Indiana Cooperative Efforts: A History

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

We have been duly apprised that the Churches of Christ in Indiana conducted a "Greater Indiana Campaign for Christ" in Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University in Indianapolis July 3-8, 1967. The state was, divided into Regions and some of our brethren were appointed as "Regional Directors," and one brother was named "State Director."

More committees were appointed and more preliminary meetings and dinners were held than I have time here to relate.

In the context of such a promotional buildup as was for a long time underway, it probably would do us all good to stop and to reflect on previous but similar campaigns held in Indiana and elsewhere. History is ordinarily a solid platform from which objectively to view the present. It was to supply such historical perspective that the Old Testament record was written and preserved (I Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4).

Indiana has now become the brotherhood center of that element in the church which a few years ago set out to conduct statewide campaigns of several sorts. For seven years Indiana had more churches pretending to follow the New Testament order than any other state. In 1926 the element that went along with the statewide campaigns could report 716 churches and 163,000 members in Indiana. The same report added, however, that the anti-campaign type of churches numbered 226 congregations and 21,400 members. Commodore Cauble referred to the Churches of Christ as "those churches that do their missionary work as churches and not through an overhead organization (Cauble, DISCIPLES OF CHRIST IN INDIANA, p. 292). Several historians have called Indiana, and Indianapolis more particularly, the "center of brotherhood life," since the first statewide meetings were held here, the first state missionary society began here, and since the United Christian Missionary Society has its headquarters here. Indiana has been quite typical of those states that have had many members who believe in statewide efforts. So let us briefly observe what happened in Indiana's evolving statewide programs, tracing them down to the Jimmy Allen "Campaign" recently held in Indianapolis.

The Primitive Period

It is exciting to read of the beginning of the gospel in Indiana, or in any other place. Cauble says "The first era was the day of evangelism and church planting. The pioneers went everywhere preaching the Word and planting New Testament churches . . . Churches multiplied . . ." (p. 289). Since in those early days the brethren had no "cooperatives," missionary societies, state meetings, state evangelists, or high powered campaigns, one is made to wonder just how they enjoyed such phenomenal success. Dr. R. T. Brown, in an 1883 Indianapolis speech, rehearsed how the churches began and grew so rapidly. He said, "a few self -sacrificing men . . . traveled from place to place at their own expense and preached the simple gospel of the cross in private dwellings, schoolhouses, barns, and more frequently in the forest groves . . . churches sprang up from almost every protracted meeting."

One can study the beginning and growth of the gospel in every state, and will find that its most flourishing period of growth was when gospel work was done in just this fashion. Dr. Brown added, "While every plan which has been devised for carrying on the work of the churches has been a failure, the work itself thank God, has been an unparalleled success." When the gospel was preached, it was effective in spite of man's egotistical efforts to prop it up by his inventions.

The "Cooperative" Period

After these sturdy pioneers had rediscovered the gospel and had preached it with such unbounded success, they began to look at the nations around about them. When these men returned to the New Testament they found in it no sectarian conferences or alliances such as those to which they had become accustomed in sectarianism. So they did away with them, but almost immediately they tried to invent something to take the place of conferences. In speaking of the dissolution of the "Christian Body in Orange County," Elijah Goodwin, an Indiana pioneer preacher, said, "In dropping the conference they failed to make any arrangement for general cooperation or annual meetings.

This was an oversight and a mistake." Hardly 4ad these brethren ridded themselves of the shackles of sectarian ecclesiasticisms until they began to invent some of their own.

Soon they were meeting for consideration of "cooperative work." These meetings at first looked innocuous and harmless enough. Joseph Franklin, in his biography of his father, Benjamin Franklin, tells us that these first cooperative meetings were "individual cooperatives" and then later became cooperations of churches (p. 239). Franklin said, "At first these cooperation meetings were composed of counties or of the churches in one or two counties. Afterward they were enlarged into districts, often comprising the congressional district." Dr. Henry Shaw, in his new book HOOSIER DISCIPLES, says: They "began to work together in what they called cooperations (a unit made up of congregations in a limited geographical area) . . . From this 'cooperation' structure they expanded into county and district organizations (larger cooperations), and finally to a State Meeting in 1839" (p. 76).

These brethren had set out on a course of unscriptural organization, and could find no stopping place. Yes, there were those who tried to stop even these first digressions Shaw says that by 1818 "It is apparent that a strong anti-missionary sentiment had developed within the group" (p. 53), but he dismisses this by saying this was caused because they had severed their relationship with the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions.

