Editorial - The Nature of Church Cooperation (1)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

(Editors Note: Recently I spoke in Texas on the subject of Cooperation. Reuel Lemmons, editor of the FIRM FOUNDATION, responded to my remarks. Following is a copy of what I said on that occasion. I did my best to present the truth on the subject, and to expose the various errors promulgated on cooperation.)

The controversy surrounding the subject of church cooperation did not originate among Churches of Christ in the last two or three decades. The imminent historian, Earl West, said: "The question of how congregations may cooperate in their work and still maintain their independence is not only one of the oldest to come from the restoration movement but the most enduring." (The Life and Times of David Lipscomb, p. 133.) This subject constantly has been before the brotherhood for well over one hundred years.

In 1855 Tolbert Fanning said: "In establishing The Gospel Advocate, I determined, by the help of the Lord, to give the subject of Cooperation a thorough examination. I do not pretend to say how it has been brought about, but I have for years believed that a change must take place in our views of cooperation, before we can labor to each others advantage, or to the honor of God." (Gospel Advocate, Oct. 1855, p. 110.) The issue is still before us, and hence these discussions this day.


The word "cooperation" is a key word in this controversy, yet the exact word is not found in either the King James Version or the American Standard Version. The word "cooperation" consists of two parts, "co" meaning "together or with," and "operation" which mean "a working." Thus when we speak of "cooperation," we mean "a working together of two or more units in the production of a common effect or the achievement of a common purpose.

Websters New International Dictionary (The Merriam Series) defines "cooperation" as "act of cooperation: joint operation; concurrent effort or labor. " The terms "joint operation" and "concurrent effort or labor" are significant, for they aptly describe the two basic kinds of congregational cooperation that have been proposed among Churches of Christ. One of these kinds of cooperation is found in the New Testament; the other kind is lawless, and hence sinful (I Jno. 3:4).

In "joint operation," the congregations involved pool their resources into a common treasury, and then centralize the control of the pooled treasury. Sometimes the pooling has been done in a human institution (such as the missionary society), sometimes in the hands of one man who came to be called "a one-man missionary society," and sometimes in the hands of a large church, which has come to be called a "sponsoring church." But in all "Joint operations, inevitably there are the pooling of resources and the centralization of control.

In the other type of cooperation, there is "concurrent effort or labor." This aptly describes the type of congregational cooperation to be found in the New Testament. Several congregations may work together for a common goal; they may act simultaneously. Hence, the action is concurrent, but they nevertheless act independently. There is neither pooling of resources nor centralization of control.

Some brethren, who are ignorant of both Bible teaching and dictionary definitions, would deny that independent but concurrent action on the part of congregations is congregational cooperation at all. Thus some refer to those of us who advocate independent but concurrent action as "Anti-cooperationists." On this point, H. Leo Boles said:

"To operate means to work, and to cooperate means to work together to the same end. There can be no working together of churches without the churches themselves working. Churches that do not work cannot work together; churches that do not operate cannot cooperate. Every church in the universe that operates or works according to the will of God cooperates or works together with every other church in the universe that is working according to the same rule. Churches which are fulfilling their mission separate and independent of other churches nevertheless are cooperating with all other churches that fulfill their mission. It seems that we ought to see this that we ought to recognize this fundamental truth. This is the only church cooperation that is taught in the New Testament. " (Gospel Advocate, Jan. 28, 1932, p. 114.)

Brother Bill Humble, now Dean of Abilene Christian College was my Church History professor at Florida Christian College in the early 1950s, and a good teacher he was too, I might add. Brother Humble said: "Lipscomb believed that when churches worked under the same divine laws, they were cooperating with one another and with God, though separated by thousands of miles." (Preceptor, March, 1955, p. 15.) Brother Humble in 1953 was editing a section in the Preceptor, which he called "Restoration and Reaction." In this column, he re-printed some articles on "Congregational Cooperation" which had been written by Earl West, and which also appeared in the Gospel Advocate and Gospel Guardian. In commending these articles by West, Brother Humble said: ". . . Earl West . . . is, in my estimation, the outstanding student of restoration history in the church today . . We believe that the Advocate has rendered a valuable service to the brotherhood in presenting these articles . . . " (Preceptor, June, 1953, p. 17.)

In this series of articles, Brother West said:

"The third type of congregational cooperation is more difficult to describe. . . . The chief promoter was David Lipscomb. It was the belief that the congregations of the Lord, in their individual and local and scriptural way was true cooperative work.... Lipscomb was convicted that much of the controversy over cooperation was due to a lack of understanding of what constituted cooperation. Two congregations, although a thousand miles apart, each pursuing its own independent course in the work of the Lord are necessarily cooperating. Their work is cooperative. " (Preceptor, June, 1953, p. 17.)

Later in this series Brother West said:

"When ten thousand local congregations, all following the same divine laws, all working earnestly to save souls, each in Christian love caring for its own needy-when congregations do this, they are necessarily cooperating for all are doing the work God intended and in the way God intended. Not being able to see any human machinery, they may be unconscious of cooperating, but churches functioning are necessarily and unavoidably cooperating. (Preceptor, July, 1953, p. 17.)

A few months earlier, Brother West had said: They dont have to pool their money. They dont have to put it under the oversight of a designated central church. . . . What do you mean by cooperation, anyway? It is simply working together by the same set of rules." (Sermon delivered at Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, May, 1953.)

I have gone to some length to show that independent but concurrent action is recognized by the dictionary as a legitimate usage of the word "cooperation," and also to show that historically this fact has been recognized by the most imminent historians among us. Thus one is betraying an ignorance of the usage of the word "cooperation" when he refers to those of us who believe in independent but concurrent action by congregations as "Anti-cooperationists."

