By Dan K. Graham
During the month of July millions of Americans have received a piece of literature in the mail* from the “One Nation Under God” campaign. This effort is advertised as a work of churches of Christ. Many of our readers already know that not all churches of Christ in the United States chose to take part in this. However, there might be some readers who do not know this, and some of them might not understand why. It is the purpose of this article to help explain why Underwood Heights and hundreds of other congregations have nothing to do with “One Nation Under God.”
God’s plan. First of all, let us be clear that we all understand God’s plan for congregational organization. According to Acts 14:23, each local church is to have elders appointed. Obviously, there is something more to this than just their being aged, for it is something to which they are appointed. Their realm of authority is that local church, period (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Thus, each congregation is autonomous (self-governing) and independent of all other congregations. No congregation has the right to take the oversight of another group, nor does any congregation have the right to relinquish its autonomy to another. Further, no congregation is to pay another to do its work for it. Finally, the only scriptural way for a church to raise funds to pay for the work it does is through the weekly contribution described in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Later we will see how the “One Nation Under God” campaign violates these principles.
What the problem is not. In order not to be misunderstood, let us clearly state what the problem is not. First of all, the problem is not that somebody is trying to reach the whole nation. According to Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15, the church needs to try to reach not only the whole nation but the whole world. This is not the problem. Second, the problem is not the fact that literature was mailed. In fact, the New Testament itself is in large part “mailed literature.” This is not the problem. Third, the problem is not the use of TV and radio to promote it. Underwood Heights has a radio program. Other sound congregations use TV programs. This is not the problem. Fourth, the problem is not that large sums of money were spent of evangelism. This is the best possible use of the Lord’s money. The church needs to spend as much money as possible to preach as much gospel as possible. This is not the problem. Fifth, the cartoon format used in the flier is not the problem. Some might question the judgment, but it is only a matter of judgment. This is not the problem. Sixth, what was taught in the flier is not the problem. As far as I can tell, the truth was taught about the best way to overcome society’s ills and find salvation from our sins. This is not the problem. Seventh, in a general sense, the problem is not even that churches sent money to other churches. There is scriptural precedent for this in Acts 11:28-30 and 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. However, in a specific sense, this is part of the problem. In the two biblical cases cited, churches sent to other churches to relieve needy saints. There is no scriptural precedent for churches sending to other churches to pay for evangelistic work being done.
If these things are not the problem, then what is? Why does Underwood Heights oppose the “One Nation Under God” campaign and not participate in it?
What the problem is. The problem of the “One Nation Under God” campaign can be summarized under the problems of the sponsoring church arrangement. The Sycamore church of Christ in Cookeville, Tennessee, is the sponsoring church for this effort. They have raised about $ 10 million to pay for it. Most of it has come from other congregations throughout the United States. This kind of scheme, no matter what the congregation and no matter what the specific work, violates the principles discussed earlier as being God’s plan. Such a scheme violates the divine principle of congregational autonomy and independence. No church has the right to take money from others in this way to pay for their work. Neither does a church have the right to relinquish its independence in this way. Also, the church in Cookeville has raised money in some other way than by the weekly contribution. This differs from the New Testament pattern for evangelism. The church at Thessalonica did it themselves (I Thess. 1:8). The church at Philippi did it by supporting Paul in his work (Phil. 4:15-16). There is no scriptural pattern of one church sending its money to another church to oversee the use of those funds in some evangelistic effort. This violates New Testament law.
Questions to consider. If the Sycamore church can oversee some funds of some churches, why not all funds of all churches? If they can do it for this one work, why can they not do it for all works? If they can do it temporarily, can they not do it permanently? If future generations want to establish a regional, national, or international headquarters for the church of Christ, with a board of overseers, and they point to Herald of Truth and One Nation Under God as justification, what passages will supporters of One Nation Under God use to oppose such a move? The truth is that any passage you would use then can be used right now to condemn One Nation Under God as unscriptural.
Finally, do the ends attained justify the means used to attain them? Is it all right to do it this way since there could be thousands baptized as a result? Samuel told Saul that the ends do not justify the means. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Uzzah’s desire to keep the ark of the covenant from falling and being destroyed did not keep God from killing him when he violated the law by touching a hallowed thing. The way to please God is to do the right thing in the right way. Nothing else will do. Brethren, let’s put all our might into saving souls, but let’s do it God’s way. God’s way cannot be improved upon. It works. Let us therewith be content.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 22, pp. 679-680
November 21, 1991