By Donald P. Ames
For some unknown (to me) reason, the illustration found in Acts 11:29-30 has been a favorite “proof text” of those seeking some type Biblical authority for their “Sponsoring Church Arrangements.” Like the Premillennialists and Rev. 20, our liberal brethren must read into the passage everything they claim to get out of it, but I guess it is about the closest thing they have that is a “country cousin” to actual Biblical authority. Thus, again and again it pops up as justification.
Every once in a while though something new is thrown in, and when this happens, perhaps we can also get something deeper out of it as well. Recently I had a “new argument” employed on this passage as an effort to respond to some material I had presented on the Biblical pattern of congregational cooperation. I invite your study with me of this new argument.
I had pointed out that there is a Biblical pattern of cooperation, as plainly revealed as God could have done so. Furthermore, it is as valid as our argument that “to sing” is exclusive of the instrument – unless someone can show that the New Testament church used the instrument as well. In every case of churches involved in cooperation there is a clear pattern of direct sending. In helping the evangelist, the funds were sent directly (Phil. 4:15, 2 Cor. 11:8). In assisting other churches to meet their God-given duties (not assumed activities) when they had circumstances thrust upon them making them unable to do so, the funds were sent directly to the receiving churches (Acts 11:29-30; Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9 and only to “saints”). There was no “in-between” board or church that assumed controls.
One preacher took exception though and mailed me his reply. His argument went as follows: (1) The funds mentioned in Acts 11:29-30 were sent to the brethren in Judea. (2) The funds were sent to “the elders.” (3) Only Jerusalem had elders at this time (per my own agreement that they existed there). (4) Therefore, the funds were sent to Jerusalem, which in turn distributed them to the various churches in Judea; and hence there is authority for a “Sponsoring Church Arrangement.” The logic behind the argument is based on the idea that Acts 14:23 is the “first mentioning” of the appointing of elders; hence, the churches of Judea (existing before then) could not have had elders yet. Since I conceded Jerusalem did have elders, then they were the only elders that could have been involved. The preacher went on to point out that he had not spoken “lightly,” and the burden of proof lay on me to show any other such elders existed in Judea prior to Acts 14:23.
I am glad he was willing to concede “churches” existed in Judea (he would have had to – 1 Thess. 2:14; Gal. 1:22). I also found it very interesting that he would concede elders existed in Jerusalem as well, especially when he emphatically stated, “I refuse to base my convictions on maybe’s.” So, taking his own words, I decided to show him he had to employ better logic, and study by means of necessary inference in the same manner that I did – and which he was not doing.
To illustrate, first of all there is absolutely no proof that Jerusalem had elders at the time of the events of Acts 11:29-30. Now I do not deny that they did. Certainly, the fact that the funds were sent to “the elders” show some existed somewhere. I believe that not only Jerusalem, but all Judea had elders by the time of Acts 11 (certainly if Paul could appoint them as quickly as he did in Acts 14:23, the older churches of Judea could also qualify). But the liberals are so quick to affirm we are guilty of assuming, perhaps we need to turn the cart around and demand some proof from them. Where, prior to Acts 15:2 is there any reference anywhere to elders existing even in Jerusalem? Now this is fundamental to their assumption that Jerusalem was the receiving and disbursing church, but can they prove that the church is qualified to meet their own standards – or was it perhaps another church?
Then, to go one step further, if Acts 14:23 is the first time elders were ever actually appointed – and then only among the Gentiles, can we prove elders existed anywhere in Judea (including Jerusalem)? Of course this is silly, as the funds were sent “to the elders” so we know some had to be in existence. But using the preacher’s own logic, he has eliminated all such from Judea. And, if Jerusalem could have them before Acts 14:23, then so could all the rest of the churches of Judea! Thus he has become trapped with his own logic.
Actually Acts 14:23 is merely a demonstration of the fact Paul was appointing elders “in every church” as was his practice and his teaching in “all the churches” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; Acts 20:28, 1 Pet. 5:1-4, etc.). It has no reference to all to when they began “for the first time” to appoint elders! It would indeed be strange for Paul to conclude that the Gentiles suddenly were in need of elders while the older Judean churches had been organizationally approved of God without any need for them.
If one wanted to get real technical, there is yet another argument to be made that shows the falsity of this position. Since only Jerusalem had elders before Acts 14:23, and since it cannot be proven that elders were put into the Judean churches even then (only Gentile!), then it follows the Jerusalem elders had the oversight of all Judea! Now you have a Catholic Diocese, and such is the consequence of such logic.
And while on the same points, let us again note that the fact Paul returned from Jerusalem (Acts 12:25) does not prove that was the only city he visited any more than one leaving Chicago for an overseas trip and returning from New York (or London) proves that that was the only city visited during the trip. The distribution was to be for the “brethren living in Judea” and was sent “to the elders.” Wherever the “brethren living in Judea” were, there were “elders” to whom it was sent. If otherwise, why does the text not state that it was sent “to Jerusalem for distribution throughout Judea”? Jerusalem would have had the same problem Antioch had – the elders there were not “over” or “among” the local flock, and hence had no first-hand information of individual needs.
The writer concluded: “If you’ll find elders in any of the other Judean churches before Acts 14:23, I will concede he went there: if not, I refuse to base my convictions on maybe’s.” I believe that by necessary inference we have so demonstrated, just as he used necessary inference to assume that even Jerusalem had elders. I challenge him to prove Jerusalem had elders prior to Acts 15:2 by any other method! And, when he shows the exact verse that states when they were appointed in Jerusalem, I will show in the same verse that they were likewise appointed in all the other Judean churches at the very same time. And since convictions should not be “based on maybe’s,” perhaps someone can produce the proof Jerusalem had elders at this time. Wouldn’t it be horrible to have a “Sponsoring Church Arrangement” with the “mother church” not even scripturally organized?
Brethren, why not accept the obvious meaning of the text and let that suffice? The funds were sent to the “elders” of the “brethren living in Judea.” Now either you will have to accept a Catholic Diocese and deny any other Judean church ever had elders (and find proof Jerusalem had them before Acts 15:2), or accept the fact the “elders” existed wherever the “brethren living in Judea” were meeting, and it was to these various local flocks overseen by local elders that the funds were sent for local needs.
Sometimes brethren go to the same extremes denominations go to in trying to justify themselves. Maybe this is the way they learn, but let us all take warning and be careful in this respect, that we are not found justify sins that God has not approved (2 John 9). Be sure what we teach and practice is found in the pages of Holy writ (Matt. 7:21-23).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 4, pp. 71-72
January 25, 1979