Sponsoring Elders And Institutionalism (2): Hierarchism

Leo Rogol
Pine Mountain Valley, Georgia

I will use quotations from Brinsmead's work in which he points out the unscriptural arrangements of church organization and institutionalism. I will then make a comparison between his attack on the Adventist structure and the liberal practices among churches of Christ. I will also deal Campaigns for Christ because they too are involved in this matter of hierarchism among liberal churches. When I quote Mr. Brinsmead, I will then give a definition of "hierarchy" and "sponsoring" and show how they are related or parallel in nature.

Quotations From Brinsmead

In Judged By The Gospel, Mr. Brinsmead writes:

A hierarchy is an "organized body of persons, especially sacred persons graded so that each rank controls or directs those below them." In a hierarchy the government of the church is in the hands of a ruling body of ecclesiastics instead of the priesthood of all believers (p. 272).

We may well understand that he said this because he realized this existing in the Adventist church and, therefore, felt compelled to deal with it. He further states:

In a civil suit before the California courts, the General Conference president testified that the Seventh-day Adventist church was a hierarchal church and that he was its first minister (p. 272).

Mr. Brinsmead made an accurate observation that "all local churches must be subject to some supreme authority is the Romanist view of church government" (pp. 273-274). So let us observe one important fact: Any form of hierarchism is Roman catholic in nature. Later we will see how this same principle applies to liberal churches in their sponsoring programs.

Notice again what Brinsmead has to say: "A number of the features of Adventist ecclesiology resemble the Roman system" (p. 272). Mr. Brinsmead quotes Augustus Strong, a Reformed Baptist: "Augustus Strong . . says that 'no ecclesiastical authority higher than that of the local church is recognized in the New Testament... (p. 274). Again Mr. Brinsmead writes: "After the 1975 General Conference session in Vienna, Spectrum showed that lay people have less voice in the actual operation of the Adventist church than in any other recognized Protestant denomination" (p. 274).

As we deal with sponsoring churches, we will see that the same holds true with regard to them. "Cooperating" churches of Christ have absolutely no voice, no control over the affairs under the supervision of sponsoring elders/churches. Every detail of every arrangement in the organization and work under sponsoring churches or elders is absolutely under the authority, control and direction of these sponsoring elders.

In order to fully understand the relationship between Mr. Brinsmead's charge of hierarchism in the Adventist church and the sponsoring churches among churches of Christ, we must understand the meaning and inherent nature in both "hierarchy" and "sponsoring." Let us see what these definitions are and how they are related or parallel to one another.

1. Hierarchy: "body of rulers, especially of ecclesiastics, disposed organically in rank and orders each subordinate to one above it."

Thus, in a hierarchal system, you have one on top who rules, has oversight and responsibility of all those under him.

2. Sponsor. "One who assumes responsibility for some other person or thing."

It is significant to note that the precise word, "sponsor," was adopted to define the arrangement which we call sponsoring churches/elders. Because the arrangement or set-up is exactly according to its meaning.

Thus we observe two things. Both, "hierarchy" and "sponsoring" have the same meaning. Thus, both are the same in nature. Next, liberal brethren chose the word, "sponsoring" to define the arrangement of their system of work, and since this is true, it is identical with the concept of "hierarchy." Let the liberal brethren, who chose to set up a system they defined as "sponsoring" deny that it is not the same as "hierarchy" since both have the same meaning and concept of arrangement of work, and the same structural form of a hierarchy.

This is true in the set-up of Herald of Truth and the many similar sponsoring arrangements that have been set up in this country. I want to show from their own writings that this is a fact. (In reality, the Herald of Truth is now an independent organization from the Highland church. The elders at Highland are "sponsors" only in name.) Yet, under this system, the sponsoring elders assume the responsibility, authority, oversight - all that is defined as "sponsoring," of all churches submitting to their arrangement: one eldership controlling a "brotherhood of churches." But, as I said, let them tell it themselves.

As far back as 1936, plans were being made to establish a nationwide radio broadcast (later TV) for the brotherhood which would be centrally controlled. William S. Banowsky, formerly the preacher for the Broadway church of Christ, Lubbock, Texas, said in his book, The Mirror Of A Movement.

Although it required sixteen years for those plans to reach fruition, such a program was finally engaged in 1952. That year, James W. Nichols told the Lectureship (Abilene Christian College - LR) that the Highland church in Abilene had undertaken the responsibility of enlarging its area broadcast into a nation-wide radio program called the "Herald of Truth." As a result of these efforts and due to the fact that the brotherhood had long dreamed of such an opportunity, some $265,000 has been raised to make possible the preaching of the gospel .... It will be interesting to note, added Nichols, "that some 647 churches and individuals from 40 states have been willing to have fellowship in the sponsoring of this work" (p. 320).

Again, "Within a few years the Highland Church added to its outreach a nation-wide television broadcast" (p. 320). It should be known that this book was written nearly twenty years ago. Thus we can understand that this has grown rapidly since the time of this writing.

What Are The Issues?