In 1830 two brethren, Elijah Goodwin and William Kinkade, debated the proposition, "Is it scriptural for the meeting to be organized into a standing body, called a conference, for the transaction of business, separate and independent of the churches?" Brethren back then were not afraid to debate "Is it scriptural?" This debate resulted in the dissolution of the Wabash Conference. And if we could get Brother Jimmy Allen or Brother Earl West (who preaches for the church that sponsored the Greater Indiana Campaign for Christ) to discuss "Is it scriptural . . . ?" We very likely could make some see that this unscriptural invention of ambitious men should also be disbanded. Shaw states that when the Wabash Conference was dissolved, again "the local church became an autonomous unit" (p. 68). And the Greater Indiana Campaign participating churches could again become autonomous units by disbanding the "standing body" that appointed itself to act in behalf of all the churches in Indiana.

In an effort to quiet the opposition to their "cooperations," it was made clear that participation in their cooperations was strictly on a voluntary basis. Shaw says, "Christian Church conferences were voluntary associations; neither ministers nor churches were compelled to join them" (p. 34). Joseph Franklin said, "But whatever form the cooperation meeting assumed, there were always some who looked upon it with suspicion and spoke of 'ecclesiastical courts' and 'golden calves,' . . ." (p. 239). Apparently brethren back then would as soon their autonomy be usurped as that it be voluntarily relinquished.

Afterwards historians could look upon these first cooperative meetings and see that they were the beginning of a serious digression. They appeared to be so innocent and harmless then, and that such good work was being done through them, but "Though the brethren did not realize it then, the forming of cooperations was the first step in structuring the Indiana brotherhood . . ." (Shaw, p. 84). Gradually ". . . the idea of cooperations took first hold in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, and they were the first steps in structuring a new brotherhood" (p, 89).

"Hoosier Disciples were saying much the same . . . as they were fifteen years before, but what they were saying was not reflected in what they were doing. This is seen especially in the development of ecclesiastical organization" (Shaw, p. 110). The Franklin Road church (which sponsored the Indiana Campaign) and Earl West are still parrotting the "We speak where the Bible speaks . . ." slogan, but it suddenly has taken on a far off and hollow ring as they attempt to act in behalf of all the Churches of Christ in "Greater Indiana." They need to get their preaching and their practice in harmony by either changing their preaching or the practice. Presently they hurriedly are marching, by their inconsistent preaching and practice, in two entirely different directions.

The Annual Meeting Period

By 1839 there were an estimated 4,000 members of the church in Indiana. They sought some means by which they might consolidate the efforts of the churches throughout the state. Shaw said ". . . by 1839 the brethren thought in terms of a general 'statewide' cooperation meeting" (p. 92). And this was a logical outcome. If they were going to have c6unty and district cooperations, the next logical step was the formation of a state-wide cooperation.

The first state meeting was held in Indianapolis beginning on Friday, June 7, 18-39 and continued until the following Tuesday. It was reported that there were fifty public speakers present. The stated object of this state-wide gathering was "to promote the general prosperity of the good cause in Indiana . . . to bring the united energies of the Disciples to bear upon the accomplishment of the desirable objects" (Cauble, pp. 73, 74). So excited were those present about the possibilities for good from such a "Mass Meeting" or "Annual Meeting" that they immediately made arrangements for a second "Annual Meeting" to be held at Crawfordsville, beginning the second Lord's Day in June, 1840.

Shortly after this June, 1839 Indiana "Annual Meeting," an exuberant Alexander Campbell called for other such meetings. He said, "An annual meeting in some central point in each state in the Union, conducted on similar principles, exhibiting the statistics of the churches united in the primitive faith and manners, would in many ways, greatly promote the prosperity of the cause" (MILLENNIAL HARBINGER, August, 1839).

Again it was emphasized that these meetings were simply "Mass Meetings" of brethren, and were not legislative councils, and participation in them was entirely voluntary. Elijah Goodwin said the meetings "had no binding influence on anyone." Shaw said, ". . . the State Meeting was a voluntary association and could perform no act that would be binding on any congregation

But such disclaimers did not eliminate criticism of the whole "State Meeting" concept. From the very beginning there were those who opposed any arrangement that would tie the churches together to do a state-wide work. Arthur Crilifield, Editor of the HERETIC DETECTOR, attended the first Indiana State Meeting. Some brethren were apprehensive about such a venture. Crilifield said that he was advised by one brother to "Beware of the horns at Indianapolis." He said at the meeting he found a concern "that there was a dangerous surrender of the people's power, when at such general meetings, an order is formed, committees appointed, resolutions adopted, and sundry recommendations made to the body at large" (Shaw, p. 94). Joseph Franklin said, "In other localities the State Meeting was regarded by many as dangerous in the extreme . . . In a word, they thought the State meeting was a mighty engine of power, dangerous to the liberties of the congregations . . ."

