By Larry Ray Hafley
From the Republic of the Philippines: First of all let me state the following; Division in the churches of Christ, originated in your country (&.S.A.). The issues are purely American principles. I mean, as far as I know, the churches of Christ in the United States are the only ones who are practicing these issues, the church’s money, how it is to be used. Now, my questions are:
1. Is there a division between the so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ churches of Christ here in the Philippines?
2. Are they who are members of a certain congregation (the so-called liberals) to be condemned in the judgment though they are not practicing and will not be practicing beyond the things which are written (1 Cor. 4:6)?
3. Is there a pattern for us to follow in congregational cooperation in helping the needy and spreading the gospel?”
Comment On Opening Remarks
Our brother’s opening remarks need some clarification. Yes, historically, division in churches of Christ “originated” in the United States, but “the issues” are not “purely American principles.” The issues are purely New Testament principles. Anywhere the Lord’s people are located, the use of the church’s money is an issue. There may not be digression and division as there is in America, but it is an issue. “How?” you ask. By the very fact that it is part of New Testament teaching, it is an issue. That Scripture implies “church money” and that it was used and is to be used, makes it an issue wherever and whenever Christians congregate and commune.
The division “originated in the United States,” but New Testament teaching and practice regarding the church’s money and how it is to be used did not originate in the United States. Our brother confuses these two items and mixes them as one. Thus, he concludes, “The issues are purely American principles.” Again, division “originated” in this country, but New Testament principles and practices concerning “church money and how it is to be used” was originated by the Lord, revealed by the Spirit and propagated by the apostles.
1. Answer to First Question: Yes, there is division among churches of Christ in the Philippines, Unless our brother is extremely isolated, it is inconceivable that he could ask this question for information’s sake. His other inquiries are evidence that he is aware of division.
2. Answer to Second Question: This question is difficult to answer because it begins with a premise. which is denied in the last segment of the sentence. If a church does not go beyond the things which are written (1 Cor. 4:6), it is not a liberal church.
The judgment will be on an individual basis. Congregations, as such, will not be condemned in the judgment. Individuals will be (Matt. 25; Gal. 6:9; Rev. 2:18-23). Churches are judged by the Lord in this life (Rev. 2:5; 3:1-5), but not all individuals in a “dead” church will be lost (Rev. 3:1-5). The Lord did not tell the saints at Sardis to stay where sin was advanced or where false doctrine could not be exposed. He did not tell them to leave, but other passages require this course (Phil. 3:16, 17; 4:9; Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2 Jn. 9-1 Eph. 5:11; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 5:20).
Some churches are termed “liberal” even though they do not engage in any open and overt unscriptural action. “We don’t support human organizations; we don’t send money to another church to oversee and do our preaching work; we don’t use the church’s money for entertainment; so, why are we called liberal?” This is their lame lament, their plea for pity. But the question is, do they oppose or applaud the above mentioned practices? Do they preach against institutionalism and the sponsoring church brand of ecclesiasticism? These are crucial, critical questions. Preaching the whole counsel of God, reproving and rebuking error, and exhorting men to walk in the word is a part of soundness. Our querist mentioned “a certain congregation.” Perhaps, he has one in mind. If so, does it actively and aggressively deny liberal doctrine and digression? Does it use liberal preachers or their sympathizers in its evangelistic labors? A church may be liberal or loose because of what it fails to do, by reason of what it refuses to “earnestly contend” against (2 Cor. 10:35-, Jude 3). There is no greater enemy to the cross of Christ than those who refuse to extinguish error and expound truth.
3. Answer to Third Question:
Preliminary Thoughts to Ponder
If there is no pattern to follow in congregational cooperation, how can a church say it is not going beyond that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6)? If there is no pattern in spreading the gospel, how can brethren 11 make all things according to the pattern” (Heb, 8:5)? if there is no pattern, then there is no perversion, no law, no guide. If that is true, men are free to do as they please without fear of divine censure or judgment. Can you name any other areas of work and worship in the church of the Lord where there is no pattern? If what was done in the New Testament does not constitute a pattern in cooperation and preaching the gospel, can we not also say that what they did with respect to giving and taking the Lord’s supper does not comprise a pattern” If you can deny the pattern of evangelism and cooperation in the work of the New Testament church, why cannot I deny the plan for giving and the taking of the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2)?
