By Cecil Willis
(Editors Note: Last week there was published the first part of a speech which I recently gave on Congregational Cooperation, to which speech Reuel Lemmons responded orally. Since I knew that Lemmons was to comment upon my speech, some special attention is devoted to his position on cooperation, and to some articles, which he has written which, have relevance to the subject upon which we both spoke. The remainder of my speech follows.)
The Point of Disagreement
I think Brother Lemmons and I are in agreement that it is unscriptural for Churches of Christ to cooperate by functioning through any kind of human organization, whether the work involved is benevolent, educational or evangelistic. About a decade ago, Brother Lemmons said:
“Some three or four years ago we expressed the opinion on this page that certain brethren would allow the issue of church support of a private enterprise to be fought out on the orphan home level, where highly emotional values can be brought to bear, and where they can, and do, over shadow reason; and that later, when these brethren thought the time was ripe, the pitch would be made to put the college in the budget upon the basis that church support of a private enterprise has already been proven. The low rumblings of the gathering storm have been heard for some time now, and more recently there have been some flashes of lightning!” (Firm Foundation, May 2, 1961.)
This correct prophecy shortly preceded the nationwide circulation of Batsell Barrett Baxters tract soliciting church contributions for David Lipscomb College. Lipscomb even now is soliciting gifts from congregations of $350,000 “or more” per year. (The Lipscomb Review, Fall Quarter, 1971). The mere fact that Brother Lemmons opposes churches cooperating through a human institution presupposes the fact that he agrees with me that there is a pattern regarding congregational cooperation taught in the New Testament, for if there is no divine order, there can be no disorder! And Brother Lemmons thinks it is disorderly (unscriptural) for churches to cooperate through the board of a college.
Brother Lemmons is even in agreement with me that it is unscriptural for congregations to cooperate in benevolent work through a board of directors. Brother Roy Lanier raised this interesting question in the Firm Foundation a few years ago: “If it was sinful for brethren of a century ago to activate the universal church in forming the missionary society, why is it now right to activate the universal church in forming a benevolent society?” (Feb. 26, 1957.)
Recently Brother Lemmons wrote a good article on the prohibitory nature of Gods silence. He was speaking about what he called “The Music Question,” but his remarks are relevant to our subject today too. Regarding the nature of Gods silence, Brother Lemmons said:
“We believe this principle to be a righteous one. We do not see how anyone really serious about restoring the faith and practice of the first century church can afford to be presumptuous in any area where God has not authorized us to go. This principle has its application in many areas other than the instrumental music area. Because God has not specifically prohibited a missionary society many assume it is all right to have one. Others feel that since God is silent about a super-structure for the pyramidal organization of congregations into a super church machine it is all right to have one. Others feel that Gods provision for congregational church government excludes by its very silence such organizations. To be consistent one would have to apply the authority of God in areas of silence to the instrument question as well as to the church government question. By what logic can one be free in one area not specifically prohibited and bound in another area just as free of specific prohibition.. If the silence of God is enough to forbid the use of the instrument why is not the silence of God enough to forbid the creation of other institutions to do the work of the church? If the lack of any Divine directive is grounds for excluding something from our worship why is not the same lack of Divine directive grounds for excluding nonscriptural organizations from our work9 … if we are bound to interpret the absence of a direct command as a prohibition, many of our own projects are suspect…. Before there can be any degree of unity between the elements that remain we must honestly deal with the question of the authority of God in areas of silence.(Firm Foundation, June 20, 1972.)
Brother Lemmons and I are in agreement that it is unscriptural for churches to cooperate through the board of human organizations, whether the organization is a missionary society, a Bible college, or an orphan home. Incidentally, this position obligates Brother Lemmons to oppose church contributions to the boards of about 20 or 25 of the benevolent institutions catering to Churches of Christ for support.
