The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Evangelism (3)
In the first article on this subject we learned that the New Testament organization (the local congregation) is sufficient for the propagation of the gospel because through congregational activity the gospel, in New Testament days, was preached to every creature under heaven (Col. 1 :23). In the article immediately preceding this, we documented the proof of our assertion that men never set about to establish another organization to do the work of the church until they lost faith in the sufficiency of the organization God provided. In this article we want to observe something of the nature of the substitute organization that man devised to serve the purposes that God intended for His church to serve.
From October 23-26, 1849 a conclave of brethren was gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the purpose of doing something about remedying the supposed deficiency in evangelistic organization. During this four day convention, there were 156 brethren from various parts of the country present. On the first day officers were selected for this new organization which they had met to form. Alexander Campbell, though not present, was elected the first President. Four Vice-Presidents were also chosen: David S. Burnet, John O'Kane, John T. Johnson and Walter Scott. Little more was accomplished on this first day.
On the next afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 24th), John T. Johnson presented the following resolution to be passed: "Resolved, that a missionary society as a means to concentrate and dispense the wealth and benevolence of the brethren of this reformation, in an effort to convert the world, is both scriptural and expedient." This was one of the first pieces of business attended to by this convention. I have no way of knowing with what vote this resolution passed. But let us suppose that it was passed unanimously. Would that make the resolution true? Would the fact that 156 men thought the missionary society to be both scriptural and expedient make it so? It also is interesting to note that at least these brethren recognized that a thing must be both scriptural and then expedient. This is more than can be said of some brethren today. Brethren today try to dodge on the first point. They merely want to show that a given organization is expedient, presuming that this expediency makes the organization scriptural. Further study has shown us that the institution formed in 1849 was neither scriptural nor expedient (and this also is true of all modern institutions of like nature), in spite of the fact that 156 brethren in Cincinnati affirmed the resolution to be true. In such a resolution as this the brethren departed from the solid foundation on which all their previous success had been accomplished. Heretofore they had demanded a "Thus saith the Lord" for all they did or taught. It is noteworthy to, observe that attached to this resolution is, no scripture that is said to prove the resolution to be scriptural. The testimony of 156 brethren is the only proof presented at this convention. Could not 156 notable men have been gathered in Cincinnati at the same time who would have voted "Yea" on a similar resolution that affirmed that infant sprinkling is both scriptural and expedient? Yet this affirmation would not have made infant sprinkling either scriptural or expedient.
On the third day (Thursday, Oct. 25th), discussion was raised as to what the newly formed institution should be named. The name at first chosen was Christian Missionary Society. But Walter Scott thought a more up to date name should be chosen for this modern invention. He proposed that the name be American Christian Missionary Society, and his proposal was passed. By that name the missionary society was called until the union with many other societies later to be formed into one mammoth society, now called the United Christian Missionary Society with headquarters at Indianapolis, Indiana.
Thirteen articles were made part of the Constitution. These may be studied in The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, pp. 176, 177 written by Brother Earl West. Certainly none would ever object to the society on the basis that it had an unworthy objective. Its objective, as stated by the Constitution, was noble and good: "Article 2nd. The object of this Society shall be to promote the spread of the gospel in destitute places of our own and foreign lands." If there ever was any validity to the argument that the end justifies the means, then it would apply to this organization. We hear a lot today about how much good certain benevolent organizations do in caring for the needy aged and orphaned. This is supposed to prove that the institutions formed for these good works are therefore scriptural. Who, would object to the preaching of the gospel? Not one. Nevertheless, this pragmatic argument is not sufficient to prove the American Christian Missionary Society is scriptural. However, we should also point out that the purpose for which the ACMS was formed is one of the precise purposes for which the church of the Lord Jesus Christ was formed i.e., to preach the gospel. This institution erected by the brethren in 1849 therefore has ever after and ever will be in competition with the divine church in the discharge of the divine purpose of preaching the gospel.
In the many years that have intervened since the ACMS was formed, perhaps largely due to the fact that brethren have been alienated by the society and other innovations, brethren today have generally lost sight of the fact that the ACMS was formed by the brethren. We seem to think that the brethren can do no wrong. If someone else builds an institution to do the work of the church, it is sinful. But if the brethren build a similar organization, it must be alright, for this was built by the brethren! Our modern generation is prone to say "Oh, but the missionary society was formed by the Christian Church!" Not so, brother. In the formation of the ACMS, the brethren were just taking the first step of apostasy that was to lead to the formation of the modern denomination known as the Christian Church or as the Disciples of Christ. In fact, a list of the officers and delegates of this Cincinnati convention would just about constitute a "Who's Who" of preachers of the gospel of that time. Take a look at the names of these men who helped found the ACMS-Alexander Campbell, D.S. Burnet, Walter Scott, T.M. Allen, W.K. Pendleton, John T. Johnson, Tolbert Fanning, Samuel Church, P.S. Fall, and Elijah Goodwin. These were some of the most prominent preachers of their day. The "leading men of the brotherhood" were the very ones that led in the destruction of the peace and faithfulness of the brotherhood.
In the remainder of this article I want us to look at the various arguments that were advanced to try to prove this newly formed society was in harmony with the will of God. I need to state that the arguments in its defense that shall shortly be listed were never all made by the same man, so far as I know. Nevertheless, they were all made by some defender of the missionary society. As we look at these "arguments," we are quick to observe that many of them are not arguments at all, but are merely prejudicial statements aimed at gaining favor for the institution. They were, however, presented :by the advocates of the society in their effort to gain brotherhood favor for their new creation. So I guess we can call them "arguments" in some sense of that word.
