Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 7, 1951

Let The Reader Decide --- No. 2

W. W. Otey, Belle Plaine, Kansas

In a former article we told of some of the work of the Union Avenue Church, Memphis, Tennessee, in acting as centralized agency for hundreds of ether churches in a program being carried on in Japan. The second question of vital importance has to do with the actual work itself.

It seems that the program proposed and being carried out through the Union Avenue elders was largely planned by brother E. W. McMillan. But it is endorsed and sent out over the signature of the Union Avenue elders, hence it is their program. On pages 29, 30 and 31 of the pamphlet, "The Voice of Opportunity From Japan,' several institutions are proposed, the total cost of which is estimated at $419,000.00.

Now the first question is: By what scriptural authority can elders of a local congregation plan, propose, and begin carrying out an enterprise (even if it were a scriptural work of the church) to cost many, many times the amount within the possibility of that church to perform? This is a question not before raised, but it deserves serious consideration by every member of the church. If one congregation can scripturally plan and undertake so tremendous a work (even a work that the Lord has assigned to the church) on the same principle many congregations can propose like undertakings. Where, then, would each congregation dump (yes, dump!) the responsibility into the lap of other congregations? By what scriptural precept or approved precedent did Union Avenue elders plan, propose, and undertake so vast an enterprise, and then virtually lay its support at the door of hundreds of other congregations, with such pressure as at times to amount almost to a "demand' that other congregations get under the load and accept it as their own burden? This phase of this present question, and others of similar character, should be given the most serious consideration. It is as clear as light from the history of the past that such plans, launched by a few, soon required and obtained centralized soliciting, collecting, and disbursing powers. Will it be different in the future? In reality do we not already have such institutions in the forming?


Under the heading "Needs' we find the following:

"Our missionaries say, give us ten years with the Ibaraki Christian College in Japan and the gospel will be preached in the whole nation. Those of us who have been closely connected with this work believe this is possible.'

Whose missionaries are in Japan? The letter from Union Avenue speaks of them as "our missionaries,' and speaks of "us' who believe this possible.

Further quotation:

"Blue print and estimate in hand to accommodate a school of 500 students—administration building, library, dormitory, athletic field, cafateria, etc., would cost an estimated $325,000.00."

Frankly, brethren, how many of you who have been contributing so liberally to the Japanese enterprise, have known your money was not going for preaching the gospel, but to build a school through which to work? Did you know that a part of your contribution was to be used for "cafeterias, sewing schools, nursing schools, community centers?' All these things proposed by the Union Avenue elders are most certainly right and proper in their place and supported by the proper persons or agencies. But what concerns us is, what scriptural authority is there for the church, or churches collectively, to take money from the Lord's, treasury to build and maintain, "athletic fields, nursing schools, community centers,' and things of like character? Since when has it become an obligation of the Lord's church as such to enter into the fields of political and social institutionalism? Have we not all fully understood that the church's money is to preach the gospel to lost sinners, seeking to turn them to Christ and to build them up in the likeness of Christ? The vast program for social, political, and economic institutionalism proposed by brother McMillan and the Union Avenue elders most certainly has not been copied from the New Testament. It appears to be an almost exact blue print of the plan the denominational churches have been using. That fact alone, of course, does not prove it either right or wrong. But it should give pause to those of us who claim to follow the New Testament model.

The "Cooperations'

Confessedly this is the most delicate question that I have ever by conscience and judgment been forced to deal with. The preaching of the gospel is so great, and makes such a strong appeal to the heart of every Christian, that to oppose anything relating to it is most distressing. With all my heart I rejoice in every scriptural effort to proclaim the glad tidings of Christ. But with all my being I fear the danger of drifting into an "institutionalism' that will, as always, end up in open denominationalism.

Nearly sixty years ago I sat in meetings called "Cooperations.' There was almost no sign of an organization. But even then I verily believed that such meetings had in them a germ that would grow into an organization, which would, in turn, lead to apostasy and the destruction of the New Testament order of things. With great reluctance I refused to go along with my brethren in their enthusiasm for these "Cooperations.' The sacrifices I had to make, the stigma cast on me, the repeated charges and accusations that I was "opposed to preaching the gospel,' the Lord alone knows. But I was not mistaken. The evil germ which I thought I saw in these innocent looking "cooperations' soon grew into a number of similar organizations, until some six or eight of them were in operation.

It was in 1908 that J. B. Briney affirmed in the Louisville debate that "such organizations as the Illinois Missionary Society, and the Foreign Christian Missionary Society are authorized in the New Testament.' It has been, and still is, my opinion that brother Briney made the greatest effort that has been made to this date in proving such institutions scriptural. In October, 1910, I sat in the annual meeting of the National Convention of the Christian Church. I saw J. B. Briney in that convention, and around him were gathered a dozen or more venerable men (including Zack Sweeney) who had spent eight years in pressing the missionary societies on the churches.

The skilled political tactician, Peter Ainslee, of Baltimore, sat on the rostrum, and beside him sat R. A. Long, the multi-millionaire lumberman of Kansas City who wielded such powerful influence in the Convention. A move was under way to form all their separate and independent Societies into one organization. The movement was successful, and the United Society of the Disciples Church was the result. But during that memorable day, in the heated sessions of the debate, I saw J. B. Briney, a man of great intellect and overpowering personality, spring to his feet no less than three different times to oppose the union into one organization. This was the man who two years and two months previously had affirmed that Missionary Societies are authorized in the New Testament. But when brother Briney tried to oppose the formation of all the societies into one super-society, in that October, 1910 convention, he was not allowed to utter one single sentence!

It is my opinion that the expressions of despair and defeat on brother Briney's face was the most unforgettable I have ever seen. For half a century he had been perhaps the most powerful advocate of such societies. After that 1910 convention, he spent the rest of his life opposing what he had labored so hard to build up. Will some young man now living have the same tragic, heartbreaking experience?

The gospel has been, and still can be, preached anywhere and everywhere with no other organization than the local congregation. But such financial and social work as proposed by Union Avenue brethren on so vast a scale, cannot be successfully carried on without some centralized, soliciting, receiving, and disbursing agency.

We see such an agency actually in existence right now. It is high time that we quit trying to deceive ourselves, or others, by claiming that we are following the New Testament model in this undertaking. Let those advocating and defending the practice be honest and fair enough to acknowledge by explicit statement what is apparent to every man who reads their reports with any discernment at all, namely: that a centralized agency in now actually in existence. Then will anyone who has been so zealously affirming New Testament example for such work just mention one place in the New Testament where any congregation ever proposed, or undertook, such a program as the Union Avenue brethren have set forth? Where did any apostle ever authorize such? Who will be the first to show us an example?