By Bill H. Reeves
The age-old question is this: shall it be the autonomous local church, according to Divine Wisdom, or centralization (with attending institutionalism), according to human wisdom?
History is replete with examples of promotions of centralization. In the first centuries there was a movement away from the New Testament picture of churches of Christ, led by their elders (Acts 14:23), and being the only entity for collective action, to a distin6tion between the terms “bishop” and “elder,” and then on to the elevation of the bishops over the elders, of metropolitan bishops over those of smaller areas, and finally of a pope over all. In the last century the movement of centralization revolved around the missionary society. A number of these sprang up, and finally they were merged into the United Christian Missionary Society.
Again, in this century, the same mistake is being propagated. After the Second World War, a crop of “sponsoring churches” (centralization at work!) was soon in evidence. As in the past, when a large number of entities are seen to be overlapping in their work and financing, engaged in the same general work, the practicality of human wisdom dictates that the next step be amalgamation. This leads to “efficiency” (as well as to tighter control from headquarters). So, the next step in the U.S. among the liberal churches of Christ will be the formation of some kind of national conference or association of the many sponsoring churches. The specter of the Missionary Society has kept this from happening so far, but as respect for authority lessens in the land, and “Book-chapter-and verse” preaching is heard less and less, a new generation will be insistent upon “nationalizing” our efforts. After nationalization, of course, comes universal oversight, and we have then arrived at Rome! The time for this is not ripe (expedient) just yet in the U.S., given the Anglo mentality, or outlook.
However, in Latin-America (Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador), the nationalized church already exists! The American liberal churches, which sponsor “the work” (as they unscripturally conceive the matter) in these countries, are fully aware of the phenomenon, and support it. As for the U.S., it simply is not expedient just yet to promote such! The Latin mentality is ripe for such a promotion, given the conditioning of the Latin mind by the “strong man concept” of their histories, in their dictators and in the Catholic priests of their churches. They are fully accustomed to centralized domination.
It is my conviction that the American liberal churches are using the “foreign field” (“mission fields”) as a place to soften the Anglo mind and to establish precedents for future moves within the U.S. The “Church of Christ Hospital” will come shortly, now that for years “we have had Church of Christ clinics” in other countries. With the church nationalized in other countries, why not here? (Of course I’m not a prophet, but I do read history.)
National Corporation of the Church of Christ
The following page is a translation of a letter sent by the President of the nationalized church in the Dominican Republic. Note the officers and titles of the Board of Directors. Conservative churches in that country, which refuse to participate in the National Church, have been threatened by liberal brethren there for using the term “Church of Christ” (on signs, on buildings, etc.), saying that it is illegal. Note the “third request.” The “sixth” says that the 50 or more local churches are independent, but the “fifth” threatens any that breaks the statutes of the corporation!
In February of ’88 the Shenendoah church of Christ (a more conservative, liberal church) in San Antonio, TX had a lectureship on liberalism and digression, and hosted a two-day debate between brother Jack Holt of Sinton, TX and brother Buster Dobbs of Houston, TX, on the “Sponsoring-church” issue. In this debate the following two transparencies (prepared by brother Wayne Partain) were presented by brother Holt. The only reply made by brother Dobbs was that he did not approve of abuses!
Note the chart in the next column
1. A church in Houston, TX, receiving money from other churches, sponsors a “work.” It is in Honduras, C.A. This is done through its “Minister of Missions” (brother Harris Goodwin), who at the same time is the President of the “Church of Christ of the Republic of Honduras.” Brother Harris Goodwin (the one who in 1945 urged me and brother Partain to go to Mexico to preach in Spanish!) is also the head of the Baxter Institute in the capital city of Honduras, Tegucigalpa.
Sponsoring Churches Produce The Nationalized Church of Christ
Many Churches, Individuals, Send to Garden Oaks Church of Christ Houston, Texas
So It Can Sponsor Work, Honduras
Through Its Minister of Missions, Who Is
President, Board of Directors of the Corporation Called
“Church of Christ of the Republic of Honduras”
Whose Stated Purpose Is to Establish and Maintain:
Churches, A Publishing House,
Schools, Charitable Organizations
To Develop the Whole Man: Spiritually, Socially, Economically
The Tree Is Known By Its Fruit Sponsoring Church Fruit:
1. Churches pay monthly quota to church of Christ corporation in El Salvador
2. Nationwide council meetings: preachers, leaders, decide for churches, Nicaragua
3. “Organization of church not limited to local congregation.”D. Shappley, P. Rico
4. Juan Monroy, Spain, fellowships denominations. Principle organizer of 5th Denomination Congress
What Happens If Oppose Sponsoring Church?
