Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 21, 1952
NUMBER 16, PAGE 1,12b-13a

Lard's Justification Of Missionary Societies — No. 5

Robert C. Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

This series is a reprint and review of an article by Moses E. Lard in his Quarterly, April, 1867. Lard, like some modern brethren, thought that the missionary societies were to be supported by brethren and churches because they were right within themselves. He thought that the only reason for criticism was in their abuses. A part of the article was a reply to objections made against the societies. This begins the second of these.

"Second, these societies, we are told in substance, are made substitutes for the churches, and undertake to do a work which the churches alone should do. 1. The societies are made substitutes for the churches. Whenever a brother takes this position, with the ability to comprehend his act, I at once set him down as a religious demagogue. No one proposes to substitute a missionary society for a church, or to supplant the one by the other, or in any way whatever to interfere with churches or their work. The position is wholly untrue. Missionary societies are substituted for churches neither intentionally, accidentally, nor in any other way. Nothing could be more unjust to the societies than such a charge; nothing more unjust to their friends. Could a solitary instance be adduced in which a society was interfering in any way injuriously with a church, no brethren could be found more ready to work the death of that society than the very men who are now the warmest friends of the societies. These brethren are just as jealous for the churches, their unabridged rights, their authority, in a word, everything essential to them as churches, and their usefulness, as are the zealous and conscientious opponents of societies among us. Belief that missionary societies can be rendered eminently useful, and should therefore be used, by no means implies abandonment of the churches, or a willingness to see them in any way crippled. All such charges are groundless, and gratuitously wounding to the feelings of good men who love Christ with their whole hearts and spend their lives in his service. Certainly when uttered, great incaution is displayed."

The societies were not made substitutes for the churches in every respect. They were made substitutes for the churches in sending and supporting preachers at weaker places. They do more than that today, but at the beginning that was their object. Brother Lard was wrong in his charge that others said they were substitutes for the churches without any limitation placed on the charge. Surely, the societies want the churches to continue, for it is through the congregations that they receive their funds; if not directly from the churches it is through the members of the churches. But to say that they do not intend to be substitutes for the churches in the work they do is but to ignore the facts; even though Lard was a strong preacher in intellect and understanding, and said that those who say they are substitutes are demagogues.

He further said that the brethren in the societies were jealous for the churches' "unabridged rights." Maybe so, but if they were, they knew nothing of the nature of the monster they were building. The very nature of the society would destroy the independence of the congregations connected to the society. Its centralized authority and work destroyed the independence of the congregations. What Christian Church today contributes anything directly to any preacher other than her own "pastor"; or has any evangelist amenable to her instead of to the society? There is no independence of the churches in this missionary work among the digressives. The centralized programs now in vogue for evangelization are making the same claim that they are equally jealous for the "unabridged rights" of the churches. But such centralization of work cannot have independence of the member churches.

"2. The societies undertake to do a work which churches alone should do. This statement may or may not be true, according to the circumstances of the churches. If the churches were able to cause the gospel to be preached in all places, unquestionably, I should say, they ought to do it; but such, we well know, is not the case. Now where this inability is known to exist, and yet by the creation and use of a missionary society we can send the gospel where without this instrumentality it would not go, I hold it to be not only right to create and use the society, but a solemn duty to do so. Should any one demand proof that in this I am right, I must respectfully say that I decline even an attempt at compliance. Some things may be debated others are too obvious to require it. Even the dignity of truth may sometimes be compromised by consenting to put it into controversy.'

This is just about the nicest way of saying that the man is not ready to defend his position as this writer has ever read. Is it possible that these brethren who refuse to debate an issue on fair propositions today have read Lard's reason for not wanting to debate the question of the "solemn duty" to support missionary societies? The only difference is that all brethren are not able to decline in such a nice way.

He says that it has its right to exist and work when the church is unable to support an evangelist. Had it not entered into his mind that if the members contributed to the church instead of to his society, the church would be able to do what he claims for his society? It is an open fallacy to argue the right of existence of a society for receiving money from individuals to do a work which the church is not doing because it does not receive the contribution of those individuals, because they are giving to the societies — the fallacy of arguing in a circle.

"But there is still another case to be noticed. Suppose the churches to be able to cause the gospel to be preached, but unwilling, what then? May we create a missionary society? Not at all, say the opponents of these societies; but go to work on the churches and get them right. Very well, what has been the success in this line of those who have been all the time opposing missionary societies, and, of course, working on the churches? Have they succeeded in getting the churches right? Are the churches on which they have wrought one whit ahead of those where missionary societies exist, and where, by assumption, the churches must be neglected? Very far from it. My opinion is, that the churches where missionary societies are not are more lifeless and inefficient than those where they are. I feel thoroughly satisfied that a comparison of facts would fully sustain this opinion.'

In comment on the above argument a question is in order. Do two wrongs make one right? If the churches are not willing to have the gospel preached, they are wrong. But that does not make the society right. Why build a thing that is wrong just because the church is not doing its duty. That can never make the church right, nor will the society bring blessings of God to its supporters. If those same men who were so strong and zealous on behalf of the societies had used their abilities and energies in getting the churches to have the preaching done, possibly those churches would not have been lifeless. Actually, Lard has used a criticism of the churches here, which use he denied to the opponents of the societies. He said that it was wrong to criticize and cripple the societies, yet he has criticized the churches for their lifelessness and offers a substitute for them in the work he says they should be doing, thus crippling them in their liberality and work.

Furthermore, he was not able to see far enough in advance in his opinion that the churches which did not have the societies were more lifeless than those which had them. Today, there are nearly a hundred churches without the societies in the town of one of the societies' strongest opponents, while there are only four of those churches who have the societies. Brethren, who are criticizing those now warning of the dangers of centralization of missionary work again, need to get a lesson from this opinion of Lard. They are heard to criticize the churches, which do not support these centralized programs, by saying that they are lifeless; and that an interest in such a program will cause a greater liberality. That is what Lard thought too. Was it true then? Is such opinion any more true today? Or will history have to prove it otherwise again?

"Hence, before the brethren further oppose missionary societies on the score that all the working our power should be done on the churches, and all the preaching that is done should be done through them, let them show a more prosperous state of the church and greater efficiency in causing the gospel to be preached where these societies are not than where they are. Then shall I feel that they confront us with facts, and that they have an argument against these societies. Till then I shall continue to feel, as I now feel, that although objections, true and relevant, have, pending the controversy, been urged against these societies, still, up to the present, not even one thing rising to the dignity of an argument, in the true and proper sense of the word, has been constructed against them. Nor in this is there expressed even the slightest wish either to underrate or impair the force of what has been said by the opposition. My only desire is to be just to these societies, just to their friends, just to their opponents. Still, up to this writing, I am bound to confess that in the controversy I think the argument wholly with the friends of the societies, and the ad captandum on the other side. In this I grant brethren may think me partial. I should scorn to be so, except where stern right demanded it."

Sufficient to be said here is that; though he refuse to debate the issue unless the others are proving more productive; such unproductivity of opponents, and such refusal to debate on his part, does not prove the right of the missionary society to exist as a rival to the church in her work. This has been said recently by a brother in one of our periodicals; that is, that he would not debate an issue unless the other brother was doing something about his position. Brethren, should we not want to test our ground, and prove ourselves to be right to others even though our opponent be doing nothing and insincere?

Surely as Christ opposed those who "say and do not," engaging them in strong controversy, so should we be willing and ready to defend what we believe to be the truth against all adversaries.

(To be concluded)