Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 25, 1951

"The Cooperation Controversy" --- No. 5

Cecil N. Wright, Denver, Colorado


(In article No. 3 of "The Cooperation Controversy" series now being published I stated that, "According to reports circulated through the brotherhood, brother Sommer aspired to the presidency of Bethany College, etc. I have since been informed that this report is in error as to the school—that it was the now defunct Potter Bible College of Bowling Green, Kentucky, instead—which, of course, dies not change the picture in the least so far as principle is concerned.)

Previous articles have emphasized the following salient facts: (1) That when the gospel Guardian on April 20, 1950, committed itself to battle "without restraint" against the sponsoring church method of cooperation in foreign mission work, and branded it as a "new digression" and "apostasy," it declared and launched war against what it itself had editorially approved as "right" as late as only eight months previous. (2) That the charge of such method being "new" was false, such cooperation having been practiced and having been approved and encouraged by leading preachers and publications among us for years. (3) That the charge of "digression" and "apostasy" was in like manner false, since the New Testament itself furnishes examples of the very principles involved in the cooperation now condemned by the Guardian—namely, that, with apostolic approval and encouragement, churches spent money in foreign fields and also upon occasion one or more churches contributed funds into the treasury of another church to be administered by it. And (4) 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—even when, in both instances, all the cooperating congregations actually bear the same relation to the fields under consideration. Our review now continues with this point.

The Houston Meeting

A typical example of what the Guardian approves as scriptural for a local field but condemns as "digression" and "apostasy" for a foreign field is the cooperation that was practiced in the Houston Music Hall meeting of 1945. The Guardian is very sensitive in regard to this matter, and greatly prefers that it not be brought into discussion —the reason, of course, being quite obvious. But, since the brotherhood is entitled to have set before it the considerations involved in this example, it would be an injustice to omit or suppress them in this review. And the Guardian's refusal to discuss them in formal written debate is, of course, obviously significant in light of the fact that it was seeking to get up a debate.

Guardian Editor's Refusal

The Guardian editor wanted me to sign for a debate with him to be published in the Guardian. But when I suggested wording the proposition so as to bring the Houston meeting into it, he immediately dropped all negotiations. When he was attempting to get me to sign a proposition that I could not conscientiously affirm, avid I had his letter stating that "We believe in 'Cooperation on a Scriptural Basis'—yes, even 'sponsored' cooperation on that basis, (witness the Houston meeting)," I immediately offered to affirm the following:

"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."

But the editor refused even the courtesy of a reply. And when I published the fact in other papers, thus calling the attention of the brotherhood to it, which made him feel the necessity of making some explanation, here is what he said: "Replying to our letter brother Wright refused to discuss this proposition, but countered with a proposition on a meeting held in Houston, Texas, some years ago which he thought afforded a parallel to what is being done today. It seemed to be his thought that he could prove the modern missionary practices to be JUST AS SCRIPTURAL as the Music Hall meeting; or, if not that, then he could certainly prove the Guardian publisher had been inconsistent in participating so actively in the Music Hall meeting.

"From the letter it seemed perfectly obvious to us that there was no possibility of our arranging a discussion on the issue, but that, on the contrary, opportunity was sought for a wrangling of a false issue on a plane for which we confess ourselves to be fitted neither by temperament nor by training. We made no reply to the latter. We have neither the time nor the talent for discussions on such a level. We are interested in what the Bible teaches, not in whether some man was or was not consistent in what he did; nor yet in whether something is, or is not, just as scriptural as something else." (Gospel Guardian, August 17, 1950, page 4)

Was The Issue False?

But was such an issue "false," or was the Guardian editor seeking a loophole to avoid an issue he knew he could not successfully meet? 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, and was stated in my very first article challenging the Guardian's new stand announced April 20, 1950. As to why, when the editor was seeking a debate, he refused to debate that simple and clear-cut issue that covered the ground of dispute, the reader may judge for himself. If the cooperation in the Houston meeting was scriptural, as we both believe, why was he not interested in whether or not the cooperation in foreign mission work was "just as scriptural?" Again we ask, why not!

But let us look at the proposition that the Guardian proposed—namely, "It is scripturally right for one church to become the controlling and directing agency through which all other churches may operate in discharging their responsibility in preaching the gospel in a foreign field."

