Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 23, 1956
NUMBER 41, PAGE 8-9a

Origin And Growth Of Centralized Control

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

Chapter I

Every New Testament church in apostolic days was an independent and autonomous organization. Bishops or overseers were appointed in every church as soon as men could acquire the divinely prescribed qualifications. (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.)

The jurisdiction of every eldership was limited to the work and resources of the one congregation of which they were members, and they had no right to send church contributions to a sister congregation, unless the receiving church was too poor to provide for its own destitute members.

No geographical area was assigned to the oversight of the elders of any one congregation, and they had no right to assume such; their bishopric was not geographical or diocesan.

1. The Beginning Of Centralization.

Soon after the death of the apostles of Christ, churches in many provinces created a form of centralization by placing their work and resources under the control of an agency that exercised authority over a district that included several churches. Within a few centuries this erroneous practice produced the Roman Hierarchy.

Nearly all the denominations of today have a form of centralized authority over the work and resources of their composite groups similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church.

2. Missionary And Benevolent Societies.

A little more than one hundred years ago, many free and independent churches of Christ fell into the same error that had corrupted the religious world for many centuries. They surrendered the control of their money for evangelization to an organization which they called "a missionary society." This evangelistic organization solicited money from churches everywhere, and its officers had full control over these church contributions in preaching the gospel at home and abroad.

Churches that cooperated in this centralization project lost their autonomy by surrendering the oversight of their resources for evangelization to an outside agency, when they should have retained it under the control of their own elders. The fact that the society preached the gospel to millions, and that thousands of souls were saved, did not justify the unauthorized removal of the oversight of church resources from the elders of the local churches to a centralized agency. Nor does it prove that the centralization method saves more souls or is better in any way than the divine method of every church's managing its own work.

Soon after the creation of the missionary society among churches of Christ, benevolent societies were organized, and they also solicited money from plain and autonomous churches. Many elders, preachers and editors who opposed church donations to missionary societies on the ground that the Scriptures do not authorize a centralized oversight of church resources in the field of evangelization and that such would constitute a surrender of local church autonomy, not only gave their endorsement of the identical type of centralization in the field of benevolence, but they also solicited funds from the churches for these ecumenical projects in the field of ministration.

Something is seriously wrong with every man's faculties of perception, who cannot see that every argument against the surrender of the oversight of church funds to a human organization in the field of evangelization applies with equal force and logic against the surrender of the oversight of church funds to a human organization in the field of ministration.

The benevolent societies have fed, clothed and sheltered thousands of life's unfortunate; but this does not justify the removal of the oversight of church funds from the elders of the local churches where God has placed it to a centralized agency where God did not place it. Nor does it prove that the centralized method is better in any way than God's method of every church's managing its own benevolent work, and accepting contributions from sister churches only when it is unable financially to provide for the poor among its own members.

3. The Sponsoring Church.

A form of centralized control of church resources, known as the sponsoring church method of cooperation, has become popular with many brethren.

According to this type of centralization, the elders of any or every church may conclude that they are "obligated" to persuade as many churches as possible to place their money under their oversight for a work of evangelization or ministration or both; because the sponsoring church elders in their own opinion have the "ability" and "leadership" to manage much more money than the members of their own congregation are contributing.

If they had as much "ability" as they claim, of course they would be able to see that according to their own process of reasoning no church would have the right to surrender the oversight of any of its money unto them, unless the elders of the surrendering church felt that they themselves did not have the "ability" and leadership" to manage all the money that was in their treasury. The fact that they cannot see where their egotistical claim places the elders of all contributing churches, makes both their "ability" and "leadership" quite questionable. But this type of centralized oversight will be discussed more fully in later chapters.

4. God's Way Most Effective.

Religious leaders have never produced any form of centralized oversight of church work and resources that is one-half as effective as independent oversight and action of autonomous churches. The Lord's way always is the most fruitful and the most effective. Man's ways are a hindrance and a curse when they run counter to God's ways. "Oh Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:13.)

a. Human evangelistic or Bible teaching organizations, such as publishing houses, Bible colleges and all other types of evangelistic or human societies or companies, are a hindrance and a curse to the cause of Christ when they persuade churches to surrender the oversight of either their work or their money to them. Much more is accomplished when churches retain the oversight of their own resources in the field of evangelization.

b. Human benevolent organizations, such as the Red Cross, Child Haven, Cripple Children's Clinic, Rest Haven for the Aged, and many other human institutions, have a right to exist and they are doing a great work for the world's unfortunate. But the churches also have their own divinely appointed work of charity, and they have no scriptural right to abandon the New Testament pattern and donate one dime of their funds to any human benevolent society on earth. The most effective way that any church today can do its divinely prescribed benevolent work is by following the New Testament pattern in its work of ministration. Human benevolent organizations become a hindrance and a curse to the churches' work, when their promoters influence the churches to surrender their charity funds to their control.

c. If the churches that are surrendering the control of their money to sponsoring churches would use all their resources themselves in doing their own evangelistic work (like the New Testament churches did it), the Lord would be pleased and the gospel would be preached all over the world in one generation. (Col. 1:6, 13.) The way these brotherhood evangelistic projects are being financed today is a hindrance and a curse to the work of saving souls.

d. Churches that are sponsoring brotherhood benevolent projects for old people or for homeless children are encouraging parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren to shirk the responsibility of providing for their own households, and are placing a burden upon the churches that should be borne by the relatives of these indigent. This is contrary to the will of God. "But if any widow hath children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety towards their own family, and to requite their parents: for this is acceptable in the sight of God . . . . But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever . . . . If any woman that believeth hath widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed." (1 Tim. 5:4-16.)

If the money and effort used in advertising the brotherhood charity projects under the control of a few sponsoring churches were used in teaching churches and Christians the will of God in the work of ministration, there would be fewer deserted children and neglected aged.

e. In a city that contains several congregations, like Nashville or Houston, the most effective way to build up the churches and to preach the gospel to every creature in that area is by the independent and autonomous effort of all the churches in that city. The big union meetings of the Billy Graham and Billy Sunday, in which the oversight is surrendered to a little group, are not as effective as God's way, and both the Scriptures and human experience have proved it.

There is no excuse for centralized control of church resources.