The Cogdell-Turner Discussion

By Mike Willis

One of the latest releases from the Guardian of Truth Foundation is the book entitled The Cogdell- Turner Discussion. The book is a printed debate between Gaston D. Cogdell, preacher for the Clifton Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Robert F. Turner. The book might be generally described as a discussion of the issues which have divided brethren in the last twenty-five years. It differs somewhat from a debate in that no formal propositions were signed.

The book is divided into four sections: (1) The Church of Christ, Universal and Local; (2) Independent and Autonomous Congregations; (3) Cooperation In The Church; (4) The Work of the Church. Each participant in the discussion wrote an affirmative position paper and two rebuttals. The format is difficult to follow. I hope that this does not indicate the direction which some brethren are going to take toward “discussions.” Some who have become too refined for debates are wanting discussions. The “improved” format, from my point of view, leaves more to be desired than the old format of debates. At least in the debates, one could relate the second speech to the first and so on through the debate; in this format, the articles are sometimes separated by two or more intervening articles, making the course of the discussion more difficult to follow. I am not aware of who was responsible for the arrangement of the discussion, but I would like to voice my opinion about it in hopes that this arrangement will not become the norm.

The Universal Church

The opening subject was the concept of the universal church and the local church. Brother Turner affirmed that the units in the universal church are saints. He stated that there is no such thing as a work given to the universal church as an organized entity and there are no officers in the universal church.

In a somewhat surprising affirmation, brother Cogdell openly affirmed that the universal church is composed of all of the local churches. He wrote,

In other words, the individual congregations were constituent parts of the church of God (p. 15).

The various states of the Union comprise the United States and all of the states are equal components of the United States, each one autonomous and absolutely independent of all the other states, just as the various congregations of the church comprise one great congregation, and they are all under one-federal head – Jesus Christ (p. 18).

If the Scriptures teach anything at all, they teach that the local congregation is a part and manifestation of the one true universal and eternal church . . . . According to the Scriptures, the local congregation is a unit of the one true and universal Church (p. 25).

These quotations demonstrate that brother Cogdell holds and defends the very concept of the universal church which Alexander Campbell held in promoting and defending the American Christian Missionary Society. Campbell wrote,

. . . In achieving this, it will require the cooperation of the brotherhood not only of one congregation, but sometimes of more than’one congregation; nay, of all the congregations in a given district. In other words it will require, on some occasions, all the talents, all the means possessed by all the disciples in a given district, to wage a successful war against infidelity, atheism, sensuality, and all that leads men captive to destruction. That it is the duty of churches to co-operate in every thing beyond the individual achievements of a particular congregation, we shall now 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. But although reason and the nature of things make this apparent, it must pass for nothing as respects the conscience, if we cannot show that in the apostolic churches such co-operation existed, that it was a pan of the means adopted by the authority of the Lord for the furtherance of the gospel C’The Co-operation of Churches, No. 1, ” Millennial Harbinger [May 183 11. pp. 237-238).

Brother Cogdell’s concept of the church universal, like that of Alexander Campbell, is that the universal Church is composed of all of the local congregations.

Churches With A Common Treasury

A second point of this discussion which was of interest was the position that several congregations could have a common treasury. Brother Cogdell affirmed that the church at Jerusalem was composed of many congregations. Then he affirmed that these small congregations had one common treasury. He wrote,

The model church in Jerusalem was made up of perhaps 10,000 people (5,OW men alone, Acts 4:4). Since every New Testament church of which we have any record met in someone’s home rather than in a church building (Acts 2:46; Rom. 16:5.14,15; 1 Cor. 16:19; Phile. 2; Col. 4:15), and since, under any circumstances, there was no building in Jerusalem that would even begin to accommodate more than a fraction of the number of people who belonged to the Jerusalem church, it is reasonable to assume that there were many congregations in Jerusalem. These many conSregations had a common treasury (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). Furthermore, they worked together as one body, as is fully shown by Acts chapters 2,3,4 and by the council at Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15:5-29 (p. 37).

The implications of these statements are far reaching. All of the local congregations could have a common treasury and work through one congregation. I fail to see how brother Cogdell could oppose the organizational ar_ rangements of the Christian Science and Catholic Churches in respect to the fact that both groups have all of the local congregations functioning through one local church.

Any Form Of Church Cooperation

In the articles relating to cooperation in the church, brother Gaston Cogdell wrote,

The Lord desires and demands that His people work with each other in every way possible. Because He has not said how we are to work together, just as He has not said how we are to preach and teach the word, or how we are to sing His praises, we know that any way we do it is pleasing to Him, just as long as we do it, and do not violate any of His other commandments in so doing (pp. 58-59).

Here brother Cogdell affirms that there is no pattern of church co-operation. If there is no pattern of church cooperation, there can be no violation of a pattern; where there is no law, there can be no transgression (Rom. 4:15). Hence, any form of church co-operation which does not violate some moral principle would be scriptural.

If there is no pattern of church co-operation, the form of church co-operation practiced in the American Chnistian Missionary Society would be scriptural. Furthermore, the Baptist association of churches would also be scriptural, as would also be the form of church co-operation used by every denomination in the world.

Where Does The Bible Say Not To?

The Christian Church used the argument, “Where does the Bible say not to?” with reference to instrumental music in worship and church supported missionary societies. Brother Cogdell used the same argument in his defense of sponsoring church forms of church organization. He wrote.

And this is exactly what Satan has done, so that many congregations of the Lord’s church not only will not cooperate with each other, but actually regard such cooperation as a sin, and disfellowship all those congregations which do cooperate with each other in various joint endeavors.

On what scriptural basis do the non-congregational-cooperation brethren propound this strange doctrine?. Since Brother Turner represents that position, I will ask him the following question: (1) Please cite just one passage of scripture which directly or indirectly forbids congregations of the Lord’s church from working together on joint endeavors of a benevolent or evangelistic nature? (p. 59).

Brother Cogdell’s request for a specific prohibition reminds us of the Christian Church argument regarding instrumental music.


I would like to commend brother Robert Turner for a commendable job in defending the truth in this discussion. Furthermore, I would like to recommend this book to our brethren. The statements which brother Cogdell made win surely be of historical importance in marking the departure in the thinking of our liberal brethren. His open admissions regarding some of the concepts which we have charged liberal brethren with holding demonstrate the widening chasm which separates us from one another. The differences in our concepts regarding the universal church, church cooperation and the work of the church make fellowship with one another impossible.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 20, pp. 610, 612
October 20, 1983