Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 30, 1958
NUMBER 38, PAGE 9a-10a

"What Are The Limits Of The Work Of A Local Church?"

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

A brother has announced in another journal that he has changed positions. His former position was a positive stand against such brotherhood projects as "Herald of Truth;" his present position is neutral — he cannot "prove that the type cooperation represented by the Herald of Truth violates a New Testament principle." In explaining his change of position he writes: "But an important question underlies this problem. What are the limits hath bewitched you," that you cannot now give a clear, positive answer to this important question for we are informed in his statement that he "went rather thoroughly into the problem" with some brethren in Fort Worth, Texas. This experience led him to the point of raising an important question but did not lead him to the answer. At least, he does not tell us the limits of the work of a local church. This brother, along with some others, needs to learn that he has the responsibility of giving the scriptural answer to the question. A scriptural answer will be found in the scriptures — not in a text book of logic or mathematics.

The scriptures furnish "completely unto every good work;" they alone are to be relied upon to set "the limits of the work of a local church." Those who endorse "the type cooperation represented by Herald of Truth" must prove it by the scriptures. It is not enough to say that they "cannot prove that it violates a New Testament principle;" they need to prove that the New Testament authorizes it. It is generally understood that the important question, "What are the limits of the work of a local church," underlies the problem. That is the very thing with which the "sponsoring" elders have failed to deal. ,et them produce scripture which gives them the right o "assume" an unlimited work for a limited organization, a local church. As a gospel preacher, this brother, and others, needs to realize that he has the responsibility of roving that the thing is scriptural — he is just as responsible as any other to show the limits of the work of a local church. Gospel preacher, elders, and others who accept the grave responsibility of teaching the will of he Lord are required to "understand what the will of the Lord is."

A scathing denunciation against watchmen who deliberately failed to understand is expressed by Isaiah: 'All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea all ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea all ye beasts of he forest. His watchmen are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; reaming lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds that cannot understand; they have all turned o their own way, each to his own gain, from every quarter." (Isa. 57:9-11)

Two fundamental evils contributed to Israel's down-all — "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jer. 2:13) These two evils are present today. Many gospel preachers have forsaken the scriptures which furnish completely unto every good work and have "hewed them out" syllogisms, based on mathematical axioms, which can hold no "furnishing" unto any "good work." Brethren, for the good of your souls and the sake of the peace of God's people, make up your minds! Either 'preach the Word" or teach mathematics. I am confident that if some brethren had not become so infatuated with the wisdom of the world as to depend upon it to determine their convictions with reference to the "things of God" no confusion would exist in their minds as to "what are the limits of the work of a local church."

The wording of the question shows that the brother still thinks that there are some limits to the work of a local church. It is strange that he should talk about "limits" in his efforts to justify a thing (sponsoring church) which has no limits. It is as boundless as the ambitions and promotional ability of the sponsoring elders. Let some of the defenders of the "sponsoring church" concept step up and tell us in positive unambiguous language where the stopping place is. If there are limits to the work of a local church they can be understood by the "babes" in understanding, even though "the wise and understanding" miss the point completely. The question itself contains the answer in the words "local church." The organization, local church, limits the work; it determines the magnitude of the work. The local congregation is the divine organization. (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). No problem would exist in this matter if brethren had been content with 'God's provisions. Our current problems arose only when brethren began thinking in terms of a "brotherhood" work. Surely, no one is so naive as to think that the present trouble in Zion would have occurred had brethren continued to think and plan in terms of the local church. "Does God intend for the church universal to act in any kind of combination? Yes or no?" The answer is no, for if God had intended the church universal to act in any kind of combination he would have made provisions for it to so act. The furnishing of the scriptures is complete — the local church is the only organization furnished — the local church is adequate. The silence of the scriptures in regard to a "brotherhood" work is significant to those who are determined not "to go beyond that which is written." Are we to see a repetition of mistakes of the past when men abandoned the safe way of "speaking where the scriptures speak and remaining silent where the scriptures are silent" for the dangerous way of "authority in areas of silence?" The scriptures are "silent as a tomb" about an organization for church universal function. There is no organization provided in the divine pattern for any combination greater or smaller than a local church. Those who are troubling the church today by perverting the divine organization and attempting to force it to function in a "brotherhood" work are as guilty of disrespect for the silence of the scriptures as were those of former days who attempted to justify the missionary society on the silence of the scriptures.

Congregational Cooperation

The subject of congregational cooperation has been injected into the controversy on organization just as it was a century ago. In that former controversy those who desired to activate the church universal tried to justify a missionary society with the plea that it was nothing but congregational cooperation. Those who opposed them were dubbed anti-cooperating brethren; history repeats itself at this point also. The cooperation between congregations which involves one local church sending to another local church is the kind of cooperation under consideration. Our problem with reference to this is simply what do we find in the scriptures. The answer is: The scriptures authorize one local church sending to another local church when the receiving church is in real need. (Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9). The scriptures are "silent as a tomb" about congregational cooperation which involves one local church sending to another where the receiving church was not needy. Now the question for those defending the "sponsoring church" type cooperation is: "Are you willing to be content with this which is furnished by the scriptures?" This is all that the scriptures furnish on this kind of congregational cooperation — this is complete furnishing. If we will go this far and no further we will please God.

That it is scripturally right for churches to practice the kind of cooperation which involves a local church sending to another church in emergencies; i.e.. when a local church (or churches) is in need is denied by no one with whom I am acquainted. There is no opposition to this: it is the misuse of this to justify a sponsoring church kind of cooperation that is opposed. Some have tried to justify sponsoring church cooperation on the assumption that if a thing is scripturally right for emergencies it is scripturally right in normal conditions: that if it is wrong for a local church to send to another local church which is not in need. it must be wrong to send to it when it is in need. This writer, believing that those who so reasoned were of "good and honest hearts," patiently presented cases from the scriptures that clearly showed the fallacy of such reasoning. Perhaps these brethren failed to read the article. If such is the case I would like to commend it to them for their study. In this paper I will not labor the point by multiplying cases but will give one case to illustrate the point. Sexual intercourse outside the limits of marriage is adultery. Adultery is sin under any circumstances. The act within the proper limits is not adultery. But according to the reasoning of these brethren the act is sinful under any and all circumstances. What becomes of marriage? The absurdity of the thing is apparent to the "babes."

Another mistake frequently made is failing to test projects and practices directly by the pattern. This mistake is made when some case of action which is not questioned is used to measure another action in an hypothetical case, which in turn is used to prove another hypothetical case, and so on until the practice or project under consideration is proved by the last hypothetical case introduced into the series. The practice is proved by a hypothetical case, not by the scriptures. This is becoming a very popular device with those who are "studying" the question. Carpenters who have several pieces of material to be cut to the same dimensions, cut a pattern and measure each cut by the pattern. They know that to measure each succeeding cut by the one immediately preceding it will result in serious variations. Early deviations are seldom of such proportions as to be readily detected. Apostasy does not come full blown; rather it arrives as a result of a series of short steps. Care should be exercised to avoid the blunder of proving our practices by linking up to the divine pattern with a series of hypothetical cases. The path paved with hypothetical cases never leads closer to the divine pattern — it always tends away from the pattern.