Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 19, 1954
NUMBER 15, PAGE 11-12

Evangelism On New Testament Principles -- No. 3

Homer Hailey. Tampa. Florida

In my article last month I pointed out that in the New Testament God put the emphasis on individual effort in evangelistic work. World evangelism began in Jerusalem with the apostles. It spread throughout Judaea and Samaria as the word was preached by the members of the Jerusalem Church who were scattered by persecution. And finally, the gospel was carried to the uttermost part of the earth by Paul and his co-laborers. In all the Bible record there is found no organization and little emphasis on questions of support and none on oversight. Today in the restored church of the Lord the emphasis has shifted. There is much emphasis on organized effort, with little if any on the personal responsibility of the individual.

God's Way

God's way succeeded in apostolic days. It succeeded because it was His way; His way is always best. If one begins with the premise that God is infinite in His wisdom, infinite in His knowledge, and infinite in His power, he will conclude that His way is the way that cannot but be. He will also conclude that the Bible, God's revelation of His infinite wisdom, will be all-sufficient to provide for all spiritual needs and to guide into all good works. He will subscribe to the proposition that the Bible contains directions for God's work as God wants it done. His way will be right because based on infinite wisdom and knowledge and power. To deviate from His way or to seek any improvement on it is to reflect on the ability of God to reveal that which is perfect and best.

Again His way succeeded about a hundred fifty years ago when truth-seeking men began to turn from the creeds and doctrines of men to the New Testament in an effort to restore the ancient order of things. Freeing themselves from the shackles of sectarianism they exalted in their newly found freedom, beginning a crusade for Christ that was destined to turn thousands to the Lord. With nothing but the New Testament and an implicit faith in God they dealt sectarianism a terrific blow. But as is peculiar to human weakness, some restorers soon began to weary of the simplicity of God's fare and to yearn for the garlics and leeks of Egypt; hence, soon they were turning back to Egypt from whence they had been delivered.

Within fifty years — about a hundred years ago just now — the church was passing through one of its most severe crisis. The question of human organization as a means of doing God's work came to the front. The first missionary society was organized in 1849. For a decade prior to that date various cooperation meetings had been held and efforts at evangelism through cooperation had been tried. But now a full-fledged organization was born. It became a stumbling-block to the progress of apostolic evangelism, and a cause of contention throughout the brotherhood. Cooperation had led to organization, and now organization was leading to contention, strife, and ultimately to division. However, the division was not immediate. A bitter battle must ensue before it came. Discussion, the clarifying of issues and a clearer understanding of the principles involved must come before a final cleavage.

From the beginning the missionary society was under fire. With many it was never popular and was opposed from its birth. With others it was the answer to world evangelism and also fitted in with the rising trend toward liberalism. With a third group coming in between it was a matter of trying to avert a division by the path of least resistance, so many of these went with it.

It was difficult to raise money for the society. This called for defense of the society by the most brilliant minds advocating it. Probably W. K. Pendleton, twice the son-in-law of Alexander Campbell, was its best defender. His defense of the society rested primarily upon two assumptions: (1) God had given to the church universal the job of evangelizing the world, therefore the church universal must provide some means or medium through which to carry out the task. The society was the answer and therefore defensible and scriptural on the ground of expediency. It was an expedient through which to carry on God's work given to the church universal. (2) The society was defended on the ground of the slogan of the restoration movement: "Where the scriptures are silent we are silent." The scriptures are silent in their condemnation of the method, therefore it is acceptable.

For one who has subscribed to the premise of the infinite wisdom of God, and of His ability to reveal His wishes in any matter, it does not take long to see the fallacy and weakness of Pendleton's argument. First, God has never given to the church universal any work to do that does not become the responsibility of the individual or of a local congregation of individuals. The premise was false. Second, the defense which involved Thomas Campbell's slogan was a flagrant contradiction of that slogan. The application would be: The scriptures are silent on how the church universal is to do its work; therefore we are at liberty to organize the societies through which to do it. The premise being false any conclusion based on the premise must be false. Further, this interpretation of the slogan would invalidate the whole effort of restoration. On the basis of his contention the Methodists could argue that the scriptures are silent on infant baptism or sprinkling, therefore both are scriptural. The Mormons could argue that since the scriptures are silent on a man's having ten wives, it would be scriptural to have ten wives. Thinking brethren saw through Pendleton's position immediately; only those determined to have the societies, scriptural or not scriptural, heralded his defense as justifiable ground for the society.

What Is Wrong With The Missionary Society?

