raised again. In 1910, brethren were pretty much settled on how they ought to do their missionary work. In the year 1915 there came up a battle over premillennialism and it pretty largely occupied the thinking of our brethren down until some ten years or so ago. Brethren began to wake up and realize what has been going on so have started to re-think the whole problem.

Basically, there are three ideas coming down from the Restoration Movement as to how one church can cooperate with another. First, the answer given by Alexander Campbell was that the churches can cooperate by forming another institution and through that all of them do their work. Second, Carroll Kendrick advocated to let all of the churches — the church universal — operate by all the congregations sending their money to one congregation. Let the elders of that church, therefore, act as the overseers of the work. And the third: Bro. Lipscomb's attitude on the other hand was no congregation, no eldership has any right to oversee the work done by more than the congregation over which they are elders.

So, the real problem is: can the elders of a local church oversee the activities of the church universal? If so, then in the principle that is followed, these elders have become another missionary society.

In 1889 Bro. Lipscomb received a letter from J. W. McGarvey about a young man in school--The College of the Bible. He was a very promising man from Armenia, who, after completing his college work, wanted to go back home and preach. Bro. Lipscomb went before three of the larger churches in Nashville and told them that Bro. Asariah Paul wanted to go to Armenia and preach the Word. He asked if they would help him. All three of them said they wanted to help. Bro. Paul went over to Turkey to preach. Nobody sponsored him. He just went over there to preach the Word, but regularly the brethren in each congregation sent directly to the man in the field, and that is the way he was sustained in his work. Later on, the Japanese work came up and the work in China; so the brethren said, "The way we are going to do it is let every congregation as it prospers to help in this work, to send directly to the man in the field. That way we do not take the eldership of one church, build them up and magnify them to the point where they have the oversight over a work being done by the church universal."

The eldership of the church according to the New Testament plan has no more power than over the congregation of which they are members. The elders of a church donut have any right scripturally to oversee a work on behalf of the church universal, any more than a Missionary Society has any right to oversee any work on behalf of the church universal. When we begin to do it that way, we have started on the highway to Romanism rather than going back to the city of Jerusalem. The elders of the local congregation are limited in their authority, in their power and in their operation unto the congregation over which they are elders. When, therefore, the church universal designated the eldership of a local congregation to supervise, or to sponsor or to oversee its work, the elders, therefore, have been delegated, voluntarily, of course, but they have been delegated a power that does not belong to them.

The way Bro. Lipscomb often explained that it should be done was that one congregation would proceed to do its work, work that it can do, work that is within its own right to do, and another congregation may proceed to do the same work that it has a right to do. If there comes up an emergency that one congregation cannot meet, the other congregation may go over and help it during the emergency. When the emergency has subsided, the other congregations are left perfectly free to go right on doing the work of the Lord. There has been in the meantime, no cumbersome machinery whatsoever that has been set up, nothing at all installed that has to be torn down or wrecked. The congregations can work, each one of them in its own local capacity.

A large part of this problem of church cooperation arises because brethren don't understand what cooperation is or even when they are cooperating. Brethren can cooperate, do cooperate when each one of them bears the work that he is supposed to do. It doesn't matter if each one of them is even conscious of the existence of another one or not. They don't have to pool their money. They don't have to put it under the oversight of a designated central church.

If in a city like Akron, the Brown Street congregation does its work of saving souls, they are following the divine pattern laid down in the Bible. If the Thayer Street congregation does its work according to the divine pattern and the Cuyahoga Falls congregation does its work following the divine pattern; they are cooperating. That is cooperation. What do you mean by cooperation, anyway? It is simply working together by the same set of rules.

The idea that some of us have that we are not cooperating unless we all go together and do something big with each other, that is the very thing that has caused most of the fuzziness on the whole problem of church cooperation. If Bro. Brannan does the work of the Lord like the Lord wants him to in Akron, Ohio; and I, in Indianapolis, follow the Lord's pattern also ... we may be 300 miles from each other, but we are cooperating. We are both following the same pattern, doing the same work and trying to glorify the same Lord. That is cooperation. When brethren talk so many times about the fact that we do not cooperate with each other, they simply do not understand, because they themselves manifest that they have a hazy idea of what cooperation is.

The Principle Involved In Cooperation

The principle is simply this: no eldership of any congregation, has any right to voluntarily or involuntarily take over a work for the church universal. The power of an eldership is limited to the resources of the congregation over which they are elders. When you and I begin to take a church, as they did in Texas, and set it up for all churches to contribute through that one church to do their work; you have in principle, the same system as that of the Catholic Church through the Pope, or that of Protestantism through their centralized control (Missionary Society, etc.). I know that it does not look so dangerous but so far as the principle involved, there is no difference, if it is followed through to its logical end. That is the reason we need to be so careful.

Many people forget sometimes that the Pope in Rome is not a glorified preacher. He is simply an elder that has gotten out of line. The Pope in Rome in the very early days was simply an elder, a bishop, and somebody delegated him a whole lot more authority than he had any right to have; and when he got the authority, he would not turn loose of it. You can take your elders of a congregation and the moment you give to them more power than they have a right to have, then you have in principle, a Missionary Society.


In the Bible we have noted four cases of church cooperation: Acts 11, the church at Jerusalem cooperates with the church at Antioch; Acts 11 and Acts 12:25 the church at Antioch cooperates with the churches in Judea; and then, II Corinthians 8, the churches at Macedonia and Achaia cooperates with the churches in Judea; and then, Philippians 4, the church in Philippi cooperates, I suppose we would say, with Paul. That is the way it was in New Testament times.

As I suggested to you at the beginning, I did not talk on this with any thought whatsoever of trying to discourage the work of the Lord anywhere, anytime. Some of the best, most conscientious men that I know of are men that are working in foreign fields tonight and some of them are the very best friends that I have. I admire them. I love them, and I am gladly willing to concede that in terms of spirituality, if they are the kind of men I think they are, they are far better men than I know that I am and I appreciate them and love them and admire them a great deal. I do not want to discourage them in their work by speaking this way tonight.

I am not interested in the least in trying to say anything that might disrupt the unity of the people of God. Many brethren cannot see the difference between thinking a problem through and in some sort of a heated manner going to work to try to draw lines of fellowship. Brethren who are doing this mission work today, are people just like myself. They always thought that that was the right way. Until some three or four years ago, I always imagined that was the right thing to do until I began to think the problem through.

These other men have not been occupied as I have. They have been occupied with other things and maybe have not given it the attention that they should have given. It is no time to feel hard against anybody. No time to have any bitterness in your heart toward or against anybody or any good work. What we all ought to do in the very kindest of spirits possible is to open our minds and think for ourselves, come to independent conclusions and resolve that we are going to stand upon "thus saith the Lord." I know that will please the Lord if we do it that way. Sometimes brethren get to the point that their minds are closed. They do not appear to want to think about a problem for fear that they might learn they are wrong. That is unfortunate. None of us ought to get to that point. We all ought to admit that there is a possibility that we might be wrong anytime and be willing to study anew and investigate to find out. But always in the end, let us all be willing to stand upon the principles of Truth.