Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1964
NUMBER 13, PAGE 1,12

Compendium Of Issues (III.)

Foy E. Wallace, Jr.

The Cooperation Question

The definition of "cooperation" and "cooperative" in my dictionary is "working together for common ends; concurrence." Business firms can concur in matters of civic obligations and work together for the same ends without surrendering their identity to one firm and all the others working through it. Nor is it essential to cooperation, "working together for the same ends," for all the churches to send their missionary money to the elders of one church to do their work for them.

The references that have been made to "co-operative gospel" meetings held and to be held in some of our cities do not parallel the missionary programs of these brotherhood elderships. If the eldership of a church in a Texas city should siphon funds from churches everywhere to sponsor a "co-operative" meeting in Oklahoma City — that would be a start on thawing a parallel. There is a width of difference between local cooperation and centralized brotherhood elder-ships, but even so, in any local effort where more than one church is involved there are certain principles that should be observed. It has not been denied, so far as I know, that contributions can be made to a church to assist in a work being done where it is and where its elders are elders.

But every article of late with even an attempt to deal with this issue has referred to the case of Antioch in Acts 11:29-30 as a solid example of what is being done. Even a casual reading of the case will reveal the loose thinking and careless writing in evidence in some of the papers.

The passage reads: 'Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." The first thing to observe is that the disciples in Antioch sent the relief to the elders where the brethren dwelt in Judea. One writer said the Antioch disciples sent the money to the church in Judea — no, that is not what it says. As well talk about the disciples in Tennessee sending something to the church in Texas. There were churches in Judea: "the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus." (I Thess. 2:14). The passage in Acts states that the disciples in Antioch sent relief to the brethren that dwelt in Judea, and sent it to the elders, obviously where the brethren that needed the relief dwelt. There is not so much as an intimation in this passage that money was sent to the elders of the church at Jerusalem. It merely states that relief was sent to the brethren that dwelt in "Judea," and that it was sent to the "elders" by Barnabas and Saul. What elders? The elders in "Judea." Where in Judea? The elders where the brethren dwelt. So the passage certainly does specify what elders and where. Acts 11:2930 is not a case in point for what some brethren are promoting in the way of a general eldership as a board of benevolence and missions for all the churches.

Comes now a writer of some note who thinks he has proved that Paul delivered all of the funds to the elders of the Jerusalem church, who acted as elders for all the other churches in this administration of funds. His method is this: Paul went from where he was to Jerusalem; then Paul returned to where he was from Jerusalem; therefore, Paul went nowhere except Jerusalem! But the facts are that Paul was in Judea on this trip for many months, and McGarvey points out that he toured Judea, going among the churches rendering his personal service in connection with this emergency, going in and out of Jerusalem all of this period of time It is certainly a thin premise and a slim conclusion upon which to predicate an argument, to say that Paul went to Jerusalem, stopped in Jerusalem and stayed in Jerusalem, when the text itself states that the relief was for "the brethren that dwelt in Judea" (not Jerusalem) and was sent to "the elders" (where they dwelt).

It is doubtful if the brethren who are arguing this matter have considered the consequences of their contention. If their argument is true, the elders of the Jerusalem church were ecumenical in character — that is, a general or universal eldership for the whole church. Are they ready to accept such a conclusion? If so, then instead of local elders now, let us have a general eldership in each state, subject to an ecumenical eldership somewhere else, and settle all our disputes! There were elders in every city (Titus 1:5), and in every church (Acts 14:23) including the churches in Judea (Gal. 1:22; I Thess. 2:14), and it is an assertion unwarranted and unsupported that disciples in various parts of the world, including Antioch, sent their funds to a diocesan eldership in Jerusalem for Ian Judea or anywhere else.

What the advocates of brotherhood elderships need but cannot show, is one or both of two things: First, where the church in Antioch solicited the churches over all the world to send their money to Judea to the elders at Antioch — so they in turn could sponsor the relief work in far-away Judea. That would be a solid example.

But the facts are that when the disciples in other parts of the world, such as Antioch, sent relief to the brethren in Judea they sent it to the elders of the church where the brethren dwelt that needed the relief — and that is exactly what is stated in Acts 11:29-30.

Besides all of this, the passage says that relief was sent to the "brethren" in Judea; and Paul's itinerary was for the "saints" in Jerusalem. There is no precept for nor example of the church undertaking to feed the world.

The practice that many brethren are now advocating calls for a diocesan eldership. Bulky accounts, solicited from all of the churches of the nation are deposited in their local treasuries, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These churches have in effect become banking institutions. with huge payrolls, involving many jobs, and promotional projects all the way from grade schools to medical centers, with all that such projects involve, in equipment, laboratories, doctors and nurses and school teachers, all under the oversight of a local eldership in another part of the world! Truly we need to learn all over again what the work of the church is, and how to scripturally do it.

There is yet another phase to this discussion. What about small churches that desire to have part in "missionary work" but are unable to support a preacher alone, or a "program" of their own? The answer to this supposed difficulty applies to the preaching of the gospel at home as well as abroad, there can be no difference in the principle involved. Let us make the application. There are scores of small churches in the State of Arkansas that cannot support an evangelist to preach the gospel in their own county. So the eldership of a church in Oklahoma City (another State) proposes that all of these Arkansas churches send their limited contributions to the elders of this Oklahoma church, who in turn select and oversee an evangelist to do the preaching in Arkansas for all of these small churches in that state. This is an example of what is being done by some missionary sponsoring churches among us.

Still another application. The state of Texas needs evangelizing. There are scores of small churches that cannot support a full time evangelist. So the elders of one church in Dallas or Fort Worth propose to all the churches to concentrate their funds in the one eldership which in turn will oversee a "state evangelist." That is another example of what is being done in principle by these sponsoring missionary churches with their centralized elderships.

The deductions set forth in the foregoing examples are the exact arguments used by the digressives years ago to justify the "state evangelists." The only difference is that they appointed a board of missions out of several churches, and we have a self-appointed board of missions in the eldership of one church. In either case it destroys the autonomy of the local church in doing its work, and develops elders of a local church into diocesan bishops.

When we criticize these deviations from New Testament principles in the organization and work of the church it does not mean that we oppose the work. All of the effort to foment feeling and plant prejudice against men who plead for adherence to the "stipulated conditions of the New Testament" by charges that we are anti-foreign-missionary, anti-Christian education, and anti-cooperation will not prevail in the end. Many sober minded brethren are already seeing the light on these issues, and many others will as we shall continue to set forth these principles. It is the same battle over the same issues that had to be fought fifty years ago. If elders of a local church can function in a general administration of the affairs of many churches in one thing, what bars them from doing so in all things, benevolence, missions, discipline? That being the case, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Catholics can all justify their ecclesiastical forms of church government, and we will have surrendered the whole ground on the organization of the church of Christ.

— TORCH, August, 1950