In past years the question was discussed and debated until members knew what was wrong with the society, or why it had no place in God's plan. Today there is a new generation, many of which do not know why we oppose such. Here are offered a few objections to it:

1. Organization. The society was organized with its board of directors, its president, a large number of vice presidents, secretary, treasurer, and at times a "field man" whose duties were to raise money for the society. Further, anyone belonging to the society must pay certain dues or fees: so much for membership, another amount for life membership, another for director, etc. Of course these matters underwent changes from time to time. This formed ,an organization other than the church to which churches surrendered their work. The argument was valid then against the society, and continues valid today, if the position of the all-sufficiency of the scriptures and the church be accepted as correct.

2. Societies reflect on the wisdom of God. As stated above, if it be true that God is infinite in all His attributes then He was able to determine what is best for man and how best to carry on His work for the greatest good of man. To create another method or organization for doing the Lord's work cannot but reflect upon His wisdom. God has put the emphasis on individual effort, and whatever is done beyond that of the individual is limited by scripture to the combined efforts of the members of a particular congregation; and on this latter very little emphasis is placed in the New Testament. The forming of a society definitely reflects on God's ability and wisdom to provide for the carrying out of His purpose.

3. The principle of faith nullified. A principle running throughout the Bible from beginning to end is that God seeks to direct man to an ultimate goal on the principle of faith. God speaks and man acts out of his regard for God who speaks. The Christian's faith is in God. In the great work of evangelism God is concerned with the work. He is interested in seeing that all men hear the gospel and come to the knowledge of the truth. If he wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth — and He does (1 Tim. 2:4) — then He is able to use the means of His choice to do it (see Eph. 3:20, 21). The means of His choice is the individual Christian, whether the member who is at work in a store or office, or the individual member as evangelist or teacher who goes out on his own faith or receiving support from brethren. If God is interested and has shown that His way is through the efforts of all Christians, each supplying his part, then for us to seek another means or way is to belie our faith in Him. We show by actions that we do not believe in His ability to use us to do the work He has given us to do.

God has never given to man a work beyond his capacity or ability to do. If I admit this, then turn round and say of the work to be done, "We cannot do it," or, "I believe it is beyond our ability," I nullify my claim to faith in God. This is what has been done by the creation of the missionary society. Men say they believe in God, but do not believe they can do what God has given them to do; therefore, there must be created some other agency through which to accomplish His demands. The unfortunate part is that with all the machinery of societies, the thing God wants done still remains undone. What He wants done is done only as I, an individual, to whom a part of the task is given, do that which is mine to do. This point, it seems, is overlooked. Far less was done in the overall picture when the society was born than before. It will ever be thus. The missionary society violates and nullifies the principle and claim of faith.

4. Hinders growth. Growth in the church of the Lord is something more than is outwardly visible. Though numerical growth is essential to the life of the church, numerical growth and expending of energies may not necessarily indicate growth. Growth comes from within; it is silent; and it is invisible — that is, the growth of which I now speak. Peter said, "Desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby unto salvation." (1 Peter 2:2.) The writer of Hebrews charged certain ones that "by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for full-grown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil." (Heb. 5:12-14.) These passages reveal several things: (1) That God expects every Christian to become a teacher in some measure; (2) that growth comes not only by imbibing the word, but by experience in the word, and one medium of experience is teaching; and (3) that ability to discern between good and evil comes from exercise of a spiritual nature. Any effort that takes this responsibility from the Christian and gives it to another, thereby depriving him of such exercise and experience hinders his growth. The method of doing evangelistic work through a society robs the Christian and the congregation of this exercise. It substitutes a system of proxy, whereby the growth of the individual is hindered.

5. Trends toward ecclesiasticism. By this I do not mean that the society brings congregations under its control in all matters. Primarily I mean that it tends toward appointing others to do the thinking and work of the individual and the congregation. Romanism is a system in which the individual entrusts the keeping of his soul and its destiny into the hands of another. A step in that direction would be for us to begin entrusting the work we are to do into the hands of another, while our part is to pay the bill. This is only a step in the direction of the other, but it is a step. I cannot entrust to another the work I am to do, thereby acting by proxy.

Jesus described the judgment as personal, according to what the individual as such had done, and not what a collective body had done. (Matt. 25:31ff.) Paul declared, "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12); and again, "For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10.) Stewardship of good will be one phase of judgment, but only one. There will be the question of my own thinking, decisions, teaching, evangelizing. The society tends to do this for one, while the Christian only gives money and allows the work to be done by proxy. This is the trend today in government, in social relations, and in the church. My personal conviction is that such is wrong in principle. The society method tends to encourage this. Other objections could be given: these suffice.