Reviewing The Mirror of a Movement (III)

"Evangelism and the Cooperation Controversy"

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

We are now ready to review the chapter entitled "Evangelism and the Cooperation Controversy" in the 444 page volume, THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT, written by William S. Banowsky, "the minister of one of the world's largest churches of Christ  the Broadway Church of Lubbock, Texas" and holder of "the Ph. D. from the University of Southern California. "

Division Over Cooperation

Brother Banowsky recognizes that there have been at least two major divisions in the church over the subject of congregational cooperation; one over the missionary society and the latest over the sponsoring church theory. Speaking concerning the current debate over the sponsoring church, Brother Banowskv says: "churches of Christ were to suffer, over issues growing from evangelistic means and methods, their most severe schism of the century." (p. 299). As a result of the controversies arising over the employment of the sponsoring church arrangement, 'deep incisions for the first significant division among churches of Christ since their departure from the disciples had been carved into the heart of the brotherhood." (p. 320).

In the heat of the battle during the division of the last century over congregational cooperation, and in the battle raging presently over the same subject, the liberals threw discourteous, uncomplimentary and slanderous epithets by at those who objected to their human inventions. The digressives of last century labeled us the "anti-society churches of Christ" (p. 304) while the twentieth century digressives employ the misnomer, " 'anti-cooperation' segment of the church." (p. 322).

Abilene Christian College, around whose Lectureship Banowsky draped his history of the Churches of Christ, hoped to remain out of any controversy that would adversely affect the school. Speaking concerning the benevolent question, Banowsky declared: " . . . the battle was virtually over and the lines of practical fellowship sharply drawn before the college administrators felt they could comfortably allow the disagreement to be formalized." (p. 331). And these timeserving politicians reacted similarly on the cooperation question. "The Lectureship speech making itself does not fully reveal the tension and strife surrounding the many public debates, heated journalistic exchanges, and split churches. The speakers' silence was not due to the platform's disdain for controversy, but resulted from the college's policy of avoiding entanglement in the issue during the bitter 1940's." (p. 320).

The Handicapped Church (?)

Like the Christian Church before them, Brother Banowsky and the other defenders of sponsoring churches, felt that the church was severely handicapped without a missionary society. That sounds dike a rather serious charge against Brother Banowsky and his cohorts, does it not? But here is his statement: "The absence of an organized missionary society among churches of Christ created several unique handicaps in selection and preparation of qualified missionary workers." (p. 273).

Though Brother Banowsky pretends to see wrong in the missionary society, since he used a chapter sub-heading "The Sins of Organization," he really does not. The missionary society debate was really just a difference of "opinion," for he affirms, "Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb led in the opinion that the society was an unscriptural type of sending agency." (p. 302). Being "deeply suspicious of any elaborate or highly organized activity of program," and their "opposition to the unauthorized ecclesiasticisms of denominationalism" are said to have left the brethren confused as to how to go about discharging the mission of the church.

Brother Banowsky and some of the Abilene speakers felt that the church was hamstrung in the discharge of its mission if it could only employ the congregational unit. It needed something bigger than that. The church was handicapped without something bigger than a congregation. Banowsky seems distressed that one historian said the Church of Christ had "the most extreme form of congregationalism among churches." (p. 300).

Solution to the Divine, "Handicap"

When men become dissatisfied with any provision of God, they immediately set about to correct God's "error." This is presumptuous sin of the most high-handed sort. But this is what the Abilene lecturers and other liberals set out to do. When men begin to supplement and "improve" upon God's provisions, all the sermons they can preach on the "All-Sufficiency of the Church" are totally drowned by the noise of their remodeling job on the church.

Banowsky says that J. N. Armstrong's 1935 lecture was "epoch-making in the development of the cooperation principle." (p. 315). What had been our trouble? Armstrong said we had a "warped emphasis upon the independence of the local church." "He contended that an abusive, exaggerated presentation of the autonomous nature of the local congregation had robbed the brotherhood of its power and influence as a united institution." (p. 315). We must unite the brotherhood "as a united institution." This was, indeed, epoch-making among the Churches of Christ in 1935. However, it was a mere puppeting of the Christian Church.

