Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 18, 1951
NUMBER 24, PAGE 5b-8a

The Cooperation Controversy -- No. 3

Cecil N. Wright

Previous articles have demonstrated that the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work is not a "new digression" and "apostasy," as has been charged by the Gospel Guardian since April 20, 1950. It has been shown by copious documentation that such cooperation was both practiced and enthusiastically advocated by leading preachers and journals and books among us for years prior to 1950, and that even the Guardian itself taught it as "right" only eight months before it began to denounce it as "digression" and "apostasy." The purpose of this article will be to give consideration to a comment and question of W. W. Otey in a recent writing in the Gospel Guardian, entitled, "The Right of Opinion."

Brother Otey's Question

"If the present centralized arrangements (by which many churches turn over their funds to be managed and spent by one church in some foreign field) are strictly scriptural, and just as have been generally believed to be in harmony with New Testament commands and approved examples—if this is true, as some are affirming, why then such wide-spread and serious disturbance about the methods being employed? It would be reasonable for someone to offer a reasonable explanation why such sudden and great disturbance has shaken the church if nothing new has made its appearance. Will someone offer an explanation?" (Gospel Guardian, April 26, 1951, pages 1, 3.)

It should not be difficult for anyone who is familiar with the history of the church to offer such an explanation. Brother Otey's challenge implies that "such sudden and great disturbance" could hardly have "shaken the church if nothing new has made its appearance." But such is not true. Many decades ago a similarly "sudden and great disturbance" shook the church in regard to Christian colleges. The explanation for that disturbance was the fight against such schools, led by Daniel Sommer through the paper he edited, the Apostolic Review. Yet Christian colleges were not something new when that "great disturbance" broke out. According to reports circulated through the brotherhood, brother Sommer aspired to the presidency of Bethany College, which had been founded years before by Alexander Campbell and of which brother Sommer was an alumnus; and when he failed to achieve his ambition he turned against that school, and then against all Christian schools, charging that they are unscriptural. That "sudden and great disturbance" with which brother Sommer and the Apostolic Review shook the brotherhood is still felt in some sections in spite of the fact that early in the 1930's, shortly before brother Sommer's death, he recanted. This should show the fallacy of the implication of brother Otey's question.

Explanation Offered

The explanation for the "sudden and great disturbance" now shaking the church has some parallels with the above. It is being caused by an editor (who has changed) and his staff waging a battle "without restraint" through their paper, the Gospel Guardian. This is not to say that nobody else ever objected to "sponsored" cooperation in mission work before the Guardian changed and began its fight, for there are nearly always some objectors to anything and everything, no matter how new or how old it is, and whether generally practiced and approved or not. No doubt there were objectors to Christian colleges before brother Sommer changed and began his fight; but certainly there was no "sudden and great disturbance" over them before then. Like wise there was no "sudden and great disturbance" over the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work before the Guardian changed and began its battle "without restraint." This does not explain why the Guardian changed. But it does explain why the "sudden and great disturbance" that has "shaken the church" since the Guardian has changed, though "nothing new has made its appearance" as regards "sponsored" cooperation.

The Guardian did not stage its war against the principle of the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work until after the "rock fight" articles of one of its staff writers had boomeranged. Those articles began January 19, 1950. They had nothing to say about the method of cooperation in the mission work they criticized. Instead, they poked fun at the missionaries in Italy who had suffered persecution to the point of having rocks thrown at them, and somewhat ridiculed their judgment and tactics. Those brethren were referred to as "Innocents abroad." What they did was spoken of as "camp (ing) in the pope's back yard and take (ing) yanking liberties with the old gent's whiskers." They were described as "going off 'half-cocked' . . . when they went into Italy." And the writer of those articles also declared that he had "often thought that 'our mission efforts' would get better results, if they had more brains and less sea water mixed with them." Whether written in sport or in seriousness, those articles provoked what the editor called a "cascade" of opposition; and the Guardian was put on the defensive for the moment. Its editor and its publisher began to run interference for the assailed staff writer. And then he began to take pot shots, not at the Italian missionaries and their work in particular, but at "sponsored" foreign mission work in general. The editor and the publisher also began to line up with him in this respect, and by April 20, 1950, they officially declared war against the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in doing mission work, pledging the Guardian to a battle "without restraint." And that battle, which has continued with little or no abatement down to the present, affords the explanation as to the "sudden and great disturbance" that has "shaken the church" during the past year.

