Missionary Societies (I)
It has been said that the first of "religious societies" was the "Ladies Aid Society" made up of Sarah and Hagar, formed for the purpose of facilitating the purpose of God to give Abraham a son in his old age. While this may be a rather strained view of the proposition, since there was no "official" label attached to the movement, the purpose behind the act was exactly, in intent, that which has identified every "missionary society" that has come into existence.
Missionary Societies have been, and still are, the greatest curse to the Lord's church that the world has known. They were born because of the thinking of men, just like that of Sarah and Hagar, that God would never be able to conclude his purpose without human aids. In the early days of Christianity in our nation, the early 1800's, such men as Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, et al, men who not only planted the first gospel seed in our nation but, as well, did they give birth to the missionary society. It is almost impossible of belief that men such as these, men whose deep devotion to the cause of the Lord was so admirable, whose untiring efforts resulted in the conversion of literally thousands, could ever be guilty of creating a human agency as a channel through which the church of Jesus Christ would function to accomplish her mission in the world.
When I use the word "could", I use it advisedly for these men did not believe the church could ever succeed without human organizations. Such is the belief of thousands of brethren this day. Such attitude but reflects doubt and skepticism. It is a conclusion which limits the power of God and casts doubt upon His wisdom. It is to charge the Lord with establishing the church in this world, giving her the commission to declare the gospel to the whole creation, unaware of her inability to do it with the limited facilities given her. If Sarah and Hagar were in error in their conclusion, how much more are men in error today; men who live so many years this side of the fulfillment of that "impossible" promise, when they are of a mind to believe that God is dependent upon human ingenuity to accomplish his purpose in the salvation of humanity!
1832 marks the beginning of missionary societies among brethren, according to A: W. Fortune (Disciples of Kentucky, pg. 198). Since that time they have been multiplied again and again.
For the purpose of detection, and identification, we need a definition of the term 46 missionary society." This cannot be had by recourse to an English dictionary. We have a definition of the noun (society) which is this: "An organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes." This is of some help for our study. However, we need to point out that the "members" of a society as we are considering it will be "churches" rather than "persons." Thus, "A group of churches associated together for the purpose of evangelism, a 'Body Politic' having its governing body, Board of Directors, etc." This would be an acceptable definition of a missionary society as we know it today. It is immediately apparent that such a body could not be the church; it is rather made up of churches. The New Testament church has Jesus Christ as her head. In her local identification, she is under the supervision of "elders," "pastors" or "bishops" operating or functioning under the delegated authority of Christ, her head. Such men do not rule or govern the "society." A Board of Directors, a Treasury and Treasurer to receive and disburse funds. This is the ruling and sustaining body of the "missionary society" as we know it.
The church and the society are two, separate, distinct, religious bodies. One is "divine" while the other is "human." When one looks at the "missionary society" what he sees, in essence, is a group of the "divine" bodies (churches), associated together in the "human" body (society), for the purpose of accomplishing what the Lord gave the church to do in the first place. What we are saying, in essence, is this: what the "divine" body, the church, cannot do because of its limited ability, the "human" body, the society can do! This makes the "human" more powerful than the "divine." What a shameful, but warranted, conclusion!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 13, pp. 10-11