By Norman Midgette
The Bible teaches that each congregation is independent and separate in organization, work, responsibility and judgment from all other congregations. There is no exception to this in the New Testament. By example this is what we see when we read the different letters written to the various churches in the first century.
Over each congregation God placed elders, when there were men qualified, to oversee His work, worship and people in that church. God addressed elders through Peter in these words:
The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who also am a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint but willingly, according to the will of God . . (1 Pet. 5:1,2).
The scope of the authority of elders is either limited or unlimited. They can oversee any Christians or churches any place or they are limited with a boundary placed on their oversight. This statement by God in I Peter limits their work to one flock, “the flock of God which is among you.”
This means that no eldership can oversee any church nor any work of any church outside the border or boundary of their “flock.” It would not matter whether they overstepped this divine boundary by force or were asked by another church to oversee their work voluntarily, or asked another church to let them oversee all or part of their work, it would still be sin and a violation of the above Scripture.
As long as brethren believed this and functioned within the framework given by God we never had a “sponsoring church” or “sponsoring eldership” pushing such programs as the Herald Of Truth, World Radio and World Bible Schools. Today elderships have sprung up over the brotherhood taking the oversight of millions of dollars from thousands of elderships over the world and admitting they are overseeing works for the “Churches of Christ.”
Some years ago the wind shifted and a new interpretation was put on 1 Peter 5:1-2 and church autonomy or self rule. Here is how the elders at the Highland Church in Abilene, Texas, who oversee the Herald of Truth, justify their world wide oversight of part of the work and money of every church in the brotherhood who will send to them.
In their publication, Decade of Development, they raised this question: “How can congregations cooperate and still maintain their autonomy?” Here is their answer.
Autonomy briefly means, that the Highland church should not tell other congregations what to do; neither is the Highland church under the authority of any other congregation. Any evangelism, any benevolence or worship that we can do as individual congregations, we can do together, as long as such cooperation is voluntary.
This may seem a small change to some but what it really does is totally abandon the teaching of 1 Peter 5:1,2 as to the limits of oversight God gave each eldership. By this definition, if all elderships in the brotherhood voluntarily agreed they could make one eldership the overseer of all the worship, work, discipline and money of all the churches in the world.
You either accept the stipulation of God or your next step is the approval of an organizational structure that rivals that of Rome or any other church with a single world headquarters.
The major apostasies that have occurred over organization in the past five decades in the church have come about as a result of brethren gullibly accepting this perverted interpretation of what God said. They totally ignore the limitation placed on an eldership by the Lord. As a result, every division in the body of Christ that has taken place, and there have been many, over projects like the Herald of Truth and similar sponsoring church programs, is the fault of these men who have changed what God said. They have perverted the truth, divided the body of Christ, and continued today in their self-appointed pattern for the organization of the churches. Any church or individual supporting the Herald of Truth is backing an apostate organization of the first order.
When the wind shifted in the minds of brethren on 1 Peter 5:1,2, it shifted 180 degrees. They totally negated this passage by adding one word, “voluntary,” and by this they voluntarily abandoned the truth on the organization of the churches. This is one example of how brethren will twist the Scriptures to justify their projects and the damage that results seems to them of little concern.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 3, p. 85
February 5, 1987