The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Edification (2)

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In our last article we established from the Scriptures, giving several references, that the church is its own educational society. Paul declared that the body is to build up itself in love (Eph. 4:16). In previous studies in this series we have learned that the church also is its own missionary society. However, brethren began to doubt the adequacy of the church in evangelism and invented a missionary society of human origin to replace the divine society. A man who doubts the ability of the church to discharge its mission in evangelism cannot be expected to admit the sufficiency of the church in edification and benevolence. And we might here add, conversely, the man who denies the sufficiency of the church in benevolence cannot be expected to take a strong hand against additional societies for evangelism or edification. If the church properly cannot discharge all of its mission, we cannot be assured that it properly can discharge any part of its mission. Similarly, if the New Testament cannot be trusted in every particular, we cannot be sure it may be trusted in any instance. We must therefore either commit ourselves to the all sufficiency of the church unreservedly or we mute blatantly deny its sufficiency. As for ourselves, our commitment is already made.

Using the principles established in our last article, we now are ready to show indications of brethren's denial of the sufficiency of the church in edification. Men never tamper with God's organizational arrangement for the discharge of the mission of the church (i.e., the congregation) until they have lost faith in its adequacy. The denials of the sufficiency of the church in edification have been so prolific that we must likely give at least two articles to a discussion of them. And even then we must acknowledge that we have not covered the field thoroughly.

Extra Organizations Outside the Church

In this article attention shall be given to the additional organizations that men have devised to assist in the work of the church in edification that have been tacked onto the church, but that are OUTSIDE the congregation. In the next article we will notice some similar departures in the establishment of extra organizations INSIDE the congregation.

The Sunday School Society-It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the first organization of human origin the brethren engaged in building, sustaining, or working through was not the American Christian Missionary Society. The American Christian Missionary Society was established in Cincinnati in 1849. However, on January 27, 1845 the American Christian Bible Society was organized in the same city. And "a Sunday School and Tract Society had been organized in Cincinnati at approximately the same time as the Bible Society" ( Garrison-Degroot, The Disciples of Christ, p. 245). So we find a separate organization called a Sunday School Society to discharge the church's responsibility in edification had been built about four years before the Missionary Society was founded.

Alexander Campbell favored a possible union with the Sunday School Union in the Millennial Harbinger, 1847, pp 200f. On a state level Sunday School Societies were already beginning to be formed shortly before this time. "At Georgetown, Kentucky, an organization was formed in 1834 . . ." (Op. Cit., p. 487). State Sunday School Officials which were called "state Sunday school evangelists" were being selected. Indiana formed its State Sunday School Association in 1861; Ohio in 1867; Illinois in 1874; Kentucky in 1873, with J. W. McGarvey as President, and other states followed suite.

In my judgment it was the fact that virtually all of this early class work was done through a Sunday School Society of National, State or Local level that caused a good number of brethren to object to what was called "Sunday School Work." Till the present, brethren objecting to separate classes for Bible instruction have difficulty doing so without aligning them with Sunday School Societies. But much of the early class work was done through Sunday School Societies. Since this is true, the brethren who objected to these societies had good reason to do so. However, we all know that one can be Anti-Sunday-School Society without opposing Bible teaching, just as one can be Anti-Missionary Society without opposing a evangelistic work. In like manner, some brethren today need to learn that one can be Anti-Benevolent Society without opposing all benevolent work.

The brethren who formed the Missionary Society were virtually the same brethren who fathered the Sunday School Societies. And this is not surprising. For if an extra organization is needed in evangelism, one reasonably can expect to need similar organizations in edification and benevolence. So these brethren of the last century formed organizations to function in all three realms. At least they were consistent. We might here observe that if extra organizations are not needed today in evangelism and edification, neither are they needed in benevolence.

Once the organizational "bug" gets hold of a group of brethren, he seldom lets loose. State Sunday School Societies were formed. The next step called for a "General Christion Sunday School Association" which was formed in 1882. It was replaced by the "National Bible School Association" in 1903 with its twenty-one board members. In 1910 this organization became the "Bible School Department of the American Christian Missionary Society." Then in 1920, all of the societies (evangelistic, educational, and benevolent) were amalgamated into the United Christian Missionary Society. And if these societies were right separately, there was nothing wrong in uniting them. Once the organizing began, there was no stopping place short of a national and an international organization. The Sunday School Society by 1924 had 26,551 workers under its control, these workers coming from 6,070 churches. Who would deny that 26,551 workers did some good? Not any one. But the good they accomplished did not justify the human organization through which it was being accomplished, since God had provided a divine organization through which this good should have been performed. And brethren, in like manner, the alleged good accomplished by modern human organizations among the churches of Christ does not justify their existence to do the work of the church.

We did not oppose evangelistic work when we opposed the Missionary Society. Neither do we oppose Bible class work when we oppose the Sunday School Society.

I do not think that brethren today are willing and ready to build another Sunday School Society. They have temporarily learned better. However, when brethren attempt to defend evangelistic societies (such as the Gospel Press) and benevolent societies (such as institutional orphan homes), they forfeit any valid reasons they might have to object to a Sunday School Society. When we see brethren so gullibly swallowing benevolent society work, and now toying again with missionary society work, we might just as well expect Sunday School Society work to be revived among us. And in the article to follow we will show some signs that this is already in the making.