The issue of the “one-man-missionary society” has now been relegated to a rather minor issue. Operations like that of Don Carlos Janes made them become very unpopular among brethren. The basic disagreement that Brother Lemnons and I have on the subject of congregational cooperation pertains to the sponsoring church, and I therefore propose to devote the remainder of my time to a discussion of that aspect of our subject.
I just read a lengthy quotation from Brother Lemmons regarding the prohibitory nature Of Gods silence. Let me begin this section of our discussion by calling to your attention the fact that the New Testament is also silent regarding sponsoring churches. Would this fact not also preclude sponsoring churches, just as Brother Lemmons argued that Gods silence excluded human organizations to do the work of the church? Now let me call to your attention some facts pertaining to what a sponsoring church is, when the sponsoring church idea began, from whence it came, and its effect.
Definition: In 1953, G. C. Brewer said: “In sponsoring a missionary, a church simply underwrites his support. It is, therefore, responsible to the missionary for the amount that it takes for his maintenance, and it is also responsible to any brethren, who may be willing to help support the missionary, for the missionarys soundness, for his Christian character, and for his qualifications as a missionary. This whole idea was born because of a very sad condition that existed in the brotherhood forty or fifty years ago.” (Gospel Advocate, Aug. 27, 1953.) The sponsoring church stands between the missionary and his supporting churches, with obligations toward both, and the “whole idea” originated, said Brother Brewer in 1953, 40 or 50 years ago. More about this later.
Origination: William Banowsky tells us where the sponsoring church idea originated. He said it came from looking at denominationalism.
“The absence of an organized missionary society among churches of Christ created several unique handicaps in selection and preparation of qualified missionary workers. Since no official board existed, congregations were free to select and send . . . The lecturers (at ACC–CW) came to desire a missionary procedure, which would more effectively involve the hundreds of small congregations. But they also sought a program whose scope would be more far-reaching than even the best, but isolated efforts of any one large congregation. They could not resist the temptation to shop about and contrast their plight with the obvious strong points in denominational machinery. Thus, they sought for some practical, scriptural means of brotherhood-wide co-ordination without creating an agency for brotherhood wide control … At the Abilene Lectureship, a momentous biblical principle governing missionary methods was articulated and recommended as a remedy for this brotherhood predicament. The principle was described as intercongregational- cooperation without ecclesiastical organization. It greatly expanded the scope of the churchs evangelistic opportunities and led logically to recognition of the special role of the sponsoring congregation as compared with the part to be played by the smaller participating churches.” (The Mirror of a Movement, pp. 273, 274, 313.)
The sponsoring church idea resulted from shopping about and looking at the “strong points in denominational machinery,” and caused brethren to differentiate between sponsoring churches and “the smaller participating churches.”
Effect: What was the result of the inauguration of the sponsoring church concept? Among the effects, according to G. C. Brewer, was the following: “When the Herald of Truth broadcast of Abilene, Texas was proposed, I told the brethren who were soliciting help for the venture that it would put the Lords people before the world as a denomination and this program would be the Church of Christ Hour just as distinctly as we have a Catholic Hour or a Lutheran Hour. The brethren said they would avoid this by calling it the Herald of Truth. This they have done, but they have not avoided the error I feared . . . The greatest grief of my soul as I face eternity is the fact that brethren have seemingly almost universally denominationalized the church. God have mercy on us! ” (Autobiography, pp, 119, 139.) The sponsoring church idea was borrowed from denominationalism, it originated among Churches of Christ about 1900, and it has denominationalized the church.
In order that you may see that the sponsoring church concept has activated the church universal through a single agency, consider this fact. During the first fifty years of the existence of the missionary society, it only handled a total of $860,500.00. U. H. Garrison, The Reformation of the Nineteenth Century, p. 347.) Yet the Herald of Truth, with contributions from more than one-tenth of the churches in the world, in a single year recently announced an annual budget of $2,239,250.00. The Herald of Truth proposed to spend for the brotherhood in one year nearly three times what the missionary society spent f or the brotherhood in its f first fifty years!
