By Cecil B. Douthitt (1896-1911)
Able and sincere brethren in Christ differ on the work the churches should do, and on how they should do it.
All agree that a “work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3) has been assigned to the churches, but all do not agree on what that work is. Some say that it is right for the churches to do every kind of work that is right for Christians to do, while others say that individual Christians may do certain kinds of work which the churches have no scriptural right to undertake.
It is admitted generally that preaching and teaching the word to the whole world and ministering in the material needs of life’s unfortunates are duties assigned by the Lord to the church. How then, did the churches cooperate in these two classes of work, when under the direction of inspired men?
1. Teaching the truth of God’s word to every creature in all the world is a divinely appointed work of the church.
The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). God purposed eternally in Christ Jesus that the unsearchable riches of Christ, the mystery of the ages should “be made known through the church” (Eph. 3:8-11). With apostolic approval the church of the Thessalonians “sounded forth the word of the Lord” in Macedonia, Achaia and elsewhere (1 Thess. 1:8).
The church at Philippi preached the gospel in Thessalonica and increased fruit to their own account by sending contributions to Paul while he actually did the work (Phil. 4:15-17). These contributions from the church were for Paul’s work of preaching the gospel, which also was the work of the Philippian church; they were not contributions to Paul’s tent making business. Making tents for profit, though a “good work” for Christians like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla, is not a “good work” for the church to do. This point will be discussed more fully in a later article.
Churches taught other churches by their example of faith and zeal. By the example of the riches of their liberality, the churches in Macedonia taught others to give liberally (2 Cor. 8:1-8). The faith, hope, love and joy of the church in Thessalonica made them an example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. 1:1-7).
Churches cooperated in preaching the gospel in distant places. While Paul preached in Corinth, 9 ‘other churches” cooperated with one another and with Paul by sending wages to him (2 Cor. 11:8).
Churches cooperate by appointing and using the same messengers” to go and teach other churches their duty ,I toward the poor saints in Judea (2 Cor. 8:19,23).
Two significant facts should be noted here: (1) these messengers or missionaries were “appointed by the churches” that cooperated, and not by just one church in the cooperating number; (2) these messengers were the “messengers of the churches,” and not just one of the cooperating churches; they were the messengers of all the cooperating churches.
2. There is one way in which these churches did not cooperate in the work of preaching the gospel.
Not one of these churches appointed itself or received an appointment from any other church or individual to be “the sponsoring church” for this work of teaching others, and then announced to all other cooperating and non-cooperating churches: “Send us your money. We will select and appoint the messengers and preachers and missionaries and all workers for this preaching program. We will fix their wages. We will decide where they shall go. We will transact all negotiations for this preaching and teaching enterprise. They will be our messengers and workers. This will be our work. The preachers and their work will be under our oversight. We will hire and fire all workers, for they will be our workers. All funds received will be our responsibility and under our control. We will determine how much of this money is to be paid to the messengers, how much is to be delivered to the poor saints; we will decide how much is to be used to grease the machinery of our outfit. Have fellowship with us in our good work!”
That kind of cooperation is being advocated and practiced today by the “sponsoring church” promoters and the missionary society promoters, but there is nothing in all the New Testament that so much as remotely resembles that kind of cooperation. That kind of cooperation creates a centralization of oversight and control of resources destructive of the equality, the autonomy, the independence and the self-respect of the cooperating churches.
Though both the sponsoring church with all its contributing churches and the missionary society with all its contributing churches deny that their centralized method destroys the autonomy and self-respect of contributing churches, that does not make it so.
The missionary society system has some evils which the modern “sponsoring church” system does not have, and the “sponsoring church” system has some evils which the missionary society does not have; they are not identical in all their harmful traits, but they are identical in their methods of undermining the equality and autonomy of the churches. The “sponsoring church” advocates admit generally that the missionary society system of centralized oversight and control of workers and resources does rob churches of their autonomy and independence. And in the light of that admission, one of the most welcome and the most refreshing essays imaginable would be an article by a “sponsoring church” advocate, setting forth the ways that the missionary society system of centralized oversight and control affect congregational autonomy, and that do not have perfect duplicates in the sponsoring church system of centralized oversight and control.
It would be interesting also to read just what the sponsoring church and the missionary society mean by the invitation: “Have fellowship with us in this work.” (Do they mean anything except, “Send us your money”?) Do they want “fellowship” in the oversight and control of the program? In hiring and firing workers? In the appointment of the “messengers”? What do they mean by, “Have fellowship with us,” except, “Send the money to us and we will do the rest”?
That New Testament churches cooperated in the work of preaching the gospel is a biblical fact; that they cooperated after the pattern of the missionary society and the “sponsoring church” is incorrect and absurd.
3. Churches cooperated in benevolent work.
The churches cooperated by sending contributions to the churches in Judea for the relief of poor saints during famines in that area (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25; Rom. 15:25,26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; 9:1-15; Acts 24:17).
They cooperated in the appointment of messengers to travel among the churches and to teach other churches to give for the relief of the poor saints in Judea (2 Cor. 8:18-24).
They cooperated in the use of the same agents to transport funds to the churches in the disaster area (Acts 11:29,30; 12:25; 2 Cor. 8:20,21; Acts 24:17).
4. There is one way in which these churches did not cooperate in supplying the needs of the poor saint.
These churches did not cooperate by sending funds to any church where the saints in the receiving church were in no greater need than the saints in the contributing churches. That kind of cooperation would have been foolish and dangerous then; that kind of cooperation is foolish and dangerous today.
When the famine in Judea was over, and the saints there were in no greater need than the saints in Galatia, Macedonia and Achai, not another cent from the churches in those regions was received by the elders of the churches in Judea, so far as the Scriptures reveal.
When famine or disaster of any kind falls upon a church anywhere, then churches everywhere should cooperate by sending contributions by whatever means available and honorable (2 Cor. 8:21) to the church in the disaster area for the relief of the saints there, like the churches did in New Testament days. When the disaster subsides and the Christians there are in no greater need than saints in the contributing churches, then contributions from contributing churches should stop, as they stopped in New Testament times. To do otherwise is to fail to abide in the teaching of Christ (2 Jn. 9).
If some church, for example, the church in Ephesus, had begun to reason with apostolic approval after this fashion: “Widows, orphans and old people always will need help. Famine, pestilence and earthquake are sure to strike somewhere sometime. We are strategically located between the East and the West, and our elders are men of vision, integrity and ability. Let us put on a brotherhood campaign of collecting funds for charity from churches all over the world. Then let us gather orphans or widows or old people from any place we choose, bring them here in places we have provided, and we will take care of just as many as the funds from other churches and our business enterprises will support. This work will be under our oversight and control”; then, no man on earth could raise any scriptural objection to the principle of centralized oversight and control, which developed the Roman hierarchy. But is there any man on earth who sincerely thinks that the churches in the days of inspiration participated in that kind of cooperation?
Some of the brethren who are advocating that kind of cooperation ought to know better. Have they forgotten all they every learned about the practice of centralization of oversight and control, which inevitably developed the Catholic monster? Or, do they now think that the Catholic system is better after all than the Bible way? (Gospel Guardian [5 Aug. 1954], pp. 200-201.)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, pp. 400-401
July 5, 1990