By James W. Adams
B.C. Goodpasture, now deceased but for many years editor of the Gospel Advocate, was the most knowledgeable man about religious books that I ever knew. In 1944 while in a meeting at McEwen, Tennessee, I had occasion to have a short visit with him at his home in Nashville while purchasing some secondhand books. Among those bought was a new copy of John T. Brown’s Churches of Christ. Brother Goodpasture had found a hundred copies somewhere and bought them. I remember his telling me that, in his judgment, J.B. Briney’s article on “The Restoration Movement,” 114 pages of the large volume at the beginning of the book, was the best thing that had ever been written on the subject, and worth the price of the book. I bought the book and have found Briney’s article to be everything brother Goodpasture said it was. Among other things, Briney discussed at length the “Cooperation Controversy” of his time, involving the Missionary Society, that split the churches and produced two distinct groups among those historically identified with the movement to restore “the ancient order of things” in America: churches of Christ and the Christian Church (known also as the Disciples of Christ).
Churches of Christ have verified the fact that “history repeats itself” by floundering on the rock of “cooperation” and again producing two distinct, non-fellowshipping groups of people professing, in their collective existence as local churches, to be New Testament churches in which said “ancient order” has been restored: liberal and conservative (“anti”); institutional and non-institutional. This is quite strange since the word “cooperating” is not once found in English translations of the New Testament. The idea of “cooperation” may be found but not the word. In a “Special Issue” of the Gospel Guardian, in the early days of the present cooperation controversy, I called attention to two distinct uses of the term: “concurrent effort” and “joint effort.” I pointed out that “concurrent effort” of churches in a common endeavor is clearly taught and exemplified in the New Testament, but “joint effort” of churches is neither taught nor exemplified. Brother Roy H. Lanier, distinguished preacher and writer among our “pro” brethren, denied that concurrent effort of churches is in fact “cooperation,” hence charged us with opposing “cooperation.” In this, of course, he but contradicted no less an authority than Noah Webster, hence was obviously mistaken.
Later, brother Lanier, now deceased but then able and active, also took issue with me over the historical development of the Missionary Society. I had stated in articles and lectures, which he heard, that the cooperation meetings of churches in the early days of the “Restoration Movement” were forerunners of and led inevitably to the formation of the Missionary Society – that they were incipient societies. Brother Lanier affirmed this to be an error. He said that they existed as “alternatives” to the society, hence did not possess its fundamental characteristics. He recognized that the so-called “Sponsoring Church” arrangement for church cooperation was identical with the early “Cooperation Meetings,” but declared both to be opposed to the Missionary Society concept and were “alternatives” to it. In doing this, he felt that he had taken care of the obvious inconsistency of opposing the Missionary Society and defending the “Sponsoring Church.” Also, he felt he had proved that brethren had always accepted the cooperation of churches in a “joint effort” with control and oversight centralized in a single church and its eldership.
I knew then as I do now, that brother Lanier was wrong, but I have been impressed anew with the correctness of my conviction by reading again J.B. Briney’s analysis of the matter in the article to which reference has been made in this article. Brother Briney, keep in mind, was an ardent defender of the cooperation of churches in centralized control and oversight arrangements both in the “cooperation meetings” and the Missionary Society, so he cannot be regarded as partisan relative to the difference between me and brother Lanier in this matter. Briney found the principle in the early meetings and regarded the society as simply an inevitable next step in its application. He believed that the society was but an evolving to a higher plane of usefulness of the principle and necessity of “church cooperation” implicit in the early “Cooperation Meetings.” I only wish that space would allow the inclusion in this article of Briney’s lengthy and irresistible delineation of the matter.
However, every student of the history of churches of Christ in Texas knows that there were first “Cooperation Meetings.” One of the first was held at Mt. Enterprise, Rusk Co., Texas near where I presently live. Second, these meetings evolved into “State Meetings.” The last “State Meeting” in Texas resulted in the majority deciding to move on into a State Missionary Society and affiliation with the American Christian Missionary Society. This, along with the introduction of mechanical instruments of music, at Thorp Spring, Texas, created bedlam among the saints of Texas and divided the churches. The liberal element took most of the brethren and churches, and conservatives almost had to begin again. Why cannot our so-called “cooperative” brethren learn from history?
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, pp. 355-356
June 21, 1990