Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 22, 1951

The Development Of The Missionary Society (In Kentucky)

Murray Marshall, Frederick, Oklahoma

Part II: Opposition To State Meetings, and Further Development of the State Missionary Society in Kentucky In our first article about the evolution of the Kentucky missionary society, we pointed out how A. W. Fortune in his book "The Disciples In Kentucky" begins tracing the society in its embryonic form in the early cooperative meetings of the churches, a treasurer being appointed in 1892 to receive the funds from the churches and to administer them. According to Fortune's history, this treasurer, a preacher of Georgetown, Kentucky, functioned in the role later filled by the society.

However the earliest "cooperative meetings" were free from any semblance of organization for evangelism. "At first they were for inspiration and or the general discussion of the common problems they were facing. It was not long, however, until there was the additional purpose of planning cooperative work." (p. 111)

The State Meeting of 1840 appointed a committee of five to select two state evangelists and to secure funds for their support from cooperating churches. Fortune says this "virtually was" a state missionary society. (p. 207)

Little interest was manifested in these state meetings. Those pushing them lamented that fact. (p. 208) Between 1840 and 1850 the state meetings decreased in scope, number and interest.

Under "Opposition To State Meetings" Fortune writes, "Aylette Raines, in the Christian Teacher, vigorously opposed the state meetings and the organization which was developing . . . on the ground that 'they are opposed to apostolic example'." (p. 209) Raines pointed out the fact that the apostles never appointed "a cooperation meeting ... composed of delegates from the churches..." (p. 209)

The desire developed however "to plan for a new method of cooperative work," for "a more definite organization of the churches in the state." (p. 211) "When this call was issued for a convention of the Christian churches of Kentucky to be held in Lexington in May, 1850, to plan for a COOPERATION MOVEMENT FOR EVANGELISM, the first chapter in the development of the missionary organization of the state ended." (p. 211) (Caps mine, MM) In the next chapter Fortune proposes to trace "the organization of a society with a definite constitution...its successes and failures" for nearly a century. (p. 211)

Chapter XIII deals with the state society, how churches were urged to send contributions, for "every church should be an auxiliary of the Kentucky Christian Missionary Society"! (p. 213)

The plan was "to have a permanent state meeting for a more efficient COOPERATION of the churches, and for the spread of the gospel, WITHOUT AFFECTING THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE CHURCHES." (Caps mine, MM) (p. 215) (Imagine!) The Constitution of the K.C.M.S. called for annual assembly of the messengers or delegates of the churches, voting on measures, organization of the various officers of the society with funds under the control of the board of managers who were to select the evangelists, to place them and to pay them. (p. 215,216)

Yet the 1850 convention was smaller than the 1840 one. There was much opposition to organization. Objectors called for scriptural authority, they compared the societies with sectarian organizations condemned through the years by all the brethren, and that such societies were not in keeping with their fundamental religious position. (p. 220) Quotations were made from the earlier writings of Alexander Campbell that no missionary societies were found among the apostles and that "In their church capacity alone they moved." (p. 341)

As to the effectiveness of doing such work through societies one need only read Chapter XX of Fortune's book. At one point he notes that: "Twenty-five years after the American Christian Missionary Society (the national society established in 1849 in Cincinnati, MM) was organized the Disciples did not have a missionary on the foreign field." (p. 355) It had sent out only three foreign missionaries during that time! (p. 354)

In Chapter XXI Fortune carefully discusses "Controversies Occasioned By Growth," noting, "In working out their program the Disciples found it difficult to adhere to their original principle and meet the needs of a changing world." (p. 362) "There were those who believed the church should move on with the world and ADAPT the SPIRIT of the New Testament to conditions that were ever changing. They held that, when NOT FORBIDDEN BY THE NEW TESTAMENT, they were free to ADAPT their program to changing needs. On the other hand, there were those who believed the pattern of the church was FIXED FOR ALL TIME, and the fact that certain things WERE NOT SANCTIONED was sufficient ground for REJECTING them." (p. 364, 365) He sums up this difference again: "There have been those who believed it is the SPIRIT of the New Testament Church that should be restored, and in our METHOD of working the church must ADAPT itself to changing conditions. There have been those who regarded the New Testament Church as a FIXED PATTERN FOR ALL TIME, and our business is to hold rigidly TO THAT PATTERN regardless of consequences." (p. 383) (Caps mine, MM) He recognizes these attitudes as leading to a cleavage between "Disciples of Christ" and "Churches of Christ." (p. 383) The last two pages of his text he gives to a rather fair and factual statement about "Churches of Christ." (pp. 399, 400)

As I mentioned in article one, I would comment briefly, hoping that others would make application of the lessons of history found in the facts I have brought to your minds. That this may have a helpful bearing on the present effort to stem the drift toward unscriptural methods of "cooperation" is my sincere desire.

Is the "sponsoring" church today supplying the place of other embryonic missionary organizations of other years through their supervising a foreign work although they are not supplying all the finances for such work? One recent instance, now discontinued, was the anomaly of a sponsoring church not making a contribution to the field they were "sponsoring!!"