Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 18, 1951
NUMBER 24, PAGE 4,9b-11

"The Cooperation Controversy"


REVIEWED — No. 1 In recent weeks brother Cecil N. Wright of Denver, Colorado, has written nine lengthy articles on what he is pleased to call "The Cooperation Controversy." These articles have been published in both the Gospel Advocate and the Firm Foundation, receiving complete and enthusiastic editorial endorsement from both journals. The entire series is being reprinted in this and subsequent issues of the Guardian, and we urge our readers to give a careful and diligent study to brother Wright's arguments in connection with our review of them.

We commend brother Wright for the very thorough and painstaking way in which he has gone about his task. His labor has undoubtedly been prodigious, and much of it is worthy of a higher ambition. We believe he has done as good a job as can be done by anybody in the two-fold task he set himself: (1) to establish the "sponsoring church cooperation method" as scriptural for foreign work, and (2) to discredit the Guardian by demonstrating her "absurdity," "inconsistency," "arbitrariness," and "folly" in opposing such. In all probability there are brethren who share brother Goodpasture's expressed feeling that brother Wright's articles are "devastating" (to the Guardian) and have simply "knocked the ball out of the park" on the issues discussed. Brother Wright has collected and adopted all the arguments that others have made in support of this particular type of activity; he has brought to bear every logical (and illogical) argument and every emotional appeal used by any of the brethren in the long months the controversy has been in progress. We cheerfully concede that his is the most carefully organized and documented treatment of the subject we have seen thus far from any of the brethren writing in defense of these things which the Guardian has questioned.

Not only in support of the "sponsoring church cooperation method," but also in his avowed purpose of discrediting the Guardian brother Wright has shown great skill and patient, laborious effort. By the adroit use of half-quotations, plucking words and phrases out of their context, redrafting and paraphrasing sentences so as to give them a meaning they did not originally carry; by a prolific use of sarcasm, ridicule, and irony he has built up a strong case in support of his thesis that the Guardian is "purely arbitrary," "grossly absurd," "palpably wrong," "extremely inconsistent," guilty of "consummate and precipitate folly," and worthy of classification with the "other factionists." Judging by the relative amount of space devoted to each of the two goals, discrediting the Guardian is far more important to brother Wright than establishing the scripturalness of the "sponsoring church cooperation method" in foreign work. He gives approximately five times as much space to the former as to the latter.

This is a type of journalism we regret and deplore. We saw this characteristic in brother Wright's correspondence more than a year ago, and declined then to enter into a discussion with him of these matters. It is with much reluctance that we do so now. Indeed, we would not do so at all had he not presented dangerous and deceptive misapplications of scripture, which, in justice to the cause of Christ, we cannot pass unnoticed. In view of the wide-spread publicity and backing given these false teachings by both the Advocate and the Firm Foundation, many thoughtful brethren from all over the country have written us, pointing out the error, and pleading that the Guardian deal with the matter.

Brother Wright's personal attacks on the sincerity and motives of those who write for the Guardian should have no place in any kind of Christian controversy, and we will not deign to defend ourselves from the charges he makes. We add, however, that we have no disposition at all to question brother Wright's sincerity. We do not feel that he has, or would, knowingly or consciously misrepresent us. That he has misrepresented us will be apparent to all before our review is concluded; but we regard those misrepresentations as neither malicious nor intentional. They are simply glaring examples of how far an honest man can be led astray when prejudice rules his heart, and when he sets out to prove a point. No man who lives is entirely free from prejudice, and brother Wright's extreme action should be a solemn warning to every one of us who engages in controversial writings to examine his own heart prayerfully and searchingly, and to write humbly and in the fear of God. Let us seek always to establish truth as it is in God's word, and not merely to win a victory by discrediting an opponent.

The Point At Issue

The real point at issue between brother Wright's position and that of the Gospel Guardian can best be summed up in brother Wright's own words:

"What the Guardian severely condemns for foreign or non-local fields it heartily approves for Houston or other local fields. Again, we ask, see what we mean by 'inconsistent' and 'purely arbitrary and grossly absurd'?"

(Article 6)

"Therefore it is not kind of cooperation after all, but simply where it is practiced that "provokes" the Guardian's criticism" of sponsored cooperation. Geography is the sole factor in determining whether such cooperation is scriptural or unscriptural."

(Article 6)

"The fact remains that the Guardian believes the Houston Music Hall meeting to have been scriptural. So do I. Moreover, I also believe that the basis of the cooperation in that meeting is likewise scriptural for work in any other field. But the Guardian does not. That is precisely the issue between the Guardian and me."

(Article 5)

"Resolved: That the basis of the Sponsored cooperation of the Houston Music Hall meeting (admitted by both the affirmative and the negative to be scriptural) is also scriptural for work in any other field."

