Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 5, 1957

"We" Should Learn A Lesson From The Sbc

Bill Cavender, Cooper, Texas

In May of this year the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) had its annual convention in Chicago, Illinois Newspapers in this area gave much publicity to the events of this convention. In the Dallas Morning News of May 28, 1957, the following paragraph appeared in a lengthy write-up of the convention. This paragraph struck me as having some food for thought for my brethren. We can learn a fine lesson from this if we will do so. The paragraph reads thus:

"One issue that is expected to cause a controversy on the convention floor is a proposed amendment to the SEC constitution being offered by Dr. James M. Bulman, pastor of the First Church of Spencer, N. C. It was introduced at last year's SBC sessions in Kansas City, Mo., but could not be acted upon until this year. The amendment asks for a reaffirmation of autonomy for local churches. It would mean a church could end its connections with the SBC whenever a majority of the congregation wished to do so. It grew out of troubles the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Church had in trying to withdraw from SBC and become independent. In that church a split developed in the membership. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the "body of members remaining loyal to the original church (SBC) should retain the church property." The other side organized their own church which since the original split has worked into another split in its congregation."

The SBC has been the cause of untold contentions among the Baptist people. Years ago when the SBC began, many Baptist churches split over it and many congregations would not go along with it. There is no fellowship today among several Baptist groups mainly because of the SBC. The larger and wealthier Baptist churches are those that have generally given their support to the SBC.

Baptist churches that support the convention send delegates to its annual meetings. The convention elects its own officers from among the delegates, has its own constitution and by-laws, and conducts its own business. It is supported by contributions from Baptist churches that endorse it. Baptist churches send their money to the SBC. The SBC spends the money for home and foreign missions, radio and T. V. evangelism, benevolent homes for children and aged people, and the Baptist colleges and universities such as Baylor, Wake Forest, etc. So it is through the SBC that Baptists do their work. They send their monies to the SBC and the SBC does the rest. The SBC is not a church nor a part of a church. It is an organization created by Baptists, supported by Baptist churches and individuals and does the work of and for Baptist churches.

All the while the Baptist churches are teaching and preaching that they are "autonomous" and "independent" bodies. But the above quoted paragraph shows this to be untrue. Once a Baptist church affiliates with the SBC, it can no longer act independently as far as doing its own work in its own way is concerned. If a church tries to withdraw from the SBC, it will be split for most SEC Baptists have their faith in the SBC. When a Baptist church turns its money over to the SBC to spend for it, it relinquishes its autonomy. It is no longer an independent body. It is only a cog in a gigantic machine invented by Baptists themselves and which in reality has become a monster over them. A Baptist church cannot withdraw from the SBC as witnessed in the case of the Rocky Mount, N. C., church. Baptists give lip service to the idea of church autonomy but at the same time they will justify the SBC as only a "method" of doing their work. No real autonomy exists in Convention Baptist churches and they know it.

The same thing has happened in the church of Christ and is happening again in this generation. "We" can learn a lesson from the SEC if we will open our eyes, look and listen for a moment. Over one hundred years ago our brethren met in Cincinnati, Ohio, to organize the American Christian Missionary Society. It was organized in the same way that the SBC is organized with but few differences. Its purpose was to receive money from churches, which money would be spent for gospel preaching, the ACMS sending and selecting the preachers and selecting the fields to be evangelized. Later benevolent programs were and are carried on by the society, now called the United Christian Missionary Society. About' ninety per cent of the churches went after the society after all was said and done. Only comparatively few churches remained faithful to the Bible teaching concerning the "autonomy" and "independence" of each local church of the Lord. The larger and wealthier churches were the first to accept the society and many smaller congregations followed the lead of the larger ones. Later, among the society churches, mechanical instruments were brought into the worship of God. This further divided brethren. The liberal attitude toward the scriptures that authorized the society also authorized the instrument in worship in the minds of the liberal brethren. Now the modern Christian Church, with all its innovations, denominational affiliations, modernism and liberality, is the end product of the digression made in forming the missionary society. The society was not wrong because it wanted to do good — preaching the gospel. It was wrong because it was an organization unauthorized in the scriptures. It was not a "method" of preaching the gospel as its advocates claimed. It was an unscriptural organization formed by fallible men to do the work that God gave the local churches to do. It usurped the function of the church and destroyed the autonomy and independence of the churches supporting it. When churches relinquished their monies to the man-made society to spend, they relinquished their independence and autonomy, a thing that the churches had no scriptural right to do. The scriptures do not authorize a local church to relinquish its funds to a human organization that the human organization may do the work that God gave His churches to do.

