By Bryan Vinson, Sr.
The following statements enumerated are of such character as to be regarded as self evidently true to all who are familiar with the New Testament scriptures. They were not formulated by me, but by brother Foy E. Wallace Jr., to whom I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness, not only for them but for much of the little I have learned of God’s Will. The observations and comments on each of them are substantially my own. These are made in order that the reader may be assisted in appreciating the relevancy of the basic truths to the present day issues, and, consequently, be the better able to discern the merits of the points in controversy among brethren today.
1. No Congregation Has the Preeminence.
This is a statement of fact insofar as the New Testament record reveals, and as being true in the apostolic era. However, the succeeding centuries record the struggle for preeminence by several congregations, with five emerging as rivals. Finally, the struggle came to be between two–Rome and Constantinople, with the former gaining the final ascendancy in the eleventh century. Today, among congregations of the Lord’s people, we see some emerging to a point of power and prestige above others that finds assertion in, among other things, a campaign to outstrip the other in Bible class attendance.
To secure the victory, famed entertainers and athletes have been engaged to attract and secure the needed number for victory. Also, we have seen instances of one of these most successful “on the march” churches putting pressure on smaller congregations to enlist their financial contributions to the varied general work carried on by this sponsoring church. This has occurred even to the rupturing of the small congregation located in the shadow of the big promotional church.
2. No Elders of a Church are to be an Ecumenical Eldership (a board for the whole church).
This, however, is exactly what exists in act and in fact when the elders of one congregation oversee a work of a plurality of congregations. Weak and wildly imaginary efforts in exegesis have been resorted to, designed to support such an arrangement. A prime example of this is Acts 11: 29-30.
They suspend a defense of current practices on the assumed probability of elders in the Jerusalem church, and none in the other churches of Judea. Why the assumption? Paedobaptists have assumed for centuries that probably there were infants in the household of Lydia, and on such an assumption they defend their sprinkling of infants. Will brethren who so reason be agreeable to accept the consequences of their doctrine. This I would like to know.
3. No Coordination of local churches functioning through one eldership.
This poses the thought of equality of cooperating congregations while being overseen and controlled by the eldership of one, which would mean they were not the elders of one congregation but of many–a thing not known in the New Testament. Some have thought there were elders of the church in one city, with several congregations, as per Titus 1.5. But Acts 14:23 nullifies such a contention.
4. No pressure of one church on another, or others.
No one would deny this being true of churches in the days of the apostles. Can it be successfully denied today? When brethrel1 call meetings of elders and preachers of a number of congregations to deal with one, which incidentally is absent, it would be difficult to deny such a condition.
5. No Force in the church except of being and doing right.
Every principle of morality and human dignity that Christianity recognizes and enjoints forbids any other force!
6. No function of elders outside the church in which they are elders.
This fundamental truth, if recognized and respected, would silence every voice and stop every effort directed toward brotherhood wide operations by any and every congregation in the land. Yet there is heard no firm and clear affirmation of a contrary nature, though some have sought by implication to deny it in the construction of Acts 11:29-30.
7. No action of one church is authoritative on other churches, for binding decisions; otherwise there would be an authority other than the scriptures infallible.
The contrary of this has produced and sustains the claims of the Papacy; that is, the pre-eminence, and, therefore, the binding authority of the See of Rome. Present day cooperation has brought about a state of affairs where some participants therein have acted in concert to suppress and endeavor to destroy congregations and preachers who dissent from certain practices. This is affected by one congregation sometimes initiating an action of excommunication, and being acquiesced in by others; hence, it involves a course which smacks of collusion as virtually synonymous with cooperation, with lesser influential congregations becoming guilty of connivance by their acceptance of the decrees, lest they become the victims also of excommunication. The whole procedure rests on an implied acceptance of the thesis of an infallible authority residing in, and being exercised by, a congregation under its elders. Of course when such is done, there is the pious appeal to Romans 16:17-18. But when a request is made to prove those th us charged with teaching and practicing that which is “contrary to the doctrine ye have learned,” the request is treated with complete silence! The edict thus is founded on the presumed infallibility of those who pronounce and issue it.
8. No Feudal authority can be vested in an eldership. Feudal: an over lording of one state over other states – holding of relieves, revenues, aids, properties or that which is another’s.
However, we actually have this state of affairs presently existing. We have congregations that are holding companies, having in their possession large sums of money, amenable to no one, without responsibility or accountability to anyone among all those whose money it is, and who have entrusted it into their keeping. Supplementary thereto, there is now being solicited the legacies of Christians through the provisions of their wills, when such ones are not even members of the soliciting congregations. The idea of building up huge wealth and property vested in the church finds its counterpart in Roman Catholicism, and not the New Testament Church. Where there is a concentration of wealth there is a corresponding accumulation of power, be it in the government or in the church.
