Sounding the Trumpet
James W. Adams
"In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us." (Neh. 4:20.)
The Church and Organizations
Like the troublesome word "cooperation," the term "organization" is found neither in the Old nor New Testament. However, what is included in its meaning and application in religion has been the occasion for almost endless controversies and divisions. Church organization has truly been "the reef upon which the ship of Zion has floundered" upon several significant occasions in her history of almost two millenniums.
The great apostasy of the post-apostolic period, out of which developed the Roman Hierarchy and Christianity's "dark ages," resulted from corruptions in church organization. The apostasy and division among those connected with the so-called "Restoration Movement" of the nineteenth century likewise resulted from corruptions in church organization. The introduction of mechanical instruments of music in the worship has generally been given credit for this division, but perceptive students of the "Restoration Movement" know this to be incorrect. The successful introduction of mechanical music in the worship was made possible by the previous corruption of church organization beginning with the so-called "cooperation meetings" and culminating in the "Missionary Society."
The disposition among the brethren which made possible the formation and implementation of the "Missionary Society Cooperation" of 1849 at Cincinnati, Ohio without scriptural authority led naturally and inevitably to the corruption of the worship by the use of mechanical instruments of music at Midway, Kentucky in 1859 and St. Louis, Missouri in 1869. Let it be acknowledged that there were some brethren, such as Alexander Campbell, Moses E. Lard, and J. W. McGarvey who endorsed the Missionary Society but repudiated the mechanical instrument of music in the worship, just as there were some who illogically and inconsistently endorsed the "cooperation meetings" but rejected the Missionary Society, yet, they were the exception rather than the rule. Each led inevitably to the other. The "cooperation meetings" led to the "Missionary Society," and the "Missionary Society" made possible the successful introduction of mechanical instruments of music in the worship.
In our generation, once again the brethren are involved in heated controversy and are divided into at least two groups. As before, the problem is church organization. Label these groups charitably or contemptibly, gloss the issues with semantics or rhetoric, or studiously repudiate one another as brethren because of them, yet the fact remains that the basic problem is, as always, church organization, church government, and scriptural authority.
Cooperation and Organization
A basic consideration in this discussion is the fact that it is impossible to separate the question of church cooperation from the question of church organization. It is also impossible to separate church organization from church government. The brethren who wrestled with the problem of the "Missionary society" more than a hundred years ago recognized these facts and came to grips with the problem on this basis. In our time in the discussion of our problems, we have either not been as intellectually honest or we have not been as intellectually perceptive as were they. Let us hope it is the latter rather than the former.
Alexander Campbell argued at great length in the columns of the Millennial Harbinger as follows: (1) a congregation is cooperation of Christians; (2) cooperation demands organization, hence God provided for the local congregation with its elder' deacons, and members; (3) each congregation is related to the whole church of God as an individual Christian is related to the local congregation of which he is a part; (4) the preaching of the gospel to the whole world, the disciplining of unruly, transient members, general benevolence, and the publication of papers, books, tracts, and song books are matters that cannot be accomplished by a single congregation functioning independently; hence (5) the universal recognition of the need for cooperation of churches and the consequent necessity to form and implement a general organization among the churches through which they can cooperate in the accomplishment of these matters.
Having reached this conclusion, Broth Campbell deduced from it the scripturalness of the "Missionary Society" by a sixth consideration; namely, since God has revealed no specific organization for such purposes, Christians and churches have the liberty to devise such organizations for these purposes as may best be suited to their needs in any given period of time. Since was the consensus of the brethren in Campbell's time that the "Missionary Society" as formed Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849 was the answer to the governmental requirements of church cooperation, he contended that brethren generally should acquiesce in and cooperate with the society in all matters which were the general responsibility of the churches.
However, to keep the record straight and to weed out superficial and illogical reasoning in our present discussion with reference why a missionary society cooperation is wrong and our present-day cooperation are right, let it be noted that Alexander Campbell further argued: (1) there are three departments of church government - legislative, judicial, and executive; (2) legislative and judicial authority belong only to Christ; (3) all ecclesiastical organizations presuming to legislate or judge in matters of faith or morals are wrong; (4) a general organization among the churches created to coordinate and direct the efforts of the churches in matters of general responsibility is executive in character, inheres in the necessity for church cooperation, and is therefore justified on the ground of expediency.
