Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 8, 1951

The Development Of The Missionary Society

Murray Marshall, Frederick, Oklahoma

In the present controversy over "cooperation," "sponsoring," or "centralized control and oversight" in evangelistic work, as the issue has been variously called; many quotations from the pioneers have been made. In the present I wish to share with you a study of the evolution of the missionary society as given in a history by A. W. Fortune. Mr. Fortune is a digressive ("First Christian Church") of the modernist wing. He seems rather objective in his historical outline and fair in his presentation of arguments on both sides of this and other controversies in the brotherhood over the years since the Restoration.

My purpose is to present the historical sketch as he gives it in his book "The Disciples In Kentucky," published in 1932 by "The Convention of Christian Churches in Kentucky." If you have the book you can read the full accounts in chapters 12, 13, and 21, in particular.

My plan is to be brief in my comments, hoping that others will comment on and point out the relevancy of elements in this historical sketch to our present controversy. I do think we can apply some of the lessons of history manifest in this sketch. It seems a study of the historical background will go far in substantiating the warning of the older brethren that the present dangers are very similar!

In the preface, Fortune says he aims "to have the historical spirit ... In discussing the controversies within the church he has tried to be impartial." (p. 8) He begins chapter 12, entitled "Beginning of the Kentucky Christian Missionary Society" with mention of "the development of the spirit of cooperation among the churches" and says "This cooperation . . . developed as there was necessity. This inevitably led to a general organization, the Kentucky Christian Missionary Society, which was the AGENCY OF THE CHURCHES for the work of evangelism in the state." (p. 197) (Capitals mine. MM)

Under the heading "Earliest Cooperative Meetings" he notes the early practice of sectional meetings, usually held annually, "for fellowship, mutual encouragement, and the promotion of their cause." (p. 197).

The selection of two men to be state evangelists in 1832 and appointment of a "treasurer to receive and administer the funds" which was done "at general meetings . . . attended by many of the leaders" in Kentucky, this Fortune calls "the first missionary society of the Disciples of Kentucky, and it can rightly be regarded as the FORERUNNER of the Kentucky Christian Missionary Society, for it was to DO THE SAME WORK which this society was later organized to do." (p. 198) (Capitals mine. MM)

But "many of the Disciples refused to have anything to do with this COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT" because they saw no authority in the scriptures for such efforts. (p. 198) (Caps mine. MM)

The following years only the "churches north of the Kentucky River" were asked to "cooperate to keep them (i.e. the state evangelists, MM) in the field." Smith and Rogers were again appointed by the "representatives of the churches" and John T. Johnson (a spearhead of digression in Kentucky, MM) "was again appointed treasure and the churches were asked to let him know as soon as possible how much they were willing to give . . . 'in regular payments.' (p. 199) All of this embryonic missionary society seemed so innocent in view of the great object in mind, that of making effective the union between the forces taught by Barton W. Stone and those taught by Alexander Campbell and his co-workers. Fortune speaks of the evolving organization as "this cooperative enterprise" (p. 199) and of how the churches were urged "to cooperate in sending out evangelists, for they said, 'cooperation is the life of any cause'." (p. 200)

A similar "cooperation meeting" was called for the South Kentucky churches "to appoint evangelists to labor among the churches" (p. 200) and a "treasurer and general agent of this cooperative movement" was chosen. "He was to receive money from churches and individuals and disburse this money according to instructions. The churches were requested to COOPERATE BY FURNISHING THE NECESSARY FUNDS TO PROMOTE THE WORK THAT WAS PLANNED." (p. 201)

A later "cooperation meeting" was announced and churches requested "to meet us, by their DELEGATES, at that time." (p. 201, Caps mine, MM) "There was a growing feeling that an ORGANIZATION of the churches to promote the work of evangelism was a part of the ancient order!" (p. 201, Caps mine, MM)

In 1855 four counties formed a cooperation, organizing a committee to meet quarterly, receive reports from the evangelists, and to superintend their work. Fortune says "This was the most highly developed cooperative movement up to that time. (p. 208)

"Annual meetings of the churches of counties and districts soon became the general custom in Kentucky." (p. 203) In at least one quotation given by Fortune such a meeting was called "a convention." (p. 203)

Later "organizations were affected for the support of evangelists" and J. T. Johnson began to advocate "the county plan," which he said was succeeding well in two counties. (p. 204)

Under the heading "Organization Imperative" Fortune briefly reviews the succeeding steps: "At first . . . a simple cooperation in which all churches were invited to have fellowship to support Smith and Rogers as evangelists. Then the churches north of the ... River formed an association to support these men ... Then the church south . . . formed an association to promote ... evangelism ... The churches of the four counties . . . then agreed to co-operate in keeping four evangelists in the field . . .

followed by the organization of the churches of other districts, counties and parts of counties ... " (p. 205) He says "The general organization ... developed naturally as there was need." (p. 205)

Then a state organization "binding together" all the "churches of Christ in Kentucky" was proposed in the year 1840, "to plan for united action in the work of the state." (pp. 206, 207) "A committee of five . . . to select two evangelists for the state" was appointed and "Steps...taken to secure the cooperation of the churches" for their support. "Although this was not called a state missionary society, it virtually was that." (p. 207) (Next time: Opposition to State Meetings, and Further Development of the State Society.)