Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 19, 1959

What About The Brotherhood?

Bill Fling, East Long Beach, California

In the past few years, much has been said about "the brotherhood". Perhaps we should know more about this brotherhood. This article hopes to get before us a clearer conception of what the term implies.

(1) What is the "brotherhood"? The word is found in I Pet. 2:17 and in the footnote of I Pet. 5:9. Thayer says it means a band of brothers i.e. of Christians; "Christian brethren." In this sense it applies to all the children of God, the church universal.

(2) "Love the Brotherhood". (I Pet. 2:17) This is a command often repeated by inspiration. It must be extremely important. Love is not to be limited to the brethren where I worship; I must love my brethren, the brotherhood, no matter what their color, culture or peculiarities.

In this same connection, we should remember that the brotherhood must endure the same afflictions or sufferings you and I do. It is through these common afflictions that God perfects and strengthens us. (I Pet. 5:9,10). It is noteworthy that these two activities, loving and suffering, are the only activities listed as activities of the "brotherhood". Individual Christians are found in the New Testament doing many other things, and churches in their singular capacity perform other duties, but as a brotherhood these two things are all we find. This brings us to another question;

(3) What about "organizing the brotherhood"? The local church was organized under explicit direction of the apostles, but the church universal or the brotherhood was left unorganized by the same apostles. During the apostasy, the brotherhood was organized for "more effective work" under the Roman bishop, the Pope. Within the restoration movement of the 1900's the brotherhood was again organized into a working body. This organization was first statewide in state missionary societies, but it evolved into a United Christian Missionary Society. What had been done was what the apostles had left undone. They had organized the "brotherhood". The question is "why?" It was done to;

(4) Activate the brotherhood. Men with vision saw all of those local and independent churches and began to think of all the good that could be done if they were organized to work as a unit. They saw the brotherhood as a sleeping giant that needed to be activated. The work of each Christian or of each local church meant nothing — even the cumulative effect of thousands of churches, working independently, meant nothing to them. They were looking at things on a "grander scale"; they were thinking "BIG" and planning on "BIG THINGS". But to concentrate or unify the action and power of the brotherhood required a central unit or agency through which it could function. No matter what that agency would have been, an eldership or "board of directors", the purpose of activating the brotherhood would have been accomplished. You see, then, that their basic mistake was in their thinking, in THINKING BIG. They were thinking in terms BIGGER than God had provided them with. The apostolic plan was plain, simple and small. The largest unit or agency He provided was the local church under her elders, her own elders.

After several decades, the same problem came up again. During the discussions of 1934 Brother W. E. Brightwell offered the following proposition;

"I submit this proposition: Any individual Christian, or group of individuals smaller than a local church; or any individual church itself that begins thinking in terms of what the WHOLE BROTHERHOOD should do, (emphasis mine, BF) and goes or sends somebody to the churches to see that they do it, and ACTS AS AN AGENT OR AGENCY THROUGH WHICH THE BROTHERHOOD DOES IT, thereby constitutes itself a full-grown, blown in-the-bottle, fourteen-karat missionary society of the deepest dye! There is no way on earth to whitewash it. There is no city of refuge where he may hide from God's displeasure. To call it something else, or to leave it unnamed, is a mere technical dodge. It is not condemned because it is similar to a missionary society, but because it VIOLATES THE SAME FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE the society violates — namely, the initiative and autonomy of the local congregation." (Gospel Advocate, 12-20-34, p. 1223)

(5) What happened before is happening today; some are attempting to activate the brotherhood. In one case the brotherhood, hundreds of churches, are activated through a single eldership. In another case, churches are activated through a "board of directors" to provide care for orphans. What shall we do about it? Each one must make his decision, but as for me, what the apostles have left undone, I will leave undone. And God help us all to "love the brotherhood."