But once the tide had begun to move away from the Bible platform, brethren controlled by that tide were not going to let a little opposition deter them. At the very first State Meeting in 1839, when the proposal was made for a second "Annual Meeting," Elijah Goodwin said "This was warmly opposed." Some brethren maintained, "This being only a mass-meeting ... they had no power to adjourn to another time and place" (Cauble, pp. 80, 81).

But as Goodwin said, "Thus the brethren continued to hold annual meetings in Indiana every year, which finally took the title 'State Meetings.' "By 1842 the brethren had begun to try to act jointly in evangelism through these "Annual Meetings." Churches soon began to be invited to send "messengers" to these meetings to be sure that their point of view was represented and heard (Cauble, p. 257). At the 1842 Connersville State Meeting the first attempt at statewide missionary work was undertaken. Four "State Evangelists" were elected, one to evangelize in each of the four districts into which they had divided the state.

The perceptive historian, Dr. Shaw, said, "The first State meeting in Indianapolis made history" (p. 84), and indeed it did. In just a short time this "State Meeting" evolved into a meeting at which the brotherhood problems were discussed and settled. It signaled the end of the liberty of congregations, as all such State-wide combinations of churches inevitably do. Shaw added, "The passing of resolutions, even though not binding on the churches, was the beginning of ecclesiastical structure . . . . It gave tacit approval to a principle that had been rejected up to this time . . . the recognition of authority in church government beyond that of the local church" (pp. 95, 96).

After looking about them, these brethren who were interested in State-wide cooperative movements and programs began to feel that "They needed something like a denominational organization in order to be effective in propagating the new movement  Motivated by practical reasons to form some kind of 'official' ecclesiastical structure they had difficulty in doing so without violating some of the original principles of the movement" (Shaw, pp. 100, 102). With the starting of the State Meeting and the endorsement of the Bible and Tract Society, Shaw says ". . . there is no question but that the Indiana brethren had plunged more deeply into institutionalism than their Disciple brethren elsewhere" (p. 127). But having forsaken their New Testament principles when they formed their first small cooperations, they had no authority now with which to set themselves aright.

But their human ingenuity led them nowhere, except into apostasy. It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps, and thus their ingenious missionary devices were one and all dismal failures. In fact, there was so much opposition to their humanistic ventures that very little interest could be created in them. To illustrate, no more than 20 people attended the 18S7 State Meeting at Lafayette. At the Bedford State Meeting in 18S8 there were only seven delegates present from three churches. Their innovations had fizzled. Brethren back then could not generate much enthusiasm for such state-wide cooperative efforts, but "now it is different." Now the cooperative brethren among us have stirred up a frightening amount of campaign fervor with their ballyhoo for the contemporary State-wide effort, which is as unscriptural as any ever invented by any man.

But the formation of the State Meeting arrangement was not the end; it was merely the permanent beginning from which other more intricate digressive cooperatives could spring. And we have not seen the end result today of such current dangerous mighty engines of power which destroy the liberties of churches.

The Indiana Home Missionary Society Period

Having set sail upon the turbulent sea of "cooperations" and institutionalism, the brethren could find no way to beach their barque upon the solid shore. Instead, they drifted further and further from their moorings. In 1848 Elijah Goodwin "was moved to write what be called a proposed constitution for missionary work to save the churches. This new departure was criticized very freely . . . (Cauble, p. 258). Who asked Goodwin to prepare a plan to save the churches in Indiana? The same ones that asked Franklin Road church to direct a campaign for the churches in the state. Both were self-appointed, and both looked upon themselves as Saviors of the churches.

But the gullible brethren of Goodwin's day permitted him to lead them further from the New Testament order. Thus the Indiana Christian Home Missionary Society was chartered on October 6, 1849, at about the same time that the brotherhood was forming the American Christian Missionary Society. The Indiana brethren had within twenty years formed a society very similar to the ones from which they had withdrawn when they left sectarianism about twenty years before. And today some of the promoters of the Greater Indiana Campaign are promoting what they stringently opposed less than twenty years ago. Brother Earl West is a perfect illustration of this point. He has written strongly against such state-wide cooperatives in three books and two tracts' and yet he is now the ring-leader of the promotion of a state-wide cooperative.

The newly formed Indiana Home Missionary Society was strongly opposed. In an effort to appease the opposition it was decided that the society would be "supported by individuals rather than by churches" (Shaw, p. 126). Cauble said, "This Society was the beginning of turmoil" (p. 290), and all such human innovations now are likewise the beginning of turmoil. Cauble reported, "A large group had the feeling that no organization above the local church should be formed," and there are still many brethren who feel that "no organization above the local church should be formed."

