Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 28, 1952
NUMBER 17, PAGE 1,12b-13a

Lard's Justification Of Missionary Societies -- Concluded

Robert C. Welch, Louisville, Kentucky

This is the concluding installment of the reprint and review of an article by Moses E. Lard in defense of missionary societies. His article appeared in his Quarterly, April, 1867. This article is being re-studied because it contains the arguments of many proponents of the societies during the time of their inception. These same arguments are being used by brethren who are beginning to see the parallel between the missionary society and some of the institutional and centralized programs being proposed today among the churches. In the part of the article already reprinted he gives three arguments in their favor, then the latter part of his article consists of reply to objections which were made to societies. His main objective was to try to show that the society principle is right of itself, but the only wrong to be found would be in its abuses. That is the sentiment of many brethren now. Unless brethren can be made to understand the sufficiency of the church for carrying on the work of the Lord, we will again be swept into a tide of digression equal to that of the past century when men failed to recognize the all-sufficiency of the scriptures as our guide, and the all-sufficiency of the church to carry out its precepts. This statement does not exclude work as individuals, nor the duties of families, for these duties are to be found in the New Testament; but there is no place for, or need for, any other institution besides the church for doing what the New Testament teaches that the church did.

The last two objectives he mentions concerns of the abuses. He admits that the societies are guilty, deplores the situation; but he fails to see that these abuses are integral parts of the societies. Every institution having zealous officers seeks to enlarge its scope of activity, its size, and every other phase of enlargement; no matter whether it be government, business, benevolent, or evangelization institution.

"Third, missionary societies are liable to abuse the authority they have, and to usurp that which they should not have. Every word of this objection I believe, and desire it to be felt in its full force. That these societies are so liable, I think no candid observer of their workings can deny. Still, they are not extremely so liable; hence this amounts simply to an objection, butnot to a strong one. Every institution, both of Christ and men, is liable either to abuse or to be abused. Hence bare liability to abuse may constitute either no objection at all, or a very feeble one. Not so, however, where liability is extreme. This of itself, as an objection, must generally be accepted as conclusive. But since facts do not warrant us in affirming this of missionary societies, it consequently lies not as an objection against them. I hence deem the liability of these societies to abuse their authority no sufficient ground for misusing them. If, however, on trying them, it shall be found that they actually and as a general thing do abuse their authority, then I shall say let them cease to exist at once, for abuse, though slight at first, would soon become excessive, and this would be intolerable."

As in all cases where he predicts that the societies would eventually prove their worth, he miserably failed in this prediction. He thought they would not abuse their authority, nor take any authority which did not belong to them. History of the society's development has shown that it will not be satisfied short of every form of power over the churches. The truth is, they had no rightful power in God's sight. The New Testament provided for no society, much less its power. Thus any authority that it has ever had is usurpation. That should have been seen by Lard and all promoters of institutions.

"The liability to abuse, of which I am speaking, instead of demanding the disuse of these societies, merely demands, in my judgment, the greater caution on the part of those who manage them, and the greater watchfulness on the part of brethren who sustain them. With this, no evil can result from them. If, then, they can be rendered useful, as I fee sure they can, and if they can be guarded against abuse, surely it is an act of the simplest prudence to have them.

"Fourth, the work that these societies do costs too much. In this, I think, there is implied a just objection, and yet I view the statement as faulty. That missionary societies are an expensive instrument of usefulness, even their best friends will not attempt to conceal. But this, after all, may be no objection to them. The work they do is generality, indeed almost universally, work which would either never be done or not be done at the right time. Besides, it is the work of saving souls of men. On this work no estimate can be placed. Hence it is surely wrong to say of it, in any case, that it costs too much. If it cost a million dollars to save one soul, still call it cheap. Let not this sublime labor be estimated in dollars and cents. Let no one ask the miser, with his interest tables, to aid us in making calculations here. If a missionary society is instrumental, in the course of a year, in saving one soul that otherwise would not have been saved, we shall honor the society, thank God for the result, and never atop to ask the cost. Certainly a given amount of work, if done by a missionary society, may cost more than the same amount done by a church; but then the work done by the society, if not thus done, would remain undone. The true question, then, respecting it is not, What does it cost? but, Shall it be done, or not be done ? While, then, I am willing to admit that the foregoing is an objection, and even a legitimate one, still with me it falls very far short of demanding the abandonment of missionary societies."

Lard admits that the societies are not as economical as the church in carrying on evangelization. He makes the assumption, however, that the church would not do what the societies do. That is nothing but pure assumption. If Lard and all other of those men who sustained the societies had spent their energies and teaching on encouraging the churches to do the work, the story would have been far different. It is likewise true of present conditions. If these brethren, who demand institutions for doing the work of the church with criticism of the churches for not doing it, would use the same effort encouraging the churches in their work instead of criticizing them, the churches would more adequately and economically fulfill their duties.

"These societies I wish to try longer, and try under more auspicious circumstances. Then, if found unworthy, I shall say, down with them. Till then I am not willing to see them set aside. I have not, however, the slightest objection to brethren writing against them, provided it be fairly done. If they are really objectionable, especially if they are seriously so, let the fact be fully known. I ask for no concealment of their faults; neither do I wish to see the least injustice done them. I repeat, let us have a fair trial of them; and this I hope, we shall have.

"In the case of all missionary societies, I would keep them completely dependent, both for the means of their existence and the means of their usefulness, on the annual contributions of the brethren. I would never allow them to become independent moneyed institutions. It is hardly less than certain that in that case they would prove a curse. Here I would not make even one experiment. The history of the past renders it needless. We know what religious moneyed monopolies have been in times past. From this we can safely infer what they would be in time to come. Hence, let us be careful never to endow missionary societies. Keep them dependent, if you wish to keep them powerless for evil. The moment you make them fat, that moment they will try to crush you if you stand in their way. And from dogmatically claiming the right to cause the gospel to be preached, they will soon claim the right to do many other things not contemplated in their original formation. Endow a missionary society, and never can you trust it more. You have now created a man of sin, and bitterly will you rue it.

"But I did not sit down to write a long article on missionary societies; nor yet to argue their case in detail or with severity. Not at all. My object was in a short compass to define what I believe to be our true position to them, no more. What they are, we know well. The question is, What shall we do with them? On this having now expressed my convictions, I am for the present done. As before said, they shall enjoy my countenance either till they prove failures or prove in some way so injurious as to demand repudiation. This I hope they may not prove; but if so, with the fact my defense of them ceases."

Thus his long article closes. The salient features of his article have been discussed and, so far as I can see, refuted. Much more could have been said in reply to the minor details of his article. But the series has grown too long already.

Scan his article again and see that his main defense lies in the position that they are right per se, but could be wrong if allowed to become abusive in practice. Then as he deals with the objections he seeks to leave the impression that the only thing to which much objection is made is their abuses. Such was not the case. Brethren objected on the ground that the scriptures were sufficient for every work; and that the church was intended by the Lord to be the institution for promulgation of the gospel; and any other institution for the purpose was usurpation of rights and powers.

May this be a warning to brethren who insist that societies are harmful only in abuses. May it be a warning against the use and defense of Institutions for performing other phases of the work God has designed for the churches. May it be a warning against the present trend toward a similar institutional organization in the so-called "cooperative" missionary programs.