Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 1, 1951

The Cooperation Controversy — No. 8

Cecil N. Wright, Denver, Colorado

This is the last article in the present review of the cooperation controversy started by the Gospel Guardian more than a year ago. More space has already been consumed than originally planned; yet only some of the high points has been covered. But it does not seem necessary to go on unendingly in an effort to display every foible and folly of the Guardian in its fight against the sponsoring church method of cooperation in mission work. Surely enough has already been presented to demonstrate beyond all possibility of doubt to all open minded persons that in general the Guardian's fight "without restraint" has been extremely inconsistent and "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd"—yea, even a matter of consummate and precipitate folly—far too much so for men as smart as the Guardian writers except when they are in gross error. And surely it will not take a Solomon, when giving consideration to these facts, to see that the Guardian has utterly failed in its effort to disprove the scripturalness of the basis or principle of sponsored cooperation in mission work.

Basis Or Principle

Notice that we said the "scripturalness of the basis or principle of sponsored cooperation in mission work." The Guardian publisher used the word "basis" when asserting the scripturalness of the sponsored cooperation in the Houston Music Hall meeting. He said it was carried out on a "scriptural basis." He did not contend that the scriptures give a specific example of a meeting like that one. But he said the "basis" of the Houston meeting was scriptural. That means that the principle or principles involved are either stated, exemplified, or implied in the scriptures. And it is only by the application of such principles that a great number of things can be said to be scriptural—as the use of blackboards or charts in teaching or preaching; the use of helps in Bible study; having a number of Bible classes simultaneously; the use of song books, baptisteries, communion plates, collection trays, etc.; or even the existence of publication societies, such as those responsible for the Guardian and other papers, "Dedicated to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity." It is being within the realm of principles stated, implied, or exemplified in the scriptures that makes any of these scriptural—and not a specific example in the scriptures. And it is on this "basis" that sponsored cooperation is scriptural, whether for such an effort as the Houston Music Hall meeting or for mission work in a distant field. Furthermore, the same principles that made the "basis" of the Music Hall meeting scriptural, make the "basis" of the same kind of cooperation scriptural for work in any other field as well. This is our contention. And this is what the Guardian has to disprove in order to have a case. But this it has not done, we think, cannot. This is why we think it is so palpably wrong. But now let us look at the principles involved that are exemplified in the scriptures, examining them more thoroughly than heretofore in this I review.

Principles Exemplified

1. Preachers Sent to Distant Fields. The apostles at Jerusalem sent Peter and John to assist in the new "mission field of Samaria. (Acts 8:14-25) The Jerusalem church likewise sent Barnabas to Antioch. (Acts 11:22)? And at the request of the Holy Spirit the brethren at Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul on an extended evangelistic mission. (Acts 13:1-3ff) Also, upon completing the work for which they were sent they returned to Antioch, "from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." (Acts 14:26, 27)

In these instances the preachers did not go out on their own, but were sent. They went out as directed. Banished, for example, went under the direction of the Jerusalem church. And Paul and Barnabas, who went under the direction of the Holy Spirit, were likewise sent by the Antioch church. It recommended them for the work and "sent them away," and they reported back to it. The Guardian editor, in his book, "The New Testament Church," page 89, uses this as an example of missionaries being sent out by a local church and their reporting to it. There was this relationship in this case in spite of the fact that Paul was an apostle.

In every instance given above the preachers went out to do a work they were directed to do, instead of going on their own. In a sense, therefore, their work was done under the direction of the churches sending them to do it. Hence, missionaries may be sent to distant fields—anywhere in the world—under the direction of a local church.

2. Funds Sent to Distant Fields. The Philippian church sent funds by Epaphroditus to support Paul in a distant field. (Phil. 4:15-18) And through Paul and others funds were sent by the Antioch brethren and by the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to supply the needs of brethren in Jerusalem and Judea. (Acts 11:27-80; Rom. 15:25-31)

So, brethren and churches may send funds to be used for scriptural purposes elsewhere. And they may employ others as forwarding agencies. The Philippian church used Epaphroditus. The other churches mentioned above used Paul and others.

But, since a forwarding agency may be used, why may not another church be so used if it is convenient and seems expedient? The Guardian editor himself grants that there is not "any violation of principle for a brother, or a church, to act" as a "forwarding agency," and declares that the Guardian is not "opposed to one church 'sending' money for another church."

