Support and Control
The action of churches in sending preachers into needy fields has resulted in the establishment of many new churches and the salvation of multitudes of souls. More and more churches are making possible the preaching of the gospel where it was never before heard, and even many small churches are helping in this great work. While it often appears that growth is very slow, our progress has been remarkable when compared with the spiritual barrenness of just a few years ago. And all this wonderful accomplishment was by evangelizing virgin areas just as it was done in Bible times!
As our zeal and liberality increases and abounds in behalf of the lost in neglected places, it is not surprising that many questions and problems have arisen regarding the relationship and obligation of churches being helped and preachers being supported, toward the churches doing the helping and supporting. To what extent, if any, can a church or churches oversee or direct the activities of a preacher they support in another place? Is such a preacher subject to the elders who pay his salary, or the churches where he is working? If a church receives the benefit of gospel preaching in its community that has been made possible by others, does it, or does it not, have the same oversight of the preacher's work as it would, were it providing his income themselves? I am sure that more human wisdom than scriptural consideration has made an answer to these questions more difficult than it should be.
When the Philippian church sent to Paul, Phil. 4:16, what proof is there he was under their oversight? When he robbed other churches to preach in Corinth, did they control his activities? When the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch, was he subject to the Jerusalem elders? When two individual brethren sent funds to Paul, I Cor. 16:17, did they oversee him ? If not, how could the churches do it? The scriptures teach definitely by precept and example that both individual Christians and churches should sound forth the gospel by sending preachers into new fields, but there is not the least hint anywhere that oversight and control was exercised by the contributors.
When I first started preaching, I went to a small church to talk with the brethren about moving to work with them, with the promise of support by another church if I were acceptable to those brethren. When the supporting church sent their preacher for a meeting with us, almost his opening words in the first service were that the only relationship his home church had to us was an interest in our work. This was in 1943, before any controversy on that point existed. It didn't occur to any of us that the supporting church exercised any oversight of me or the church with whom I was working. My membership was with the church where I lived, and my relationship with them was the same as if they were paying my salary themselves. I believed this to be the scriptural arrangement then, and I have never ceased to believe it since.
A few years later I entered into an almost identical arrangement with the same understanding about my status and relationship. And still later, at another time, the arrangement was repeated again in my experience. I have never thought I was subject to elders of a church who were paying my salary, while working with another church, as I would be if I were working with them in their own community.
I can understand that a church, receiving such aid from another, should recognize certain moral obligations, and respect wise and experienced counsel that might be offered for its good. I can also understand how and why a church can and should scripturally oversee and direct the activities of a preacher it sends into an area where no church exists, to establish one. But I cannot understand how a church can oversee a preacher who works with another church, and I know there is no scriptural authority for such a practice. If someone should ask me if elders of a contributing church cease to have oversight of such a preacher as soon as he establishes a church and sets it in order, I answer without hesitation, yes!!! He then is subject to the church where he is, and the contributing church can only decide whether to continue his income.
This matter of thinking, speaking, and writing to the effect that a contributing church oversees a preacher or a "work" somewhere else has gone far beyond its original meaning in the mind of brethren, and certainly beyond scriptural teaching. If anyone is disposed to be contentious about the matter, then let him explain how a contributing individual could oversee a preacher he supports, or a church he helps-also how many churches contributing, could share in such oversight.
One of the greatest Bible lessons any new church should learn is its scriptural prerogative and responsibility to exercise its self governing qualities, and exert its own resources in spiritual activity. This may seem the slowest way at times but it is the Lord's way, in spite of the growing popularity of sensational "meeting and personal work campaigns" that have been and are being staged in many places. I have never and do not now oppose the use of any number of Christians to come into a place and help in any good way, but I am opposed to such work replacing that which members should be doing for themselves. Again, it may be slower, but it is the Lord's way, and I know that we should be placing the emphasis on training and developing and activating within, rather than so much attention centered on activity of "outsiders" we can bring in for a few days. It is a long and hard task to teach personal responsibility, and even more difficult to train and prepare a membership to fulfill their responsibility, but again, it is the Lord's way, and will always work.
Many a church has suffered for the lack of a preacher's services, which in turn was due to the failure of someone to send, but it is going to suffer much more if it surrenders its right of self government, in any respect or degree, to another church in order to have its help in preacher support. And no amount of liberality and concern for needy churches and lost souls, or zeal in evangelizing the world, can atone for the responsibility of corrupting the divine organization of the Church by those who presume oversight by reason of support, or even employ a form of indirect coercion for the same reason.
Let us send forth preachers to build churches and save souls indeed, but let us work diligently to protect these self governing liberties, and keep the churches free, independent, and internally active and progressive.
Truth Magazine, III:9; pp. 11-12