1. Can’t own property as church of Christ
2. Can’t use name church of Christ
3. No more Bibles, songbooks, tracts, literature
4. Accused of being anti-cups, classes. etc.
5. If go hear anti’s, don’t come back here!
6. Letter to government, Dominican Republic, urges no privileges (tax exemption) for churches not authorized by national church of Christ corporation
7. Threat of arrest in Venezuela if preach, establish churches of Christ
8. Accused of being with contras, Nicaragua
1. In El Salvador, the member-churches of the national body pay monthly quotas for operating the machinery of the organization.
2. In Nicaragua there is a national council, made up of preachers, who make decisions for the churches which belong to the national body.
3. In a public debate in Puerto Rico several years ago, brother Dewayne Shappley argued that there are two divine organizations, not just one. I put on the board “local church” and a passage (Phil. 1:1) and then asked him to put in a blank just below Philippians 1:1 the passage which speaks of it. The debate terminated without his attempting to fill in the blanks! He was contending that the messengers of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23) were an “organization”‘ which answers today to a group of preachers who promote a project and call upon churches everywhere to finance them! Following the formal debate each night, the audience was permitted to ask questions. One asked: If a church refuses to send to the project of the preachers, does it sin? (Of course, it would if the organization is a divine one.) For five minutes or so brother Shappley dodged the question, which required a simple yes or no, and never answered. Again, the same brother put to him the same question. This time he talked a few minutes, and finally said, “No.” He had to admit that his “second organization” wasn’t very divine!
4. Brother Juan Monroy in Spain, fellowships Protestant denominations. He is active in promoting denominational congresses in Spain. This is all very well known by many liberal preachers and churches in the U.S., but they still fellowship, support, and use him widely, specially in “global campaigns” and graduating exercises of brotherhood preacher-schools.
6. In El Salvador, a preacher went to the “headquarters” of the national body to get more songbooks, supplied to the headquarters from U.S. liberal churches. He was told that he would no longer be given songbooks, since he and the church where he preached were allowing the “antis” to visit them and speak. (A number of individuals in the U.S. have since made available to conservative brethren in El Salvador songbooks for use in the-services.) Such is an example of the control exercised by national bodies, in spite of their denials to be controlling the churches.
7. Liberal leaders tell their converts that the “antis” don’t use individual cups in the service of the Lord’s Supper, that we don’t have Bible classes in the church building,”and other such lies, in order to prejudice minds.
8. In a letter dated May 10, 1989 brother Ruben Amador, of Houston, TX, who had just returned from Venezuela, writes: Bob “Brown, faced with the loss of the churches in Barquisimeto and Caracas and several of the preachers in these areas, accused me before the men present . . . of entering Venezuela illegally. (Claiming civil, exclusive right over who can invite preachers to enter Venezuela, they claim that any preacher entering otherwise is entering illegally.) He said that he had no other alternative but to report me to the immigration officials to stop my entry into Venezuela. This will be the second time My name will be reported to the government officials if Brown goes through with his plan.”
9. Brother Wayne Partain, of San Antonio, TX was accused by liberal “leaders” in Nicaragua of being with the Contras, and therefore he had to appear before a government official to explain his presence in Nicaragua (to preach the gospel).
The following is my translation of a letter of December 12, 1987, sent from Barquisimeto, Venezuela:
“Gentlemen Ministers and Assistant Leaders:
The block of Ministers of the Church of Christ of the West Central Region, in their two reunions this year, have established the need as a Civil Association (corporation, or body politic – BHR) for National Statutes that would give it the structure of a National Church, inasmuch as the Church is established in nearly all of the country.
“In like manner that a National Directory be determined, with its functions, and also the Administrative and Juridical-Legal profile of the local Churches as members of the National Civil Association and as entities administratively autonomous.
“In our purpose of contributing our collaboration in the matter, we have consulted with expert lawyers in the matter and have detected that the present registry is local, of the city of Caracas, and has no profile for the member churches.
“Understanding that the Church now is National, it is for that reason that we present to you this preliminary draft of the National Statutes for your revision and acquisition, since it is a legal necessity with which we have to comply as a National Civil Association, which is provided in the laws of the country.
“This preliminary draft is realized on the reform of the registry of the Church of Caracas.
“Enclosed is a copy of the described draft.”
“Grateful for the attention given to the present, we subscribe to you, Attentively, Ministers of the block of Churches of the West Central Region.”
