Willis-Carrell Discussion

Third Affirmative

Wm. L. Carrell
Muncie, Indiana

RESOLVED: "That it is in harmony with New Testament teaching for one or more congregations to send money from their treasuries to another congregation, (Highland Avenue in Abilene or any other) for the purpose of supporting a nationwide radio broadcast or telecast (Herald of Truth or other) which broadcast or telecast is supervised by the congregation receiving the funds."

66. In this final article of this series I would like to express appreciation to Brother Willis for allowing views contrary to his own to be presented in his publication. And if anyone has been moved to reexamine some o f h i s views in the light of scriptures - views perhaps accepted too hastily and held without adequate investigation - I will consider the time well spent.

67. Brother Willis has repeatedly accused me of assuming what I have pledged myself to prove. "Brother Carrell: PLEASE PROVE WHAT YOU HAVE STATED REPEATEDLY FOR US." etc. After reading such statements so often, I began to wonder if somehow I had inadvertently failed to present scriptures for my position. So I checked back thru my initial article, and sure enough, I did present scriptures. But though Brother Willis says he will accept general authority for an optional expedient, in actuality he is insisting on specific authority. Thus, although we have shown that cooperative efforts such as the Herald of Truth are in harmony with scriptures, he will not accept this because the proof does not fit the narrow pattern he has arbitrarily established.

68. The Lord has commanded us to go preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18f; Mark 16:15f). Such scriptures tell us WHAT we are to do, but they do not tell us in detail HOW we are to do it. Therefore unless in some other scripture we find that God has spelled out the HOW, or has specifically forbidden a certain HOW, we are at liberty to choose how we will carry it out. Others are equally at liberty not to choose our way.

69. On this same, principle we understand that those things necessary to carry out the HOW we have chosen are also authorized. If the HOW is legitimate, even though optional, the things necessary to accomplish it are also legitimate.

70. Brother Willis understands this, well enough with regard to a church building. We recognize expenditures for heat, light, water, seed for the lawn, janitor service, etc., as legitimate, even though we find no command, example, or even a necessary inference for them.

71. But the problem with the Herald of Truth, he says, is that "2,000 churches pool their resources and centralize the control of these pooled resources in the hands of a sponsoring eldership." Now the issue here is not cooperation. In the "Enlightener" of January, 1966, Connie Adams wrote: "In the problem over such things as the Herald of Truth, the issue is NOT: ... over whether churches can cooperate . . . This is not the issue." But any time that two or more churches cooperate in a project of mutual interest, they may be said to "pool their resources," even if it be only that one agrees to pay the electric bill while another pays for bus transportation or the like. So I take it that you do not object to some sort of "pooling of resources." If I misunderstand you, why don't you give a concrete example of how two churches can cooperate scripturally.

72. So the big question seems to be over "centralized control." Centralized control of what, Brother Willis? The Highland Avenue brethren control the Herald of Truth program, its content, production, and distribution. But they do not control the contributing churches. Brother Willis and his friends seem to imagine the structure of the Herald of Truth to be as follows:


73. They refer to it' as a "federation of churches." Now a "federation" implies a head of some sort, with recognized power and authority. The Abilene brethren simply do not have such power. They neither claim it nor exercise it. When a program is put on a local station, the brethren in that area arrange for the time. The Abilene brethren send the film or tape, even including the return postage, either to the local sponsoring church or to the station, as the local brethren direct. No compensation to Highland Avenue is required. Contributions are strictly on a voluntary basis. I suggest that the following view is therefore more in accord with facts:


74. For some reason which I cannot fathom, Brother Willis believes that if a church gives funds to another church, it somehow loses some of its autonomy to the other church. This happens only in the case of churches giving to churches. We never lose autonomy to the electric company or Gas Company when we pay them! Nor does he say that the Corinthian church, or all the other churches who gave to help the needy, "lost autonomy to" or "functioned through" the Jerusalem church. But if helping another church in any way, involves a sinful surrender of autonomy, then Corinth and all the churches in Asia sinned in "pooling their resources" and "centralizing the control" of these pooled resources in the hands of the elders at Jerusalem, or anywhere else.

75. Financial resources have meaning only in terms of the goods and services they obtain. When a congregation pays out money for lights and gas, they do not lose control of anything, for they get what they pay for. And when they give money to support the Herald of Truth, they do not lose control of anything, for the funds accomplish that which they desire, the preaching of the Gospel.

