Cooperation and English Churches

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

Very few brethren in this country are even aware of the existence of churches of Christ in England and Scotland. While I have no exact information as to their number, there are several. I might hazard a guess of forty or fifty.

The history of churches of Christ in England goes back a long time. Alexander Campbell published in America a paper called the MILLENNIAL HARBINGER from 1830 until his death in 1866. Great interest was shown in England in the effort he then made to restore New Testament Christianity. In fact, in 1835 and 1836 condensations of the MILLENNIAL HARBINGER were published in London in book form.

The digression adversely affected the churches in England, even as it did in this country. However, around the turn of the century the effort to restore New Testament Christianity was renewed. An effort was made to pick up the pieces that were left after the shatter of digression.

Traditionally these English and Scottish churches have been conservative. They have opposed the "ministerial system," the system we would call the practice of churches having "located" preachers of the gospel. They also oppose the use of "individual cups at the Lord's table." They refer to this as an "American practice" which is "inimical to teaching of Jesus, a direct contravention of his commands" (SCRIPTURE October, 1968, p. 112).

Missionary "Cooperations"

In spite of these brethren's ultra-conservatism on some points, they seem never to have discarded Campbell's early ideas (i. e. his 1830-1850 ideas) on cooperation. Before the American Christian Missionary Society was formed in 1849, brethren in this country operated provincial evangelistic "Associations" and "Cooperations." These "Associations" and "Cooperations", as well as their adherents, went nearly 100 percent into the missionary society movement.

An avowed missionary "association" or "cooperation" would hardly be acceptable to any American congregation, whether it be conservative or liberal Many of the liberal churches in America would accept a missionary "association" or "cooperation," if it were not called by that name. In fact, they already have done so. In liberal American churches about the only objection that some would be able to give to a missionary society would be their prejudice against one. They have long since capitulated on any scriptural argument they might make against a missionary society. They were forced to give up their anti-missionary society arguments when they tried to defend similar benevolent societies.

But in England the fight for and against "associations" and "cooperations" within the churches of Christ goes on. The English brethren publish a paper called THE SCRIPTURE STANDARD. In the June issue (1968) brethren J. Dodsley and E. Makin urged the "individuals or communities to work through a brotherhood "Conference Committee." You will notice that rather than refer to churches these brethren call them "communities." Maybe "Communities" Will be more to the liking of brethren Charles Holt, Harold Spurlock, SENTINEL OF TRUTH, et al. They do not seem to like the word "church."

These English brethren unabashedly appropriate Alexander Campbell's old arguments made to actuate the 1830-1850 "cooperations." They argue that "British congregations are small in numbers and in number." They also argue that "Churches in Scotland have for some ninety years in the Slamannan district operated a modus vivendi (i. e. an arrangements between the churches--C.W.) in gospel proclamation" They argue that this cooperation is not anti-scriptural but non-scriptural (a method not to be found in the Bible)." When brethren begin to try to defend human institutions or cooperative arrangements, they lose their nationality. They all make the same arguments. You will note that these brethren argue that the churches are so small they amalgamate their efforts, and that they have been doing so for "ninety years." One of their arguments is that the "end justifies the means" and the other is the time-worn argument, "We have always done it this way.

These brethren attempt to implement a "Conference Committee" system. They propose that it be clearly Understood that this "cooperation is for evangelistic purposes only" and that this "union of churches" can never become "an organic entity entrusted with the administrative functions of a central authority." The editors in publishing this "Conference Committee" proposal said, "We gladly publish the foregoing article. We feel that what is written has long needed saying."


However, these brethren know there will be opposition to their "Conference Committee.'' They state, "There are Christians who maintain that everything must be done through the local assembly." "There will be a concern expressed by those who do not wish to cooperate wholeheartedly outside the jurisdiction of the local church. This concern has been expressed by Christians since movements for evangelistic cooperation began from a movement started in the United States and this country in the early part of the last century." And in the SCRIPTURE STANDARD good objections were filed by John M. Wood (July, 1968) and Brian J. Boland (September, 1968).

But the "Conference Committee" brethren have not given up yet. Brother E. Makin replied to the critics in the August, 1968 issue, and stated that "the Evangelistic Committee has been greatly weakened by those who deny that this is a scriptural expedient ...."Nearly everything has been defended under the misnomer "expedient." In the October, 1968 issue Brother E. Makin attempted another defense of his "Evangelistic Committee." In this article he really revealed the kind of thinking that causes one to attempt to defend human-institutions to do the work of the church. He sounds in this article just like an American liberal!

