Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 21, 1956

Was The Missionary Society Founded To Control The Churches?

Obert Henderson, Pullman, Washington

In attempting to escape the many parallels between the missionary society of the digressives, and some present day "cooperative" projects among us (particularly Herald of Truth), some advocates of these present day cooperative projects are affirming that the missionary society was founded for the purpose of exercising control over the churches. They then conclude that since Herald of Truth was not founded for such a purpose, that the two are therefore not parallel, and that Herald of Truth is then scriptural and right.

However, when they contend that the missionary society was founded to control churches, they are going contrary to the facts of the matter. It is true that the society does exercise control over churches today, but it was not founded for that purpose. Here is the preamble to the "Constitution of the General Convention" which was adopted at Louisville, Kentucky on October 19, 1912 and was confirmed at Toronto, Canada on October 6, 1913:

"Whereas, there is a widespread feeling among the Disciples of Christ that they need a closer unification of their various missionary, educational and benevolent organizations, and a more general fellowship of the Churches of Christ in all cooperative efforts for the extension of the Kingdom of God in the world, and believing that this unity and fellowship would result in their own greater efficiency:

"Therefore, we members of Churches of Christ in convention assembled, reaffirming our steadfast adherence to the independence and autonomy of the local churches and inviting the fellowship of all our sister churches in the accomplishment of these ends, do adopt the following constitution:"

It is significant to note that in the preamble to this constitution, those who drew up that constitution, and thus propagated the missionary society, affirmed their "steadfast adherence to the independence and autonomy of the local church." Their aim was not to control the churches, but to do a "greater work" than they considered possible in God's way.

Many brethren warned of the ecclesiastical hierarchy that would develop from the propagation of the missionary society. Its advocates did not believe that such would result, in fact, they said it could not! Here is their "Explanatory Resolution" which was added to the Constitution at the Toronto Convention on October 6, 1913:

"Whereas, fears have been expressed by some that the convention organized on the basis of representatives from local churches cooperating through said convention may be a step toward a species of ecclesiasticism contrary to the history, spirit and aims of our movement, now, therefore, be it resolved that no such purpose is contemplated, nor would it be possible under the constitution which we have adopted.

"Resolved, further, that we positively disclaim any desire or intention that this convention or any of its successors shall ever exercise any control over the freedom or autonomy of local churches ...."

No, the missionary society was not founded to exercise control over the churches, of some brethren notwithstanding. Its proponents positively disclaimed any such desire or intent.

It is noteworthy that, in the beginning, the society did not compel cooperation, but simply "invited" it. Today, they yet continue to maintain they are "inviting" cooperation. But let some preacher or church fail to cooperate, and see what happens!

These things ought to be impressive to us. The missionary society was not founded to exercise control over the churches. But it does it now, nevertheless! Today, those who are promoting various "cooperative projects" among the churches disavow any desire to exercise control over the churches. They do not compel, but only "invite" cooperation. But, WHERE WILL IT LEAD? Every time such a centralization of authority and work as is characteristic of these "cooperative projects" has taken place, it has run into a species of Romish ecclesiasticism. Will we never learn from past history? Brethren today who are warning of such an ecclesiasticism are not crying "wolf, wolf," and neither are they alarmists. They simply see the "handwriting on the wall" as to what will happen in coming years, if present trends continue toward more and more centralization of authority and resources!