Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 25, 1951
NUMBER 25, PAGE 3,5-6a

"The Cooperation Controversy" --- No. 6

Cecil N. Wright

This review has thus far disclosed the following outstanding facts: (1) That the sponsoring church method of cooperation in mission work, which has been under attack "without restraint" by the Gospel Guardian since April 20, 1960, was editorially approved as scriptural by the Guardian as late as only eight months before. (2) That such cooperation had been practiced and had been approved and encouraged by leading preachers and publications among us for many years, and thus was not something "new" as charged by the Guardian. (3) That the principles involved in such cooperation are exemplified in the New Testament itself, thus making false the Guardian's charge of "digression" and "apostasy." And (4) that much of the Guardian's fight is very inconsistent —"purely arbitrary and grossly absurd"—being waged against precisely the same kind of cooperation for one field that it approves for another. This last point is still under review.

And now we shall give the Guardian publisher's own history and description of the sponsored cooperation in the Houston Music Hall meeting of 1946, with some of our observations regarding the same. We believe with the Guardian that said cooperation was scriptural. But we also believe that the same kind of cooperation is likewise scriptural for work in any other field. The Guardian does not. That is the issue—the issue that, when presented to the Guardian editor while he was seeking a debate with me, caused him to cease immediately all negotiations and not even reply to my letter suggesting that as a proposition for discussion. And what we now present will afford an adequate explanation for his not being willing to face that issue in debate.

History Of Meeting

" . . . Originally the meeting was arranged with the idea of holding it in the Norhill building but the reception given the idea of such a meeting soon indicated far too great an interest for any one church auditorium in Houston to accommodate the crowds that would want to attend. It was decided, accordingly, to arrange to hold the meeting down in town and invite the cooperation of all the congregations of the church in the city.

"In order that the meeting might be carried out on a scriptural basis and without provoking criticism, the Norhill church decided to sponsor the meeting, guaranteeing all expenses incurred, and simply extend an invitation to the other churches of Christ to have what part in the meeting, financially and otherwise, they wanted to have. With this arrangement in mind the Music Hall was contracted for and the preacher and singer engaged for the time decided upon

" . . . Twenty churches worked together as one throughout the effort and the churches of Christ in Houston demonstrated the practical side of Christian unity and above all sufficiency of the Lord's church in the accomplishment of his work without the interference of human organizations. All of the funds were handled through the treasury of the Norhill church and all bills incurred paid out of that treasury with a complete report furnished each congregation assisting. That this arrangement worked to the satisfaction of all is attested by the fact that in a city wide gathering of brethren after the meeting was over, the unanimous request of the churches cooperating in the first meeting was that the Norhill congregation take the lead in the second meeting to be held the ensuing year.

" ... The churches of Christ in Houston went on record... as practicing unity and cooperation of the highest sort," etc. (Roy Cogdill, in Introduction to God's Prophetic Word.)


The following observations will be based upon the information given above plus that also given by the same writer in the Gospel Guardian of May 25, 1950, page 8, unless otherwise specified. When references are made to that issue of the Guardian, they will be indicated simply by use of the word "Guardian" placed in parenthesis, as follows: (Guardian).

1. Sponsored cooperation. The Houston Music Hall meeting was cooperative and sponsored. "Twenty churches worked together as one." The Norhill church was "sponsor." It took the "lead." The meeting was "planned, directed, and financially guaranteed by one congregation, the Norhill church in Houston." (Guardian) "All funds were handled through the treasury of the Norhill church and all bills incurred paid out of that treasury?' But other congregations had a part "financially and otherwise." They contributed funds into the treasury of the Norhill church to be administered by it, and furnished helpers to be supervised by it. That arrangement was "practiced," said the Guardian publisher, "in order that the meeting might be carried out on a scriptural basis and without provoking criticism."

Yet cooperation for foreign mission work "practiced" on identically the same "basis" now "provokes" the Guardian's severest "criticism" and its charge of being "unscriptural." Witness a sample of such opposition: "We are . . . 'set against' any effort to combine the work of many churches under the jurisdiction, supervision, and direction of one. We cannot find that in the New Testament and we are confident that brother Wright cannot." (Guardian, June 22, 1960, page 2) "...we have allowed huge combinations and centralizations of power to be assumed by one congregation, and all that the other churches can have to do with it is to send their money. This is a position that God gave to no eldership in any church, and therefore one which scripturally they cannot assume." (Guardian, April 20, 1950, page 6) "We affirm that in the word of God there is no trace of an instance where one congregation ever contributed through another congregation to a work for which they were equally responsible." (Guardian, January 4, 1961, page 1)

But believe it or not! the Houston Music Hall meeting was conducted where all the cooperating congregations "were equally responsible"—except as they yielded to or requested the leadership or sponsorship of one church. But the Guardian does not intend that its criticisms be applied to that case, for—guess what?—the field was not "separated" from all of them—in fact, not from any of them! Its criticisms are applicable only when the field is separated from "all" the cooperating congregations. Therefore it is not the 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.

