Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 25, 1951
NUMBER 25, PAGE 4,9b-11a

"The Cooperation Controversy" Reviewed — No. 2


In our former article we pointed out that brother Wright has (probably unintentionally) built his whole argument in the nine articles he wrote on the false and dangerous assumption that "sponsored cooperation in foreign fields" is "on precisely the same basis" as the cooperation practiced in the Houston Music Hall meeting. We showed the inescapable implications of this argument—that an American eldership can exercise "eldership authority" over a foreign work. This vicious and untenable position has received the editorial backing and endorsement of both the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate. The editors of these journals either did, or did not, see the fatal implication in brother Wright's position. If they did not see this glaring departure from elementary New Testament teaching, they reveal an intellectual vacuity that would seem simply inexcusable in the editor of a religious journal. If they did see the false teaching, they either accept it or they do not. If they accept it, they are false teachers; if they do not accept it, yet published it without correction, they are morally unfit to edit any kind of journal.

Be it said to their credit, that hitherto the elders of the American "sponsoring" churches have had a better understanding concerning their limitations in the foreign field that brother Wright manifests. They have for the most part recognized, and declared, that they do NOT exercise "eldership authority" over the foreign works they are "sponsoring." The elders of Broadway Church (Lubbock), for example, have stated:

"We recognize the autonomy of the local church, and oppose anything that threatens it."

"It is not our purpose, nor even our desire, to control any other church of Christ either here in America or in Germany, or anywhere else." "In no sense are we elders of a church in Germany." (Gospel Guardian, March 29, 1951)

The Guardian has accepted these declarations at face value, believing them to be sincere and true expressions of the convictions and desires of the brethren issuing them. We have believed these good brethren truly did not want any kind of "control and oversight" of the foreign work, and have cautioned against the danger of such developing in spite of their desires to prevent it. Pressures for such are great, and constant care and unremitting vigilance are necessary. Otherwise, in spite of good intentions and desires, brethren may find themselves moving (almost being pushed by the exigencies of the hour) into a position of authority and control over weak and struggling foreign congregations. Indeed, we have seen that happen with some that are not "foreign."

If now, however, elders of the "sponsoring" churches among us depart from their previous position, and accept brother Wright's contention, it will go a long way removing all doubt from anybody's mind as to what their actual convictions and desires are; it will clarify the situation considerably. And it will demonstrate once and for all that the Guardian has not (as some have charged) been crying 'Wolf! wolf!" when there was really no danger. Indeed, the very fact that two journals so powerful and influential as the Advocate and the Foundation not endorse the Wright heresy is in itself enough to warm and justify every single line of warning and caution t Guardian has ever published! For make no mistake about it: any endorsement of the Wright position and any distribution of the tracts setting it forth will give undeniable evidence to the whole church that certain brethren among us want to DEFEND, PROMOTE. AND ENCOURAGE the idea that American elders can exercise ELDERSHIP AUTHORITY over a foreign work "on precisely the same basis" as they would over a gospel meeting in their on building.

Definition Of "Basis"

It is of little value ordinarily to speculate as to what has brought a man into a false and dangerous teaching But we believe in brother Wright's case the evidence fairly clear. He seems to have made his own initial, fat blunder in his failure to define the "basis" of the cooperation in the Music Hall meeting. He wrote all his nine articles on the assumption (and twenty-eight times repeated asseveration!) that the Music Hall meeting operation and the "sponsored foreign cooperation" we "on precisely the same basis." Yet, not one time did define what that "basis" is and was! Not once did point out the one ESSENTIAL, sine qua non, the indispensable feature of the Music Hall meeting: the presbyterial authority of the Norhill elders over the meet's Does he think the other Houston churches would have "cooperated" in that meeting without that? Then let him go back and read Cogdill's statement of the "basis" of this cooperation:

"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."

Brother Wright points out (in Article 8) five things which he says set forth the principles of the "sponsored, foreign cooperation." These are: (1) Preachers sent to distant fields; (2) Funds sent to distant fields; (3) Funds administered by others than contributors; (4) Projects promoted to be financed by others; and (5) Cooperation accorded. That there are similarities between a gospel meeting under a local eldership and a work in a foreign field no one will deny. But pointing out similarities and parallels is a long way from defining the "basis" for such work. The "basis" of such work is the underlying, fundamental, ESSENTIAL features of it that makes it scriptural. Brother David Lipscomb, in meeting the arguments of the society advocates on the "missionary society-gospel paper" parallel, used to say that there are "similarities" between a man and a horse, but similarities do not prove identity. And brother Wright did not argue that the cooperation for foreign work is on a "similar" basis, nor yet a "parallel" basis, nor even on the "same" basis as the cooperation in the Music Hall meeting. He says it is on "PRECISELY THE SAME BASIS." That's just about as emphatic and positive as language can make it—and it is emphatically wrong. Brother Wright is simply mistaken at the top of his voice. The BASIS that afforded scriptural authority for the cooperation of the Music Hall meeting was the absolute and complete authority of the Norhill church over that meeting. Without that authority there could not have been such cooperation. But because of that authority, the other churches could and did cooperate "on a scriptural basis." And the entire structure of the Wright argument is on the assumption that elders can have "eldership authority" over a foreign work "on precisely the same basis" as over a gospel meeting in their own community.