3. Funds Administered by Others Than Contributors. The funds contributed by the Antioch brethren were sent to the elders (either of the Jerusalem church or else of the various churches in Judea), to be administered by them. (Acts 11:30) Those sent by the Macedonian and Achaian churches to Jerusalem were administered by Paul (Rom. 15:25-28), and possibly by others sent with him (2 Cor. 8:16-21), for he says "administered by us." (verses 19, 20)

Hence, funds may be contributed by brethren and churches into the treasury of another church, to be administered by it. In this instance, there are two ways to look at the matter. One is that the contribution is made to a church to enable it to do a given work with the money thus contributed; and the work done is the work of that church, though other churches make it possible for it to do it—or to do it in a "bigger and better" way—as the Guardian says was the case in the Houston meeting. The other way to look at it is that the contributors (individuals or congregations) who send their money to another church, send it to be "administered" by said church for them; and that the administering church acts simply as an agent or representative of the contributors. But whichever way you look at it, the procedure is precisely the same, and the money is used for exactly the same purpose—the purpose specified by the donors—and it is scriptural—the only difference being simply academic.

But funds may also be "administered" by individuals for contributing churches. Paul, and maybe others, administered them in Jerusalem for the churches of Achaia and Macedonia. The administrators may also have used yet others as their agents in this ministration—possibly the various congregations themselves, through their elders. Be that as it may, however, they (Paul and maybe others) "administered." And in doing so they acted as the representatives or agents of the contributing churches.

The sum and substance, then, of this consideration is that either individuals or churches may administer funds entrusted to them by other individuals or churches; and that it is scriptural for individuals and churches to entrust funds into the hands of other individuals or churches to be administered by them.

4. Projects Promoted to be Financed by Others. Paul promoted a huge benevolent project that he could not finance; and he enlisted the service of others to assist him in soliciting and collecting funds to be sent and administered in far-away Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8, 9) Wonder if any of the brethren then branded that as "digression" and "apostasy," and stigmatized Paul as a one-man benevolent society? Anyway, he saw a great need and a great opportunity. And he did not hesitate to promote a project to supply that need, and to solicit funds over large areas and from many churches to make that project a success.

Now, if Paul did it, surely it was legitimate. And, if it was right for one scriptural project, why would it not be right for another? If right for benevolence, why not also right for evangelism if the need seems thus to require?

Moreover, if Paul could do it, why could not any other Christian scripturally do it? And if an individual can do it, why cannot a church—by sending either messengers or letters to present the need and to make an appeal for the needed help?

5. Cooperation Accorded. Congregations cooperated with Paul in his benevolent undertaking. They contributed money. In some instances they also sent representatives to travel with him, and possibly to help him "administer" the funds contributed. And in at least one instance a number of churches chose a representative in common to assist him. (See 2 Cor. 8:16-24) By what procedure they all chose the same man is not stated in Holy Writ. The Holy Spirit did not think it necessary to reveal that detail, but did think it important to give an example of one man being "chosen of the churches" for a given work in which they were all interested and to which they were contributors. Thus they contributed not only money but also workers for the project promoted by Paul.

Since it was legitimate for churches to cooperate with an individual in a project promoted by him, would it not be likewise scriptural for churches to cooperate with another church in a scriptural project promoted by it? If they could contribute money and workers for a project promoted by an individual (though he was an apostle), may they not likewise scripturally furnish money and workers for a scriptural project promoted by a church? If not, why not? Remember that the churches in Houston did!

6. The Conclusion of the Whole Matter—summing up principles exemplified in the scriptures just studied—seems inevitably to be "that it is scriptural for individuals and churches to cooperate with another church in a project promoted, planned, and directed by it; that they may furnish both money and workers for such a project; and that solicitation may be made to that end.

Agreeably with this, and corroborative of it, the Guardian editor, defining a local church as "including all God's people in one community," wrote years ago as follows: "Local churches cooperated in doing their work but such work was always under the supervision of a local church and its eldership." (Rom. 15:25-26; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; Acts 11:28-30) (Roy E. Cogdill, in The New Testament Church, pages 38, 39, second edition, copyrighted 1938) In other words, when New Testament churches cooperated with one another in a given work, the "sponsoring" church method was always used. Such appears to be the import of the words of the Guardian editor as penned almost a decade and a half ago.

Such a conviction no doubt was responsible for the Norhill church deciding, while the Guardian publisher was its preacher, to "sponsor" the Houston Music Hall meeting in which "the other churches of Christ" were "invited" to participate and "twenty churches worked together as one"—though the "field" where the meeting was conducted was equally related to all of them—for this "arrangement" was "decided" upon "in order that the meeting might be carried out on a scriptural basis and without provoking criticism." (Cogdill, in Introduction to God's Prophetic Word)

The Guardian publisher approved the "basis" of that cooperative effort then. He and the Guardian editor approve it now. And we concur with them in this. Moreover, we insist that the same "basis" that was scriptural for cooperation in that meeting is likewise scriptural for work in any other field. But this the Guardian denies. And that is a chief reason why we charge that the Guardian is not only palpably wrong, but utterly inconsistent and "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd."