Churches of Christ that refused the society were few. They were criticized, ostracized and disfellowshipped by the innovators. The liberals demanded that brethren accept their society or else be disfellowshipped as anti-missionary and non-progressive dividers of churches. Yet, in spite of all the epithets, falsehoods and slander, many churches remained faithful to the scriptures, grew spiritually and numerically and in a few generations outgrew in numbers the Christian Church.

But history has and is repeating itself. What the missionary society advocates were unable to do with brethren the benevolent society advocates have been able to do. If it is wrong for brethren to build a human society to do missionary work, it is also wrong to build a human benevolent society to do the benevolent work of the church. If not, why not? The benevolent societies had their beginning some thirty-five years ago. For nineteen hundred years local churches had done their benevolent work "without boards and conclaves unknown to the New Testament." A board (elders of the church at Tipton, Okla.) formed themselves into a brotherhood organization (society) to care for homeless children that would be sent to them. This society fastened itself upon the churches of Christ for support. Since that time many societies have been organized by brethren, both under local elderships and "under boards scattered all over the country." Even though these societies are formed and managed by brethren they are still human societies — human because they are unauthorized in the New Testament. At their inceptions they have been poor, begging, pleading institutions. Now they are rich and powerful and, in combination with many colleges, papers and influential brethren, control most of the churches. They are no longer helpless. They spend thousands of dollars a year for propaganda, advertising and influence peddling among local churches. They are no longer "expediencies" in the mind of brethren. They are essential and divine institutions, restorations of divine homes, and must be supported. Those individuals and churches refusing such support to such societies are disfellowshipped as non-missionary and benevolent works, antis and dividers of churches. Some churches now support children's homes, aged people's homes, Bible colleges, youth camps, youth hobby shops, parochial schools established by brethren and every kind of "sponsoring-church" promotion imagine-able and the end is not yet. Each year sees a rash of new societies, chartered under state laws, fastened upon the churches for support. These various societies are bleeding the churches white and milking them dry and brethren are too blinded by them to see this and many who do see it love their living and popularity more than they do the will of God. These various organizations are not "methods" of the church doing her work; they are human organizations for which there is no Bible authority. These organizations have to use "methods" in marrying on their work just as the churches must use "methods" in carrying on their work.

Like the Baptists with their convention, brethren are so wedded to and enraptured with the societies of various kinds among us today that they will split a church, the Lord's divine organization, alienate brethren, encourage ill will, hatred and strife, rather than give up their allegiance to the human societies. Like the missionary society brethren, our brethren today have no scripture to authorize them to build societies separate and apart from the church, nor to make a society of the elders of a local church through which many churches "co-operate" in doing their work by pooling their resources. When this is called to their attention, they become angry and consider as an enemy the one asking them for scriptural authority. Out of the side of our mouths we claim to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent" and all the while we are doing things and supporting societies for which there is no Bible authority.

We have seen various statements in religious papers by some brethren who want all to know that they are on the popular side, that they will endorse anything the brethren can think up for the church to do. They make statements to the effect that they believe in the institutions as long as the "autonomy" of the church is not threatened. These fellows do not know what autonomy is. When a church, under its elders, ceases to plan its own program of preaching, edification and benevolence, and simply sends cheeks each month to various institutions and organizations, it has ceased to be an "autonomous" body. It is only a cog in a machine and if a local church should cease to support such institutions after having done so in the past, it will be accused of departing from the faith and practice of apostolic churches, as witnessed by the multitude of false accusations made against the Walnut St. church in Greenville, Texas, by the liberals who stirred up strife there.

Can the Baptists teach the truth on the subject of the "autonomy" of the local church and still justify their Convention? If not, why not? Would such a convention among churches of Christ violate Bible teaching? If not, why not? How can one condemn the SBC and not condemn human societies among churches of Christ? If there are not human societies among churches of Christ now, how and for what purpose could a group of brethren organize themselves that they would constitute a human society? Yes, we can learn a lesson from the SBC if we will do so. But some will not listen and learn.