And the Guardian boldly asks: "Where is the example of the Jerusalem church or any other church in the New Testament exercising the oversight of a work outside of its own community in behalf of other churches and to which other churches contribute?" (Guardian, June 22, 1950, page 2) But suppose we reverse the question and ask the Guardian: Where is the example of any church in the New Testament exercising the oversight of a work inside its own community in behalf of other churches in that same community and to which other churches contributed? The answer has to be, It cannot be found! Yet such was the case in the Houston meeting, which the Guardian says was "scriptural."

But how can the Guardian know it was scriptural? Certainly not by example, but rather by principle. And that is true of any number of things. How do we know it is scriptural to sing "What A Friend We Have In Jesus?" By principle, of course; not by example. And we suppose the Guardian admits as much. But would it not be "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd" for the Guardian to say it is scriptural to sing that song in one's home community but unscriptural for him to sing it in a distant community? Yet the Guardian does that very thing in regard to sponsored cooperation.

There is no specific Biblical example for such cooperation as was practiced in Houston. Yet there is the example of churches contributing funds into the treasury of another church to be used and administered by it. And that exemplifies the principle that made sponsored cooperation of the Houston meeting scriptural. But there is no more scripture for limiting the application of this principle to a home community than for limiting to such community the application of the principle that makes singing "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" scriptural. And to do it "arbitrarily," as the Guardian has done, is "grossly absurd."

2. Workers furnished. Remember that not only did Norhill not furnish all the finance for the meeting it sponsored, but that it did not do all the work or furnish all the workers, though it "directed" all. It had "outside help such as brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr., who did the preaching; Austin Taylor, directing the singing; Jack Meyer, who arranged the program of advertising; F. F. Conley, who arranged for ushers; Frank Smith, who arranged accommodations for visitors to the meeting. These men all worked under the direction of the Norhill church elders and their respective congregations became involved in no way in any kind of organization." (Guardian) With the exceptions of brethren Wallace and Taylor, it is our understanding that this "outside help" was supported by cooperating congregations and was amenable to them, though working in this particular project under the supervision of the Norhill church. Thus "financially and otherwise" the cooperating churches "had fellowship in the meeting . . . enabling the Norhill church to make it a bigger and better meeting but it was within the work of the Norhill congregation for it was the work of the members of the Norhill church." (Guardian, January 4, 1951, page 13)

That was eminently "scriptural" in the Houston meeting; but it is "centralized control and oversight," "digression," and "apostasy" if practiced for work in a foreign field, the Guardian asserts. Hear it: "We do deny that other churches can fulfill their obligation and discharge their responsibility through these congregations that 'promote and supervise the work'." (Guardian, June 29, 1950, page 4) "If one congregation assumes control and direction of the work done by members of another congregation, you have one group of elders directing the work of two churches. If this can be done, where will the line be drawn...? ...We are simply affirming that wherever the work of a congregation may be done, it must be done under the direction of its own elders as an independent and autonomous body. We further affirm that one congregation cannot delegate its responsibility for the oversight of its own work to another congregation." (Guardian, January 4, 1951, page 1)

These affirmations and denials by the Guardian are intended only to apply against sponsored cooperation in foreign mission work, not against the kind of cooperation in the Houston effort. The other churches in Houston could cooperate to enable the Norhill church to "make it a bigger and better meeting," and Norhill could solicit or invite them to do so. But a church doing foreign work should not thus appeal for help—at least not for help to be given to or through it. "No congregation is responsible to God for more than it is able to do. When any congregation assumes the responsibility for more work than it is able to do, it assumes a responsibility it cannot fulfill." So, if the work in which it is interested or is attempting needs to be "bigger and better" than it alone can make it, each congregation that helps must do so "independently," and not through any sponsoring congregation. (Guardian, April 20, 1950, page 5) See what we mean by "inconsistent" and "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd?"

