A Way That Is Right And Cannot Be Wrong
The second chapter of first Corinthians is devoted to the subject of Divine Revelation, its necessity and sufficiency. Without a revelation from God we could never know His mind, and our knowledge of His mind is restricted to that which He has revealed. An inspired history of God's dealings with mankind is embodied in this revelation, and the New Testament Scriptures contain that which affords us a knowledge of the New Testament church. How this church came into existence and how it functioned under the immediate superintendency of the inspired apostles constitutes an unquestionable precedent for us today that carries the assurance that should we do that which was done under the direction and with the approval of the apostles we shall have the pleasure of God resting upon us. Any deviation and digression therefrom is at least uncertain and therefore questionable.
No one who reveres the authority of Christ and respects the apostles as His Ambassadors can ever sense any displeasure with that procedure and practice which was performed under their direction.
We propose to simply note those passages in the New Testament which bear on the subject to be studied and by this means reach those fair and safe conclusions to which no one can justly object. This certainly is a positive and constructive approach, is it not, and one that cannot be referred to as negative and "anti" in its nature? Let us then notice the way the early churches functioned in the matter of cooperation, a subject that is under discussion today, and about which many are being unjustly charged with being anti-cooperationists. Of course, we all know, do we not, that the word "cooperation" is not in the English New Testament? Is the idea there? We read where the apostle said, "We then as workers together with Him beseech you that you receive not the Grace of God in vain." 2 Cor. 6:1. This identifies Paul and the other apostles as co-operating with God, hence with one another! There is a co-partnery which obtains between all of God's children by virtue of the fact that they are His children; that is, as they severally are devoted to, and engaged in doing the will of God; they are workers together with God. As workers together with God they are acting as God's will works in them both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Phil. 2:13. Everyone, therefore, who thus acts is acting in cooperation with every other one so acting. No two persons of which it can be truthfully affirmed that it is God's Will in them which regulates, directs and controls their own willing and doing can ever be acting in conflict and at cross-purposes but rather concurrently or con-jointly as the case may be, and thus in either cooperatively. This should certainly have a sobering influence on us as we survey the conflicts, confusions and strife between God's people today. Some must be under a controlling influence other than God's Will. If so, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven at last. Matt. 7:21.
The anxiety arid grief which every devout child of God experiences in consequence of estrangements and disaffection between the followers of Christ finds the real cause in the consciousness that souls will be lost forever. It is in the mood and is prompted by this spirit that we bring forward the following extracts from the divine record, hoping that all who read may think, and thinking give heed thereto. By so doing only good can result, and without which no good can come. The second chapter of Acts records the beginning of the church in Jerusalem. Not until we reach the eighth chapter do we find any preaching being done outside of Jerusalem so far as Luke records it. However, the commission to preach the gospel required that it be preached first at Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and thence into all the world. Therefore, since the preaching mentioned in Acts eight is in Samaria, we must conclude, in keeping with instructions under which the original proclaimers labored, that it already had been preached in Judea. Acts 1 :8. Not until the closing part of the eleventh chapter do we find mentioned by name the location and therefore the identity of another body of disciples-the brethren of Antioch. Therefore every operation to this point of the disciples can be a case of cooperation within the membership of a single congregation. So, then, when we note the cooperative actions. recorded we find they have to do with the work of a single congregation -- intra-congregational rather than inter-congregational.
A situation arose as bearing on the material circumstances of the disciples. In Acts 4:32 we read: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common." One who came ostensibly and professedly to give all he had of the price of his land was told: "Whiles it remained was it not thine own? And after it was sold was it not within thine own power?" (5:4) This shows that such a situation its described above was one voluntarily created by those disciples out of regard for the complete mutuality of interest, and not an apostolically prescribed pattern of function. However, when and as there might develop such conditions involving a state of need that could be met only by this communal arrangement, then the very spirit of "one heart and soul" would dictate it.
Furthermore, be it noted that those who sold land and houses brought the proceeds and laid them at the apostles' feet. They did not deed their property to the church, and thus bring the church into owning and operating any sort of business enterprises. Too, the apostles were the ones who received the money, and thus apostolic approval rested on the operation of the church in this affair, and the cooperation of the individual members in effectively responding to such an endeavor.
The next reference is a notice of a complaint in the sixth chapter. The grievance was voiced and the solution recommended by the apostles. They evidently didn't take affront at the complaint as a reflection against their administration of the funds used to supply the needs of the saints. Unlike some brethren, they took kindly, considered properly and solved wisely the problem presented. Here is a church caring for widows within the congregation, This is taught; the care of any widows without the church is not taught here. Noting, then, what they did, we should not from that assume a work of general benevolence was performed by this congregation. The fact they cared for their own, and this under the immediate tutorage of the apostles puts the stamp of obligation on every New Testament church in the world to do the same insofar as they are able. As they so do there is no obligation of one church to extend assistance to another, and the obligation only arises if and when a congregation is unable to care for its own. This we thus far have learned from the record.
The eleventh chapter closes with the information being presented to the brethren in Antioch that a great dearth should occur throughout all the world. The knowledge thus received was of such a nature as to cause the disciples in Antioch, every man according as he was able to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea. This they did, sending it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. The elders in Antioch, if there were elders there then, did not administer this relief to the brethren in Judea, nor did Paul and Barnabas.
