Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 26, 1951

Cooperation, A General Term

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

A great amount of error is held by many because of a failure to distinguish between general and specific terms. Sometimes the Bible uses a general term which will include many specific terms. When such is the case it is fallacious to exclude all but one of the specific terms which the general term includes. All of the specific terms included under the general term are equally authoritative, unless the Bible in another place has limited the specific terms. Note the following example of a general term. "Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel." (1 Cor. 9.14) The preacher is to receive a living from the disciples. He may receive it in the form of money; however, there was a time when much of the preacher's pay was in the form of meats and vegetables. Those things are required by him to live. Thus in that specific form he was receiving his living. A house is one of the necessities of life. The preacher may provide one for himself with money which he has received, or he may live in a house provided by his hearers. This specific matter of the house is a part of the general term "living.' When pressed for authority for doing certain things some will reply by asking where the authority is found for the church's owning a preacher's home. The authority is to be found in the above quoted passage. They must provide a living for him; the house is a part of the living; either given in the actual product or in money to provide it; and is essential to carrying out the precept. The command to teach is another case where the general term includes many specific matters. The rule is often overlooked in this matter. Some limit themselves to certain specific forms of teaching rather than accepting any form of the general command to teach which violates no other precept of the scriptures.

On the other hand, men have used general terms not in the scriptures which will include some specific terms which the Bible uses. In such practice there is danger. If we could remember to use scriptural terms in describing scriptural things and practices, many a blunder would be avoided. Why use the term "music' when speaking of that part of the worship which the scriptures describe as singing? You say it is harmless? We will see if it is, in further study. Why use the term "sponsor' when speaking of the church's carrying out its obligations? You say that it is harmless, that the term accurately describes the relationship? What word in the New Testament would you replace by the word "sponsor' if you were making a translation? Why use the term "cooperation" when talking about the scriptural practice of one church helping another in need, and of a plurality of churches supporting an evangelist? You say that it is harmless, and that the word accurately describes the scriptural practice? What passage would be as well translated by supplying the word "cooperation' instead of the words which our present translations contain? I am not denying that the scriptural practices are cooperation, but I am doubting the advisability of using a general term to describe specific practice which the New Testament teaches. Let us study some examples of error that some have fallen into by a use of general terms in defining specific terms used in the Bible.

The original Greek word for "baptize' sometimes is translated "wash." (Mark 7.4) The specific term if translated would be "immerse." The general term which includes immersion is "wash,' hence its use in some passages. Those who pour and sprinkle have argued that since washing can be done also by pouring or sprinkling, it is proper to sprinkle or pour in baptism. They have committed an error in reasoning by confusing the general and specific terms. Immersion, pouring, and sprinkling are three specific ways of washing they claim; three ways of baptizing. Surely, the person who is immersed is washed; the general term includes the specific. But the person who is washed is not necessarily immersed, for water might be poured on him to wash him. Pouring is not immersion. Sprinkling is not immersion. Green-English lexicons point out that baptism primarily (specifically) means to immerse. It is correct to say that baptism is washing, because one who is immersed is washed. There is danger, though, in substituting the general term "wash" for the specific term; many, like the Pedo-baptists, will draw the conclusion that they can pour or sprinkle in carrying out the command of God. God did not command the general term "wash," he commanded the specific thing, "immersion," which the word "baptize" primarily means.

The command is to sing. (Col. 3.16) Singing is included under the general term "music.' When the person sings he is making music. But not all music is singing. The instrument playing folk would like for the general term to be used instead of the specific, then they could say that they have authority for their instruments, for that would be making music. They reason that way anyhow; saying that the Bible authorizes music in praise to God, therefore they are authorized to play the instrument. Every preacher of the gospel knows the fallacy in that argument. He knows that the specific term "sing" does not include the term "play." Music includes both. But the Bible does not say "music." It is improper and dangerous to substitute the general term "music" for the more specific term "sing.'

