By Mike Willis
I have previously manifested my faith in the all sufficiency of the church. I have shown its perfections as revealed to us in the word of God. History, however, demonstrates that not all men have this belief in the all sufficiency of the church. Consequently, there have been many departures from the revelation of God in the area of the work of the church. The root disease in each case was unbelief; men became convinced that the church was insufficient to do the work which God gave it to do.
Manifestations of Unbelief in the Nineteenth Century
Those who have even a smattering of knowledge about restoration literature, such as myself (for I am surely a novice in this field), know that the American Christian Missionary Society was borne out of a lack of confidence in the church to do the work of evangelism which God gave it to do. Let us demonstrate that this is so.
In 1842, Campbell wrote a short note entitled “Five Arguments For Church Organization” (he listed six arguments but’ made a numerical error). Notice his dissatisfaction with .the church as it was then organized prior to the organizing of the American Christian Missionary Society:
1. We can do comparatively nothing in distributing the Bible abroad without co-operation.
2. We can do comparatively but little in the great missionary field of the world either at home or abroad without co-operation.
3. We can do little or nothing to improve and elevate the Christian ministry without cooperation.
4. We can do but little to check, restrain, and remove the flood of imposture and fraud committed upon the benevolence of the brethren by irresponsible, plausible, and deceptive persons, without cooperation.
5. We cannot concentrate the action of the tens of thousands of Israel, in any great Christian effort, but by co-operation.
6. We can have no thorough cooperation without a more ample, extensive, and thorough church organization (Millennial Harbinger, Vol. VI, p. 523).
In 1849, this same dissatisfaction with the organization of the local church as being all-sufficient to accomplish the purposes which God gave it to accomplish is manifest in Campbell’s opening paragraph of “Church Organization.” He said,
There is now heard from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, one general, if not universal, call for a more efficient organization of our churches. Experience, than which there is not a more efficient teacher, decides and promulges that our present co-operative system is. comparatively inefficient, and inadequate to the exigencies of the times and the cause we plead . . . .
But there are gathered a thousand and more communities spread over this great continent, without any systematic form of cooperation. And there is a vehement desire expressed from all quarters for some general and efficient action on this subject, for some well digested system of bringing all our energies to bear upon the church and the world. And there are some that think that had we such an organization as their reason approves, we should carry every thing before us. Nay, that organization is essential to prevent a retroactive movement, and without it we must rather lose than gain, and cease to occupy the territory we have conquered (Millennial Harbinger, pp. 90, 92).
In this article, Campbell is convinced that the organization of some ecclesiastical board is not only more expedient but it is necessary. Otherwise, he feared, the Disciples would lose the ground which they had already conquered. Hence, the church as God organized it in the Bible is not all sufficient to maintain ground, in Campbell’s views.
In 1845, a meeting of brethren occurred in Wellsburg, West Virginia which drew up plans for organization. In the course of the resolutions drawn up, we read the following comments:
1. Christian communities should cooperate in all things which they cannot so well accomplish by their individual enterprise.
2. As it is the duty of every congregation in any city or district of country to have respect to its influence upon the community in which it lives, being placed there as a candlestick; so is it the duty of all the congregations in any city or district to cooperate in accomplishing in that district, state, or nation, whatever they could not otherwise accomplish for the publication of the word and the edification of the church.
3. To do this successfully, they must either occasionally meet together, by deputies, messengers, or representatives, and consult together for the better performance of their duties . . . . (Millennial Harbinger, pp. 66-67).
This article demonstrates a disbelief in the church as it existed prior to the forming of the missionary society to such an extent that churches were said to be obligated to form these cooperative societies. It was not the duty of these churches to form these cooperatives.
In 1847, in an article entitled “Cooperation of Churches in Kentucky,” Campbell stated that the idea of independent, autonomous churches unscriptural but heretical. He said,
It is impossible to conceive of such a body without organization; and if the body is a unit, its organization must be adapted to the unity of its nature; and, therefore, it conclusively follows, that the organization adapted to the one body, must be something other than the organization of individual and independent churches or congregations; for such organizations, in the absence of a general system, tend rather to destroy the grand principle of unity; and Messiah’s kingdom, instead of being a well regulated and organized government upon earth, must become and continue to be a mere chapter of accidents to the end of the volume.
It is, therefore, manifest that the doctrine of the absolute independence of individual congregations, is not the doctrine of the Bible, and that it is necessarily schismatical in its very nature and tendency (Millennial Harbinger, pp. 162-163).