Some time ago with the help of several other brethren, a list was made of the various arguments presented in the defense of the society. In preparing this list we read most of the material available to us in which we could reasonably expect to find some argument made in favor of the missionary society. Delineation of these arguments would require many articles. Hence I am here going only to present the gist of the arguments. In collecting the material we documented when, where, and by whom these various arguments were presented, though I will not try to present all of that information here as that would also require additional articles. We also point out that here we will not take the time to pass judgment upon the merit of each particular argument, nor will we now seek to reply to it. Adequate answers to every one of these arguments are to be found in the many sources in which controversy over the scripturalness of the missionary society has raged.
And with one other preliminary observation we will present the list. I want you to study these summarized arguments carefully, observing that almost every one of them is being repeated today by those who would defend benevolent and evangelistic societies through which churches may act in the discharge of their divinely appointed mission. When we gathered this material, we also started gathering parallel statements from modern brethren in which these same arguments are advanced in defense of modern societies among us. This latter task has not yet been completed, though enough material has been gathered to show that it can very definitely and rather easily be done. Who have you heard repeating these arguments today in defense of modern benevolent and evangelistic societies that were first voiced in defense of the ACMS? Now here are the various arguments made in defense of the ACMS.
1. The American Christian Missionary Society is engaged in a good work-that of preaching the gospel at home and abroad.
2. The discharge of the church's evangelistic responsibility requires universal church action, which only is possible through some organization similar to the American Christian Missionary Society.
3. The American Christian Missionary Society systematizes the work of the churches.
4. By having all "missionaries" supported through the society, churches are saved from the designing efforts of fraudulent preachers.
5. If it is scriptural to publish Lard's Quarterly, Millennial Harbinger, Christian Standard, American Christian Review, and the Gospel Advocate, then the American Christian Missionary Society also is scriptural.
7. Though there is no specific authorization in the Bible for the establishment and maintenance of the American Christian Missionary Society, it is in harmony with the spirit of the gospel.
8. The American Christian Missionary Society is a useful organization.
9. The American Christian Missionary Society is not an organization separate and apart from the church, but since a of its constituents are members ot the church, then the American Christian Missionary Society is only the church at work.
10. The American Christian Missionary Society is authorized by the Bible principle of expediency.
11. The church as such cannot preach the gospel; hence the need for the American Christian Missionary Society.
12. The American Christian Missionary Society is not an organization; it is only an orderly arrangement.
13. The greatest and the majority of the brethren favor the American Christian Missionary Society.
14. Few brethren oppose the society, and these opposers are generally the uneducated, contrary brethren that generally oppose everything else.
15. The American Christian Missionary Society is a cheaper "method" of preaching the gos7el than each church operating independently.
16. The American Christian Missionary Society does not interfere with congregational autonomy.
17. The New Testament gives the command to preach the gospel, but prejcribes no certain method. Any method therefore will do. The American Christian Missionary Society is only a method of preaching the gospel.
18. Opposers of the Missionary Society method are doing little or nothing; to be anti-society is to be anti-missionary. Show us a better way by doing more according to the "scriptural plan" than we do through the Society.
19. There is no scripture against functioning through the American Christian Missionary Society.
20. Congregations do not lose their autonomy since contributions to the American Christian Missionary Society are voluntary.
21. Opposers of the Society are selfish, "Antis" that oppose everything they did not start.
Now it should be obvious, as I said before, that no one man made everyone of these arguments, because some of them are mutually exclusive. If some of them are true, others of these arguments inevitably must be false. Yet everyone of these arguments was presented by some defender of the missionary society. Many of the arguments made today in favor of the institutions are likewise mutually exclusive.
I am confident that there were other arguments made in defense of the missionary society which we did not find. But these were perhaps the main ones upon which the society defenders relied. If you have kept up with your reading regarding current controversies on the institutional issues, you do not need to he told that almost every one of these arguments is being repeated by "leading brethren" of our own time in their equally futile effort to prove that evangelistic (such as the self-admitted church-supported "Gospel Press" society), benevolent (such as institutional orphan homes and homes for the aged, Boles, Schultz-Lewis, etc.), and educational (such as church-supported colleges, David Lipscomb, Freed Hardeman, etc.) institutions are both scriptural and expedient. We certainly would have no difficulty today in finding 156 brethren who would affirm the resolution: "Resolved: Modern evangelistic, benevolent, and educational organizations are both scriptural and expedient." But this would not make it so. However, it would be as good as anything institutional defenders have thus far presented. If these identical arguments have any validity today, they were valid a century ago. If these arguments prove modern institutions to be scriptural, they also prove similar ancient institutions also to be scriptural. If these arguments were insufficient to prove the scripturalness of the missionary society last century, they likewise are insufficient to prove the scripturalness of similar modern institutions. Time does not make an invalid argument valid. Neither does the fact that "the brethren" make the invalid argument make it valid.
In the close of this third article on "The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Evangelism," let me exhort you to maintain your faith in the church. It is God's provision for the dissemination of the gospel. If God failed here, He failed in his greatest work. The church is as good as an infinite God could make it. If God failed to provide an adequate organization, finite man certainly cannot hope to succeed is providing something better. But do you believe God failed? 1 hope not, and if not, continue to work diligently with the facilities God provided (the individual and the church), and we can succeed now as they succeeded then (Col. 1:23).
Our next article will be on "The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Edification." Stay with us, please!
Truth Magazine, V:2, pp. 5-8