I have taken the liberty of putting Brother Campbell's arguments in my own words for the sake of brevity, but those desiring to read them in his own words may find them in the Millennial Harbinger 1831, p. 235; 1836, p. 333; 1840, pp. 188, 189; 1842, p. 523; 1847, p. 160; 1850, pp. 73, 617; 1857, pp. 303-307; and elsewhere.
It is worthy of note also at this point in our discussion that brethren today who seek to justify churches forming and contributing to human organizations in evangelism, edification, and benevolence use the very arguments which Brother Campbell and others used in defense of their "Missionary Society," yet they repudiate the scripturalness of the "Missionary Society." I insist that, if we grant Brother Campbell's premises, his conclusions are irresistible. I neither grant his premises nor accept his conclusions. Should I accept Brother Campbell's premises, I would be forced to accept his conclusion that the missionary society form of church cooperation is allowed by Scripture.
Both Brother Campbell and today's defenders of human organizations as scriptural methods of church cooperation in matters of general responsibility incorrectly assume that individual Christians and churches of Christ functioning independently cannot accomplish, through the cumulative effect of these efforts, all of these matters of general responsibility. No person has ever argued that a single congregation can do so. Brother Campbell a hundred years ago and brethren today have both overlooked an obvious alternative that just mentioned: the cumulative effect of the efforts of Christians acting individually and churches functioning independently in reference to the accomplishment of the same grand objectives. This consideration rules out the necessity for church cooperation in the sense of joint effort or amalgamated endeavor, hence renders irrelevant and immaterial any discussion of what kind of organization shall be devised to implement such cooperation.
Confusing the Issues and Voiding Our Conclusions
Semantics have wonderfully confused the issues surrounding the subject assigned me; namely, "The Church and Organizations." First, there is the word "church," a translation of the Greek term "ekklesia." This word is used in at least four senses in the New Testament as it is applied to the people of God. The two most common uses are: (1) the church universal - the aggregate body of the redeemed with Christ as head, the New Testament as its rule of life, and the glory of God as its object (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 3: 10, 11, 21.); (2) a local body of disciples regularly assembling for worship, uniting their abilities and resources, and functioning as a unit under the direction of qualified elders, or in the absence of elders, under the direction of such as are deemed by the body capable of directing the work of the congregation until elders can be qualified and appointed. I believe it can be amply demonstrated from the New Testament that these bodies had entity in the apostolic period, were organized, and functioned as independent bodies. (I Cor. 1: 1, 2; Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17-28; 14:23; 11:27-30.)
Too often, in the discussion of the church and organizations, the word "church" is used ambiguously. One cannot determine whether the church universal or the church local is meant. The church universal has no earthly organization; its members are individual Christians (Romans 12:5), not churches. Brother Campbell was wrong a hundred twenty-five years ago, and brethren today are wrong, world without end". when they contend that a "local church is related to the whole church of God as an individual Christian is related to the local church of which he is a part." The members of the universal body of Christ are not churches, hence any argument for "church cooperation" predicated on the fact that the universal church is the body of Christ is fundamentally fallacious.
It is utterly irrational to suppose, as did Brother Campbell and as do others today, that the all-wise God of Heaven, to preserve order, coordinate the efforts and resources of a group of disciples in a town or city, and promote edification should specifically and minutely provide for the existence, organization, and direction of such local bodies, even to the naming of their constituent elements and spelling out the precise qualifications which should characterize their overseers and permanent servants, yet, would, at the same time, leave to purely human wisdom and discretion the creation and implementation of an infinitely more complex and difficult general organization for the purpose of coordinating the activities and resources of all the churches of God on earth. (See: Acts 20:7, 17, 28; 1 Pet. 5: 11 Tim. 3; Titus 1.)
Common sense, unadulterated "horse sense," completely apart from Divine Revelation, would suggest that it is infinitely easier to coordinate the resources and activities of a relatively small group of disciples, living in a restricted area, with common backgrounds and interests, personally well known to one another, and meeting weekly at the very least, than it is to coordinate the resources and activities of a multiplicity of groups of such people, scattered all over the world, with completely diverse and often antagonistic backgrounds and interests, personally unknown to one another, and who meet only by delegate representation once a year. Yet, we are told that God specifically authorized the organization to accomplish the former, but left wholly to human discretion and wisdom the creation and implementation of the latter. Considering the weaknesses and limitations of human character and genius, such a thought is utterly incredible. Yet, this is the type of thinking that creates and defends such church organizations as are now extant and as are the occasion of current troubles among the brethren. I plead with you, brethren, consider this point and come to grips with its implications.