He argues that "revelation has left us with the content of the evangel and not the one and only method of preaching that message." It sounds like he borrowed a page from Guy N. Woods' debate notebook, doesn't it? But Brother Woods should give Brother Makin a page out of one of his later debate notebooks. Brother Woods has since learned that an institution is not merely a method. Brother Woods does not now debate as he did in the Indianapolis Woods-Porter Debate (1957) that the benevolent society is merely an "orderly arrangement" for doing benevolent work. He now believes that the benevolent organization is a separate institution (a "Home" that-provides a home), and should therefore not be under the oversight of the elders of a church.

Brother Makin says that Brother Boland thrusts "The local congregation and its autonomy .... in front of the reader as sacrosanct." He even had the audacity to complain that Brother Boland has been guilty of "cluttering of the article with texts. . . . "He says, "It is more honest to cease quoting substantiating scriptures for all we do, and to admit that we do certain things because they work, they are convenient, and the methods employed suit our abilities and circumstances, and that Our limitations allow us to pursue these methods." You can see he has ceased to attempt to give a "Thus saith the Lord" for his "Conference Committee" and his "Evangelistic Committee." He says it is "more honest" to admit you have no scripture for it. Did you hear that, Brother Woods? Did you get that Brother Harper? Brother Inman?

Brother Makin said, since "I am of the opinion that nowhere in scripture is there outlined an all-exclusive method of preaching the gospel, I have the right to preach Jesus in the most effective manner that I know and am capable of participating in. If a group of Christians organize themselves to preach the evangel they have the liberty to do so, and so may a group of local communities" (churches-C.W.) This is Alexander Campbell's

old argument revived. He maintains a group of churches may collaborate and form an through which they may preach the gospel. One wonders why such a brother does not just join the Christian Church and get over his, discomfort.

How does he prove "a group of local communities" may "organize themselves"? Why he is of the "opinion' they may! Like Henry Ward Beech said on sprinkling, he has tried it and found out that it works.

He concedes,, that his Evangelist Committee is unscriptural" but argues that it is not "anti-scriptural. Such an argument is a confession on the part of Brother Makin that he does not understand the nature of general and specific authority. If the thing is unscriptural (i. e. unauthorized by either general or specific authority), he had better cease to practice it. That which is unscriptural", is called in the Bible lawlessness and will cause ones damnation (See 1 Jno. 3:4; Matt. 7:21-23 the American Standard Version}. That which is "unscriptural" is "anti-scriptural."

The contribution

Like most liberals, when Brother Makin accepts a liberal position on the human organization question, he is forced to accept liberalism on other questions. Thus he says, we are told how to give, not when to give, not how much to givenot what to give for."

Brother Makin is in error here. The tells us when to give (1 Cor. 16:1, 2), for what the money is to be given (1 Cor. 16:1,2; Phil. 4: 15,16; 2 Cor. 11:8; Eph. 4:I2), Brother Makin does not do his giving because of these passages. He says we give because our commonsense tells us that functioning of any community needs money; we give on the first day of the week our commonsense tells us that this is when it is convenient to collect from Christians meeting at the table of the Lord... There is not one iota of authority for taking a collection for any particular purpose.

In this paragraph Brother Makin sounds as though he is quoting from the speeches of E. R. Harper in the TANT-HARPER DEBATE. Brother Harper sought to justify hundreds of churches working through one eldership by sanctified "commonsense." Jeremiah said, "Oh Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). Peter commanded, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). These passages suggest that "commonsense" is not good enough authority in religion. It is not even good "commonsense" to follow human wisdom in religion. Someone has said, "Common sense is not so common anymore."

Brother Makin also attempts to authorize the "Evangelistic Committee" by referring to "worthwhile activities could result from the convention of Christians." This is the shopworn "Look how much good it is doing" argument that he may have borrowed either from the Christian Church or Highland Avenue in Abilene. But it is an invalid argument in religion, whether employed by the Christian Church, Highland Avenue, or Brother Makin.


It is paradoxical to me to see brethren so conservative on the "individual cups" and "local preacher" questions, and so liberal and Christian Church-like on the place of "conventions" and "committees" in doing the work of the church.

t should be interesting and enlightening to American brethren to see that digression and digressive arguments are alike, whether advanced by a "Disciple of Christ," a liberal like Guy N. Woods or E. R. Harper, or a misguided English brother.


December 18, 1969