(Article 5)

"According to the Guardian simply the distance of the field makes the difference between whether the "sort" of cooperation 'practiced' in Houston does or does not involve the cooperating churches 'in any kind of organization' and constitute them a 'missionary combination' or human 'society.' 'Purely arbitrary and grossly absurd' and 'inconsistent'? Yes. But remember that the Guardian is not 'interested' in being 'consistent'."

(Article 6)

"They know that just the reverse is true—that I admit the cooperation of the Houston meeting to have been scriptural, and that I contend that the same kind of cooperation for work anywhere else is likewise scriptural."

(Article 5)

"The next article will ... show that the principle of it (the Music Hall meeting) was precisely the same as that now being condemned by the Guardian for cooperative work in foreign fields."

(Article 5)

"It may be argued that the Music Hall meeting was different from the 'sponsored' effort now being condemned, in that it was in the same city as the 'sponsoring' congregation. But what does that have to do with the principle involved? It does not change the 'basis' of the cooperation one whit. The principle has to do with what is done, not with where, because so far as evangelism and even benevolence is concerned, the field is the world. Had the Norhill Church been attempting a similar effort in Rome, that would not have changed the 'basis.' It would have been perfectly scriptural. And it would not have been unscriptural for the other congregations to cooperate on the same 'basis' that they did in Houston."

(Article 4)

Over and over again, (twenty-eight times, by actual count!) brother Wright repeats and repeats and repeats the argument set forth above. He is certain that the Guardian's editor once declined to debate that issue with him by "seeking a loophole to avoid an issue he knew he could not successfully meet." (Article 5) And he is confident that:

The Guardian's fight has been marked by exceeding inconsistency and arbitrariness—condemning precisely the same kind of cooperation for one field that it approves for another, calling it 'digression' and 'apostasy' in the one and 'scriptural' in the other."

(Article 5) Brother Wright's argument From the above quotations brother Wright's argument emerges with unmistakable clarity and simplicity. There can be no mistaking of it. The nine quotations above can be followed by nineteen others of the same import. And the argument can be stated in the following categorical syllogism:

Major premise: The 'basis' of the cooperation practiced in the Houston Music Hall meeting is scriptural.

Minor premise: The present 'sponsoring church cooperation method' now being used in work in foreign fields is 'on precisely the same basis' as the Music Hall meeting.

Conclusion: Therefore, the 'sponsoring church cooperation method' now being used in foreign work is scriptural.

Comment We are perfectly willing to accept brother Wright's representation of the Guardian's position in the quotations from him above. He correctly states our contention when he declares that we condemn for a "foreign or non-local field" what we heartily endorse for a "local" field. We believe the whole heart of the controversy turns right on that point. And we are completely agreeable to fighting out the entire battle on that line.

We agree with the major premise of the syllogism above.

We DENY that the "work in foreign fields" can SCRIPTURALLY be "on precisely the same basis" as the Music Hall meeting (minor premise). An attempt to make it so is the very thing the Guardian has feared and warned against. And right on this point, we believe, is where brother Wright's whole nine articles set forth a vicious and deadly misrepresentation of scripture teaching.

If churches can "cooperate" in such a way ('sponsoring church' or any other) so as to permit an eldership to "operate" in a foreign field "on precisely the same basis" that it operates in its own "local" community, then brother Wright indeed has a point! And his endless charges against the Guardian are not without some merit. But if, on the other hand, there are New Testament principles involved that make it perfectly RIGHT for elders to "operate" in their own local community where they have control, jurisdiction, oversight, and authority, and for churches to "co"-operate with them ON THE BASIS OF THEIR HAVING THAT AUTHORITY, but wrong for these same elders to "do precisely the same thing" in some foreign country where they do NOT exercise presbyterial authority, and therefore WRONG for churches to try to "co"-operate with them in the absence of such authority, then it is brother Wright, not the Guardian, who is "palpably wrong, grossly absurd, purely arbitrary, guilty of consummate folly," etc.

The Principles Involved

What then are the principles involved?

Is it not perfectly clear that the "basis" of the Houston cooperation, the thing that made it RIGHT and proper, was the absolute authority of the Norhill elders over the meeting? Brother Cogdill clearly pointed this out in the quotations brother Wright makes from him. A number of other congregations, on the basis of the existence and exercise of such authority, turned their funds over to the elders at Norhill, to be spent by that eldership in its own community, in a work over which that eldership rightfully had, and exercised, absolute presbyterial authority. The "sponsoring" church planned every phase and feature of the work, hired the singer and the preacher, fixed the time, place, and circumstances of the meeting, determined the compensation of the men employed, and was in every way in exactly the same relationship to the meeting as would have been the case had the meeting been conducted in her own building. People baptized in the meeting, if any, were members of the Norhill Church and under the spiritual oversight of her elders. The other congregations did not even "'concur" in the arrangements, any more than they would have "concurred" in Norhill's arrangements for a meeting in her own building. They simply turned their money over to the Norhill elders, to be spent by them.