Wright Versus Paul

Here are four diagrams which set forth in graphic style the sharp contrast and the absolute antithesis between brother Wright's "sponsoring church method" and the plan taught and followed by Paul and his co-workers:

Many churches sending to a foreign field - Wright's method Many Churches sending to a foreign field - Paul's method
One church sending to a number of churches - Wright's method One church sending to a number of churches - Paul's method

The contrast between brother Wright and Paul is obvious. No one who has any respect for the New Testament pattern of things can fail to see the difference. For brother Wright's plan we have some highly involved and false human "reasoning;" for Paul's plan we have a New Testament example. It is a simple question of making choice between God's revelation and man's reasoning—or, as Cogdill put it (and Wright derided), "it makes the same difference as whether one sprinkles or immerses."

The Principle Violated

The principle violated by brother Wright's method, and respected by Paul's method, is that of CONGREGATIONAL EQUALITY. This is apparently the one significant factor completely overlooked and ignored by brethren Wright, Goodpasture, and Showalter. And it is a New Testament teaching so elementary and fundamental that it needs merely to be stated—not argued. But these brethren have seemingly ignored the fact that the "works" now being "sponsored" by American congregations in foreign fields are NEW TESTAMENT CONGREGATIONS. They are not simply gospel meetings, as was the Music Hall meeting, but they are congregations—and are equal in God's sight with any congregation anywhere on earth. For some distant church (or even one near at band) to "lead," "plan," "direct," and "oversee" that new congregation is a positive violation of New Testament teaching. And we are simply astounded that these good brethren could fail to recognize it as such.

Congregational equality is taught and believed by every gospel preacher we know. We believe it is taught and believed by brother Wright. But his nine articles on "The Cooperation Controversy" imply a position that clearly violates congregational equality. For the "work" which is being "sponsored" in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Africa, Japan, etc., starts off as a New Testament congregation! And that congregation, no matter how young, weak, and untaught, and no matter how badly in need of teaching, is nevertheless a scriptural church, with every right that inheres in any congregation of the Lord. It is completely independent of, and separate from, the church who supported the evangelist who started it. If in thirty years this new congregation has grown into a church of a thousand members, having scripturally qualified elders and deacons, it will be no more independent of, and no more separate from, the "sponsoring" American congregation then than it is the very first day of its congregational existence.

Elders have a God-given right and duty to oversee the activities of their own congregation; they have no right at all to oversee anything at all about another congregation. Brother Wright's articles imply that the elders who oversee the local meeting, to which other congregations contribute (an activity of their own congregation), can "on precisely the same basis" oversee the foreign CONGREGATION to which other churches contribute. That is exactly what brother Cogdill warned him of in his "road to Rome" paragraph.

The Other Alternative

But let us suppose (as will probably be the case once they see its implications) that the American elders repudiate brother Wright's contention; suppose they continue to insist that they are NOT exercising "eldership authority" in their relation to the foreign work, in spite of brother Wright's lengthy argument that they are, or can. Then what is the situation?

In that case, we ask, On what basis, or by what kind of authority are they receiving and spending the money of other churches? If they are not operating AS ELDERS in such action, just what is the nature of the authority by which they do operate? Under what kind of authority are they functioning? Are they simply "messengers" to convey the funds of the churches to the designated work? Have they been "appointed by the churches" to do this work? If so, then they are NOT acting as ELDERS, either in their home church or in the foreign church.

If such be the case, would it not be much, much better if ELDERS of American congregations would decline in any way to act as "messengers" of this sort? Many people (including brother Wright) seem to confuse their "eldership" in the matter, and labor under the delusion that in some way they are acting AS ELDERS in their receiving and forwarding of funds and in the "oversight" they take of the work which is "sponsored." One thing seems clear: these brethren are either acting AS elders, or they are not. If they are acting AS ELDERS, they are violating a New Testament principle. If they are NOT acting as elders, then they are simply a "committee" or an "agency" (self-appointed in most cases) for the handling of funds sent to them by various congregations.

If they seek to exercise presbyterial authority over a foreign work (as per brother Wright's analogy with Houston), they violate the New Testament principle of Congregational Equality; if, on the other hand, they do NOT exercise authority AS ELDERS in that work, then they are simply a self-appointed group of brethren, acting with no scriptural authority at all, functioning as a "committee" to whom various congregations have turned over their funds for spending in a foreign field.

There Are The Alternatives. Take Your Choice!!

As for us, we'll just plod along with Paul in his unorganized, hap-hazard, unsystematic, hit-or-miss fashion. We'll encourage the various congregations to send their contributions directly to the support of the work wherever it is being done. And we'll do what we can to get hundreds —and eventually thousands—of churches to select, send, and support their own men, in fields of their own choosing. We will urge that, if need be, many congregations send to the support of one man or one foreign congregation, each church bearing an equal relationship to that work, and no single one of the supporting churches having a relationship to it different from the others. Thus we will encourage the maintenance of congregational equality both among the churches in America, and between the American congregations and foreign congregations.

That kind of cooperation got the job done once; we believe it can do it again.

— F.Y.T.