Organized Youth Programs-While we do not now have any full grown Sunday School Societies among us, we have some other organizations engaging in the church's educational work which are outside the congregation. We observe the young people from several congregations organizing themselves to carry on some program of work. Sometimes they are called "Youth Rallies," or "Youth Forums." These meetings begin as apparently innocent enough young people's gatherings. But one step requires the next, as we saw in the Sunday School Society work. Pretty soon we are informed that this particular meeting is to be an "Area Wide Young People's Meeting." Somebody has to arrange and oversee such a meeting. And everyone knows that a congregation is not "Area Wide." Already such a meeting is outside the pale of the congregation. The next step is the "State Wide Youth Rally," and several of these already have been conducted. The colored brethren have already had a National Youth Convention. And there is but one step beyond that-The International Youth Forum-and it may be announced just any day now. Certainly none can say this sort of activity is the work of a single congregation. But congregational work is the largest work about which one reads in the New Testament. So this sort of arrangement is outside and beyond congregational limits.

Youth Camps-Some of the youth camps purport to be carried on by a congregation, though such activities as conducted are no more the work of a single congregation than is some brotherhood benevolent work a congregation announces as its own, or an international evangelistic responsibility that some congregation assumes as its own. However, some of these camps do not beat around the bush. They do not even pretend to be outside a congregation. They have their own board of directors, and accept contributions from anyone that will send them, including congregations, as do most human institutions. Churches even contribute to these boards that provide, in addition to recreational facilities, daily Bible classes, and nightly evangelistic services. If churches can contribute to the camp boards to provide classes, why can they not contribute to a Sunday School Society board to provide classes? If churches can contribute to a camp board to provide evangelistic services, why can they not contribute to a Missionary Society board to provide other evangelistic meetings? You can see such camp boards as operated constitute separate organizations through which churches are attempting to discharge their educational responsibility.

"The Gospel Hour"-I do not claim to know all about the organizational arrangement of the Gospel Hour. But these are the facts as gleaned from the "Gospel Hour News," and unless the "News" misrepresents the facts, they are correct. Brother V. E. Howard of Greenville, Texas speaks on a radio program which is arranged by an organization calling itself "The Gospel Hour." One might think that "The Gospel Hour" is merely a radio program, but this is incorrect. "The Gospel Hour" also publishes a paper called "Gospel Hour News." In Vol. 1, No. 17, Oct. 31, 1960, we learn this about the organization that puts on the Gospel Hour radio program: "The Gospel Hour is a non-profit organization and the only way we can continue with the Gospel Hour radio program and the printing and mailing of free copies of sermons is to have financial support from churches and individuals." We see there is a difference between "The Gospel Hour" and the Gospel Hour radio program. The organization called "The Gospel Hour" puts on the Gospel Hour radio program and publishes the Gospel Hour News. Churches contribute to "The Gospel Hour" organization. The organization has a "Radio Committee" the paper states. We are not informed as to whether it also has a "Benevolent Committee," "Foreign Evangelism Committee," "Christian Education Committee," etc. But it could have on the same basis it has a "Radio Committee." We may already have a United Christian Missionary Society at work among us! But this is another instance of an organization outside the church engaging in the work of the church.

Central's Houston Plan-The Central and Southwest congregations in Houston have a plan for the edification (building up) of Houston congregations. They are not limiting their work to building up Central and Southwest congregations. Of course (!), Central will be the directing church. We are not told just what part the Southwest congregation will have in this effort, but Central also will have the monetary support of other Houston churches. Brother E. W. McMillan has been employed to come to Houston to work with these churches "to provide the Houston area with classes . . . in church leadership, church organization and administration . . ."They hope soon to have a four year fully accredited college program of such a nature. What is their ambition? It is to develop 200 additional preachers, 1200 additional elders, 1400 additional deacons, and 4,000 additional Bible teachers for the 200 congregations with 92,000 members they expect in Houston within thirty years! (Christian Chronicle, Dec. 23, 1960). Now of course the brethren would say that this is just the work of the Central church. But who can believe the Central church is going to need 200 preachers, 1200 elders, 1400 deacons, and 4,000 Bible teachers? This is another area wide work. Central might just as we say that "within the next thirty years the churches of Christ throughout the world will need 20,000 preachers, 120,000 elders, 140,000 deacons, and 400,000 Bible teachers for new congregations, and it is our work to provide all of these. So all of the churches throughout the world should send us their money that we might carry on their program of edification." Of course we do not expect such a statement. This might open some brethren's eyes. So they just make their digression a little at a time. But they have taken a pretty big step in the above announced ambitious program.

One point we need to have established in our mind regarding such matters. We need to learn that saying a particular thing is within the scope of the congregation does not make it so. When we use John 3:5 which states that baptism is a birth to show that baptism is immersion, we state that one cannot be born of a substance less than himself. One cannot be buried in a few drops of water. One can call sprinkling baptism, but that does not make it so. One cannot press the work of 200 congregations into one congregation, regardless of how much he talks about doing so. We seem to have come to think that because the elders of some churches announce "This is our work" that the issue should forever be settled. To some their pronouncement settles the issue once and for all. But not so. The Roman church announced that it was the presiding church over all other churches. But this announcement did not give her such control until all other churches acquiesced. And if we continue to give in to every presumptive announcement of some ambitious elders among us, churches of Christ will see all of their work done under one lording eldership. Whether it will be Highland Avenue, Union Avenue, or Broadway has not yet been made clear.

Perhaps here we should also have said something about church-supported-colleges, but these will have to be preserved for a later date.

We can see many things wrong with the organizations of the Christian Church (Missionary Society, Sunday School Society, Benevolent Society, UCMS), but for some reason some can see no wrong with our own extra organizations in the same fields.

In the next article we will note some extra organizations in edification INSIDE the church, whose existence also constitutes latent denials of the all sufficiency of the church in edification.

Truth Magazine, V:7, pp. 19-22
April 1961