Some of the preachers and writers who can see the fallacies mentioned above cannot see any harm in using the term "sponsor' for the specific terms of paying "wages" to the evangelist (2 Cor. 11.8), and "distribution" to those in need (Acts 4.35; Rom. 12.13), and many other specific terms used in the scriptures. There is a danger being manifested in their teachings and practices of today. When they get so broad and general as to substitute the general term "sponsor' for the terms used in the scriptures, they lose sight of those specific terms, and begin to reason that they can do anything included under the term "sponsor." When their practice is questioned they begin to argue that the Bible teaches "sponsorship." They accuse those who question their practices of not believing in "sponsorship.' Yes, we believe that, just like we believe that baptism is washing, and singing is music; but we do not believe in their practices any more than we believe sprinkling is baptism or playing an instrument is singing. They are making the mistake of reasoning from the specific terms used in the scriptures, to some general terms, and then to other specific things which the scriptures do not authorize. If they would keep their speech according to the words and terms of the scriptures they would not fall into such blunders.

Because a plurality of churches gave wages to Paul (2 Cor. 11.8), brethren a few years ago decided that the Bible taught "cooperation." From there they reasoned that such cooperation should be systematic. Hence, the missionary society, with all of its super organization and rapacity for funds. It is true that there was cooperation in those churches' sending to Paul. But let us remember that the Bible does not use that general term. Let us not lose sight of the fact that many things belong to the general term "cooperation' which are not authorized by the scriptures. They ceased speaking of scriptural things in scriptural terms. They generalized themselves away from the plain statements of scripture and set their course into specific things unauthorized in, and not commanded by, the scriptures.

Today we are hearing again the echoing cry for "cooperation" in "mission work.' Some are already substituting the term "cooperation" for the specific teaching of the scriptures so that they have forgotten what the New Testament really teaches in the matter. They are beginning to try to justify their practices by the term "cooperation' instead of proving their position and practice by the teaching of the scriptures. Look at their arguments in the papers of the last two years. There are dozens of articles written with the express purpose of "proving' that the Bible teaches "cooperation.' Why prove that? All believe that it does; in the same way that it teaches music, and washing for baptism. They are general terms which include the specific things taught in the scriptures. The sprinkler cannot justify sprinkling for baptism by such a procedure. The player of instruments cannot justify playing instead of singing by such fallacious reasoning. Neither can the "centralized eldership" justify "centralized control of mission work" instead of churches sending wages to the evangelist, by such a "specific term—to general term—to a different specific term" fallacious argument. One could as easily prove that an oak is an elm because both are trees.

We also have a mania for "cooperation' of churches in caring for orphans and old folk. Some who ought to know better are anxious to include themselves on the "cooperation" bandwagon. Why should a Christian care whether he takes a stand for "cooperation" or not? The scriptures do not use the term. Are the scriptures not adequate to supply us with words to describe us and our duties? I am aware of the fact that the disciples of Antioch sent relief to the brethren of Judea sending it to the elders. (Acts 11.29) If that is cooperation then it is just fine with me. But I am not anxious to get blue in the face yelling that I believe in cooperation just to appease some brethren who would justify anything included under that general term. We need to learn that the scriptures do not authorize cooperation per se, but some specific things which might be included under the generic term. Advocates of the orphan homes and other institutions reason that we must have these institutions in order to have cooperation. Well, where did the Lord say we must have cooperation? He teaches that one church is to help another when it is in need, but he has not said that we must cooperate by all the churches contributing to institutions. It makes no difference whether the institution is within or without the local congregation, as is the varying practice with orphanages. These advocates of institutions have the same fallacy of all the others mentioned in this article.

They argue from specific terms, to a general term—to other specific terms. The first specific term is "one church sending to another in need.' The general term which they use as their middle premise in the argument is "cooperation.' Then they reason, as their other specific term, that we must have an "institution' to have cooperation. There is cooperation in the support of institutions. There is cooperation in one church sending to another in need. But the support of an institution by churches is not the sending to a church in need by other churches; if so, an oak is an elm by the same reasoning.

These institution advocates would not think of playing an instrument in the worship of the church merely because both playing and singing are music; but they will put institutions into the work of the church merely because there is cooperation in both the institution practice and in one church sending to another. If they can do one they just as well take the music and its instruments also. If they can justify the one they can justify the other, so let them go right on with their kindred spirits in the digressive church. I know that they make the charge, "You do not believe in cooperation.' Yes, I do believe in cooperation, but in the scriptural way, not according to human schemes. But, I had rather talk about those things in the scriptural words and terms than in the words used by digressives. I believe it will be more nearly correct. Brethren, we need to cease generalizing away from the plain teaching of the scriptures. Let us go back to them. Let us do things the way the scriptures teach, and talk about those things in the language of the scriptures. When we do we will not be dividing and departing from the faith.