Church Cooperation

By H. Leo Boles

(Editor's Note: The following is taken from the GOSPEL ADVOCATE, page 114, 1932.)

This is the time for clear thinking and close study of this question. It is the time when we should review prayerfully the history of the churches of Christ as given in the New Testament. There are many people who are confused on this question, who have never given the question much thought. All the churches of Christ need to study just what the New Testament teaches on "church 'co-operation."

Let us draw a line of distinction between the New Testament teaching on this question and that which is taught by the denominations today. Church co-operation is one thing and a combination of individuals in their individual capacity is another thing. Brethren who worship with different congregations may form a company and do the work, but this is not church co-operation. For individual members of the church to associate themselves into a body to do the work as assigned to the churches and to directly take so much of man's talents and efforts from the churches and to direct them in a way that supplants the churches. A convention composed of representatives of churches organized into a permanent body is not and cannot be a co-operation of churches according to the New Testament plan. Such a convention becomes a distinct organization, formed of representatives elected from the churches, but organized into a body separate from the churches. This body may refrain from certain assumption of power; but such a body possesses, by virtue of its organization, all the authority that is claimed by the different denominations in their organizations.

It matters not whether the convention of delegated members is permanent or temporary, it cannot be called "church-cooperation." An organization composed of delegates from churches is no more the churches than the senate of the United States is a co-operation of the States. The work that such an organization may do cannot claim to be the churches at work; it is only the organization at work, and not the churches. It is difficult, if not impossible, for representatives or delegates from the different churches to keep from assuming power and authority over the churches from whence they came. This is not the New Testament way for churches to co-operate. It is a mistake for churches claiming to be patterned after the New Testament order to be calling for representatives of the different churches to meet any group at some place. Frankly, I fear the danger of such a departure from the New Testament order.

How, then, can churches co-operate? I believe that the New Testament Scriptures teach that churches may -- yea, must -- co-operate, if they fulfill their mission. It is sad to know that every effort made at co-operation in the work of churches among the Disciples of Christ has run in the same channel that has resulted in forming another sect. Church co-operation cannot exist with the individual members combining into a distinct organization to do the work of the church; neither can church cooperation exist through delegated representatives from the churches forming an organization. Both of these processes destroy the church. The one saps the life and activity of the churches, and the other helps to form a new sect or denomination. There must be churches before there can be church co-operation. These churches must be distinct, separate, equal, and independent of each other; and they must be independent as far as other churches or organizations are concerned. They must not only be separate, but they must be working churches.

To operate means to work, and to cooperate means to work together to the same end. There can be no working together of churches without the churches themselves working. Churches that do not work cannot work together; churches that do not operate cannot co-operate. Every church in the universe that operates or works according to the will of God co-operates or works together with every other church in the universe that is working according to the same rule. Churches which are fulfilling their mission separate and independent of other churches nevertheless are co-operating, with all other churches that fulfill their mission. It seems that we ought to see this, that we ought to recognize this fundamental truth. This is the only church co-operation that is taught in the New Testament. When a number of churches undertake to work in or through an association or organization not authorized in the New Testament, or by a law or rule not of God, they place themselves out of harmony with all the churches operating under the divine law, out of harmony with the law of God, out of harmony with the will of God, and out of harmony with God himself. Such churches claim to be co-operating with other churches that are fulfilling their mission as God directs churches to do.

Churches can co-operate -- yea, they do co-operate -- if they fulfill their mission. It is not a matter or question as to whether churches should co-operate; it is a necessity for them to co-operate in fulfilling their mission according to divine instruction. Churches that fulfill their mission are promoting the cause of Christ and the will of God; hence, as they are working to the same end, they are co-operating. Churches cannot cooperate and please God when they form new organizations through which to work. No organization is needed. Church co-operation cannot be done by selecting officers, committees, or associations to take charge of all the work of all the churches throughout the land. No one can give a reason why one church should attend to the business of another church.

No reason can be found that will justify one church doing the work of another church when that church can do its own work.

Gospel Advocate 1932. Page 114.

Truth Magazine I:3, pp. 8-9
December, 1956