Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 29, 1957
NUMBER 17, PAGE 6-7b

Pushing The Sheep Into The Pit

Dudley Ross Spears, Cookeville, Tennessee

During the controversy relative to congregational cooperation many ideas have been promoted that would justify the unconditional transfer of funds from the treasury of one local church to any other local church. It has been shown that in the New Testament there is record of local churches engaging in unlimited congregational cooperation. It was always limited cooperation and the limit was that the receiving church was in need of the funds or assistance. Everyone in the church today who has studied this issue agrees that this is truth. Yet, due to the fact that there are those among us who would justify their practice at any cost, they teach the doctrine that an established church can arbitrarily become a "needy" church in order to promote some program of work that all other local churches bear the same relationship to and are equally responsible to accomplish. Others have countered that intercongregational cooperation or transfer of funds or assistance from one church to another is the exception and not the rule. God expects all His local churches to operate independent of one another except when the need demands otherwise. Therefore intercongregational cooperation is the abnormal function and not the normal function that God expects of His churches.

A premise has been stated that the unconditional transfer of funds from one church to another is sinful in God's sight. When limited to a need being the cause for the transfer of funds from one church to another, it must not be because of the arbitrary action of the receiving church to make itself needy, because all local churches have this right. If one church has the right to suddenly become a "needy" church by biting off more than it can chew without the help of other churches, then all churches have the same right. Therefore if all churches have the same right to declare themselves a needy church, all churches have the right to declare themselves a non-needy church. If they can declare that they are in a condition of need, they can also declare themselves out of a condition of need. Thus there would be no limiting factor to the transfer of funds from one church to another and we are back at the starting point.

This brings up the question of whether a thing may be right under abnormal conditions and wrong under normal conditions. Is there any truth to the position that during an emergency or its equivalent something may be permitted when it would be sinful under normal times? An incident in our Lord's life seems to teach this. (Read Matthew 12:1-5,11,12.) Jesus journeyed through lands where wheat and barley grew near the paths that He traveled. As He and His disciples walked, they hungered and gathered grain to eat. Pharisees who were constantly on the alert to find a flaw in His life saw this action and condemned Him as doing "that which is not lawful to do- upon the sabbath day." Jesus was doing no violence to the law and the Pharisees were aware of it for they knew that the law provided for the traveler to pluck grain to eat (Deut. 23:25). Yet, being anxious to condemn him, they considered His action as that of the work of harvesting. This was unlawful for the Sabbath was the day of rest and was to be kept holy unto the Lord. Although their accusation was false, Jesus shows them that the law provided for things to be lawfully done at certain times and the same things unlawfully done at other times. God would allow certain things during the existence of a need or emergency that normally He would not. Jesus proves this by stating that David violated no law when he ate of the shewbread in the temple when fleeing from King Saul (1 Sam. 21:1-7). It was unlawful for David to do such a thing under normal circumstances, but was lawful under the existence of the need. Our Lord further shows that the work done by priests on the Sabbath did not profane the Sabbath. Although they prepared shewbread, animal offerings, and even kindled fires, they were blameless. Kindling fires on the Sabbath was expressly a violation of the old law (Ex. 35:3). The priests were blameless under the circumstances described by Jesus. Let us consider the answer to a few questions here. Would David have been condemned for eating shewbread from the temple under normal circumstances? Would the priests have been blameless had they kindled fires for any other purpose than those which the need called for?

A little further in the chapter Jesus showed the inconsistency of the Pharisees by telling them that they would do that which was unlawful under normal circumstances and lawful under abnormal circumstances. He states, "What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days" (Matt. 12:11,-12). Was Jesus trying to teach that they could work on the Sabbath under normal circumstances? Was He telling them that they could create the abnormal circumstances that would permit them to do that which under normal circumstances was unlawful? Would it have been lawful for the Jew to "push his sheep into the pit" in order to create the situation that would allow him to work? According to the theory that an established church can arbitrarily indebt itself beyond its means in order to create the conditions that permit the transfer of funds from one church to another, the Jew would be justified if he pushed his sheep into the pit to create the conditions that would permit him to work on the Sabbath.

It was assumed that all would agree that the unconditional and unlimited transfer of funds from one church to another is sinful — unlawful. It was also assumed that all would agree that the limiting factor is that the receiving church must be in need of support. The issue is how the need came about. Was it due to the fact that the receiving church was in need because of conditions she couldn't help or conditions she created?

It may be objected that this makes cooperation between churches or Christ sinful. Somebody may say, (and one has already) "Matthew 12 would make you believe church cooperation is all wrong unless an emergency or catastrophe came about." But will not our objector agree that the unconditional, unlimited, ungoverned, and uncontrolled transfer of funds or assistance from one church to another is sinful? If he says yes, he has drawn a limiting pattern — an exclusive pattern of Church cooperation. If he says no he finds himself completely at a loss to govern or control the transfer of funds from one church to another. There are no conditions he can describe that would be sinful. There is no limit he can state 'as to the transfer fund assistance from one church to another. The charge of teaching a principle that would "lead back to Rome" is logical and honest.

If not, when he stops wherever it may be — he has drawn a "militant pattern like the Guardian promulgates" — exclusive by the nature of patterns.