It was communicated by the latter to the elders. The elders where? Why, of course, where the relief was needed. The effort to identify the elders as those of the Jerusalem congregation and thereby establish the pattern of elders of one congregation overseeing the work of a number of other congregations has been attempted repeatedly. The assumption that there were no elders in the other congregations in Judea because no mention was made of them at this time and up to this point in Luke's narrative, will work with equal force against any elders being in the Jerusalem church as they are not mentioned thus far in Acts.
This presents the first instance of any inter-relationship of congregations in the New Testament, and constitutes a case of one congregation extending assistance to sister churches when they were in need to the extent their needs exceeded their ability to meet. There would have been neither religion nor charity in Antioch sending to the churches of Judea that which they could have supplied themselves. That a continued flow of assistance to these churches occurred is not taught. That it was an instance of extraordinary circumstances creating a need of an emergency and unusual kind is very obvious. There is not within the New Testament a case of sustained, continuing benevolence being practiced by churches within their own membership (except widows in I Timothy 5), or as between contributing and receiving churches, for any purpose under heaven. If so, such has escaped my attention and notice, and anyone calling such to my attention will receive my sincere thanks.
The next occurrence in the inspired record as touching further benevolent activities between congregations is found in the following Scriptures: Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. chapters 8-9. These all refer to the contribution made by a number of churches to the saints in Jerusalem. It occurred about sixteen years after the incident mentioned in Acts 11:28-30. This happened about 43 or 44 A.D. and that about A.D. 60. The very fact that the Scriptures are silent as touching any such activities over a period of time of this length, and notes with such particularity those instances of such benevolent operations, lends strong support to the view that benevolence (material assistance) was irregular, infrequent and extraordinary. It belies the conception that the church has within its distinctive mission the work of material benevolence.
The only other matter involving a pattern of church cooperation is in the work of evangelism. That is, the support that churches gave to the proclamation of the gospel. The congregation in Phillipi was outstanding in this respect inasmuch is they had fellowship with Paul from the first day until the time he wrote the statement-Phil 1:5. Also, he gratefully acknowledges this repeated form of communication by them in the chapter 4, verses 14-16. This was sent to Paul, the preacher. But he also mentioned to the Corinthians that he took wages of other churches in order to preach the gospel in Corinth. 2 Cor. 11:8. Hence, a plurality of congregations sent to Paul and thus cooperated with one another in the support of the gospel. There is no intimation that any congregation sent to another congregation a cent to support the gospel as preached by anyone. They sent to the preacher to support and sustain him in preaching; they sent to a church or churches to aid them in meeting such needs as were theirs, by reason of their inabilltv to meet it.
Dear readers, this is the pattern revealed in the New Testament, and being such we must accept it as being pleasing to God. On such procedure there rests no doubt, and those who pursue such a course need have no fears as touching the approval of God. It is only when men presume that they can improve upon that which manifestly pleases God that danger is present, and the action engaged is in no worse than the attitude that produces and directs it, Efforts have been made, imposing in number but pitiful and puny in character, to establish from the Scriptures authority for sponsoring churches and centralized operations in the work of the church. For instance, one of the passages we have cited has been noted with a rather curious twist having been given it. It is 2 Cor. 11:8. The statement that he (Paul) "robbed other churches taking wages of them" while preaching the gospel in Corinth is claimed to afford an example of churches helping another church which is not in need. It is assumed that the Corinthian church had previously been established, and that this is an allusion to a subsequent association with them by Paul, and hence he was preaching for an existing and functioning congregation able to support him, and yet he was being supported by other congregations. Is this what brethren favor? Do they want churches to contribute to other churches that are not in need, but well able to do that for which the contribution is designed? If not, why such a use of this passage? In assuming this to have been the actual situation, which is but assumed, rather than being a worthy and approved example, we have the apostle asking the forgiveness of the Corinthians for having wronged them! Certainly, what Paul did wronged the Corinthians then a similar procedure would be harmful and thus wrong today. 2 Cor. 12:13. 'I'o seek a precedent for the present from an incident of the past, wherein in the principal later comments so unfavorably on this action, is, indeed a display of desperation.
Gospel preachers used to speak quite frequently, on "A Way That Is Right And Cannot Be Wrong," in which the principal theme was that when we do that which the Scriptures indisputably teach we cannot possibly be wrong but absolutely right; that the question mark rests on any substitute therefor. For instance, it was said that sprinkling and pouring are in dispute, whereas immersion is not, and, therefore, when we practice immersion we are right and cannot be wrong. By the same process of reasoning, and upon the same principle we may and should think and act as determining our course in these matters. May we never lose our sense of regard and appreciation of the safety offered by such a position. With me it is of equal force and clarity, in these present issues. We cannot afford to hazard our security with God by choosing the questionable and assumed rather than the certain and assured position presented in the Word of God. A constant and supreme regard for the souls of God's people is the only influence that persuades one to make this appeal and court the ill-will of the self-willed. Brethren, think seriously on these things and resolve that henceforth you will be content with that which is written.
Truth Magazine IV:6, pp. 18-21