Too, let us not suppose as do many, that we circumvent any of the problems inherent in this matter by changing the nature of a local church and its eldership by making them the executive directors of an evangelistic, benevolent, or edificational cooperation of many churches. Such arrangements, known popularly as "sponsoring churches," are, in principle, general organizations as much so as those that are formally organized and chartered. Such churches in thus functioning are no longer local but ecumenical in character.
The second thing which tends to confuse the issues and void our conclusions relative to the church and organizations is the loose manner in which the term "organization" is construed. One rarely ever hears or reads anything on this subject that is definitive. The issues inherent in it are obscured by ambiguous usage of terminology. The time limit which has been placed upon this discussion makes it impossible to give adequate treatment of our theme. Obviously,' I cannot involve myself in lengthy, highly technical definitions of what constitutes an organization, hence I shall have to be content with giving as simple a definition as possible and appealing to what has been a common understanding among us as to what constitutes an organization. It is hoped that we may, in this fashion, produce something that is at least relatively definitive.
There are at least two meanings which the English Dictionary recognizes as properly belonging to the term "organization." (1) "An organism; any vitally or systematically organic whole; an association or society. Philosophically, any highly complex thing or structure with parts so integrated that their relation to one another is governed by their relation to the whole. (2) To become systematized" (Merriam Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 592.)
Based on these definitions, brethren through the years have recognized two ideas inherent in the term "organization" or "organize." (1) We have viewed as an organization any body of people having independent existence as a body and acting as one with reference to the accomplishment of specific objectives under the direction and oversight of members of the body who are recognized by the other members of the body as having this right. The body may or may not have a treasury, but it is always characterized by a pooling of abilities and / or resources. (2) We have also viewed the term organization as being properly descriptive of any systematic arrangement which is utilized in the accomplishment of various programs of work by groups of persons within the organic structure of a local church and under the direction and control of the duly constituted overseers or directors of that church. We have called the former "an organization" and the latter simply "organization." I believe there is a difference between an organization and organization; hence it is my conviction that brethren have properly made the distinction just noted.
To illustrate the points just made, your attention is called to the fact that the brethren have always regarded our Bible study programs on Sunday mornings and evenings and on Wednesday nights, our vacation Bible schools, our singing schools, our building committees and such like as belonging to the latter class of things. We have contended that they do not constitute separate organizations from the local church, but are simply systematic arrangements within the organic structure of the local church which expedite the work of that church, hence are simply "the church at work." This is not to say that such arrangements might not become separate organizations in the sense of definition number one. The fact is, they can and have, in some instances, so functioned as to become separate organizations in the full import of that expression. However, the main body of the brethren has always repudiated such. In all of our debates with our non Bible-class brethren, we have argued, and I believe correctly, that such arrangements are not to be equated with the Robert Raikes Sunday School of days gone by or denominational Sunday schools of our time. We have contended that both of these (the first, certainly, and the second, in many cases) have constituted separate and distinct organizations whereas "our" Bible class arrangements etc. are but systematic arrangements within the organic structure of' the local church. This is my contention in this' paper. I believe this position is right and have no fear of not being able to defend it successfully with reference to our non-Bible-class brethren.
It should also be noted however that, at the same time we have thus justified our Bible class programs etc., we have repudiated as' unscriptural the Missionary Society of the Christian Churches and the Convention of the Southern Baptists. We have insisted that these organizations belong to the class of things described by definition number one. By this, we have meant that these organizations are general organizations, larger than a local-church (I Cor. 1:1, 2.), and smaller than the universal church (Matt. 16:18.), which are created to coordinate and direct the activities of churches generally in the accomplishment of general responsibilities with which God has charged them.
On this basis, we have opposed these organizations as being without scriptural authority and have charged that their very existence is an indictment of the all sufficiency of God's organization, the local church. I believe this to be a correct analysis of the matter and the only sound position one can occupy in reference to it.
I further insist that what is true in this regard in the realm of evangelism is likewise true in the realms of edification and benevolence. To me, it is completely illogical and inconsistent to oppose a missionary society or the Southern Baptist Convention type of church cooperation on the aforementioned grounds and, at the same time, endorse and support organizations created and implemented among the churches for edificational and benevolent purposes under the name of "church cooperation." If missionary societies and conventions are bodies politic operating independently of the organic structure of the local church or churches for the purpose of accomplishing responsibilities with which God has charged local churches of Christ and are, therefore, unscriptural and to be repudiated, why are not edificational and benevolent organizations, which are also bodies politic operating independently of the organic structure of local churches of Christ for the purpose of accomplishing responsibilities with which God has charged the churches, not likewise unscriptural and to be repudiated? Why can plain churches of Christ function through one and not the other? Why can plain churches of Christ support the one from their treasuries and nor the other?
