By Johnny Stringer
This debate occurred largely because of the desire of Kent Bailey, preacher for the institutional church in Lenoir City, Tennessee. Brother Bailey recognizes the need for scriptural authority and recognizes that he is much closer to us than he is to many in the institutional churches. In fact, many institutional churches consider Kent to be an “anti.”
Through Kent’s efforts, the elders in the Lenior City church decided to permit a four-night debate to be held in their building. They are to be commended. They chose Glenn B. Ramsay, vice-president of Tennessee Bible College, Cookeville, Tennessee, to represent their position. The elders of the West Knoxville church asked L.A. Stauffer, preacher for the Kirkwood church in the St. Louis area, to represent their conservative position. Kent Bailey moderated for brother Ramsay; Greg Gwin, preacher for the West Knoxville church, moderated for brother Stauffer.
Propositions For The First Two Nights
On Monday night L.A. Stauffer affirmed and Glenn Ramsay denied: “The Scriptures teach that a New Testament church, when supporting an evangelist out of its treasury, may only send wages directly to the evangelist.”
On Tuesday night, Glenn Ramsay affirmed and L.A. Stauffer denied: “The Scriptures teach that one New Testament church may financially assist (with money from its treasury) another New Testament church in the preaching of the gospel.”
The point at issue in these propositions is whether one church may oversee a work for many churches. A church which receives funds from other churches so that it can oversee the use of those funds in doing evangelistic work is normally called a “sponsoring church.” Brother Ramsay, however, refused to accept that designation and vigorously protested that he was not defending a sponsoring church.
All of brother Ramsay’s protestations notwithstanding, a church doing what brother Ramsay’s proposition says it may do is what brethren generally call a sponsoring church. Rejecting that designation does not make the arrangement any more scriptural.
Ramsay’s Two Main Arguments
Brother Ramsay used the old argument that the Philippian church was a sponsoring church. He took the untenable position that 2 Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15 refer to the same occasion, and that the churches mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11 (Berea and Thessalonica, he said) sent money to the church at Philippi, which then sent the money to Paul in Corinth.
Brother Stauffer ably showed that these were two different times and situations. He stressed that it would not even make good geographical sense for churches in Berea and Thessalonica, which were closer to Corinth than Philippi was, to send money over a hundred miles up to Philippi, so the church there could send it back down to Corinth. And how ungracious it would have been for Paul to give credit only to the Philippians (Phil. 4) when other churches had actually given the money.
Brother Ramsay’s other main argument was that churches in the New Testament sent benevolence to other churches. He believes that if a church could send benevolence to another church, it could send money for evangelism to another church.
Brother Stauffer pointed out the difference. When churches sent to the church in Jerusalem, it was for “their want” (2 Cor. 8:14); it was to satisfy the particular need of the Jerusalem church. It was not so that the Jerusalem church could oversee a work for the sending churches.
When churches send to another church for evangelism, however, it is not to meet the particular need of that church; rather, that church is overseeing a work which all the sending churches have an obligation to perform. It is, therefore, overseeing a work for all the church.
Propositions for the Last Two Nights
On Thursday night Ulerm Ramsay affirmed and L.A. Stauffer denied: “The Scriptures teach that a New Testament church, in its benevolent work, may use money from its treasury to support both saints and non-saints.”
On Friday night L.A. Stauffer affirmed and Glenn Ramsay denied: “The Scriptures teach that a New Testament church, in its benevolent work, may use money from its treasury to support only needy saints.”
Both men agreed that the issue is not what the individual may do, but what the local church may do. Both recognized that there is a distinction.
Brother Ramsay’s discussion of this passage was amazing. Those of us who hold to the position that brother Stauffer does have always pointed out that James 1:27 is discussing individual activity. James is talking to brethren about responsibilities we have as individuals – things we do distributively rather than collectively.
To my astonishment, Glenn Ramsay stood and labored at length proving that very point I He stressed that brethren are addressed (v. 19), showing that the instructions were to the group. Then he forcefully argued that in this passage, the action of the group is distributed to the individual. He talked much about the “distributive principle,” thereby arguing brother Stauffer’s case for him.
An Unscriptural Rule
The brethren represented by brother Ramsay do not believe that the church can do anything an individual can do. Yet, they want the local church to fulfill some responsibilities that the Scriptures have given the individual. This means they must have some way of determining which passages regarding individuals are applicable to the church.
Here is their rule: If an individual has a responsibility which is based on the peculiar grounds that he is a Christian, then that responsibility can be fulfilled by the local church.
I do not know who made up that rule. I do not believe it was the Lord, because I have His Book and it’s not in there. Brother Ramsay did not explain how one decides whether or not a particular individual responsibility is based on the peculiar grounds that one is a Christian. One could be rather arbitrary in that decision. To my surprise, brother Ramsay said that the responsibility to do good to all men (Gal. 6:10) is not based on the peculiar grounds that one is a Christian. Hence, Galatians 6:10 was eliminated as a text to sustain his position.
All involved in this debate are to be commended for their willingness to discuss issues over which we disagree. I believe brother Stauffer ably defended the truth.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 19, pp. 589, 598
October 2, 1986