New Testament Teaching

Let us now come to a discussion of some of the New Testament teaching pertinent to this discussion on congregational cooperation. The New Testament compares the church to the Tabernacle and to the Temple of the Old Testament. The Tabernacle was built according to a pattern designed by God (Ex. 29:1-9; 25:40; 27:8). The Hebrews writer states that Christ is "a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man" (Heb. 8:2). The Hebrews writer further states that Christ serves in "the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands" (Heb. 9: 11).

But the Lords church is also likened unto the Old Testament Temple (See Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 6:16). However, God charged Solomon to follow the "pattern" in erecting the Temple (See 1 Chron. 28:9-19). I, therefore, at this point appropriate the lengthy but well-chosen words of Brother Humble, as he wrote regarding the divine pattern:

"It is inconceivable that God would lavish such care upon the tabernacle and temple and not bestow at least equal care upon the church, particularly when we consider the fact that they were temporary and the church permanent, they were physical and the church spiritual, and that they were of little worth compared with the blood-purchased church of the Lord. . . . The tabernacle is a type (shadow) of the church; therefore since there is a pattern for the tabernacle, there must have been a pattern for the church! Alexander Campbell once argued in a discussion of worship that where there is no order, there can be no disorder; and this same principle could be extended to prove that God has a pattern for every essential characteristic of the New Testament church. Where there is no pattern, there can be no violation of the pattern  Though discussions become heated, the very fact that discussions are being carried on indicates that we still believe in the necessity of determining just what the pattern requires. If the time ever comes that we assume the it makes no difference attitude and discussions cease, complete harmony might result; but the peace would not be worth the price. Our cause would be lost.... A century ago brethren were involved in controversy regarding the missionary society; they were asking one another whether such an organization was included in the pattern. Though the world laughed and though division came, brethren were determined to follow the plan, and follow it they did! Today another generation of likeminded brethren are again discussing the question of how to do missionary work. Instead of accusing one another of being antimissionary or pro-society, would it not be better to dedicate ourselves anew to answering the question, What does the blue-print say? - and this without bitterness, malice, and hate?" (Preceptor, Oct., 1953, pp. 10, 11.)

I submit to you once more the premise advanced by Brother Alexander Campbell: if there is no divine order, then there can be no disorder! If the New Testament supplies no information as to how congregations cooperated, then any type of congregational cooperation, from the missionary society on up, or down, would be acceptable. Let us therefore take a hurried look at what is taught in the New Testament regarding how congregations worked together. I propose that the following abbreviated points summarize what the New Testament teaches regarding how churches cooperated.

1. Churches helped each other in time of emergency by contributing directly to the church or churches, which needed relief. (Rom. 15: 26; 1 Cor. 16: 1-4.) There were needy saints in Jerusalem, and churches in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia sent to their relief. See also Acts 11: 27-30 for the record of Antiochs relief sent to the Judean churches.

2. Many churches contributed to one church in time of need. (2 Cor. 8, 9.) Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia were provinces, and the churches of these provinces sent to Jerusalem to relieve the need of the destitute saints there.

3. Each church made up its own "bounty," selected its own "messengers," and sent its "bounty" by its "messengers" directly to the church in need. (2 Cor. 8, 9; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:26.) Paul mentioned that "whomsoever ye shall approve" should "carry your bounty unto Jerusalem."

4. A church with "power" (ability) gave to a church in "want" in order to produce mutual freedom from want, or as Paul put it, "equality." (2 Cor. 8:13-15.) The only time one can read about one church sending funds to another church for any purpose at all was to relieve the physical "want" of members of the church to which the funds were sent.

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

6. Messengers served only in the capacity of delivering the contribution from the contributing church to the intended recipient. (Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16-1-4; Phil. 4:10-18.)

7. Several churches assisted in supporting an evangelist, each communicating directly with him. (Phil. 4:10-18; 2 Cor. 11:8.) As J. C. McQuiddy phrased it, "The Scriptures establish clearly that in New Testament times the church communicated directly with the missionary in the field." (Gospel Advocate, March 17, 1910, pp. 328, 329.) He also cited Phil. 4:15-17 to prove his affirmation, even as I have done.

So far as I am able to ascertain, anything more than what has just been recited, which is taught by man on the subject of cooperation, emanates from human wisdom, rather than

from the Wisdom that is from above. From the teaching of scriptures, we affirm that all congregations were independent, equal, and autonomous. (Acts 14:23; 20:28; Phil. 1: 1; 1 Pet. 5: 1-4.) Secular history verifies these points. Mosheim said: "All the churches, in those primitive times, were independent bodies; or none of them subject to the jurisdiction of any other.... it is as clear as the noon-day, that all Christian churches had equal rights, and were in all respects on a footing of equality." (Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, p. 72). Other historians, such as Lyman Coleman, agree with the testimony of Mosheim.

(To be concluded next week)


"Were You Successful?"

Paul K. Williams

Transvaal, Republic of South Africa

Charles Goodall returned home after going on a personal call. His wife said, "Were you successful?" The prospect had not been baptized, but Charles replied, "Yes, I was successful." He had been successful in doing what the Lord commanded. He had preached the gospel to the man.

Our measurement of success is often by the wrong yardstick. Of course we want to baptize people, but not everyone who is taught will obey. The "failure rate" of Jesus was phenomenal. By far the majority of the ones He taught were not converted. And He does not expect us to baptize every one we teach. He counts us a success when we teach the gospel, whether we baptize the ones taught or not. But we must teach.

"When I say to the wicked, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself." (Ezekiel 3:18-19).

Every time you teach someone the gospel, you are successful in carrying out the command of Jesus. Every time you sit at home watching television when you could be teaching someone, you are a failure! This is an urgent business. Your soul is at stake as well as the souls of those creatures who have never heard the gospel.

January 18, 1973