"Centralized Arrangements"

Brother Otey speaks of the "present centralized arrangements (by which many churches turn over their funds to be managed and spent by one church in some foreign field)." And the Guardian's stock phrase is "centralized control and oversight." These descriptions, uttered in derision, are calculated to leave a sinister impression and frighten the brethren into feeling that maybe congregational autonomy is being violated by the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation, and is therefore unscriptural, though such is indeed not true. Because such descriptions are so prevalent in the Guardian it seems in order to deal with them, showing exactly what they are used to describe—namely, something actually scriptural and therefore not inimical to congregational autonomy.

How such descriptions, without any argument at all, can be quite prejudicial is vividly illustrated by the tactics used by the orator and prosecuting attorney Tertullus against the apostle Paul when he called him "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes?' (Acts 24:5) That sounded bad. The very wording of Tertullus' description was designed to repulse and to prejudice his hearers against Paul, though he was a most honorable man and was pursuing a heavenly calling. And we are certainly aware that a likewise honorable and scriptural practice in cooperative mission work may be discredited in the minds of many by the manner of description used by its opponents. Therefore we feel it proper to investigate the actual facts concerning what the Guardian calls "centralized control and oversight" and brother Otey refers to as "centralized arrangements," etc.

Arrangements Scriptural

The actual practice referred to is one whereby one or more congregations have fellowship with another congregation in the mission work it attempts, sending contributions to said congregation to be used by it in said work. There are two outstanding factors involved in this sort of foreign mission work—namely, (1) the spending of money in a foreign field and (2) one or more churches contributing funds into the treasury of another church for such funds to be administered by it. Are these two factors scriptural? If so, does it not then follow that the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work is eminently scriptural? Here are the facts:

(1) That a church may spend funds in a foreign field is evident from the fact that the apostle Paul commended the Philippian church for doing so. "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity." (Phil. 4:15, 16)

And (2) that one or more churches may contribute into the treasury of another church for such funds to be administered by it is likewise evident from the fact that the apostle Paul encouraged and aided in that very thing. The church at Antioch and the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia sent funds to the Jerusalem church to be administered by it (Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25, 26; 1 Cor. 16:1-3)

So (8), if you want to call that an arrangement "by which many churches turn over their funds to be managed and spent by one church," there is New Testament precedent for it and apostolic approval and encouragement of it; and New Testament churches likewise sent funds to a "foreign field" with apostolic approval and commendation. Hence both principles involved in the "sponsoring" church method of cooperation in mission work are scriptural. Surely, then, such method does not, unless abused, violate the autonomy of cooperating congregations!

A Reminder

Not only is it well to understand that the above discussed method is scriptural, but it is proper that we be reminded that the Guardian editor endorsed it as "right" as late as August 18, 1949; and that it had been practiced and had been endorsed by leading preachers and publications among us for many years previous. It is also interesting to know that the Guardian editor, when trying to appease the Padens, who had a son among the number criticized in the "rock fight" articles, informed them that he had a part in the Italian work—which, of course, was a "sponsored" cooperative "arrangement" such as be and the Guardian now condemn. In his answer to the Paden's letter of January 23, 1950, he wrote: "Personally, I have a very high regard for Cline, whom I met when he came through Norman, Okla., seeking to raise money for the Italian work. I encouraged the church there to contribute; I contributed myself." (Gospel Guardian, February 23, 1950, page 6) He did not then indicate that he felt he had done wrong. But by April 20, 1950, participation in such a "sponsored" arrangement was "digression" and "apostasy," and since then he has taken a leading part in a "wide-spread and serious disturbance" of the church in fight waged "without-restraint" by the Guardian against such a method of cooperation in mission work.