Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 18, 1951

The Cooperation Controversy -- No. 1

Cecil N. Wright

The present assault against sponsored cooperative mission work, instigated and conducted by the Gospel Guardian, has raged more than a year now, with little or no abatement. On various occasions the Guardian has sung paeans of victory, the last of which was an editorial in the issue of April 19, 1951, entitled "The Voice of the Turtle." This was somewhat to commemorate the anniversary of the Guardian's big push starting April 20, 1950, with its editor and its publisher as leaders in the affray. Previously there had some preliminary encounters and border incidents, such as the "rock fight" articles. But war was not officially declared, battle lines were not definitely drawn, and an all-out offensive was not launched till then. Since that time, however, an almost constant barrage has been leveled against sponsored cooperation in mission work, its participant, and its defenders, in keeping with the Guardian's threat to wage battle "without restraint."

Ground For "Turtle" Song

No doubt there is some ground for the Guardian editor's "turtle" song of victory. Many dollars may have been kept from being contributed to sponsored cooperative mission efforts. Many churches may have been prevented from doing mission work because they were unable alone to support a missionary. Many churches, though not convinced that sponsored mission work is wrong, may have nevertheless been caused to desist from it just to avoid criticism. And some preachers, elders, and many others may have become so confused as not to be sure what is right. All this, to whatever degree it may have been done, is certainly a victory against sponsored cooperative mission work. And it is victory against the kind of mission work that is largely being done by the brotherhood—against the very kind that was thought by most of the brethren to have been approved by all the leading preachers and editors among us—so thought till the Guardian took its stand against it. But whatever victory the Guardian may have achieved in its fight is not necessarily a victory for truth and right, or the "turtle" song an expression of rightful triumph.

Personal Observations And Evaluations

At the time the Guardian declared war, and threatened the brotherhood with division if sponsored cooperative mission work should not be abandoned, it seemed to me that much of its attack was "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd." And, to seek to demonstrate that it was, I wrote an article entitled "Cooperation On A Scriptural Basis," hoping thereby to help blunt what I believer to be not only an unwarranted but also highly dangerous offensive against perfectly scriptural and quite praise, mission endeavors. I was not interested in fight the Guardian as such, for some of its writers were personal friends. Nor was I seeking to defend any causes that may arise in connection with anything good in itself, they should never be defended, but exposed opposed. What I was attempting was to defend simply the scripturalness of the principle of sponsored cooperation.

Events that followed soon led me to write a second article under the same caption as the first. After that, however, I wrote no more on the subject, being neither a controversialist by nature nor a prolific writer. But I did continue to follow the controversy with keen interest, to see if it were possible for the principle of sponsored cooperation in mission work to be proved wrong. If so, I wanted to know, for I wanted to be right—and still do. And I was certain that if it could be proved wrong the Guardian could do it, having such a capable staff and being so intent upon the accomplishment of that end. But, unless I have been as bad off as the Guardian editor wrote me that he felt I was when I composed my first article—namely, "unconscious to an abnormal or unusual degree"—the Guardian has signally failed in its attempts at proof. Not failed to damage the mission program of the church maybe, but failed to prove that the principle or basis of program is wrong. And now that the Guardian editor is singing his "turtle" song it seems in order to demonstrate the failure we allege, lest much of the brotherhood be led by such boasting to forget the many absurdities, inconsistencies, and self-contradictions of the Guardian in the fight.

Review Of Controversy

Such demonstration will require only a review of the points of the controversy thus far. This we propose to give. And, being a review, no special effort will be to produce new material. Nor will any attempt be made to avoid a repetition of thoughts and arguments formerly presented either by myself or by others. In this effort I will be indebted to a greater or lesser degree to everyone who has written on the subject under consideration, whose articles I have read. Any acknowledgment is hereby made to cover all such where credit may not be specifically given. This explanation is made so that any lack of originality may not be mistaken for plagiarism.

Incipiency Of Controversy

The incipiency of the present cooperation controversy cannot be traced any further back than the middle of 1949, so far as I have been able to ascertain. And it appears that nobody was making an issue of the matter then, much less a test or near test of fellowship. The Guardian as a paper certainly was not. Its editor, writing in "The Overflow" section of the paper under the caption of "Know Your Man," delivered himself as follows:

"G. S. Wallace calls your attention to what he views as a real danger advocated in a recent article we carried by Luther Blackmon. Brother Blackmon had said, 'I have personally urged churches to send assistance to some of the men who are laboring in foreign fields; but I have urged them to send it to the preachers in the field and not to the "sponsoring" church.' Brother Wallace says, 'Can you imagine what some men would do, who are good promoters, if they were to go to a foreign field and could go among the churches, getting churches to send to them personally. There would be no check whatsoever on the number of churches contributing nor upon the amount received. A good promoter could raise for himself a hundred thousand dollars a year by such procedure.

'We recognize the weight of brother Wallace's observation. And we would certainly urge the churches to send no man unless you have absolute knowledge of the man and his need. That it is right, however to send directly to the man in the field as per Blackmon's suggestion as very evident from the practice of the Philippian church sending directly to Paul rather than to Antioch—his "sponsoring" congregation. That it is also right to send help to a needy field to be used under the direction of the elders of a church is clear from Acts 11:80. Due care must be exercised in either case—whether money is sent directly to the man in the field or is sent to some "sponsoring" church." (Gospel Guardian, August 18, 1949, page 7.)

The above is the nearest approach to a controversy in regard to the method of cooperation that I can find in the Guardian prior to early 1950. But the stand of the Guardian then, as expressed by its editor, was that either of the above mentioned methods is right—namely, (1) "whether money is sent directly to the man on the field," or (2) "is sent to some 'sponsoring' church."

April 20, 1950 But as of April 20, 1950, boom! boom! Things have changed; war is declared; and an all-out offensive is launched! Against what? Against one of the above "right" methods of cooperation! The "sponsoring" church method has suddenly become wrong. It is a "new digression" and "apostasy," and must be battled against "without restraint." And which of the above formerly "right" methods is used now "makes the same difference as whether one sprinkles or immerses." That is putting the "sponsoring" church method on a par with sprinkling for baptism, and is equivalent to making it a test of fellowship. And against it, the Guardian editor wrote me on May 4, 1950, "We are committed to 'battle' and that 'without restraint,' yes, even to the point of 'division' on exactly the same basis that those who opposed the instrumental music 'divided' the church seventy-five years ago." There you have it! The Guardian now threatens to divide the church over the "sponsoring" church method of cooperating in mission work if such method is not abandoned —a method that eight months earlier was "right!"

Is This Not Right

If the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work is "digression" and "apostasy," and those practicing it or approving it should not be fellowshipped, then was not the Guardian editor a digressive and apostate in 1949, since he then taught such as being "right?" If not, why not? But if the Guardian editor was worthy of fellowship in 1949, and was not digressive and apostate, neither is the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work a matter of digression and apostasy even now; and this would mean that today the Guardian is creating and leading a faction in the church, would it not? If not, why not? And, if so, why should not the following apply? "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16:17, 18) Think on these things!