3. Location and jurisdiction. The meeting was held in the downtown Music Hall, where no congregation was established and conducting services regularly. It was a location or field not separated from any of the cooperating congregations. In that respect it was equally related to all of them, and all had equal right and responsibility there. Yet, "in order that the meeting might be carried out on a scriptural basis and without provoking criticism," one congregation "sponsored," took the "lead," and "directed" the cooperative work done in that meeting—also in a "second meeting ... held the ensuing year." And there was no clashing whatever of jurisdiction. How was it avoided? Well, in the first meeting the Norhill church took the initiative, assumed the "lead," and invited the other congregations to "cooperate"—without attempting to "direct" or share in the direction of the effort. In he second meeting the Norhill church again took the "lead," but at the "request" of the cooperating churches. Thus all clashing of jurisdiction and oversight was avoided though "twenty churches worked as one" in a field equally related to all of them and in which all had equal right and responsibility—except as they conceded leadership and sponsorship to one church, and cooperated with it, furnishing both money for it to expend and workers for it to direct.

That was "cooperation of the highest sort" for work in Houston, the Guardian publisher thought. But cooperation of that "sort" for work in a foreign field, that likewise is equally related to all the cooperating congregations, is condemned by the Guardian as "digression" and "apostasy." "There would be such clashing of jurisdiction between congregations that it would be difficult to know where one stopped and the other started under such an arrangement. There would be no place where any kind of jurisdiction could be drawn in that case." (Guardian, May 25, 1950, page 9) In that "sort" of arrangement, "The principle violated is the independence and equality of congregations in their responsibility for the work of the Lord. God did not provide for any concentration of power in one congregation, but gave the same jurisdiction to all, and made each responsible for its own work. No congregational lines are crossed, God's provision for the safety of His church is violated and God's ways are once again deserted for the ways of man." (Guardian, April 20, 1950, page 5)

But remember that the Guardian makes these critical statements only in regard to non-local work, not with reference to work in a field not separated from all the cooperating congregations. I made the mistake once of thinking it meant for them to apply generally, and wrote accordingly, but got myself written up as guilty of "deceit and trickery," though not charged with being "conscious" of it. (Guardian, June 22, 1950, pages 8, 9) 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?"

4. No organization. Though "twenty congregations worked together as "one" in Houston, with one church "sponsoring," taking the "lead," and "directing" the work, and the others furnishing workers for it to direct and money for it to "handle," the effort was "carried out as the work of one congregation in its own community and there was no phase of the work which one congregation could not do and did not have a right to do. There was nothing about it bigger than the work of a local church" (Guardian)—that is, if the local church is strong enough to do that big a work. In the case of the Houston meeting the other churches cooperated to "enable the Norhill church to make it a bigger and better meeting." But it was still "within the work of the Norhill congregation for it was the work of the members of the Norhill church" (Guardian, January 4, 1951, page 18)—being a work "sponsored" and "led' by it. Thus was "demonstrated" the "all sufficiency of the Lord's church in the accomplishment of this work without the interference of human organizations." And the "respective (cooperating) congregations became involved in no way in any kind of organization." (Guardian) That was "practicing unity and cooperation of the highest sort" for the work in Houston. No unscriptural "missionary society" was formed. No congregation forfeited any of its autonomy or lost any of its independence. There was no "combination," but simply "cooperation."

Why, then, is it a different story with the Guardian when that same "sort" of cooperation is practiced in foreign mission work? On what ground does an arrangement then become unscriptural "centralized 'missionary' project," a human "missionary society," with "the elders of the 'sponsoring' church becoming the controlling and directing medium through which many other churches may spend their money and discharge their responsibility in a foreign field?" (Guardian) The Guardian says that such is a "concentration of power and authority in the hands of one eldership, when that authority should be distributed among many churches." And it has strongly "warned against such concentration of authority, pledging . . . to fight against such 'apostasy' and 'digression' without restraint." (Guardian, June 22, 1960, page 8)

But this applies only to a work in a field "separated" from the cooperating congregations, not to a field not separated from any of them! 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." "The legs of the lame are not equal; so is a parable in the mouth of fools." (Prov. 26:7) The Guardian's logic is obviously "lame."


We have seen how that the Guardian upholds and endorses as scriptural for any local field the "sort" of cooperation that was "practiced" in the Houston Music Hall meeting. Our next article will show how that, in spite of the fact that since April 20, 1950, the Guardian has fought "without restraint" against that same "sort" of cooperation in foreign mission work, it has made various concessions that actually allow everything involved in the cooperation it condemns. And it should not be forgotten that it editorially endorsed such cooperation as "right" as late as August 18, 1949—only eight months before declaration of war "without restraint" against it. Let us earnestly pray and fervently hope that it may return to "the old paths."