I do not believe they can scripturally support or function through either. God's word authorizes the local church specifically; hence the church should do its work through its God-given organic structure. Since God neither commands church cooperation in a generic sense nor provides for a general organization to implement it and, since he does specifically authorize the local church and provides for its organic structure, joint effort of churches and all humanly contrived organic arrangements to implement such are thereby excluded.
The local church has the right, within her God-ordained organic structure, to use any sort of systematic arrangement which does not antagonize her divinely authorized organization. (Acts 6:1-6.) She may not, however, build and maintain separate organizations through which to function in the accomplishment of her divine mission as a church of God. As has just been stated, the New Testament does not contain a generic command for churches to cooperate. All church cooperation mentioned in the New Testament is of a specific type; namely, concurrent operation of independent churches for the accomplishment of a common objective with each church maintaining direct contact with the work and the workers. (Acts 11:27-30; 20:1-16; 21:1-19; 24:17; 1 Cor. 16:1,2; 2 Cor. 8, 9; 11:8; Rom. 15:25-32; Phil. 2:25, 26; 4:15, 16.)
There is no authority in the New Testament for churches to operate jointly through a central agency of any sort in the accomplishment of general responsibilities: no command, no example, and no necessary implication. Such operation of churches is, therefore, without scriptural authority and to be repudiated. Since such operation of churches is to be rejected, it certainly follows that any arrangement or organization created to implement such joint operation could not possibly have scriptural sanction, hence must also be rejected.
Churches May Scripturally Utilize Other Organizations
The question may be asked: Is there any way in which churches may utilize other organizations than a local church in the accomplishment of their God-ordained responsibilities? The answer to this question involves another position which has been commonly assumed among the brethren for many years. In fact, it is almost universally endorsed.' I would say that professed churches of Christ of every shade of faith and practice universally employ the services of other organizations on the basis of payment for services rendered. Churches commonly utilize city, county, state, and federal governments and their facilities; banks in the handling of their funds; real estate companies in acquiring their properties; contracting companies in protecting their properties; hospitals, nursing homes, and child-care centers in performing their benevolence; clothing and grocery stores in doing benevolence; and publishing houses in acquiring tracts, papers, books, Bible class literature, and Bibles for evangelistic and edificational purposes. They utilize these other organizations on the basis of paying for products obtained or services rendered. We believe this to be scriptural and right. We do not believe that churches have the scriptural right to operate such businesses. To do so would prostitute their mission.
This suggests another interesting point which some brethren have not been willing to concede. It is this: there is a fundamental difference between buying a product or service from another organization and making a contribution from the church treasury to that organization. It is my contention that a different relationship is established between the local church and other organizations by these two acts-that one is right and the other wrong. That brethren and churches, practically, if not theoretically, generally accept this view is evidenced by the fact that they will endorse the practice of churches from their treasuries paying for services rendered by Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist hospitals in the care of indigent members of the Lord's church, yet they will uniformly repudiate the right of churches from their treasuries to make contributions to them.
In this regard, I freely acknowledge that churches are not banks, civil courts, post offices, hospitals, or grocery stores and that churches may often need to utilize the services and products of these organizations in discharging their Divine responsibilities. In such cases, however, there is an easy solution which is acceptable to both sides of the present controversy. The churches may simply purchase services or products from such organizations and refrain from making contributions to them.
If members of the church desire to operate such organizations on a profit or a non-profit basis in order to provide the quality of services the churches require at a cost they are able to afford, I know of nothing in Scripture to keep them from doing so. Also, I know of no reason why Christians, if they so desire, may not individually, or in a body, contribute of their time, abilities, and money to create and maintain such organizations. At the same time, I know of no Scripture or combination of Scriptures that would justify a church of God making a contribution from her treasury to such an organization either to create it or to maintain it.
I do not believe Scripture can be produced which will justify a church in creating or subsidizing other organizations through which she may function in accomplishing her God-given tasks. If there is, I have never had it called to my attention. Until I see such Scripture, I shall continue to insist that churches of Christ may not scripturally contribute from their treasuries to any other organization with the single exception of a local church and that this can be done only when that church is an object of charity or need in reference to matters that are her exclusive responsibility.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 13, pp. 3-9