Why I Oppose The Missionary Society

Donald P. Ames

One of the greatest problems facing the church of our Lord is that of church cooperation. It was this same question that began the driving of the wedge between the Christian Churches and the churches of Christ during the past century. It is the same question that is threatening the body of Christ with another major division again today. How can congregations cooperate? If many realized why the Missionary Society was definitely wrong, no doubt many of those who are favoring Benevolent Societies today would stop and quickly begin reconsidering their positions. It is with this view in mind that this is being written - to cause us to think as to why we oppose the Missionary Society. In this article, we shall not be discussing the modern monster, the U.C.M.S., that grew out of the Christian Church movement, but rather the basic question as it was involved in the original American Christian Missionarv Society, based on VOLUNTARY cooperation.

One of the most important principles governing the work of the New Testament church is that of the proper authority. This, rather than the question of the instrument or the society was the actual wedge driven in the body of Christ during the latter 1800's. The plea of a desire to "speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where it is silent" is good if we really endeavor to try to do it. The Scriptures warn constantly against adding to and taking from the word of God (2 John 9, 1 Cor. 4:6 (ASV), Gal. 1:7-9, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:3). If the Scriptures guide us unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then surely it is sufficient to guide us in this matter also. If not, either the word of God has lied to us, or I'm unable to understand plain English.

Having recognized that the scriptures are our sole guide in all matters pertaining to life and godliness, thus having the proper authority behind this discussion, let's not direct our attention to what is wrong with the Missionary Society idea.

The first major point against it is there's no authorltv for this ORGANIZATION. Many would here deny the Missionary Society actually exists as an organization, contending it is merely the church at work, placing it on a par with the Bible classes on the Lord's day. The fact that it's more than just the church at work, however, is readily evident bv merely looking at the system of organization involved. The Bible classes are under the oversight of the local elders, not to seek their own means or finance, but rather must yield all these positions to their proper place-the local elders. In contrast to this, the Missionary Society exists as an entirely separate organization, not answerable to any set of elders, creating their own laws and by-laws, seeking their own means of finance, and operating under a selfperpetuating board of directors. The fact it's under no set of elders and operates separate and apart from any church's control readily reveals it cannot be placed on a par with the Bible classes.

The fact that it's an ORGANIZATION then brings up the question, By what AUTHORITY does it exist? The mere fact it's an organization separate and apart from the church doesn't make it wrong within itself. An organization can exist, separate and apart from the church, and do no violence to the Scriptures. This is readily evident as one studies about private, individual, institutions as some of the colleges and publishing houses owned and operated by individual Christians.

It's not solely the fact that it's a separate organization that makes it wrong. Nor does it of necessity need authority for such as long as it remains solely an organization (note: reference here is to the word "organization" only, not including the missionary society under discussion, as will be brought out later). Organizations unknown to the New Testament can exist, and do, on every hand: the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, etc. Organizations within themselves are not wrong. But, as an organization attaches itself to the church, the question immediately arises, "By what authority?" It's now left the worldly realm (as contrasted with the spiritual), and entered a realm governed by God's word.

Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:18, Eph. 4:4 and many other passages all bring out that there's but one body established by the Lord, and that body is the church. Eph. 9:10 and I Tim. 3:15 show that the Lord intended for His church to be His missionary society. Not "a" missionary society, but "the" missionary society. What's wrong with the Missionary Society then? It's an organization, separate and apart from the church, designed to do the work of the church, and existing as a body in addition to the one the Lord authorized. Hence, it violates God's commands against adding to his word. We'll come back to this point again later.

Some, in an effort to justify this action (through the Missionary Society), have appealed to Acts 13:1-4 as a claim of men from different regions gathered together, and "sending" Paul and Barnabas. We note, however, in verse 4 that the Holy Spirit sent them. Again, that only one man is represented as being from a different country (often a distinguishing term of similar names; as "Saul of Tarsus"). When they returned, they called together the "church" to report the results of their trip (Acts 14:27). The fact they were neither "sponsored" nor responsible for their actions to the Antioch church is revealed in Phil. 4:15 by Paul's statement no other church was aiding him at the time but the one at Philippi. Hence, there's no support for either "sponsoring churches," or a Missionary Soclety in this Passage.