It sounded very much like W. K. Pendleton's 1866 Millennial Harbinger statement: "We fear that the large conception of the church universal is too little realized by many Christians of the present day. Their idea of the church and of the responsibilities and work of the church circle too much within the limits of the local congregation." And Alexander Campbell had himself said: "A church can do what an individual disciple cannot, and so can a district of churches do what a single congregation cannot" (Millennial Harbinger, May 1831).

Pendleton's and Campbell's statements, like Armstrong's, were also "epoch making." Theirs resulted in a missionary society. Armstrong only wanted a "bigger and broader service than the local work." (p. 315). Armstrong's "bold message" "literally revolutionized foreign missionary activity among churches of Christ" and "had equal impact upon the evangelistic and benevolent programs of congregations within the United States." (p. 315). What Banowsky says is that Armstrong's parroting of the Christian Church line, by appealing for a "bigger and broader service than the local work" through the "brotherhood.... as a united institution," opened the door for sponsoring churches to oversee brotherhood works in foreign evangelism (like the Germany work), in benevolence (like the Lubbock Children's Home), and in domestic evangelistic work (like the Herald of Truth).

But in 1935 Armstrong's "epoch making" speech only suggested the broad outline to the solution of the church's "handicap." How were these massive brotherhood programs to be implemented? The answer to that question took some time and some figuring. They needed to find a pattern somewhere that they could imitate in carrying out this "broader vision." There was nothing comparable to what they sought in the New Testament. The Christian Church's solution, the missionary society principle, was too close at hand and brought up painful memories. Where else could they look?

According to Banowsky, they looked to Denominationalism. "They could not resist the temptation to shop about and contrast their plight with the obvious strong points in denominational machinery. Thus, t h e y sought for some practical, scriptural means of brotherhood-wide co-ordination without creating an agency for brotherhood-wide control." (p. 313). When the Lord's Bride starts "to shop about," it has gone gadding (Jer. 2:32). When we contrast what we call our "plight" with the "obvious strong points in denominational machinery," like Israel we have begun to long for the "flesh pots of Egypt." When we begin to look in the New Testament for an 'agency" "of brotherhood wide coordination," we are looking for something that is not there.

After taking a close look at "denominational machinery," what did these Abilene brethren come up with as a solution to the church's "plight"? Well, it was the sponsoring church, of course!

"At the Abilene Lectureship, a momentous Biblical principle governing missionary methods was articulated and recommended as a remedy for this brotherhood predicament. The principle was described as intercongregational cooperation without ecclesiastical organization. It greatly expanded the scope of the church's evangelistic opportunities and led logically to recognition of the special role of the sponsoring congregation as compared with the part to be played by the smaller participating churches." (p. 315).

Isn't it too bad that the Lord left his church in such a "predicament," but at the same time, isn't it wonderful that the Abilene Lectureship extricated us from such an embarrassing "predicament"?

It did not take these Abilene brethren long to destroy the Biblical idea of the equality between churches. We have taught, and correctly so, that regardless of size, all faithful churches in God's sight are equal. But they fixed that at Abilene! "Though it was never expressed in so many words, implicit in the Abilene lecturers' plea for improved mission methods was recognition of the important concept of varying congregational responsibility." (p. 312). They learned that some congregations had the "responsibility" to be "the sponsoring congregation" and the smaller churches had the "responsibility" to be "participating churches." (p. 315). The sponsoring churches provided the oversight and the participating churches put up the money.

At Abilene they gave birth to an idea. At the front of this chapter, Brother Banowsky quotes Victor Hugo's statement: "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." The time had come, according to these liberals, to give birth to the sponsoring church idea. Really some others more than half a century before had tried to give birth to the "sponsoring church" idea, but it was a breech birth, and virtually died in birth.

But in the 1930's and 1940's they "delivered" this idea, fresh from the fertile and inventive mind of man. It grew rapidly. "The contention that the only realistic means of evangelizing the world was through intercongregational cooperation gradually began to crystallize into a positive affirmation." (p. 316). This idea has barely been born, but a mere two years after Armstrong's "epoch-making" speech, this idea has grown until it is "the only realistic means."

