By Lewis Willis
There are many people in churches of Christ today who are not familiar with the terminology, “Missionary Society.” Many of these people are not even aware that at one time churches of Christ and what we know as the Christian Church were united in one body. However, almost 150 years ago a division occurred over questions of authority relating to the work and worship of the church. Two principal questions were the focus of the dispute: (1) The Missionary Society, and (2) Mechanical Instruments of Music in worship. In 1849 a Missionary Society was formed by liberal brethren meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1859 L.L. Pinkerton introduced the organ into the worship of the Midway, Kentucky church. Prior to those dates, neither of these things were present in churches of the Restoration Movement. The Movement was an effort on the frontiers of America to cast aside humanly devised programs and actions, and return to the way things were done in the primitive church as recorded in the Scriptures.
The Missionary Society created by these brethren was a human organization. They solicited funds from churches and individuals for the operation of this human organization. The Missionary Society, then, selected preachers and their fields of labor and sent them forth to preach. The preachers were under the control of the Missionary Society which supplied their support. The only control the church had over this matter was to decide whether or not to support the Society. There was one fundamental thing wrong or sinful with the arrangement: God had assigned the work of preaching the gospel to the church not to a human institution. That made the liberals no difference, and they pushed their human society until it divided the church. That division was generally complete by the year 1900.
Let us make one thing clear: God organized the church and assigned work to it. Note what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God assigned the work of evangelism to the church, and he gave it all of the organization it needed to accomplish that mission. Paul went forth preaching and he was never supported by a Missionary Society. To the Corinthians he said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service” (2 Cor. 11:8). We know that he was supported by the Philippian church. He said, “Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity” (Phil. 4:15-16). Finally, he said that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). This is the scriptural case which establishes that the church is to do the work God assigned to it, and it has no right to turn its work over to a human institution.
Not all of these human institutions have been called Missionary Societies. Some are called by names such as David Lipscomb University. I have before me a letter dated June 1, 1992, from a young Lipscomb student who is trying to raise money to go to Prague, Czechoslovakia. He is asking churches and individuals to support him in his work of taking the gospel to that former Communist country. The letter came in an envelope bearing the name and seal of David Lipscomb University, from the “Department of Bible.” The letter says, “Contributions may be made out to David Lipscomb University with a cover letter explaining that the money is to be used for my trip. These checks are tax deductible if you leave the memo space blank.” He then gives the address where the money is to be sent: David Lipscomb University, Bible Department, Box 4188, Granny White Pike, Nashville, TN 37204-3951. Lipscomb will receive the money and dispense it to preachers who will preach in that foreign country. Considering that the University is doing the same thing that was done by the Christian Church’s Missionary Society, it would be very easy to confuse them with the Missionary Society, wouldn’t it? I seem to find a lot of uses for the analogy, but “if it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has feathers, it is a duck.” It seems to me, folks, we have another duck here. It is another Missionary Society calling itself David Lipscomb University.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 18, p. 5
September 15, 1994