Expediency And Abuses

But this is not to say that such cooperation, or that any cooperation at all, is always expedient or that it cannot be abused. Strictly speaking, a thing has to be right before it can be expedient; yet it might be right and not be expedient under certain circumstances. Moreover, any good thing can be abused. It is right for a church to have elders. But it is neither right nor expedient to appoint elders unless there are men in a congregation qualified fox the eldership. And it is possible for elders to abuse their office. Though it is right for them to "rule," it is not right for them to be "lords over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3) —that is, to be bosses or dictators. Yet that has been done. It might be mentioned, too, that the papacy grew out of the eldership—out of God's own arrangement—out of an abuse and corruption of it, that is. But this is no reason for not having elders. Have elders, and uphold the principle of having them; but condemn and warn against abuses, both actual and potential. Likewise, encourage sponsored cooperation (for both local and non-local work), and uphold the principle of it as scriptural; but condemn and warn against abuses, both actual (if such are known) and potential. This is right. But it is wrong to condemn a right principle just because it may be or is being abused, or because something unscriptural has developed or may develop from such an abuse or corruption.

Two things in particular must be observed in all cooperation. (1) Congregational autonomy must be scrupulously respected. And, though cooperation may be invited or solicited, it must be purely voluntary. Undue pressure or coercion must be avoided. For a congregation to withhold the cooperation sough should never be an occasion for fussing and feuding. (2) No super organization should be formed, such as either a federation of the cooperating congregations or an organization separate from the congregations but used to coordinate and direct their cooperational activities—as a human missionary society. The church is God's missionary society. In it there is no organization larger than a local congregation. If a single congregation leads and directs in a given cooperative activity, and said activity is conducted under its supervision, no federation is formed and no separate organization is brought into existence.

These principles are illustrated by the Houston Music Hall meeting. Though "twenty congregations worked together as one," their cooperation was practiced "without the interference of human organizations," brother Cogdill wrote. One congregation "sponsored," took the "lead," "planned," and "directed" the effort. All activity was under its "supervision." And the other congregations simply contributed money for it to spend and workers for it to supervise in that effort. Thus there was cooperation without combination and without violating congregational autonomy in any way. No congregation delegated any of its authority or surrendered any of its autonomy. And no congregation usurped authority over any other local church or its elders. To all this, the Guardian itself is witness. Therefore no scriptural principle was violated. Neither is any violated when the same kind of cooperation is used for work in any other field. If so, why so? Answer this, who will? This the Guardian has not done thus far, and we predict that it will not.

Summary, Conclusion, And Appeal

It seems irrefutable that this review has demonstrated the following: (1) That the sponsoring church method of cooperation in mission work, which the Guardian has been fighting "without restraint," is eminently scriptural. (2) That the Guardian itself also editorially endorsed it as scriptural as late as only eight months before it charged it with being a "new digression" and "apostasy' and began its fight "without restraint" against it on April 20, 1950. (3) That the Guardian's charge of its being "new" is absolutely false. (4) That the Guardian's charge of its being "digression" and "apostasy" is equally false. (5) That the Guardian's editor and publisher have themselves made concessions that allow the very thing they have been fighting against "without restraint." And (6) that the Guardian's fight "without restraint" has not only been palpably wrong, but consummate folly—utterly inconsistent, "purely arbitrary and grossly absurd"—having been directed against precisely the same kind of cooperation for work in one field that it endorses for another, and threatened to be waged "even to the point of 'division' on exactly the same basis that those who opposed the instrumental music 'divided' the church seventy-five years ago."

We have not done this writing with joy, but rather with grief, and only because of a sense of duty. If we know our own heart, we have no personal ill will or spirit of vindictiveness. And in this review we have sought to avoid personal recriminations. But we do, with all the earnestness of our being, call on the Guardian to relent from its early implied threat (later avowed by the editor in a personal letter)—its threat of division if it cannot convince or whip or frighten the brotherhood into line with its views—a threat to make this issue raised by it a test of fellowship—a threat to go further, if you please, than even the premillennialists among us profess to do—putting its contention on the same basis that the anti-Sunday school, anti-college, and one-cup testers-of-fellowship do their hobbies. Truth is that if the Guardian's influence in this prevails to any great extent it will deter the progress of evangelism in mission fields as much if not a great deal more than these other factionists have hindered the cause where it has already been established. Moreover, if the truth it opposes is to continue with us, we can give place by subjection, no, not for an hour (to adapt the language of the apostle Paul in Gal. 2:5).

Furthermore, if the Guardian persists in its announced course and purpose, and does not relent at least to the extent of withdrawing its threat to press its fight to the point of division if it cannot get its way, does it not obligate us to apply Rom. 16:17: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them! Brethren—Guardian brethren included—think on these things—think soberly, prayerfully, and humbly, in interest of the cause and in view of eternity.