So enthralled did one Abilene lecturer become with this idea plagiarized from Denominationalism that he said it was "the prayer of everyone here at Abilene Christian College" that "many of you will return to your homes with a burning desire to create greater zeal within your own congregation, and, if possible, become a sponsoring church." (p. 260). The borrowed seed had been sown, and the speakers immediately set out to assure it growth by cultivating the soil.

Through six Abilene speeches between 1947 and 1949, and with the aid of this newborn sponsoring church idea, "the most extensive and ambitious missionary project to be undertaken by churches of Christ in modern history," the sending of "Otis Gatewood and several colleagues" to Germany, was undertaken.

In 1936 George Stephenson reported " 'some of our brethren at the present time are trying to create interest in a nation-wide 'hook-up' broadcast of the gospel of Christ.' Although it required sixteen years for those plans to reach fruition, such a program was finally engaged in 1952." (p. 319). He here refers to the-"Herald of Truth," now causing so much trouble over the brotherhood. It, too, resulted from "shopping about" among the Denominations for the "sponsoring church idea."

Though the Highland Ave. brethren in Abilene prefer to pretend that they sponsor and oversee the Herald of Truth program, sometimes brethren connected with the Herald of Truth slip and "let the cat out of the bag." Brother Banowsky quotes the co-founder of the Herald of Truth, James Walter Nichols, as saying "that some 647 churches and individuals from 40 states have been willing to have fellowship in the sponsoring of this work." (p. 320). According to Nichols' there were then (1952) 647 churches who were "sponsoring" the Herald of Truth. But if you press them on that quote, they will say that was a "slip" or a secretary typing it up made an error. At least that is how they have explained some other damaging admissions.

The Herald of Truth "has developed into a two million dollar a year radio and television" program now. (p. 322). They claim to have one-tenth of all the churches in the world sending them money, and they still want more! From the sectarians they have found and employed what they sought: a "means of brotherhood-wide co-ordination." They have now activated the church universal through a sponsoring church. The Christian Church did it through a missionary society. The Sectarians did it through a synod, conference, convention, or association. And the New Testament church did not do it at all! There is no organization or arrangement to be found in the New Testament by which the church universal can be activated through a single agency. But the brethren, not being able to "resist the temptation to shop about and contrast their plight with the obvious strong points in denominational machinery", borrowed the tool they wanted from sectarians. And thus the "sponsoring church" idea was born among the Churches of Christ.

By 1959 "the cooperation practices (were) beginning to take hold among congregations all across the brotherhood." (p. 322). The seeds of Denominationalism had taken root and were growing rapidly. With such massive programs similar to the Herald of Truth becoming common, C. E. McGaughey's 1961 address . . . "served as an official herald of the practical victory which advocates of the cooperation principle had achieved." (p. 323). However, their only real achievement was "the first significant division among churches of Christ" and "their most severe schism of the century."

In fact the "wheels of progress" begotten by this new-born sponsoring church idea seem to have begun to move so rapidly that even some of the liberals began to run scared. None other that well-known Dallas preacher, John Banister, warned:

"There is a danger of brethren reaching the conclusion that the 'end justifies the means' and coming to believe that any way of doing missionary work is all right just so it is done. This is probably a danger more real and threatening than we realize. This philosophy, if carried to its logical conclusion, would result in the formation of a Missionary Society . . ." (p. 321).

The Opposition

After seeing that the admitted premise of the sponsoring church arrangement was a desire on the part of "ambitious" men to activate the church universal through a single agency, and that the sponsoring church idea emerged from "shopping about" among the "strong points of denominational machinery," is it any wonder that there was strong opposition to it?

Even though the "sponsoring church" idea is admitted by Brother Banowsky to have originated in the mind of man, he attributes all opposition to it to the activity of the Devil. "Satan's panic-prompted reaction" IS "a tribute to Satan's deceit and tenacity." (p. 299). "Every force of hell was focused on the project. From the arch-deceiver himself came the orders . . .'' (p. 300). It seems never to have occurred to Brother Banowsky, or to the others with him who promote such humanisms, that Satan could have been the instigator of these projects which admittedly God did not initiate.

