Comments on "Truth Between Extremes"
Recent articles in this magazine on the general subject, "Truth Between Extremes," by brother Ralph D. Gentry, have been very interesting and edifying. They have been timely and have pointed us to dangers that we should avoid. However, in the article on "Cooperation," and regarding "direct or indirect" support of a preacher, there are some items to which I must offer an objection. Following, I give a few quotes with comment:
1. "If Jerusalem could send the preacher, could they not have sent money with which to support the preacher?" If they could have done so, it is significant that they did not do it. Conjectures like this are dangerous. By identical kind of reasoning I could ask, "If a church can send to another church to support a local preacher, why could a church not sent to another church to support a preacher in a third field?" or, "if one church can send to another church to support an evangelist, why can't the sending church send to the supporting church for the maintenance of a dozen preachers? " In other words, since a church can send to a dozen preachers, why can't she send to another church to support a dozen preachers? But this would be centralization that is completely unknown in the N. T. Even the "short step " suggested in the quotation at the beginning of this paragraph is one little step away from authorized action.
2. "If support for evangelism must be given directly to the evangelist, then support for benevolence must be given directly to the person in need. If not, what makes the difference?" The difference is that we have Divine authority by way of an approved example in the N. T. (Acts 11: 27-30) for one church to send to another church for benevolence among the members of the receiving church, but we have no such authority for support of a preacher by the process of one church sending to another.
3. "The fact of Paul receiving funds directly from other churches is binding only in that it excludes funds being sent to persons or places other than those in need. " The fact is that Paul had a necessity which was sometimes met by a sending church, but there is no proof that the church with which Paul worked while he thus was receiving support was a needy church in any particular sense more than any other--for there is always a need for more preaching. Furthermore, the quotation above again states an assumption. By the very same process of reasoning I can argue that the fact of the observance of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week (Ac. 20:7) is binding only in that it excludes observance by anyone other than disciples (and that it thus has no force regarding the time of the observance).
4. "Elders may 'sponsor' only that which is work within the congregation with which they labor and to which they bear oversight (1 Pet. 5:2). This work may be supported by contributing churches sending funds to said elders and thus give over the responsibility to the receiver thereof for its control and use." But where is the N. T. proof that elders may support the work of another church just so long as they do not assume control of the other church?
The work of a church is to support the preaching of the gospel everywhere. Thus, by the above argument, many churches may send all their funds to one church so that the receiving church may support the preaching of the gospel everywhere as it sees fit. The fact is that a preacher may indeed have a need that a church or churches should meet (Phil. 4:15,16; 2 Cor. 11:8), but all churches share equally the responsibility to be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3: 15 ). They have no authority to shift their obligations to another church by sending funds to it so that the latter may support a preacher.
5. "I wonder if such foreign missionaries regard themselves as having evangelistic oversight, subject only to the diocesan elders of the sponsoring church? Or, are they subject to two congregations or do they sustain a membership at large status?" This has also been a matter of concern to me. For instance, while in Africa, I had no special relationship with any certain church there. Sometimes I preached for from three to five churches in one day and with another group on another day. I was not aware of sustaining "membership" in any one of them as we usually think of it. Furthermore, I certainly was unaware of being under the oversight of any elders anywhere. In fact, usually the preacher that is sent out works with smaller, newer groups that do not have elders. Even here in America when a preacher spends his time in meetings or in other ways goes from one church to another, surely each church has a right to administer discipline when and if it is needed, and surely the preacher sustains a responsibility toward each church in proportion to the time he is with them, whether that time be much or little.
6."Each contributing church will then exercise only such control as necessitated in either choosing to send or not to send support (to a church for a preacher L. D.)... No principle of autonomy is then violated..." But when one church sends funds to another church for support of a preacher it has either given up oversight of that much of its work or else it has assumed the right to dictate to the receiving church how those funds shall be used. In other words, when one church sends to another in this way, the sender either says, "Use it as you see fit" thus giving up autonomy (that is giving up the direction of its own work) or else the sender says, "Use this for support of Brother John Doe," thus assuming the right to tell the receiving church how to use money in its treasury. It is exactly the same principle as that involved in the Herald of Truth, where many churches send to one church so that the receiving church may evangelize by radio and T. V. For this there is not N. T. authority.
In cases of disaster one church may become obligated beyond its ability, and may thus receive help from sister churches. The giving congregations thus do their own work by helping a needy church--a church that has a specific need. But in evangelism there is always and everywhere a need and it is equally shared by all churches to the extent of their ability. So when a church supports a preacher the church is doing its work--supporting the preaching of the gospel. But when a church sends funds to a church, supposedly for evangelism, the sending church is thus shifting its responsibility to another, for the receiving church had no more obligation in this matter than the sending church had.
There are plenty of good preachers needing support and the world into which we are to go is big. Let the preachers GO, GO, GO and let the churches send, supply and support. Thus God's work will be done and the dangers of centralized control, lost autonomy, etc. will be minimized. Even scriptural work can be abused, but the safe way is the scriptural way, and other ways are not simply dangerous because of abuses but because of lawlessness.
Truth Magazine VII: 12, pp. 18, 21