By Mike Willis
We have previously studied the subject of the all-sufficiency of the church from two points of view. First of all, I showed that the church which God created was perfect in that God made it adequate to do what He intended for it to do. The imperfections in the church are all human, the same kind of imperfections which will exist in any other institution and which cannot be avoided or improved by the creation of some other organization. Secondly, I demonstrated that the apostasies which have occurred with reference to the missionary societies and sponsoring church arrangements for evangelism were borne of unbelief. The leaders of these movements were men who became convinced that they could improve upon the all-sufficient church. They were convinced that the church as it was given to us by God was unable to do the work which God gave it to do. Hence, they thought that they could improve upon it.
However, we are presently being faced with another perversion pertaining to the all-sufficiency of the church. Brethren have become convinced that such organizations as Florida College, Cog dill Foundation, Vanguard, etc. are sinful because they deny the all-sufficiency of the church. This conclusion is borne out of a misunderstanding of the meaning of the all-sufficiency of the church. Hence, we need to give it some of our attention at the present.
To some, the statement of the all-sufficiency of the church means that no other group can be formed which distributes the word of God without cost. For another group to be formed to distribute the Bible without cost is a manifest dissatisfaction with the church as God gave it to man, according to some. But, what do we mean when we speak of the all-sufficiency of the church? Is the church all-sufficient to be a football team? Is the church all-sufficient to meet all of the benevolent needs of the entire world? Is the church all-sufficient to distribute the Bible? Just what do we mean when we speak of the all-sufficiency of the church?
When we speak of the all-sufficiency of the church, we simply mean that the local church is able to do whatever work God gave it to do. The local congregation is all-sufficient to evangelize a given community; the local church is all-sufficient to take care of its own benevolent needs (understood of course is the idea that one local church can help another local church relieve its needy) without organizing institutions to that work for them; the local church is all-sufficient to do its own edifying without the necessity of creating “edification societies” to which the local congregation sends a donation for that society to do its work for it.
However, does the statement that the church is all-sufficient to do its own work imply that no one else can do any of these works? Has a man denied the all-sufficiency of the church when he goes out to relieve a needy member of the body of Christ? Has a man denied the all-sufficiency of the church when he goes out to teach his neighbor? If not, why would we conclude that the all-sufficiency of the local church was denied if two men pooled their resources to do these same works? Yet, my brethren, some among us have concluded that men do not believe in the all-sufficiency of the church in the event that several of them pool their resources to conduct a tent meeting in an area which does not have a local church!
When such an event has happened, what part of the local church’s work has been said to be such that the local congregation is unable to discharge its work in that area! Have I stated that the local church of which I am a member is insufficient to do its work in evangelism if I start doing some work in evangelism myself? If not, why is the all-sufficiency of the church denied when several of us work together to accomplish this same purpose? When several men pool their resources to conduct a tent meeting somewhere, in what regard have they said that the local churches of which they are members respectively are insufficient to do their respective local works?
I know of an occasion in which a local church was burdened with supporting many gospel preachers when another preacher came requesting support to do work overseas. The elders looked at their budget and said that they were unable to help him at the present. One of the members of that local church opened a checking account for the preacher and put some money in it each month for him. Several others participated in this as well by giving him money to forward to this man. How does such an arrangement indict the all-sufficiency of the church?
The Local Congregation or the Church Universal?
Sometimes when brethren make their charges about certain works denying the all-sufficiency of the church, they manifest a certain attitude toward the given work that implies that the church universal is organizationally to be involved in a universal work. For example, brethren state that Florida College’s Bible Department is a denial of the all-sufficiency of the church. The fact that Florida College is preaching the gospel is somehow seen to be a denial of the all-sufficiency of the church in the fields of evangelism or edification. Similarly, when Cogdill Foundation sent tracts to some Filopinos several years ago, some brethren said that this manifested a denial of the all-sufficiency of the church to be the pillar and ground of the truth.
But, I ask, which local church’s work was Cogdill Foundation doing when we sent tracts to someone in the Philippines? Have the members of that local church repented for not doing that work? Similarly, which local church am I charging to be insufficient to do its local work when I believe that Florida College can conduct a lectureship or teach Bible classes? Please give me the name and address of the local church which I am saying that is insufficient to do its work when I state that these works can be done by these groups!
The fact of the matter is that these brethren shift to a universal usage of the word “church” when they speak about the alt-sufficiency of the church. Florida College denies the all-sufficiency of the universal church when it teaches the Bible; Cogdill Foundation in the Philippines. But where did God ever give the universal church any work to do?
Here is the dilemma of these brethren who so misunderstand the all-sufficiency of the church: (1) they have no name of a given local church which is being said to be in-sufficient to do its local work when such works are done by others and (2) they have no work given to the church universal which makes it possible for them to say that the work of the universal church is being denied when such works are performed by others.
The Church Is All-Sufficient To Do Its Work
The church is all-sufficient to do its work. It is not all-sufficient to do works that do not belong exclusively to the church. It is not all-sufficient to do works which God did not give it to do. What we mean by the all-sufficiency of the church is that the local congregation is fully capable to carry out the work which God gave it to do – it is capable to evangelize and edify; it is capable to meet its benevolent responsibilities without organizing human institutions to do those works for them.
When human institutions are organized and maintained without involvement in local church’s work, I do not see how they deny the all-sufficiency of the church. They are organized to do a work separate and apart from a local church’s work; they are supported without involvement of church funds; they are not organized to do the work of any given congregation; they are not overseen by any given congregation; they are not promoted by any given congregation; they are not attached formally or informally to any given church or churches. Consequently, on what basis can such organizations be considered to be a denial of the all-sufficiency of the church? The only way that I see that they could possibly be considered a denial of the all-sufficiency of the church would be to speak of the church’s work on universal terms, something which we have sought to avoid in all of our discussions on institutionalism and the sponsoring church.
These brethren charge the liberals with sin by “seeking to activate the church universal” in their building of human institutions. They then turn right around and use the premise of the activation of the church universal to oppose organizations such as Cogdill Foundation, Vanguard, and Florida College. They cannot have it both ways. They must either admit the right of the church universal to be activated, in which case they can use this argument to oppose Cogdill Foundation, Vanguard, Florida College, etc. but must quit using it against the liberals; or, they must deny that the church universal can be activated, in which case they cannot use this argument against the aforementioned organizations but can continue to use it to expose the heresy of the missionary society and the sponsoring church.
Indeed, some among us do misunderstand the all-sufficiency of the church. Some misunderstand it by building human institutions to do the work which God gave the local church to do. Others misunderstand the all-sufficiency of the church by reaching radical positions which deny that any human institution can distribute the gospel. The logical position to which these brethren are forced is to make the local church responsible for the sole distribution of God’s word. It is responsible for translating the word, printing the word, and distributing it without cost to any person. In the event that some human institution becomes involved in these activities, those institutions are to that degree sinful because they are doing the work of the church. Let us reconsider what we mean when we speak of the all-sufficiency of the church.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 9, pp. 147-149
March 1, 1979