Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 8, 1954
NUMBER 47, PAGE 1,9b-10a

Congregational Cooperation

Robert H. Farish, Tarrant, Alabama

Congregational cooperation is a current and vital subject which properly demands concern and study of all earnest Christians. Some wield a pungent pen and exercise an eloquent tongue in opposition to things which have little if any current significance, but the great need of the day is men of courage and knowledge — courage to contend for the faith and knowledge of the problems which confront God's people.

The Problem

How congregations may cooperate was a major problem for the brethren a century ago, and again it was prominent in the thinking, writing and preaching of a half century ago; now it poses itself for current consideration. Before anyone can intelligently grapple with the problem he must have accurate knowledge of the divine pattern of church organization. No cooperation that violates the divine pattern can be tolerated. Either indifference or lack of knowledge regarding God's plan makes for apostasy. Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Knowledge and concern are essential if the purity of the church is to be preserved.

The Divine Pattern

The divine pattern of church organization which we find in the New Testament provides for local congregations, with elders in every church. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) The elders are to "take heed," "tend," "exercise oversight," "rule" the flock of God which is among them. (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:17) The elders of a congregation are limited in their rule to the congregation in which they are bishops. The oversight of any part of the work of another congregation is not lawfully theirs.

The New Testament presents the church universal with Christ as its head. (Eph. 1:22,23; Eph. 5:23 Col. 1:28) The church universal has no head but Christ — no headquarters on earth. There is no board, organization or committee through which general action can be taken; no unit through which the church general can operate.

Possibilities To Be Considered

As there is no functional unit provided in the divine pattern, except the local congregation, it follows that if God intended the church to normally function in universal or general action, one of two conclusions must be accepted. (1) Man is left free "to adopt whatever means are found necessary to accomplish the object" or (2) the church general can take "brotherhood" action through some local congregation.

A Century Ago

The first conclusion was the one accepted by many brethren a century ago. They reasoned that as God had given no general organization in the divine pattern, "the scriptures leave God's people free to adopt whatever plan of general organization and cooperation may seem to them best calculated to promote the unity and prosperity of the churches." In answer to reasoning of this sort, Benjamin Franklin wrote "But if the Lord has given no plan for the purposes here specified, why? Does the conclusion follow that we may adopt any that may seem best? Not by any means. More likely for the reason that he did not intend any such plan or organization, and that the whole affair is an arrogant assumption. I take it that he legislated where legislation was needed, and where he did not legislate, it was not needed, nor intended. Why did not the apostles and first Christians proceed on this freedom, and legislate where the Lord failed to legislate, and do this great work which the scriptures left the people of God to do? The apostles understood it not in that way. The first Christians never understood it in that way. They never did it in that way. This is a long leap in the dark — it is a strange precedent!" This answer by Benjamin Franklin is clear and convincing. Surely, no one thinks that God was incapable of providing an organization capable of functioning in any work and to whatever extent He desired. The fact that He failed to give a general organization shows that He did not intend that the work of the church, in any generation, was to be of such a nature and extent as to require such an organization. A century ago the "American Christian Missionary Society" was established end defended on the grounds that churches may cooperate in the work of the church, "through whatever means are found necessary to accomplish the object." This was the answer of many to the question, "What way, if any, can churches cooperate?"

A Half Century Ago And Now

The next possibility as to how churches may cooperate is that of many churches working through some local eldership. Did God intend that the "church general" should function through some local congregation? Can "brotherhood" action be taken in any phase of the work of the church through a local congregation? Does the divine pattern provide for any local eldership planning and directing a work which is not peculiarly the work of that congregation over which they are bishops? This is the problem and the questions with which our generation must concern itself.