To attribute every objection to the sponsoring church idea to the Devil is to indict some faithful preachers whom Banowsky otherwise would preferred to have extolled. The earliest Abilene lecturers "believed that the local congregation must be its own missionary society". (p. 302). In 1920 M. C. Kurfees declared on the program: "while the specific method of operation is not given in the New Testament, yet the one 1'nvaryi_zg organization in direct control of the work was the local church through its divinely appointed board of overseers." (p. 303). C. A Buchanan, in 1926, maintained "The local church is the organization which sent the missionaries in the days of the apostles . . . Every congregation was a complete missionary society within itself." (p. 303).

The position of these preachers would logically have necessitated their opposition to the "Gospel Press" established "In the early 1950's" to use the printed page "as an evangelistic avenue." (p. 318). Alan Bryan was president of this "organization", which Banowsky says was "violently opposed by brotherhood reactionaries from its inception " Would this "organization' fit the pattern contended for by M. C. Kurfees and C. A. Buchanan in the 1920's?

Foy E. Wallace, Sr.'s 1926 speech criticizing the waste of tremendous sums on ''oiling the machinery and greasing the wheels ' would fit the modern Herald of Truth well, with its annual "Administrative" and "Support Solicitation" expenditures of $296,000 (according to their recently published proposed budget). Wallace opposed building "gigantic human societies at the expense of the churches, squandering the Lord's money in enormous sums, oiling the machinery and greasing the wheels of these unscriptural organizations." (p. 303).

F. B. Shepherd, in 1919, even opposed the "one-man missionary society" method. For these "self-appointed missionaries" and for the arrangement by which "one man has devoted himself to an almost endless fruitless effort to find men with the qualifications to go overseas to work", Shepherd said "There is little more apostolic precedent . . . than for the Free Missionary Society and with less practical results." (p. 305).

Virtually from the first program, there have been those Abilene speakers who have maintained that the New Testament contained a pattern that must be followed in work and worship. Rather recently men like President Athens Clay Pullias of David Lipscomb College and renowned debater, Guy N. Woods, have preached, "There is no Pattern". But in 1919 ACC speaker) George Klingman, preached: "The apostolic ways and methods of doing God's work have not been adopted and followed and for that reason more efficient work has not been done.... we have not been LOYAL to New Testament ideals and plans." (p. 311).

Early Specific Objections

The men we have quoted to this point have objected only in general terms to the sponsoring church concept. But there have been emphatic and direct objections to that false concept from the time it was first promulgated. Some who are uninformed or who deliberately misrepresent would try to make you believe that it has only been within the last ten or fifteen years that objections have been made to sponsoring church arrangements, such as are practiced in the Herald of Truth and other similar evangelistic programs, and in homes for the orphans and widows overseen by sponsoring elderships.

But let us look at the historical account written by a liberal among liberals, William Banowsky. He said that 1919 speaker' F. B. Shepherd, "appeared to represent a segment of brotherhood thinking which would ultimately came to reject the principle of intercongregational missionary cooperation." (p. 314). Shepherd said:

"Shall the church in the aggregate send out missionaries? If so, it needs some official board (This is what the brethren sought later when they began to shop about among the DenominationsCW) and the Bible makes no provision for such. Is it not the God-ordained appointment of the local institution? This course would also remove the possibility of unscriptural institutions growing out of combinations of churches to support one man . . .?" (p. 314).

M C. Kurfees, in 1920, was even more specific. He named what he opposed, and thus by his opposition, according to Banowsky, aligned himself with the Devil's cause. M. C. Kurfees opposed "a sponsoring congregation." Here we will read Brother Banowsky's entire paragraph.

"In 1920, M. C. Kurfees cited several apostolic examples to establish his premise that 'two or more churches, if need be, may co-operate in the work.' But he, too, was exceedingly cautious, SUGGESTING THAT CONGREGATIONAL INDEPENDENCE BE PROTECTED BY SENDING ALL CONTRIBUTIONS DIRECTLY TO THE MISSION FIELD, RATHER THAN TO CHANNEL THEM THROUGH A SPONSORNG CONGREGATION. Kurfees stated that 'the fact that one church is contributing to sustain a missionary is no reason why another church or other churches may not do so if one is too poor financially to sustain the work.' But he then adds, 'AND IN SUCH A CASE, EACH CHURCH MAINTAINS ITS OWN INDEPENDENCE AND SENDS DIRECTLY TO THE SUPPORT OF THE MISSIONARY IN THE FIELD." (p. 314).