The earliest reference I have been able to find among Churches of Christ concerning a sponsoring church was a discussion in Indiana in 1839, but the brethren decided to abandon the idea and created the Indiana State Missionary Society instead. Around 1867 the brethren in Texas were accustomed to holding State Meetings during which a church would be chosen to act as a “receiving, managing, and disbursing evangelistic committee,” to use Carroll Kendricks term, The Austin elders first served in this capacity, the Dallas elders sometimes served, though the Sherman elders served more frequently than any others. At the request of John T. Poe of Texas, David Lipscomb in 1885 commented on this sponsoring church arrangement thus:
“We developed (in a long series of articles) from Scripture that each church kept the direction of its own contribution under its own control through its messengers. So keeping the church and Christians close to their work. They could fully realize that it is their own work. Is this the case with the Sherman arrangement? We may think these are small and indifferent matters. But if a great amount of money is placed under the control of one church, it gives it undue power. It takes the work from the control of, and removes it from the contact of those who raise the means to sustain it.” (Gospel Advocate, 1885, p. 97.)
In 1890 the occasion arose for David Lipscomb to make further comment regarding sponsoring churches, at which time he said:
“I have never published, or approved without publication, the assumption of the elders of one church sending out a man to induce members of other churches to divert their means from their own church treasury, and to take it from the direction of their own elders, and place it under the direction of that one church. I have never approved concentrating the control of all the means and preachers of the state under the authority of the elders of one church. All such concentration of power is destructive of the activity and the true liberties of the church. It tends to exalt the elders of the one church and degrade and dishonor those of the others . . . The whole movement is an effort to concentrate in a few hands the control of the activities and means of the churches. All such courses are subversive of Gods order. ” (Gospel Advocate, 1890, p. 295.)
In 1910 a proposal was made to evangelize Western Tennessee by having the churches of surrounding states to send their funds to the Henderson, Tennessee elders. So Lipscomb said:
“Now what was that but the organization of a society in the elders of this church? The church elders at Henderson constitute a board to collect and pay out the money and control the evangelist for the brethren of West Tennessee, and all the preachers are solicitors for this work. This very same course was pursued in Texas a number of years ago. The elders of the church at Dallas were made the supervisors of the work, received the money, employed the preacher, directed and counseled with him. For a number of years they employed C. M. Wilmeth. He then dropped out of the work and the Texas Missionary Society took the place. Other experiments along the same course have been made. All of them went into society work … All meetings of churches or officers of churches to combine more power than a single church possesses is wrong. Gods power is in Gods churches. He is with them to bless and strengthen their work when they are faithful to him. A Christian, one or more, may visit a church with or without an invitation and seek to stir them up to a faithful discharge of other duties. But for one or more to direct what and how all the churches shall work, or to take charge of their men and money and use it is to assume the authority God has given to each church. Each one needs the work of distributing and using its funds as well as in giving them.” (Gospel Advocate, March 24, 1910, p. 364.)
I have alluded to about all the instances of the sponsoring church concept in practice among Churches of Christ up until 1910, or at least about all the instances known to me. The sponsoring church type of “joint action” in congregational cooperation was but little used, until recently, among Churches of Christ. In the past, the practice met stout opposition among some of the stalwart brethren, and I oppose it today on the same grounds as did they back then. Precisely, I charge that the sponsoring church type of “joint action”:
1. Unscripturally activates the church universal through a single agency. Yet the only functional unit found in the Bible is a congregation.
2. Constitutes an unauthorized federation of churches.
3. Is contrary to the New Testament pattern of congregational cooperation.
4. Involves a perversion of the elders office, function, and authority.
5. Violates the independence, autonomy, and equality of congregations.
A few years ago, Brother Bill Humble preached a fine sermon in Kansas City, which covered some of the same points as those upon which I have touched in this paper. I shall borrow and close with his conclusion: “The end does not justify the means. Gods work must be done, but Gods work must be done in Gods way!” And to that fine statement, I only add my hearty, Amen!
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 12, pp. 3-7
January 25, 1973