By Dick Blackford
The Sycamore church in Cookeville, Tennessee decided to “meet the challenge” of raising $17 million to mail out a brochure to every home in the U.S., purchase ads in leading publications and conduct a TV program. When it became obvious they were not going to get $17 million they went back to the drawing board and decided they could do essentially the same thing for only $10 million. They were about to waste $7 million of the “brotherhood’s” money before they realized this. The thing that kept them from it is that the “brotherhood” didn’t send it. Would you consider it a good risk as an investor in a $17 million project with me if I cut the cost nearly in half when I realized I couldn’t get the full amount?
The Sycamore church is donating about 2 percent of the total. So did they meet the challenge or did they meet only 2 percent of the challenge?
From the Mail-Outs
Numerous high quality, three color mail-outs have repeatedly been sent to thousands of churches begging funds. Add to that video tapes, postage, salary and travel expense for the promoters. It would be safe to say that approximately $1 million was spent on begging. Note what these mail-outs have had to say.
1. The Plan – “Brethren offer $17 million to evangelize the nation. Elders of the Sycamore church of Christ accept oversight of the project.” That’s not quite the way it happened. It didn’t happen in that order (brethren offer, Sycamore accepts). The brethren didn’t offer $17 million. They didn’t even offer $10 million so Sycamore had to mortgage their building and continue to beg (see The Update, July 1991).
If Sycamore “accepted” the oversight, who told them they could have it? Where did those who gave it to them get that right? Who were these people? Who had the authority to make plans for “the brotherhood”? In August, 1989 (before oversight was assumed by Sycamore) there were “brainstorming meetings with brethren experienced in evangelistic outreach, seeking advice and counsel. ” The only officer in the universal church is Jesus. He did not ordain “brotherhood” elders (1 Pet. 5:2). Such authority was usurped. They didn’t “accept” oversight, they seized it! They assumed more than God assigned. And there was no authority for these “brainstorming meetings” (which originated outside any local eldership) to decide anything for the “brotherhood” (actually, a “churchhood”).
2. A message from the elders – “Never before (that we know of) has there been a realistic plan for national and world evangelism. ” They should read more of the Scriptures than the manual on denominational schemes. Paul said the gospel had been “preached to every creature under heaven” during his lifetime (Col. 1:23). Is that not realistic enough? How did they do it? Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostles who told them to teach others “to teach others” (Matt. 28:19,20). Paul taught the same (2 Tim. 2:2). He taught that the local church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Local churches “sounded forth the word of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:7,8). This was how they did it. No mention is made of a sponsoring church or brotherhood eldership. Even if they had never heard of a “realistic plan” it would not justify an unscriptural project.
3. What Christians deserve. Christians deserve the opportunity to participate in something bigger than a budget, larger than the local work. ” What did they do to deserve something the Lord didn’t authorize? The Lord didn’t give us anything larger than a local work so he must not have thought we deserved it. Surely his wisdom and knowledge are not so limited as not to see that we needed something larger than a local work. Why didn’t he set up some centralized mechanism for doing it? He didn’t, so some of our brethren did it for him. Some elders have stepped beyond the role of local elders. They think such limitations are old fogey and they have “improved” upon the Lord’s way. But, “My ways are not your ways, saith Jehovah” (Isa. 55:8). Yet all oversight, flock feeding, worship, discipline, and evangelism was done by each local church (1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 16:1,2; 14:16; etc.).
4. The Great Privilege. “It allows the individual to feel that he is an integral part of the congregation. ” You mean he wasn’t allowed this before the campaign? That is what is implied. When each member functions in the body as he should (whether he is an “eye,” an ‘gear,” a “foot,” or a “hand,” 1 Cor. 12:15-25), he is an integral part. He was allowed to do this before the “One Nation Under God” Campaign was ever heard of. It was not a privilege that was not allowed when he was functioning in the local church before this churchhood project came along (something larger than a local work).
5. Grand Claims. “Here at the end, is your opportunity to be part of the greatest, most successful evangelistic effort in our brotherhood’s history. ” This was said even before all the brochures were mailed out and the results were known. Is it greater than what happened in Jerusalem beginning on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5,9,41; 4:4)? Is it more successful than when Paul stated the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23)? Our “brotherhood’s history” goes back to when it began. Promoters are careless to make grand claims (before the facts are known) when they want your money.