Elijah Goodwin said, "The society ran well for a few years, though warmly opposed by some. The general objection was this: the society proposed to take the evangelical work out of the hands of the churches, where they said it properly belonged ... Those who were willing to work through such an organism contended it was but the church that was doing the work (Cauble, p. 104).

But Goodwin said, "the opposition to the Society was so strong" that the Society was temporarily suspended. "The opposition prevailed." Thus the Society died in 1853.

But historians later wrote the word "Failure" upon this cooperative experiment too. Henry Shaw said, "By 1855 Hoosier Disciples had experimented with three types of state-level organizations: the simple State Meeting, the State Meeting plus a home missionary society, and a State Meeting with a special missionary board. Records of the work for this period show very little done in the missionary and evangelistic fields" (p. 173). The brethren had departed from the New Testament pattern, had invented several kinds of state-cooperatives, had torn the body of Christ to shreds, and yet there was very little done ..." Such has always been the history of man's efforts to improve on God's plan. They wreck havoc and accomplish virtually nothing else.

Another State Meeting Period

After dissolving the Home Missionary Society in 1853, the brethren did not revert to the New Testament pattern of congregational action. Instead, they revived and slightly altered the State Meeting arrangement. Again they felt the necessity to assure the brethren that the State Meeting would not destroy congregational autonomy, though it did nonetheless. The 1853 charter said, "The State Meeting shall never . . . in any wise interfere with the rights and privileges or primitive and Scriptural independence of the churches."

But still the great mass of the brethren were not interested in such massive combines. Elijah Goodwin told about attending a Vigo County Meeting in Terre Haute in 1859. "When the day came but few were present, not more than would have been expected at a usual church-meeting. Hence we had to elect officers from brethren who were not present . . . . We learned that the brother whom we had chosen as president of the meeting was opposed to the whole arrangement."

But the restructured State Meeting was no better accepted than had been its predecessor. At the 1855 State Meeting held in Indianapolis, the Treasurer reported that only $33.95 had, been placed in his hands for missionary work in the previous year. By 1861 the sum of $119.80, had been supplied in a year. Brethren back then were just not much interested in these state-wide innovations. Even Elijah Goodwin admitted that the State Meeting failed. He said. "The missionary society gave way and the so-called State meeting took its place. This involved district, county, and church cooperation. It was not a success" (Cauble, p. 258).

In 1862 they did away with the State Meeting and organized the Indiana Christian Missionary Society. In 1869 the President of-the Missionary Society said, "Hence, the best plan for cooperation in our missionary work remains an open question." As late a-q 1930 Commodore Cauble said, "Unfortunately, the method of cooperation is still unsettled" (p. 291).

Thus we see that these brethren rapidly and repeatedly switched from one unsuccessful state-wide procedure to another. All of these plans failed. Inevitably the brethren were divided over bow to run their latest plan. They experienced great difficulty in finding a scriptural way to run an unscriptural plan, even as our institutional brethren today are divided over what is a scriptural way to run an unscriptural institution. Old Brother David Lipscomb used to say that he failed to see what scriptural work an unscriptural meeting could do.

Today some of our brethren are still experimenting with a 9tate-wide plan. Our brethren now are saying, "Put it under elders," but the brethren considered and rejected this plan of centralized control in 1839. Local elders had no business overseeing the work of the churches of the State.

Finally these brethren amalgamated the American Christian Missionary Society, Foreign Christian Missionary, Society,, National Benevolent Society, Christian Woman's Board of Missions, Board of Church Extension, and the Board of Ministerial Relief into one super-board called the United Christian Missionary Society. Their conventions have since turned into delegate conventions at which matters are decided by vote for the church at large. More recently they have proposed a restructuring" of the brotherhood- by which" some official denominational headquarters can be established. Decisions made by the delegates at this convention will then be held at binding on the churches which sent these delegates. Restructure is now considered a necessary forerunner to amalgamation of the Christian Church into some ecumenical protestant body, Armed with authority given by restructure, local Christian Churches are going to be coerced by their convention into some kind of universal protestant church. All this eventually resulted from the beginning of innocent looking little county cooperations slightly more than one hundred years ago.

And with all their experiments in statewide cooperative efforts, and with all their expenditures, the Christian Churches continue to decrease in numbers and members. And yet some of our brethren seem deter mined to follow in their unsuccessful and unscriptural steps. What will it take to open the eyes of our "State-wide Campaign" brethren? The efforts of our State-wide cooperative brethren of the past not only were unscriptural and ineffectual, but they caused incessant controversy and bitter division. Do we want more of the same?

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 2, pp. 13-18
November 1967