The idea of independent congregations was now considered to be dangerous to the very existence of New Testament Christianity. With what was this to be replaced?
Since the church of the Bible was insufficient in its independent congregational arrangement, Campbell proposed to replace this with cooperatives of the congregations. He wrote,
That it is the duty of churches to cooperate in every thing beyond the individual achievements of a was not only
particular congregation, we shall not attempt to illustrate and sustain.
A church can do what an individual disciple cannot, and so can a district of churches do what a single congregation cannot (Millennial Harbinger, 1831, p. 237).
His solution to the deficiency of the church was a cooperative of churches. The result was the American Christian Missionary Society.
History records the division which occurred because of the introduction of the American Christian Missionary Society and mechanical instruments of music. The Christian Church opted to use both of them; the Churches of Christ decided to oppose both. The division resulted. Remember, however, that the movement to begin the American Christian Missionary Society was the result of disbelief – brethren lost faith in the all-sufficiency of the church!
Manifestations of Unbelief in the Twentieth Century
Let us pass from the Nineteenth Century into the Twentieth Century. The churches of Christ have recently split over the issues of the sponsoring church arrangement and the church support of benevolent institutions. Let me demonstrate from similar statements made by leaders among the liberal brethren that this division began, as did the former one, with disbelief in the all-sufficiency of the church.
G.C. Brewer lamented the situation among churches in their missionary work in 1953. He wrote,
In sponsoring a missionary, a church simply underwrites his support. It is, therefore, responsible to the missionary for the amount that it takes for his maintenance, and it is also responsible to any brethren; who may be willing to help support the missionary, for the missionary’s soundness, for his Christian character, and for his qualifications as a missionary. This whole idea was born because of a very sad condition that existed in the brotherhood forty or fifty years ago (Gospel Advocate, August 27, 1953, p. 544).
The sad condition which existed in the brotherhood might have been real. Churches might have been guilty of doing nothing. The solution, however, was not to bring in something not authorized in the Scriptures, as Brewer proposed when he suggested the sponsoring church. Rather, there should have been a return to the old order of evangelistic, local congregations. But Brewer was discontent with the old arrangement and this gave birth to the new arrangement – the sponsoring church.
William S. Banowsky felt the same way. In The Mirror of a Movement, he writes,
The absence of an organized missionary society among churches of Christ created several unique handicaps in selection and preparation of qualified missionary workers. Since no official board existed, congregations were free to select and send (pp. 273-274).
Notice his dissatisfaction that the church did not have an organized missionary society. As Banowsky went on to explain the origin of the sponsoring church, he said,
The lecturers came to desire a missionary procedure which would more effectively involve the hundreds of small congregations. (Notice his discontentment with God’s arrangement. – mw) But they also sought a program whose scope would be more far-reaching than even the best, but isolated efforts of any one large congregation. (Notice the presupposition that something better than the local church can be devised. -mw) They could not resist the temptation to shop about and contrast their plight with the obvious strong points in denominational machinery. Thus, they sought for some practical, scriptural means of brotherhood-wide control . . . . (p. 313).
The result was described as follows:
At the Abilene Lectureship, a momentous biblical principle governing missionary methods was articulated and recommended as a remedy for this brotherhood predicament. (Notice his assessment of the church without the sponsoring churches. – mw) The principle was described as intercongregational cooperation without ecclesiastical organization. It greatly expanded the scope of the church’s evangelistic opportunities and led logically to recognition of the special role of the sponsoring congregation as compared with the part to be played by the smaller participating churches (p. 313).
Hence, my brethren, the sponsoring church arrangement was borne out of unbelief – the same unbelief in the allsufficiency of the local church to discharge its work in preaching the gospel which led to the establishment of the missionary society earlier.
ConclusionIn conclusion, let me quote what Cecil Willis wrote several years ago. He said,
Brethren never began seeking to build another organization for evangelistic work until they lost faith in the sufficiency of that organization the Lord provided. It matters not how loud one may shout that he believes that the church is sufficient, so long as he erects another organization to do the work assigned to the church. His practice counterbalances and neutralizes what he says. He is not practicing what he is preaching. The brethren never built a missionary society until they lost faith in the sufficiency of the church to preach the gospel (Truth Magazine, Vol. V, p. 271).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 8, pp. 131-133
February 22, 1979