The least that can be said for that proposition is that it does not describe actual conditions. (1) There is no church in the brotherhood through which "all other churches" are operating in doing their mission work. (2) There is no church which is seeking to "become the controlling and directing agency through which all other churches may operate in discharging their responsibility in preaching the gospel in a foreign field." And (3) if the expression, "controlling and directing agency through which all other churches may operate," does not properly describe a church that "sponsors" a work in a local field and invites "all other" local churches to cooperate, neither does it properly describe a church that "sponsors" a work in a foreign field and invites other congregations to cooperate with it.

These considerations prompted me to write the Guardian editor, saying that such a proposition "neither represents my conviction nor, in my judgment, describes any mission work with which I am acquainted. It appears to be a phony proposition—one that no sensible person would sign, regardless of how ardent an exponent lee might be of cooperative work—yet one that you can use for effect and display if it is not accepted by a respondent."

Then I added: "For one thing, I am curiously impressed with the fact that you submit your proposition for affirmation in regard to a 'foreign field.' Though you uphold the Houston meeting, would you affirm your own proposition with reference to Houston or any other local field? If not, then it must be because you think that it does not describe the cooperation in that meeting. And by the same token I think it does not describe the principle of the cooperation being done in foreign work. But, should you surprise me and affirm your proposition with reference to a local field, I shall have to disagree with you, for I think it would be unscriptural for any field! Get my point? If so, then you see my reason for submitting a substitute proposition—one that describes our differences precisely."

To all of which the Guardian editor's reply was—SILENCE. Silence to him then was "golden."

Guardian Editor's Excuse

In addition to describing my proposition as a "false issue," the editor gave the following as his excuse for not debating—namely, that "opportunity was sought for wrangling . . . on a plane for which we confess ourselves to be fitted neither by temperament nor by training .. . We have neither the time or the talent for discussions on such a level." That statement appears to be intended to cast personal reflection against me and to lead the reader to suppose that I sought for a low-flung affair in which no self-respecting person would participate. And it might surprise the reader to know that just the opposite of this intimation is true. What I actually wrote the Guardian editor on that point was the following: "Your suggestion that we treat each other as brethren meets with my heartiest approval. A debate carried on in any other way is beneath the dignity of Christians. Though I would expect to press my arguments, and likewise expect you to do the same, I would also expect to do without vituperation of personal abuse. I can even differ with you on this issue and still fellowship you. I hope you decide that you can do the same—even if I cannot convince you that your opposition is wrong." See the "level" or "plane" on which I sought to conduct the discussion? And see what the Guardian editor's admission really amounted to when he said that we "confess ourselves to be fitted neither by temperament nor by training" and to "have neither the time nor the talent for discussions on such a level??!!" Was it not in reality a veiled confession of inability to meet the issue as stated by me, especially if discussed on the "plane" that I "sought?" And, when viewed against the background of real facts, does it not look as though the editor realized something of the weakness, the inconsistency, the arbitrariness, and absurdity of the stand that the Guardian had taken? The reader will decide for himself.

Another Huge Dodge

Another thing that would be most amusing if it were not so serious, is the huge dodge made by the Guardian publisher with reference to the Houston meeting. Said he of me: "But he will make no headway with thinking Christians trying to prove that which he is doing is no more unscriptural than what someone else has done .. . If the New Testament permits neither the Music Hall meeting or the combining of the work of a number of churches under the oversight of one, then they are both wrong. I am interested in being right and not in being consistent . . . Let us quit pleading that what we are doing is no worse than what someone else is doing." (Gospel Guardian, August 17, 1950, page 9)

Of course, those who read my article with any degree of care know that I have never attempted to prove that what I am doing or defending "is no more unscriptural than what someone else has done" or "is doing." 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. It should be obvious even to the most careless reader that the Guardian publisher would have no occasion to distort or reverse facts like that if he were not dodging and evading.

And the same thing is true in regard to his statement, "I am interested in being right and not in being consistent." How can a man be right and not be consistent? Is not truth consistent with itself? If it is the truth that the sponsoring church method of cooperation was scriptural for the Houston meeting, where the field was equally related to all the cooperating congregations, would not the consistency of truth likewise make that same method scriptural for cooperation in any other field that is equally related to the cooperating. congregations? It is the force—the unanswerable logic, as I see it—of this consideration that the Guardian editor and the Guardian publisher are both running from and seeking to avoid, And that seems the only reasonable explanation for their strange aberrations of logic—for their "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd" pronouncements in such abundance,

The Next Article

The next article will review the Guardian publisher's description and defense of the sponsored cooperation of the Houston Music Hall meeting, and show that the principle of it was precisely the same as that now being condemned by the Guardian for cooperative work in foreign fields.