The New Testament Pattern
The New Testament pattern of congregational cooperation in “helping the needy and spreading the gospel” is a compilation of all that the Bible says about those activities. Accordingly, we shall notice several texts.
1) In Evangelism: The “church of the Thessalonians” “sounded out the word of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:1, 8). The “church which was at Jerusalem . . . sent forth Barnabas” (Acts 11:22). The Philippian church “sent once and again unto my (Paul’s) necessity” (Phil. 4:15,16). This work was that of “giving and receiving.” It was the “care” of the church at Philippi for Paul (Phil. 4:10). In each of these citations, each church acted, but each worked separate and independent of the other.
“Here, too, we see the simple manner in which the church in Philippi joined with Paul in the work of preaching the gospel. There was no ‘missionary society’ in evidence, and none was needed to accomplish the work the Lord has authorized the church to do. When men become dissatisfied with God’s arrangement and set up one of their own, they have already crossed the threshold of apostasy. Let us be satisfied with the Lord’s manner of doing things” (Guy N. Woods, Teacher’s Annual Lesson Commentary, Published by The Gospel Advocate Company, 1946, p. 341).
In 2 Corinthians 11:8, Paul said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” Two or more churches sent “wages” unto Paul. The ending of these churches, so far as each one was concerned was a separate act. Observe that Paul, not a local church. was the recipient of the “wages.” There was no sponsoring church which served as the disbursing and dispensing agent of other churches. In the New Testament, churches were never joined or harnessed as a unit to evangelize.
2) In Helping The Needy: In Acts 6, the Jerusalem church ministered to their neglected widows. In 1 Timothy 5:16, Paul charged the church to “relieve them that are widows indeed.” So, local congregations have benevolent responsibilities.
Acts 11:27-30 describes a need in Judea which arose because of a “great” famine. There were “constant unfruitful seasons” (Life of Claudius, by Seutonius, quoted in New Testament Documents-Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce, p. 119). “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:29,30). The Antioch disciples did not send relief unto a sponsoring, overseeing church, nor to a Judean Relief Organization. What they did we ought to do when similar circumstances arise.
“The relief was sent, we are told, ‘to the elders . . .’ We might call them pastors. They had charge of the congregations in all their church affairs and attended to the services, the teaching, and the spiritual oversight . . . Here Luke speaks of the elders in Judea” (Lenski, ‘comments on Acts 11:27-30, pp. 462, 463). “Unto the elders, either those at Jerusalem, who could easily forward the supplies to the destitute elsewhere, or those in Judea at large, whom the messengers visited in person, The latter idea presents itself very readily from Judea, just before . . .” (Hackett, comments on Acts 11:30, p. 142). The relief was sent to the brethren in Judea, i.e., unto the elders of the brethren in Judea. Each church had elders, so the relief was sent to the elders of the respective churches in the province of Judea.
Romans 15:25-27,31; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, tell of the “contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” At least five churches assembled their “alms” and “offerings” (Acts 24:17). This was by “order” of the apostle Paul and was performed with “zeal” (1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 9:2). Each church chose its own messengers who brought the gift of that church unto Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:19-23). There was no intermediary, sponsoring church or agent to oversee the work. Churches simply laid aside a contribution for the needy saints in Jerusalem, selected men to take the contribution, and sent them to Jerusalem with the gift.
Guy N. Woods’ Comments On 2 Cor. 8:18-21
“In line with the fact that our lesson today deals with the autonomy of the church, we point out that the contribution here alluded to was raised wholly without the high pressure organizational methods characteristic of today. There was no organization at all; the churches, in their own capacity, raised the funds, and they were gathered by brethren specially appointed for the purpose. This is the Lord’s method of raising money, and it will suffice in any case. There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church. It is the only charitable organization that the Lord authorizes or that is needed to do the work the Lord expects his people today to do. Two practical lessons follow from this section: (1) The simple means used to raise these funds; (2) honest measures followed to avoid suspicion” (Guy N. Woods, Teacher’s Annual Lesson Commentary, Published by The Gospel Advocate Company, 1946, pp. 340, 341),
Truth Magazine XX: 43, pp. 684-685
October 28, 1976