Going Beyond Conservatism
(Editor's Note: The following article appeared in the CHICAGO CHRISTIAN, weekly Church bulletin of the Cornell Ave. Church of Christ in Chicago. It is reprinted here with the permission of Bro. Wright. The last section-"Individual versus Church Responsibility"-appeared in the issue following the one containing the greatest portion of material.)
By going beyond conservatism, we mean going beyond the conservatisin of and adherence to the principles and teachings of Christianity as set forth in the Scriptures, and being more restrictive than they-as in the case of the Pharisees on many points regarding the law of Moses in Jesus' day. Just as there are liberal elements among men professing the religion of Christ who refuse to be bound by the Scriptures as an external authority, there are also those who go beyond conservatism, binding and restricting where God has not. Whereas the former vitiate Christianity at its very roots, the latter impede its progress, and shrivel and sometimes even destroy its fruits. These opposite extremes not only war against one another, and tend even to beget each other, but they both war against truth and right as well, and alike need to be recognized and rejected. There have no doubt always been ultra-conservative (beyond-conservatism) extremes of one kind or another, as there have also been liberal extremes. But in recent years there has been a mighty surge of a particular type of reactionism and ultra-conservatism, which we now discuss.
1. A Progressive Reactionism. That reactionisin has become progressively more and more restrictive, in an effort to become more consistent with and to be able to defend better the principles upon which it first embarked, particularly in denying general authority for congregational cooperation. But as it progresses its absurdities become all the more glaring. At first, about nine years ago, in 1950, an all-out offensive was launched against mission work done by one congregation with sister congregations assisting it financially. The next main target was the nation-wide radio and television program, "Herald of Truth," produced and directed by one congregation, with the assistance of personnel from a few other congregations, and made possible by financial aid from many churches. Later, orphanages and old folks homes, though owned and operated by one congregation, if contributed to by other congregations, as most of them are, likewise became objects of severest and continual attacks, as well as those operated by a board. After that, even the financial cooperation of sister congregations with another church to enable it to purchase lots and erect a meeting house for itself was condemned as unscriptural. In fact, all congregational cooperation that involved contributions from one church to another came to be opposed, except to care for needy saints in the receiving congregation. Finally, within the last year or so, it has come to be denied that a church can have anything to do financially with any benevolent program, even locally and not involving congregational cooperation, if it involves helping anybody who is not a Christian-except the non-Christian members of a Christian's family! According to said philosophy, a church cannot include in its benevolence the care of even one child whose parents are not members of the church! It is admitted that individual Christians may and oftentimes should do so, but contended that a congregation of Christians cannot!
2. The Latest Explication. About the latest we have seen in print on this score, sets forth the following: (1) That Gal. 6:10, enjoining the doing of good unto all men, is addressed to individuals and does not apply also to the church collectivelv (though the letter IS addressed to the "churches of Galatia"); that we need "specific authority for the church to act" and "cannot quote a verse of scripture that is a directive for a Christian and say it authorizes collective church action." (2) That "the church only acts collectively in the conversion of its treasury into services," and "we must find a directive for the use of that treasury." And (3) that "Careful study will reveal only two actions are authorized" namely, "sending relief to needy saints," and supplying the "necessities" or "wages" of "a gospel preacher."
That chain of reasoning hangs on the implied and obviously correct principle that any scriptural "collective church action" may scripturally be financed out of the church treasury; otherwise there would be no point to the reasoning itself. But break any link in a chain, and the chain itself is broken. The Scriptures forever shatter the middle and connecting link of the above chain of argumentation. They show there to be absolutely no validity to the claim that "the church only acts collectively in the conversion of its treasury into services." In the Scriptures the church is also said to engage in "prayer" (Acts 12:5), "receive" guests (Acts 15:4), "give thanks" (Rom. 16:4), "salute" (Rom. 16:16), "come together" (I Cor. 14:23), "choose" (2 Cor. 8:19), "know" (Rev. 2:23), etc. In other words, the Scriptures describe any concerted action of the members of the church, if performed as members of the church, as being church action. They do not limit such action simply to helping poor saints and supporting gospel preachers. Hence, the conclusion that the church treaury can be used for those two purposes only, and not for any other collective action, that requires finance, is false.