Fifteen years before J. N. Armstrong's "epoch-making message in the development of the cooperation principle", M. C. Kurfees was declaring that churches, in order to maintain their independence, must send their monies to the evangelists "directly", "rather than to channel them through a sponsoring congregation." THIS IS PRECISELY THAT FOR WHICH THOSE OF US YET OPPOSED TO THE SPONSORING CHURCH INNOVATION CONTEND. Maintain congregational independence by each church sending its funds directly to the man it supports as Phil. 4:10-18 shows was done in the New Testament days.

As early as the 1940's, "Some church leaders, placing most stringent limitations upon the latitude for congregational interaction, draped the German program with hues and cries of apostasy. Fearing the evolution of ecclesiastical control, they opposed both the principle of cooperation in general and the sponsoring church idea in particular. They branded their cooperation-minded brethren as the direct descendants of the liberal digressives of the late nineteenth century. Furthermore, they regarded the sponsoring church arrangement to be fully analogous in purpose and structure, if not in name, to the full-blown missionary society." (p. 317).

With these quotations in your hands, do not permit any other would-be defender of sponsoring-church-ism to make the argument that this has always been the practice of

Churches of Christ, and that no one ever objected to sponsoring churches until about a decade ago. A reef of similar early objections could be cited, but we are somewhat limiting ourselves in this review to what is found in Banowsky's book.

Why the Division?

Banowsky says that division is not about to occur, it has already occurred. To what does he attribute the division? Here is his reason for the division:

"During the mid-1940's, however, the dormant division of opinion which had from the beginning accompanied the question of intercongregational cooperation sharply awakened. Though actually rooted in a l)esic difference in attitude and spirit, the division of opinion came visibly to the surface in controversy surrounding an intensive program of German mission work after the war." (p. 316).

Note that Banowsky admits that this disagreement over the sponsoring church arrangement had existed "from the beginning." Further he says it is "rooted in a basic difference in attitude and spirit." This is exactly the same source of our disagreement with the Christian Church. We believe the Bible to set forth a perfect pattern for the work and worship of the church. The Christian Church does not so believe. The Christian Church believes that the silence of the scriptures on "aids," "expedients," and "methods" authorizes them to improvise human institutions and arrangements as they see fit. We believe that "where the Bible is silent," we must also be silent. Our authority comes from God's oracle; not His silence. We will only do that for which we have Bible authority expressed either specifically or generically.

There are basic disagreements between the people called "Liberals" and the people called "Antis" in the Churches of Christ today. We have entirely different attitudes toward authority. The "Liberals" have the same attitude toward the silence of the scripture as to "methods," "means," "aids," "expedients" that the Christian Church had. The so-called "Antis" have the same attitude toward the binding power of God's silence that led the brethren fifty to one hundred years ago to reject the instruments of music, missionary societies, and other human institutions.

Banowsky's book, in addition to being THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT' also shows a sharp contrast in attitude toward Bible authority that arose within that movement. He also traces the outworking of these different approaches toward the Bible until he sees resulting two movementsone very similar to the Christian Church when it first began; the other a much-maligned, persistent little bunch that is like the Church of Christ as we knew it fifty to one hundred years ago, and like the church about which you can read in your New Testament. And this second group is determined to remain like the New Testament church in speech, doctrine, practice, work and worship.

One other article, somewhat related to these three on Banowsky's book, will follow. But the concluding article will discuss some incidents in addition to those in connection with THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT.

(Note: THE MIRROR OF A MOVEMENT will make for enlightening historical reading. While it is obvious from this review that we must strongly disagree with Banowsky on many points, this book is useful for it is a history of the beginning and development of the Liberal "Church of Christ" written by one directly in the middle of the movement. Order from Truth Magazine Book Store, Box 7245, Akron, Ohio 44306. Price: $4.50).

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 5, pp. 2-5 February 1966