A second major objection to the Missionary Society is there's no authority for the CENTRALIZATION of financial resources through one board. It violates the teaching for being a separate organization, and also for being a funneling organization. In Phil. 4:15 and 11 Cor. 11:8 we have the apostolic example of churches sending their resources or support directly to the evangelist in the field. This is the divinely approved example. Nowhere in God's word is there any authority for all organization, or even one church, to become the centralized agency for this work.

God's wisdom can be seen in many ways. The mere overhead expenses of such an organization, with its secretaries, president, vice-president, etc. quickly consumes the larger part of the money sent to it. (Reports show as high as 50% of the income is used solely for "oiling the machinery.") Hence, it is actually more correct to speak of support the Society and aiding the evangelist the field (in a small way).

The basic error behind this type of reasoning is involved in the idea of the operation of the church universal. Many have the idea since the Scriptures place no limit on the size of the universal church, it can be activated whenever desired, and so the Society would be scriptural. However, since the Lord clearly teaches the work of the church must be under the oversight of the elders, and since some seem determined to activate the universal church, we must ask them whom they intend to select as their universal elders. If ever the error of the Roman Catholic system was revealed, this is it! The truth of the matter is there's no work assigned for the church universal, hence, to respect the silence of the Scriptures, we must not assume upon ourselves the Godly right of assigning a work God never. The Lord has only recognized the right of the local congregation to carry on His work here on earth, and no man has the right to go beyond that (I Cor. 4:6, 2 John 9, etc.)

Not only is there no authority for this centralization, but it bears solely the fruits of coldness to Christianity, and lack of zeal. Hence, the very thing it was inaugerated to do is destroyed.

A third major objection to the Missionary Society is there is no authority for its WORK. (Now do not accuse me of saying there's no authorltv for preaching the gospel. Nor do I wish to be known as "anti-missionary." The Bible is saturated with the teaching of the importance of such and support thereof.) But what is the work of the Missionary Society? It's to aid churches in doing their work for them by preaching the gospel. For this, THERE IS NO SCRIPTURE TO BE FOUND. Hence, the work is anti-scriptural. God's given His church as His only missionary society and any man-made, human, organization attempting to supplement it, by claiming Christ bled and died to establish an incorruptible organization to do the work He assigned it not only reflects on God's intellect, but upon the inspiration of God's word, and destroys the very basic foundation of the entire Christian religion. Institutions of men will seek to supplant the body of Christ, but those standing in the Bible paths, and speaking only as the "oracles of God" (I Pet. 4:11) shall never let human organizations drain the church of her finances. Man-made organizations, claiming to be able to do a work assigned to the body of Christ which that body (the church) is "unable to do" seek to exalt man's wisdom above God's. And centralization of resources (which are always followed by centralization of power) will destroy the body of followers at one blow. Truly the autonomy and independence of congregations as authorized by the Lord has the far better plan-if men would but abide therein.

But, someone asks, if the societies were abolished, what would happen to the work they're doing? What happened to it in the days of the apostles, and before the societies were begun? It would return to the church of our Lord, and congregations, acting in their local capacity would continue to work together for the growth and development of Christianity over the world. Rather than so much preaching on organizations, and on centralization to get greater work done (but actually works in reverse), we need far more preaching on the Bible and the dangers of not getting it done (I I Thess. 1:7-8; Ezek. 3:18) that we might get busy. Indifference and idleness leads to the works of the devil and man made institutions. The desire to become like the nations (denominations) about us, due to idleness or a fast growing body of Christ causes men to seek denominational ties and methods rather than sticking with God's word as the only guide. Let us continually "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21).

Truth Magazine, III:11, pp. 16-18
August 1959