The issues are crystallized in Banoswky's own statements. Notice that this deals with Highland Church or "its area broadcast. " It is solely their work and arrangement. Now, involved in this are terms I have emphasized. Such words as "responsibility," "nation-wide," "brotherhood," "fellowship" and "churches." This is what is all involved in "its area broadcast. " These five words practically define the entire issue involving the Herald of Truth. In short, this effort involves and defines the "responsibility" for a "nation-wide, brotherhood fellowship of churches. " These last five words define the "responsibility" (or sponsorship) of the Highland church. It involves the activating of the church universal in "its area broadcast." Hence, the issues deal with a hierarchal set-up among church of Christ under the leadership and authority of Highland.

The very thing that Brinsmead condemns among the structure of the Adventist church as being the same as the hierarchal system of Catholicism, simultaneously is a condemnation of liberal brethren, for they are both the same in nature. Liberal brethren have arranged a "nation-wide, brotherhood fellowship of churches" in "its area broadcast." Thus, when Highland brought together a nation-wide fellowship of churches it was for its own "area" of work, not the work of each church independent of another. They have brought a gathering of "nation-wide" churches into their fold and under their authority. This makes it ."sponsoring," or "hierarchism," for it is patterned after the papal system. Since it is Catholic in origin, then our liberal brethren cannot find a shred of evidence in the New Testament to defend their position, for Catholicism with its hierarchal arrangements were unknown in apostolic times.

Who can successfully challenge the inherent, parallel meaning and arrangements of "hierarchy" and "sponsoring"? If they are both the same in meaning and arrangement, who can say "hierarchy" refers to the papal system, but "sponsoring" is consistent with the New Testament pattern for the church? Since they are the same, then those who insist on sponsoring churches as being scriptural must also be ready to admit that the hierarchal system of Catholicism and Adventism are scriptural, for they are parallel in meaning and nature. Thus, how can we understand hierarchism under sponsoring churches9 How does hierarchism apply in this issue?

Churches join together in a cooperative effort in a certain project or church work. They all look to one main source, or rather, the collective action and contributions are directed to one localized, centralized point - one church - Highland. (Of course, this holds true of the many other sponsoring efforts among liberal brethren.) This is opposite to local autonomy - each church within, by itself - independent from another church carries on its action or work.

The collectivity, financing, work, is within the collective membership of each individual church in the New Testament pattern of church autonomy. On the other hand, a sponsoring church program demands not the collectivity of individual members working in each particular church, but the collectivity of churches, working together in an organic structure under an overseeing, sponsoring church.

The scriptural method of work is a collectivity of members in one church working together within the framework of that local church. The unscriptural, or hierarchal, method demands a collectivity of churches working together under the authority of the sponsoring church. This is the important difference between the Catholic structure of sponsoring churches and the New Testament pattern of local autonomy of each church doing its work. Again, under the sponsoring type arrangement there is the collectivity of churches under the oversight of the sponsoring church. On the other hand, according to the New Testament, the collectivity of members in the local church carry on its work under the oversight of the elders "which are among them." In the New Testament, there is no collectivity of churches; there is a collectivity of members in each church in the mission of the church.

Thus, when churches work in a joint effort, in a union or in the capacity of a collectivity of churches under the direction and supervision of a sponsoring church, this constitutes a hierarchalform of church organization in the work of evangelism. This is just the thing that Mr. Brinsmead is opposing among the Adventist structure of church government. Let us break this down into a more specific contrast to demonstrate what we are dealing with in our study of hierarchism among the sponsoring type arrangement of liberal churches.

Local Church

1. Each church plans, arranges and carries out its own program of work in evangelism.
2. Each church uses money for its own work - its own treasury - and thus has direct control over what the money is spent for, who spends it, and how it is put to use.
3. Each church selects its own preacher and is responsible for the purity of teaching. The elders of the local church are to "convict the gainsayer" among them, not in another church. The church has the right to dismiss a teacher who preaches false doctrine.
4. No church is under the oversight of any other church in any of the above matters.

Hierarchal System of Sponsoring Churches

1. The sponsoring church plans and carries out its program of work. It is its work, not the individual work of all the collective churches.

2. Churches send money out of their treasuries to the sponsoring church. The right to what to do, who spends it, how it is spent stops at the point the money is sent to the sponsoring church. From then on, no church has any voice, or right to determine how, or what, the money is used for. From then on the sponsoring church has absolute control and authority over the money it receives for its "area broadcast." Local churches yield their rights to the oversight of sponsoring churches. Thus local churches, in a cooperative, or "fellowship of churches" function in a work that is strictly the work of the overseeing church, and thus the sponsoring church has absolute control over these churches in that area where they work under the sponsorship of the centralized system of hierarchism.

3. Local churches have no voice in the selection of the preacher on the Herald of Truth or any other sponsoring work. They have absolutely no control over his teachings and cannot discipline him if he teaches error. Elders of no local church of the entire "fellowship of churches" are given the right to voice their judgment or criticism in a single phase of the hierarchal system of the sponsoring church.

4. The sponsoring church has absolute authority in all of the above matters. This is the difference between local autonomy, in which each local church is responsible for its own affairs and the hierarchal system of sponsoring churches in which that hierarchy has absolute control over everything the cooperative churches give over to the sponsoring church.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 7, pp. 202-203, 208
April 5, 1984