76. Now please don't come back with this "missionary society" bugaboo. You win arguments with loaded words and save yourself the trouble of offering reasoned argument. If the Herald of Truth is unscriptural you surely can prove it without reference to the missionary society.

77. But Brother Willis sees a pattern for giving between churches in the Bible. Following are some of the main points of this pattern, taken from the September, 1966 "Enlightener," and abbreviated to save space:

1. Churches helped each other in time of emergency by contributing directly to the needy church.

2. A church with "power" (ability) gave to a church in "want" in order to produce mutual freedom from want . . . .

3. Individuals, not churches, served as messengers (I Cor. 16:1-4).

4. Messengers served only in the capacity of delivering the contribution from the contributing church to the intended recipient. There are subordinate points, but these represent his views, and in his own words.

78. Now all this seems very sound and scriptural, except that when we examine the basis of his assertions we find they are completely ungrounded assumptions. Brother Willis says there was an "emergency" in Jerusalem. Prove it, Brother Willis. The "emergency" in Jerusalem in Acts 11:27-30 existed also in Antioch, for the predicted famine was to be world-wide (v. 28). The significance was that the brethren gave liberally in spite of their own need. And Paul's greatest benevolent program was undertaken on his third missionary tour, when he gathered funds from all over Asia. But he remained for two years in Ephesus (Acts 19: 10) and for three months in Greece (Acts 20:3). The church at Corinth was a year in raising their promised donation (2 Cor. 8: 10). Besides this there was all the time in journeying and working with other churches. What kind of an "emergency" waits all these years?

79. You merely assume that there was an emergency because Paul took funds' back to Jerusalem. You can't prove it. A need, yes. But then there is always a need in benevolent work and in preaching the Gospel. Any time there is opportunity there is a need. But the word "emergency" is not even in the Bible.

Besides that, Paul did not gather these funds only to help the needy. A split was developing between the Jews and Gentiles within the church. Paul hoped that the generosity of the Gentiles might pacify the divisive element among the Jewish Christians. And he was in some doubt that the gift would be received, for he asked the Romans to pray "that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints" (Romans 15:30f). So the assumption that they gave only in case of emergency, is not established by scriptures.

81. Secondly he says that a church with "power" gave to a church in "want." I'm glad he put those words in quotation marks! For the Bible says that the Macedonian churches gave "beyond their power" (2 Cor. 8:3). History records that this area was in such deep poverty due to war that the Roman government itself did not exact tribute money from them for a time. Their poverty was so great that Paul apparently attempted to refuse their gift at first, for they had to urge him "with much entreaty" to receive the gift (vs. 4). Apparently he thought they needed it more than Jerusalem did! But they wanted to have a part.

82. Brother Willis merely assumes that if a church gave, it had "power" or ability above the church receiving help. And if it received, it had to be an "emergency." How do you calculate this "power?" And who made you a judge of these things in other men's affairs?

83. Thirdly he says that individuals, not churches, served as messengers. And he refers to I Cor. 16:1-4. But here Paul wrote, "Whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem." Brother Willis, do you know whom they chose? Naturally they didn't send the whole congregation, but can you prove that they didn't choose the elders of another church to carry their bounty, or those chosen by the elders of another church? Paul's command could include the elders of another congregation, for "whomsoever" is not specific and the scriptures do not say whom they chose. Now will you be man enough to admit you've been binding a law concerning "messengers" for which you have neither command, examples, nor necessary inference?

84. Fourthly he says that the messengers served only in the capacity of delivering the contribution to the intended recipient. But in 2 Cor. 8:19f Paul says that he and those with him "administered" the bounty. Certainly an apostle might feel free to act as something more than a messenger boy. And so we see that Brother Willis' "pattern" is built largely on assumption, and not on sound interpretation.

85. And how thankful we should be for that! For according to this "pattern" one -church can help another church with its physical needs, but not its spiritual. And it can help with the physical only if there is an emergency, (whatever that is.) Can you brethren with Brother Willis seriously mean what you are saying?

86. As for what the Bible says about supporting evangelistic work, I have already quoted Gal. 6:6: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto (share with, be partaker with) him that teacheth in all good things." Brother Willis says this applies only to the individual, not to the congregation. But it is worth pointing out that those scriptures which justify a church treasury in the first place speak to individuals: (I Cor. 16: 2; 2 Cor. 9:7). And the early churches did not understand Paul to mean that each individual should personally hand his contribution to the preacher, for the churches of Macedonia made up a donation and sent it to Paul (2 Cor. 11:9). What each man could do concerning the advancement of the kingdom, the collective body, or the church, could do, for so they understood it and did it.