Now will brother Wright contend that the elders of the "sponsoring church" engaged in supporting the work in some foreign field exercise that kind of authority and oversight over the foreign work? Will he contend, for example, that the Sherman Street (Denver) elders "operate" in overseeing the work in Belgium "on precisely the same basis" that the Norhill elders operated in overseeing the Music Hall meeting? Remember that it is THAT KIND of authority (presbyterial authority) that gave a scriptural basis to the cooperation practiced in the Music Hall meeting. If the Norhill elders had not exercised "eldership authority" over the Norhill meeting, then they would have been no more than a "committee" or a "board of evangelism" through which the churches were working—and that would have been the beginning of a real "missionary society."

But let us now cast brother Wright's position into a syllogism, using the Minor premise of the former syllogism as the Major premise of this one. If indeed brother Wright's position and contention be established, then we can show the implications of it as follows:

Major premise: The present 'sponsoring church cooperation method' now being used in work in foreign fields is "on precisely the same basis" as the Music Hall meeting.

Minor premise: The basis that made the Music Hall meeting scriptural was the absolute existence and exercise of presbyterial authority by the 'sponsoring' elders over the work.

Conclusion: Therefore, the 'sponsoring' elders in the 'sponsoring church cooperation method' now being used in work in foreign fields have and exercise absolute presbyterial authority over that work.

Consequences It is inescapable from this demonstration that brother Wright is committed to defend the idea of an American eldership exercising "eldership" authority over a foreign work! That is the very thing the Guardian has protested so vigorously; that is the "trend" against which we have warned so earnestly. Many thoughtful brethren have felt that in spite of themselves (and contrary to their wishes and desires) some of the "sponsoring" congregations might find themselves moving inevitably toward the exercising of presbyterial authority in foreign fields. Pressures for such centralization and extension of authority are terrific. Church history is replete with instances in which high and worthy movements have gone by almost imperceptible degrees into a concentration of power and authority—and this in spite of the frantic efforts of sincere men leading these movements to prevent such.

Witness the extension of the "bishop's" authority in the churches of the second century, and how it finally led to the full-blown ecclesiasticism of Roman Catholicism!

Brother Cogdill pointed this out to brother Wright early in the current controversy. Brother Wright had written: "Had the Norhill Church been attempting a similar effort in Rome, that would not have changed the 'basis' (that is of the cooperation). It would have been perfectly scriptural."

Brother Cogdill commented on this: "He says it is perfectly scriptural for her to do so but he fails to offer the instruction, precedent, or inference in scripture that makes it scriptural. What he needs is a case in point in the New Testament. When he finds it, he will find in it authority for a 'universal bishop' and 'diocesan elders' and it will be an easy step from there to Rome—meaning, of course, Roman Catholicism." (Gospel Guardian, June 22, 1950)

Brother Wright is astounded that Cogdill could see any danger in the thing he proposed. To him it is perfectly right and scriptural. He says:

"Think of it—as much authority for a 'universal bishop' or pope as for Norhill (or any other congregation outside of Rome) to conduct a meeting in Rome similar to the one it conducted in Houston. Can you feature that? And yet that is the extreme to which the Guardian position drove its publisher. It is hard to believe that such represents his real conviction in more sober moments."

(Article 4)

We assure brother Wright that that not only DOES represent Cogdill's "real convictions in more sober moments," but it also represents the convictions of the Guardian's editor, and of several score of gospel preachers and faithful Christians who have written him these past few weeks. Actually, it had never occurred to us to have the least suspicion that this was not the "real conviction" of every informed Christian in all the earth! We even believe that this has been, and probably still is, the real conviction of Cecil N. Wright!! We are certain it was a few years ago. We are fairly confident that "in more sober moments" he would NOT defend, encourage, and promote the idea that some eldership outside of Rome could exercise presbyterial authority over a work in Rome "on precisely the same basis" it would exercise such authority over a gospel meeting in its own local community. That is the real beginning of the development of an ecclesiastical hierarchy (as every student of church history knows), and we hesitate to think that brother Wright would knowingly or consciously espouse such a position. That his whole nine articles, however, DO set it forth, and are based on such an assumption is clear to every careful reader of them. We believe his zeal has led him into an utterly untenable position, and that h will withdraw from it as gracefully as he can once the full implications of his colossal blunder are brought home to him.

But if he does not, if he still insists that an American eldership can exercise eldership authority over a foreign congregation, then he hasn't seen anything yet compared to the fight the Guardian will put up!!!

Our next article will bring a comparison between brother Wright's "sponsoring church cooperative" for foreign evangelism and the plan that was actually followed by Paul in his foreign evangelism.

— F.Y.T.