6. Something larger and something smaller than a local work. When elders assume oversight of a multi-church project they take on a dual role. They may still be over their local congregation, but they are something more than local elders when they put themselves in charge of a churchhood (misnamed “brotherhood”) project. They are making decisions over something other than and more than their local work (1 Pet. 5:2).
Also, Bible classes are taking collections and forming their own treasuries and taking action under the oversight of someone in the class. They organize and someone acts as treasurer. “___________ and her 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade class have set a goal of $50 to contribute to the ‘One Nation Under God’ Campaign. ” (Other similar quotes appear in the mail-outs). Regardless of good intentions, there is no authority for a functioning organization larger or smaller than a local church. Both have been involved in the “O.N.U.G.” Campaign.
7. Aimed at the “unchurched.” The brochure briefly mentions personal problems such as drugs, materialism, divorce, pornography, but says nothing about the sin of denominationalism, a sin which is causing billions of people to be lost eternally. Concerning their TV talk-show we are told that it is “aimed at 45 percent of the United States population which believes in God, but is not part of any organized denominational group.” Whereas, the gospel is for all (Mk. 16:15).
8. Brotherhood Thinking. “As a brotherhood, we will give an answer as to why we have neglected the Lord’s command to take the gospel to every creature. . . ” Where does the Bible teach we will be judged “as a brotherhood”? No where! If so, a few bad apples in the brotherhood could cause the whole brotherhood to be lost. Our individual salvation would be dependent on what others had left undone. The judgment will be on a personal basis, whether your own name is written in the book of life (Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25; Rev. 20:13-15).
“Anxiously we await newsfirom the brotherhood that the funds areforthcoming. ” There are numerous references to the “brotherhood.” It seems some “local” elders can think on no other plain. They think “churchhood” when they say brotherhood. A brotherhood is made of brothers, not churches. And then they refer to churches as “sister” congregations! Boy, try making sense out of that! They have drunk too much from the polluted waters of denominationalism and are engaged in the language of Ashdod.
A churchhood is a “hood” of churches. Christ did not authorize a churchhood. Churches are not tied together but are local, independent and autonomous. The only oversight is local. A brotherhood is a “hood” of brothers. Christ is the only officer in the brotherhood and he gave it no function as a brotherhood. It is only mentioned one time in the New Testament and the extent of brotherhood responsbility is specified. “Love the brotherhood” (1 Pet. 2:17). That’s it! The way some sponsoring elders speak and think for the brotherhood you would think it was mentioned on every page of the Bible and in the margin.
9. “Why your congregation deserves a special collection opportunity” for the campaign. “They get to participate in something Biblical, like the ancient Christians. ” As if they were not able to do so long before any “Sponsoring Church” project was ever heard from or thought of! It is hard to believe some know so little about the Bible that they fell for this.
By “special collection” perhaps they had reference to the time when congregations sent relief to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1,2). But consider: (a) Jerusalem was a destitute church. Sycamore is not. They contributed over $200,000 to the campaign. (b) The Jerusalem church did not launch a 10 year program of being destitute. Sycamore launched a 10 year program of begging the “brotherhood” for their churchhood projects. (c) Jerusalem did not launch a massive campaign to solicit funds. Sycamore spent huge sums to beg more money. (d) Jerusalem’s want was in benevolence. Sycamore’s was not. Sycamore wants, but they are not “in want.” (e) Jerusalem’s want was peculiarly theirs. Sycamore’s “want” is no more theirs than it is any other congregation’s. God has not assigned world obligations to one congregation alone. We all have identical and equal duty according to our ability. (f) Jerusalem’s case is in the Bible. Sycamore’s is not. So where is the parallel?
The Sycamore elders have allowed themselves to be influenced by “brotherhood” planners – the “brainstormers.” They seized the oversight of a churchhood project. In doing so, they took more authority than God gave them and involved the congregation in error. The contributing churches have become partakers of their sin. We must strive lawfully and follow the pattern. The Great Commission does not give us a blank check to do anything we want. We cannot “do evil (that which is not authorized, db) that good may come” (Rom. 3:8). We plead with the Sycamore elders to give up their project for the sake of the Scriptures and unity or else have the courage to defend it in public debate.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 4, pp. 112-113
February 20, 1992