Use of Examples

87. Brother Willis knows that God's commands concerning the administration of funds are very broad. For the most part he has simply left it up to our common sense and good judgment. So to establish his case Brother Willis must resort to a highly questionable set of "laws" of hermeneutics by which he decides which examples in the New Testament are binding and which are not. You will remember that he did not ex-plain these. He only mentioned them in a sentence or two. I explained them for him, and he apparently found nothing to condemn in my understanding of these so-called "laws."

88. In my last article I demonstrated that these laws can be used to prove about any thing, even that the Lord's Supper should be taken in an "upper room." As I predicted, Brother Willis tried to squirm off the hook of that argument first by belittling it, then referring to the "law of materiality." He says that John 4:20-24 shows that the location is not important. The question in this passage, however, concerned the geographical location, not what was to be done in that location. The words of Jesus were in a different context, and would not negate the force of an apostolic example. The geographical location is immaterial, but in that location, IF we follow the rules of interpretation which Brother Willis endorses, we must arrange to take the Lord's Supper in an upper room. No, Brother Willis, I'm afraid you're still stuck in that upper room until you are willing to admit that examples merely clarify, illustrate, or support commands. They are not in themselves binding.

89. 1 checked the pages 95-97 in D. R. Dungan's book, HERMENEUTICS, as you suggested, but they offered small comfort to your position. No mention was made of the set of laws you advanced. "If we can first be assured that what is done is approved," we can know certainly what we are at liberty to do under similar circumstances." Far from "binding" us, as Brother Willis says, Mr. Dungan teaches that examples give us liberty! If New Testament Christians were free to do something with apostolic approval, we are also free.

90. Mr. Dungan says further, "If we shall find the whole church engaged in a common custom in religious service, no matter how we may come to that intelligence, if we can know certainly that such was the custom everywhere among the disciples in the days of the apostles, such practice will show certainly what the will of God was."

Now regarding the Lord's Supper, we know from profane history as well as from the reference in Acts 20:7 that it was the universal practice of the early church in their religious service to meet on the Lord's Day to take the Lord's Supper. Therefore according to Mr. Dungan we can take this as the will of God. Incidental patterns in nonreligious matters, such as the handling of funds, do not necessarily establish a precedent. The writing of a check is not a part of our religious service. As Brother Willis accepts the rules of interpretation given by Mr. Dungan, I am sure we should have no further question regarding the Lord's Supper.

Apostolic Teaching About Examples

92. We do learn God's will by command, example, and necessary inference. I have never denied this principle, although I unhesitatingly reject Brother Willis' peculiar method of interpreting it. But I can prove from the words of Peter himself that approved apostolic example is not in and of itself binding. Brother Willis says that the examples in Acts 2:45 and 4:34ff, in which the early Christians sold their possessions to provide for the needy, would be binding on us under like circumstances.

93. However, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter about how much they had received for the sale of a piece of land, Peter said, "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" In other words Peter is saying, "You didn't have to lie, for you didn't have to give as the others have been giving" (See Acts 5:3f).

94. Peter's words show clearly that the early disciples were under no obligation to sell their property and give it to the church. And if they were not bound by approved apostolic examples, certainly we are not! The commands and principles concerning giving are binding, but the examples merely illustrate the commands, and so to speak, give life to them. And I am sure Brother Willis would agree to this in almost any other connection except this one.

95. Space does not permit a full examination of all the distortions you have made of what I have written, Suffice it to say that I have not set out to "destroy apostolic examples," nor to "cast them out," I feel no pressure to discredit them because supposedly they oppose what I stand for. They do not. I have not jested about holy things. Rather it is you who turn a simple command into a travesty by insisting that Paul teaches in Phil 4:9 that we are called to do everything he did, just as he did it. It is this interpretation which makes it a game of follow-the-leader. And yet you retain the good sense not to follow even your own teaching when common sense tells you to reject what a strict application of your rules of interpretation requires.

96. In brief I contend that the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18ff, Mark 16:15ff) gives general authority for a program such as the Herald of Truth. Churches do not lose autonomy when they give, for New Testament churches gave to the Jerusalem church and did not lose autonomy. True this was in benevolence, not in evangelism, but the principle is the same. Scriptures concerning giving and receiving are very broad and general, in order to cover the many possibilities than can arise.

There was a much closer fellowship among New Testament churches than, we have often imagined. May we in our own age do all we can to restore this wonderful spirit of love, and trust, and fellowship which existed then.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 11, pp. 1-5
September 1967