9. No elders of one church can become the voice of the churches of Christ, assuming the prerogative to state doctrine for the whole church, power to commit the church to a statement of doctrine.
This, however, is done when one church oversees and determines that which is broadcast greeting the public with: “The Churches of Christ salute you,” thereby, in effect, speaking for the churches generally. Every contributing congregation is bound to that which is taught on the Herald of Truth, while having no voice in determining that which is taught. Notwithstanding, some offer the defense that such is not an intrusion on and a breach of congregational autonomy! If there is to be an activation of the “church universal,” then a delegate system would be preferable, inasmuch as such would not be “taxation without representation” Of course this would be wrong also, since there is no scriptural way to activate the church in its universal character inasmuch as it has no organic and functional character on earth.
10. No eldership has authority to operate a human institution.
This is so obviously true to anyone even reasonably conversant with the New Testament, that it is astonishing to find members of the church who do not either know better, or despite the truth, endeavor to reflect against it by suggesting that a human institution is made scriptural by the simple process of placing it under an eldership. The authority of elders is restricted to the congregation of which they are elders or bishops. They have no jurisdiction over anyone or anything other than the congregation constituted of its members, and as the overseers and leader; of its activities as a church of Christ. Their authority here is subordinate to, as defined and restricted by the Word of God; any self-asserted authority beyond that which is defined and delineated in the scripture is an unwarranted assumption. The idea that elders can make scriptural any organization by assuming the oversight thereof is the very essence of presumption. This, however, lies at the very base of a widespread and fallacious attempt to justify the church created and supported benevolent organizations among us today. The notion is so firmly implanted in the mind of some, that the Superintendent of the local orphanage takes the view that we shouldn’t distribute any papers among members of congregations as expressing sentiments contrary to the “convictions of the elders” thereof. He should be careful, then, to never send any literature to a Digressive church containing any truth on the subject of instrumental music in the worship, because such is contrary to the convictions of the elders of such a church Just when did elders become empowered to function as a board of censors for the churches? Also, this superintendent sought to make the sending of this page parallel to the giving and receiving involved in his institution. Now, if we were soliciting and receiving funds wherewith to do the teaching for all the churches through such medium, then he would have a parallel. Such, however, is not the case at all, and he and all others should be able to see it.
11. No eldership of a sponsoring church in the New Testament.
The truth of this statement resides in the fact there are no such churches in the New Testament. Not an instance can be cited where any congregation set itself up as a sponsoring church to do the work of churches generally, and solicited funds from them to do their work for them. This is widely practiced today, and congregations, which refuse to become contributing churches, are being stigmatized by those thus engaged. It would be far more appropriate and fitting, if rather than so reacting, that those advocating this practice would first prove by the scriptures that such is good: “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Nothing in religious faith and practice is good unless first proved by the scriptures to be so.
12. No organization of any kind in New Testament for inter-church work.
Co-operation is not equivalent to co-congregational; that is, one church overseeing and directing the work of many, doing a collective work (evangelistic or benevolent) through one congregation. Each congregation is adequate to do all the Lord enjoins upon us to do in any organizational capacity, so far as the scriptures reveal, and they have supplied us with all that pertains to life and godliness. In fact I hereby challenge anyone to point out one thing God requires of Christians, which they cannot perform, either in their individual capacity or congregational relationship. The local congregation is the only collective body revealed in the New Testament, and the relation of Christians is intra-congregational rather than inter-congregational in their work and worship. Work and Worship affords the justification for a congregation existing.
These facts, while not all that might be cited for lack of space, are set forth to challenge the thinking of all who are devoted to the principle of abiding in the doctrine of Christ. Those otherwise minded cannot be reached; these can.
We have long prided ourselves as a people who can support our faith and practice by a “thus saith the Lord.” Shall we supinely and apathetically react to this kind of appeal by disparaging its virtue and repudiating its force today in these present issues? Shall Christians react as do Sectarians, generally, when their position on any point is challenged, or will they examine the scriptures to see whether these things be true?
These matters vitally affect the questions of fellowship and the liberty we enjoy in Christ. Any attitude and action on the part of elders and preachers which builds an iron curtain between them and the most intelligent and able brethren in the church, among living preachers, reflects a seriousness that surpasses anything witnessed in our time.
Truth Magazine VI: 2, pp. 16-19