Some brethren in Venezuela have been questioning the scripturalness of the National Constitution. They have been taught the truth on the authority, the organization and the work of the local church. But they have been told recently that all this was simply a “manner or method” of doing the work land that no violation of the Scripture is being committed. (These mature Christians, who are questioning the scripturalness of it all, are the ones opening doors of opportunity for us to encourage them in their, battle against liberalism. Brother Wayne Partain and I have preached in Venezuela in recent years, brother Ruben Amador has gone twice this year, and brother Joe Soto is to go there again even as I write).
Sunday, May 14, of this year, brother Harris Goodwin, from Garden Oaks church in Houston, TX, editor of a Spanish, religious journal, director of the Baxter Preachers School in Honduras, and director of the National Church in Honduras, was to be in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Because of this visit brother Bob Brown and the other national zone leaders (“missionaries”) had invited all of the churches in Caracas to meet as one church in “Central Park. ” Nearly all of the liberal churches had agreed to their proposal. But one congregation in Caracas, already disenchanted with the National Church concept, refused to give in to the demands of the national leaders, and were going ahead with their services as usual. The national leaders are beginning to call this church “antis.”
In Ecuador identification cards have been prepared and issued for preachers and others to use. A copy of the card is here presented.
The first four lines say: Republic of Ecuador, Identification Document, Church of Christ, Legal Entity No. 835.
The rest of side one is for the name and address, signature, etc. of the cardholder. There is also a line for his right thumb print!
On the reverse side of the card, more information is required, and the card itself is to be signed by the President and Secretary (of the church in Ecuador)!
In a letter addressed to “To Whom It May Concern,” dated February 7, 1977, Ed Sewell writes:
“I, Noyles Edward Sewell Sellman, immigrant resident in Ecuador since 1966, in the capacity of Superior Missionary (emphasis mine – BHR) of the Church of Christ, certify that I personally know Mr. Segundo Aurelio Ramos Moya as being a preacher-evangelist of the Church of Christ in Riobamba and the province of Chimborazo; and I testify that Mr. Ramos is authorized by the Church of Christ as being the one in charge of the province of Chimborazo, and who receives a monthly remuneration of the Church of Christ in the amount of six thousand sucres.”
This needs no comment!
Some U.S. liberal churches, sponsoring “works” in foreign countries, by employing the unscriptural concept of centralization, contribute to the idea of a centralized, national church.
The following information appears on the letter-head of the Forest Park church in Valdosta, GA.
On page one, note:
1. This church sets forth three main thrusts of sponsored work in Panama: Medical Technology, Christian Education, and a Cross. The gospel is last in the order! Indeed our liberal brethren are putting their own schemes before the gospel!
2. This church has two addresses: one in Valdosta, GA, and another one in a foreign country! How can this be? How can one church at the same time have a street address in the U.S. and a post-office box number in Panama? Well, it is easy, given the concept of a church in one country dominating and controlling all the churches in another country.
3. Note also the title of brother Bob Bryson. He is not one of the elders. What, then, is a “Coordinator”? Our liberal brethren never cease to surprise us with more and newer titles for their unscriptural positions.
One page two, under the general heading of Panama Missions, note:
1. This Valdosta, GA church operates a preachers’ training school to supply the churches in Panama with preachers.
2. This church sponsors (centralizes money) the financial support of preachers in Panama. I have known cases in which the preachers do not know just which church sends to their support; the sponsoring church gathers it up and sends it on.)
3. Money is sent to Panama for supporting Panamanian Medical Students. (This is where the “Medical Technology” comes in. It is the sectarian concept of evangelism through benevolence – that is, hand out the loaves and fishes, and then preach to them!)
4. This church sends money to Panama for the erecting of church buildings. This in turn makes the local churches anemic, and dependent upon the American churches to supply them meeting houses.
5. Why so many “Doctors” on the Advisory Group? And why do elders of a local church need a group of advisors, made up of men of many different places? Note the name of Julio Cruz. He was (maybe still is) the head of the Pan American Bible School in Panama City when a couple of years ago in Changuinola, Panama I presented this very material of this Valdosta, GA church’s letterhead. Brother Cruz was present in the audience, but when given the opportunity to reply, refused to open his mouth.
It all began with a church taking upon itself the assignment of doing a work beyond its own responsibility, and asking other churches to “cooperate” in a “good work,” since the “means, method and manner” didn’t matter. So was born the “Sponsoring Church.” This article shows some of the fruit of the sponsoring church. Centralization has an appetite that is never satisfied, until a global, or universal, level of control is realized.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 16, pp. 484-485, 499-501, 504
August 17, 1989