While this is the current problem, it is not new. Nearly fifty years ago, David Lipscomb and those associated with him had to face the problem of many congregations functioning in some phase of their mission through one local congregation. Brother Earl West, in his series on "Congregational Cooperation," quotes from brethren on both sides of the controversy that arose over the plan for the church at Henderson to "select and put in the field an evangelist to work in the destitute places in West Tennessee" with the agreement of the interested parties "to do what we can to interest the church in West Tennessee to cooperate with the Henderson Church in supporting the evangelist." David Lipscomb's comments on this were, "now what was that but the organization of a society in the elders of this church? The church elders at Henderson constitute a board to collect and pay out the money and control the evangelist for the brethren in West Tennessee, and all the preachers are solicitors for this work. This very course was pursued in Texas a number of years ago. The elders of the church at Dallas were made the supervisors of the work, received the money, employed the preacher, directed and counseled him. For a number of years, they employed C. M. Wilmeth. He then dropped out of the work and the Texas Missionary Society took the place. Other experiments along the same course have been made. All of them went into the society work." Thus we see that this phase of the cooperation question, although a pressing current problem, is not a new problem. Today nearly half a century this side the Henderson flurry, the same type cooperation is being practiced. Cooperative arrangements whereby the local congregation is made, or makes itself, the planning, collecting and directing organization through which many churches may cooperate in performing some phase of their mission, are experiencing a mushroom type growth. Nearly every month some new "society in the elders" of some local congregation announces itself for service to the brotherhood.

Herald Of Truth

The "Herald of Truth" is the name of an organization designed to preach the gospel over a national radio broadcast. This organization was placed under the elders of the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. Funds are solicited for the "Herald of Truth" from many churches. The assertion has been made by some that this work, (which has assumed such proportions as to require approximately one and a half million dollars to support it) is the work of the Highland Church — that it is peculiar to that congregation by virtue of the elders having agreed to accept the plan and oversee the work. If such assertions are true, then there is no sure standard by which elders of any congregation can determine the extent of work the Lord intends the local congregation to undertake. Why is a one and a half million dollar project the peculiar responsibility of Highland and not of the College congregation? If it is the work of the Highland congregation simply by reason of the willingness of the Highland elders to accept the responsibility, then if the other congregations in Texas and elsewhere have elders that are willing to accept such a work. doesn't that make a work of that magnitude the work of every congregation? If others are willing, how shall we determine which one is to assume the responsibility? Wherein is "Herald of Truth" peculiarly the work of the Highland Church? If it cannot be established that it is a work peculiar to the Highland Church, then you have "an organization of a society in the elders of this church." How can we know when the responsibilities of a congregation has been fully discharged? Is its responsibility to be determined by the possibilities of the "brotherhood"? These questions deserve careful consideration.

Real Emergencies

The only arrangement whereby churches can send to other churches is for emergency situations. By emergency situations I mean those cases where there exists a need peculiar to a local congregation which is greater than that congregation can bear alone. In such cases other congregations can send with divine sanction to the needy congregation for the duration of the emergency. (Acts 11: 27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-15; 2 Cor. 11:8, 9) If authority can be found for congregations sending to other congregations under circumstances other than these outlined, surely those who are so intent on promoting "brotherhood" programs can locate the scripture. When they fail to advance scripture and resort to name calling, insinuations, misrepresentations, appeals to emotion, etc., it suggests weakness of their cause.

The "Poor Saints" At Broadway

Caring for orphans and widows, who are legitimate charges of the church, is certainly a work of the church. But how can one justify a "brotherhood" institution under a local eldership to do this work? How is it to be determined which congregation is to be the sponsoring congregation? An arbitrary designation of a work as the work of some congregation is presumption. NO eldership has the right to claim as its work any program of activity which requires resources in excess of those of the congregation over which they have the oversight, except in cases where there is a genuine need peculiar to their congregation. The "poor saints" at Broadway in Lubbock may scripturally solicit and accept funds from other churches to care for orphans when such are peculiarly their responsibility, and furthermore when inability on their part precludes the discharge of this responsibility. If the Broadway congregation is scripturally burdened with more needy ones than it has the ability to care for then it is a legitimate object of charity. Other churches can send to their relief, on the authority of Acts 11:29, 30. Otherwise solicitors from the brotherhood do not parallel Acts 11:29, 30 and to use that passage to justify such solicitations is to pervert the truth.

The race is on all over the country. More and more super works are being conceived — the church universal idea is again drawing local congregations out of their independent status and amalgamating them under a centralized control set up. Congregations are voluntarily relinquishing their divine rights and duties. The word "cooperation" is again used to front for and camouflage these human plans. Congregations are suffering from a lack of exercise within the local congregation. Responsibilities that provide such exercise are being shifted to centralized elderships. Diocesan eldership is fast becoming a reality in many places.