By Ben Vick
In 1849 the American Christian Missionary Society (ACMS) was established. A constitution was written, setting forth the organization, objectives, and purposes of the society. Its objectives and purposes are clearly set forth in the preamble of its constitution. It reads:
That the world may the more fully come to know Christ, the Son of God; that all men everywhere may increasingly appropriate for themselves His way of life; that a world of Christian brotherhood may be realized, and that the unity of God’s people may be achieved, this Society is established.
To this end the Society shall aid in the preaching of the gospel of Christ at home and abroad; shall create and foster a program of Christian education and training to the end that men’s minds may be enlightened concerning the Christian way of life; shall lend encouragement and assistance to local congregations with a view of helping them to become as efficient units of the kingdom of God as possible; . . .
Soon after the news had spread that the ACMS had been established, there was opposition from congregations and preachers. Jacob Creath, Jr., was one of the first, if not the first, among gospel preachers to raise his voice in objection to his unauthorized organization which purposed to rob the church of her work. Others later followed the example of Creath in his objections, stating that the Society had no right to exist. Benjamin Franklin, at the first, lent his influence toward the ACMS but then turned and ferociously attacked its right to exist. Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and others opposed the ACMS as well.
In the fall of 1908 a crucial debate took place between W.W. Otey of Lynn, Indiana, and J.B. Briney of Louisville, Kentucky. The questions discussed were instrumental music and the societies. The second proposition read: “The use of such organizations as the Illinois Christian Missionary Society, the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, etc., is authorized in the New Testament scriptures and acceptable to God.” Briney affirmed; Otey denied.
Though surely most in our brotherhood would give lip service to the position taken by Otey in this debate, yet, many in the Lord’s church could not in consistency deny the above proposition, as did Otey, and continue in their practices, for they are involved in nothing more than missionary societies. Paul wrote, “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?”
Now, before going any further, let it be understood that I do not have anything personal against the individuals to be named in this article. I am simply naming them for identifying purposes. In fact, I regret to have to call names; but I am not better than Paul; and if he did, then, under similar circumstances, so must I (2 Tim. 1:19-20; 2:17-18; 4:10) Besides, how will we mark and avoid, as the New Testament commands, if we do not know who the errorists are (Rom. 16:17-18)? And if proved to be wrong on any of the organizations to be mentioned, this brother will gladly repent and correct his error.
Another point to be considered is that I am not opposing the orphan home and scriptural sponsoring church cooperation. This writer has defended both in writing and from the polemic platform and would gladly do so again if the opportunity arose. Just to say the orphan home and sponsoring church are like the missionary society does not make them such any more than to call a man a monkey makes him a monkey. A man may swing from trees and eat bananas, but that does not make him a monkey.
The missionary society is sinful and has no right to exist, because it is an organization separate and apart from the church, attempting to do the work of the church. It is wrong because it displaces the work which belongs to the church. It is not the purpose of the missionary society to which we stringently object; but it is its very right to exist that is unscriptural! The orphan homes do the work of a home, not the church. The sponsoring church is simply the church at work; and other congregations are having fellowship in the endeavor. If it can be done in benevolence (2 Cor. 8 and 9; Rom. 15:26-27), then why not in evangelism, since both go hand in hand (Gal. 2:9-10)?
Brethren, we need to get our eyes open! We have missionary societies among us which have no right to exist. Therefore, we are speaking out against them – not because their purposes are not good and commendable, but because they are organizations separate and apart from the church, attempting to do the work of the church.
World Christian Broadcasting Corporations (WCBC) is nothing more than a missionary society. It is separate from the church. It has its own president, Robert E. Scott, and board of directors. Checks are to be made payable to WCBC and are deductible for income tax purposes. In a letter dated April, 1980, the then president of WCBC, B.E. Davis, quoted Matthew 28:19 and mentioned the number of souls in the world today in need of the gospel. He then stated, “The World Christian Broadcasting Corporations has been devised as a way to overcome this obstacle.” Though a number of well-known brethren have endorsed the work, this writer says it is nothing more than a missionary society attached to the church. It seeks church support; but at the same time, it remains autonomous. It even has its own “voice” for raising money called the WCBC News. It is an organization which has no right to exist. Those brethren involved in this work could not oppose the missionary society of the Disciples of Christ and be consistent.
Another missionary society among us is The Center for Church Growth, of Houston, Texas. The president is Joe D. Schubert; and the executive director, according to my latest update, is Tim. E. Matheny. This organization, separate from the church, has its own board of directors which includes a chairman, John R. Bolestawski; vice chairman, Arlen Ashley; and a secretary/treasurer, Dale E. DeCarlo. Some of the board, as of January 27, 1986’s letterhead, include M. Norvel Young and Allen Isbell. “Their purpose?” you ask. It is to help congregations grow. Is it a worthy goal? Yes. But the organization has no right to exist. Will Schubert or Matheny or anyone else connected with this organization defend publicly its right to exist? Peter tells us to grow in grace and in the knowledege of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). This organization is attempting to do that which the church should do through the preaching of the gospel.
Another missionary society among us is Leadership and Church Growth International, of Florence, Alabama. Its president is Jerry Humphries; the executive director is Jim Denison; and the board of directors is made up of five men, one of whom is Jerry Humphries. What is this organization’s reason for existing? Humphries says, ” . . Ao provide Christian leaders and workers the opportunities to receive the training they need without their having to leave home.” Well, that’s wonderful. But what is the church doing? Cannot these individuals be trained by the simple preaching and/or teaching of God’s word without having an organization separate and apart from the church which is attempting to displace the church? This, too, is a nonprofit organization. Why cannot the church do the same work and let God receive the glory through the church rather than through some humanly devised organization? We are told in the LCG International News that LCG International is in harmony with God’s word. But it will take more than telling us; it must be proved to us (1 Thess. 5:21).
There are a number of “organizations” which are “under” different elderships which have no right to exist, for they are nonprofit organizations (considered by the government to be separate and apart from the church) which are attempting to displace the church. Some of these organizations have selected certain elderships which will just “rubber stamp” whatever the organization desires. If the eldership balks, the organization just finds another “yes” eldership. One of these organizations which comes to mind is the Way of the Cross, of Dallas, Texas. It is “under the oversight” of the elders of the Rockwell Church of Christ in Rockwall, Texas. It has been in existence fifteen years. Checks can be made payable to “Way of the Cross” and are tax deductible. I have been told that this organization, Way of the Cross, is a mission outreach to the highways and hedges of the United States and endeavors to plant churches in areas where none exist. When the Way of the Cross publications comes out, it talks of “our” mission and “our” mission workers.
Why cannot we be simply gospel preachers and members of the Lord’s church and spread the gospel and edify the saints? Why do some brethren think they must have some organization separate from the church through which to do the work of the church? Was Paul a member of some organization such as Leadership and Church Growth International or Way of the Cross? Why cannot brethren be content with the Lord’s organization?
This does not mean it is wrong for brethren to go into private business, selling Bibles and good religious material. The Firm Foundation and Gospel Advocate are businesses. Churches have the right to buy their services, their material, etc.; but the church has no scriptural right to make a donation, or contributions, to such businesses in order to keep them afloat. If so, I am willing to hear the proof.
Brethren everywhere need to rise up and oppose these mini-missionary societies among us.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 23, pp. 720, 723
December 7, 1989