By Roy E. Cogdill
When Paul wrote the Roman Letter and said to the Roman brethren, “The churches of Christ salute you,” he was talking about independent, autonomous, churches in their own locality. They were of the same faith and order. They had been planted by the preaching of the same doctrine, “The doctrine of Christ,” and where the same seed had been sown it produced always the same fruit. The same gospel produced the same kind of Christians and the same kind of churches wherever it was preached.
These “churches of Christ” were not only of the same faith and order, they were equal and each of them perfectly, completely, and sufficiently constituted the church of Christ. They were identified, and can be today wherever the gospel is preached, by the same designation, teaching, worship, organization, and work. But they were not federated into anything. They did not pool their resources and join themselves together either in a human organization or in an amalgamated relationship of any kind. No local church can delegate any part of its resources, work, or responsibility to another local church and have all of its independence, autonomy, and its sufficiency left. This is just as certain as the fact that it takes all of the parts to constitute the whole of anything. Give a part of the parts away and the whole does not remain. Even our “brain trust,” Roy Deaver and Tom Warren, would have to agree with that.
The organization that characterized these local churches of Christ was as simple and unpretentious as all other elements of the scheme of redemption. God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound and bring to nought them that are wise, indeed! (1 Cor. 1:27). We do not have to presume or guess about the organization of the church any more than we do about the plan of salvation or the simplicity of its worship.
In each congregation or church it was God’s order that there should be elders, a plurality of them (Acts 14:23). This divine order was for every church. If every church had an eldership in God’s divine arrangement, then no eldership had the oversight of anything that belonged to more than one congregation. The only jurisdiction that God ever gave any eldership is the oversight of one church. This is abundantly established by the divine injunctions; “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28); and “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; feed the flock of God which is among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; feed the flock of God which is among you taking the oversight thereof” (1 Peter 5:1-2). This identified the elders who were to take the, oversight and it identified the flock which those elders were to oversee. When elders act in any other capacity, they are acting without authority (ultra wires) and are therefore guilty of lawlessness-“iniquity.”
Whenever any eldership anywhere plans a program of work, either in evangelism, benevolence, or edification, that involves in any way another congregation than the one which they are to “oversee,” they are acting without divine jurisdiction and therefore in defiance of divine authority. We believe with Brother E. R. Harper, of the Herald of Truth, when he said a good many years ago in the Tulsa Lectures, which are in print, that no congregation as the right to plan any kind of a program of work for which it is unable to pay. He does not agree with this now, but it is still the truth none the less. All such programs as present day “area rallies,” “area campaigns,” “area workshops,” “area conferences” or on a still bigger scale “brotherhood conferences or lectureships” are intercongregational activities and therefore bigger than God authorized anything to become. When congregations combine their resources, amalgamate their work, or centralize the oversight of their work under any arrangement, something bigger in the way of an organization than a local eldership is essential to direct it. Brethren may put it under an eldership, but when they do that eldership ceases to be a “local” eldership and becomes either an “area eldership” or a “brotherhood eldership.” This is just as disrespectful toward divine authority as it could be to form a human organization to do the work of the church.
This means that such programs as those promoted by the San Fernando Church, viz., The Valley-wide “Teacher’s Training Program,” or the Valley-wide “Women’s Meeting” are completely without New Testament sanction or authority. It means that any kind of “brotherhood wide” conference planned either by a local church or ‘by a “Christian College” is completely unscriptural. There is nothing wrong with people attending the services of a meeting held by another congregation when they are invited to it, Neither is there anything wrong with a meeting in which different speakers do the speaking or preaching. But when plans are made for a program to involve either the membership, resources or facilities of other congregations, someone has transgressed, and is exercising too much authority. It means also that a “brotherhood wide conference of preachers and elders” such as that recently held by the Herald of Truth Missionary Society in Abilene is as unscriptural as an “interdenominational ecumenical conference” and for the same reasons. It means that a “city wide or county wide conference” among the elders or “workshop” for them goes beyond (transgresses) the doctrine of Christ and therefore leaves God behind.
Ambitious elders thatr promote themselves into any such position establish of themselves a “hierarchy” just as certainly as if they were Roman Catholic Bishops. Give them time and they will grow into it. It also is true that “promoting preachers” who lead elders and congregations into such activity are worse than denominational pastors, they are parish priests and do not resemble either .in attitudes or work a plain Gospel preacher. Brethren, we should either practice “speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent” or we should give up the claim and quit talking about it.
God’s organization in form includes “elders in every church,” “Saints, Bishops and Deacons” in the local church. In function it calls for the elders over the local church overseeing only the affairs of the local church and no more than that. When they take upon themselves any other function they pervert . God’s organization and that is just as sinful as changing the form of it.
Truth Magazine XIX: 48, pp. 755-756
October 16, 1975