3. Necessary Inference from Said Explication. But if the above described reasoning and conclusion were correct, then by the same token (1) the church cannot purchase or rent a place to meet, but individual members will have to provide it; (2) the church cannot purchase communion sets or provide members for the Lord's supper, but individuals will have to do so; (3) the church cannot purchase Bibles or other types of literature to be used in its teaching program, but individuals will have to do it if it is done; (4) the church cannot pay its utility bills, but individuals will have to do so; (5) the church could not pay for its own radio program, but individuals would have to do it; (6) the church could not pay anyone for janitor service (unless he were also doing the preaching, and even then the remuneration would have to be for gospel work, not for janitor work); and (7) on and on we would have to go, including any and everything but two items-furnishing support directly to a preacher, and providing relief for needy saints.
4. Other Like Restrictions Also Possible. In fact, if the above described reasoning is correct, we could and should go on and do still more restricting on precisely the same basis. For example, we could say the church is authorized to use its Sunday collections for one purpose only-the relief of needy saints-for that was the purpose and the sole purpose of the collection of I Cor. 16:1, 2, which is the only passage that says anything about a collection on "the first day of the week." We could challenge anybody to find a single Scripture commanding giving an authorized exarnple, or providing a necessary inference for using the Sunday collections even to pay the preacher-the only other thing the church may use money for, out of its treasury, regardless of when contributed, according to the above described philosophy! Moreover, we could make the same sort of challenge for paying money out of the treasury at all for preacher support unless he is laboring in another field! We can read, "Let him that is taught communicate (that is, contribute) unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Gal. 6:6). But that describes individual action just as surely as Gal. 6:10 does, which enjoins doing good unto all men. So, on the basis of the philosophy we are depicting, we could and should argue that a preacher should not be supported out of the treasury of the church for which he preaches, but by the individual members -- that only if he preaches elsewhere may a church support him from its treasury!
Do you say that would be silly? Well, not any more so than the other restrictions that actually have been made, as already described, for they all rest upon precisely the same sort of foundation. Any time general authority is claimed for using the church treasury to support a local preacher, or for using the Sunday collections for anything other than relief of needy saints, which we all admit to be legitimate, it has to be admitted that we are not restricted to specific authorization in using the treasury. And when that is done, THERE IS NO BASIS LEFT FOR IMPOSING LIMITATIONS ON ITS USE BEYOND WHATMAY BE IMPOSED UPON INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS IN THE USE OF THEIR POCKETBOOKS TO DISCHARGE T H E OBLIGATIONS THATARE THEIRS BECAUSE THEY ARE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH! To attempt any other limitation by Scripture is to distort Scripture!
In our article on "Going Beyond Conservatism," we closed by saying: "Any time general authority is claimed for using the church treasury to support a local preacher, or for using the Sunday collections for anything other than relief of needy saints, which we all admit to be legitimate, it has to be admitted that we are not restricted to specific authorization in using the church treasury. And when that is done, THERE IS NO BASIS LEFT FOR IMPOSING LIMITATIONS ON ITS USE BEYOND WHAT MAY BE IMPOSED UPON INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS IN THE USE OF THEIR POCKETBOOKS TO DISCHARGE THE OBLIGATIONS THAT ARE THEIRS BECAUSE THEY ARE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH! To attempt any other limitation by Scripture is to distort Scripture.
In making that statement we were not unmindful of the fact that many believe otherwise and cite I Tim. 5:3-16 as proof. That passage teaches that the church should take care of widows indeed-aged widows of outstanding Christian character, desolate, and having no relatives to take care of them-but that if there are relatives who can care for them, they should do so, and the church not be charged with that responsibility, that it may relieve those who are "widows indeed."
This is supposed to show a difference in the responsibility of the individual and of the church. But an important fact is usually overlooked in making such a distinction-namely, THAT THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY REFERRED TO HERE IS NOT BY VIRTUE OF BEING A CHRISTIAN, BUT OF BEING A RELATIVE! Hence, our conclusion as stated above not only remains unrefuted, but its validity is all the more emphasized.
Truth Magazine III:8, pp. 4-5