Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 19, 1953

Centralized Control A Reality

Roy E. Cogdill

For almost three years through the pages of the Gospel Guardian we have sought to warn the brethren against what we believed to be not only a tread dangerously leading toward digression but actually a departure from New Testament practice and authority. That warning has been against the "sponsoring" church plan of one congregation gathering funds from all the churches they could enlist to contribute to them and forwarding those funds to the workers on some field who were under their "supervision" and responsible to them.

We have pointed out that such a plan, now commonly referred to as the "Lubbock Plan" among brethren, actually was a centralizing of control and oversight in one congregation which destroyed congregational equality in performing the mission of the church. We have shown that such control as these "sponsoring" churches would exercise is beyond the scriptural bounds of authority to be exercised by the eldership of any congregation of the Lord's church. The New Testament principle is "tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight thereof" and "take heed to yourselves and to the flock over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers." Here the scriptural authority and oversight of any eldership stops and any extension of their oversight or authority beyond the work of their own congregation is certainly "ultra vires" — without authority.

We have contended that each congregation should do its own work under its own elders independently and when a task requires the participation of more than one congregation, each congregation participating should bear an equal relationship to that work. That is the scriptural way of doing the work of the church, any phase of it. It excludes the delegation of oversight by one church to another. It prohibits one congregation becoming the agent of another. It will not allow the yielding of control and evading of responsibility by any eldership but demands that each shall bear its own "burden" of responsibility for its own work. It is, of course, directly opposed to any one eldership promoting and exalting themselves to the position of trying to oversee and direct the work of many churches. Such "combinations" are completely contrary to everything the New Testament teaches about the government of God's church.

We have urged brethren to restudy the principles of the New Testament and refuse to depart there from for such departure leads down the road to ecclesiastical authority and organization and therefore to complete apostasy. All the other journals, practically, published by brethren have stood against us in this warning. Many pages of their regular issues have been given to a denial of all that we have had to say on the subject. Many different writers have rushed forward to assure all the brethren that our fears of "centralized control" were entirely unfounded. They at first tried to defend such "centralized control" and being unsuccessful at that they then took the route of trying to blunt the effect of what was being said against it by assuring everyone that the elders of Lubbock, Memphis, and various other sponsoring churches did not have in mind any "centralization" of power or authority but that they were merely "forwarding agents" in order to save money and perhaps time. In reply to this it was pointed out that New Testament authority would not allow even that. Churches sent to a church that needed their help to carry its own burden but in the New Testament no church ever sent through another church for any work at all. We pointed out further that such agency could not exist without congregational equality being destroyed. It inevitably would mean "control" and a delegation of responsibility.

For sounding out such a warning we have been called almost everything that one pretending to be any kind of a Christian could lay his tongue to while still making such a pretension and some of the language would be questionable even then. Some of these writers came forth with a series of articles that amounted to nothing more than "haranguing" about like you would expect in a political jousting during a campaign. They warned that we were dividing the church and described us as "fanatical crackpots," "religious bigots," "calamity howlers," "fulminating factionists," "petrified brains," and "heads of a factional movement within the church." Long articles were written in efforts to discredit us and destroy the confidence that brethren might have in us. These zealous devotees of the "Lubbock Plan" and defenders of such "centralized control" sought to point out that we have been inconsistent, prove that we are as guilty as they, and in their haste to discredit us some of the editors of these journals that have stood squarely behind this movement published in their journals misrepresentations and misinformation furnished them by some of our enemies without even stopping to investigate the truth of it in the evident hope that it was so and that we would be destroyed and our voices silenced in the church. They have not gone to the trouble, any of them, of producing New Testament authority, either in direct command, necessary inference, or approved example, for their practices. They have acted purely upon presumption and have not been able to even pervert any passage enough for it to resemble proof of their position.

In spite of all the "personalities" injected into the discussion and all the misrepresentation and malignment thrown at us, we have continued to call for any instance of one church contributing "through" another church to an independent work in another field and none has been advanced from the New Testament. Many of the brethren who themselves were involved one way or another have seen the principle and have re-arranged their work. Instead of sending through another church, the churches have learned that they can send direct to the worker whom they support on the field and by doing so they follow New Testament example. Among others who have awakened to this principle of New Testament truth are some of the evangelists on foreign fields who themselves were originally sent out by "sponsoring" churches. The witnessing of the actual control exercised by these sponsoring churches has helped them to see the actual truth of the matter. (See the letters from Brother Dick Smith, Karlsruhe, Germany, printed in this issue.)

We have tried, throughout the discussion on this matter, to give everyone credit for sincerity and honesty. We have not questioned the motives of anyone even in the face of ugly attitudes displayed against us. We have attributed to no one the ambition to control or advance themselves to places of authority. We certainly have charged no one with the deliberate intention of leading the churches into apostasy. We have given their disavowals of any intent or purpose to exercise "control" or "centralized power" due credit. In an effort to duly credit such assurances we have not charged them outrightly with the exercise of such control but have rather warned that their position in the matter will lead inevitably to such. The elders of the Broadway church in Lubbock, sponsoring Otis Gatewood in Germany, have assured the brethren repeatedly that they have not and will not step over the line of congregational independence and equality. They have denied and others have denied for them that they will seek to exercise any authority over the congregations established in Germany or make an attempt to control any of the other workers supported by other churches. Other "sponsoring" churches have likewise assured the brethren.

We have viewed with alarm some of the things that have been done. We have known instances where churches that were sending to the work independently have been solicited to send through the sponsoring church on the pretext that it would save a lot of money and be more convenient, etc. We have noted an instance of a congregation contributing half of the support of a particular worker in Germany being told by that preacher that he was amenable to the Lubbock elders instead of the churches supporting him.

When Brother Gatewood was in this country he was asked by this writer personally and by others on various occasions about the control that would be exercised by the Lubbock elders over the huge fund he was raising for church buildings. He admitted that the funds were being placed in a Lubbock bank to the credit of the Lubbock church and that they alone could withdraw it. He could not explain just who would decide where the buildings would be built, how much they would each cost, when they would be erected, or anything about how they would be controlled. He did deny that the Lubbock elders would exercise control over all these matters though he could not or would not clearly and adequately explain how the funds would be administered.

We are no longer in the dark about the control of these funds. All of the funds contributed for the German work through the Lubbock church are controlled by the elders of the Broadway church in Lubbock. We have their word for it now in a letter issued to all the workers in Germany and signed for the Broadway elders by Paul Sherrod. Brother Paul Sherrod has admitted in public meeting that he wrote the letter so there can be no question about its genuineness. (See the letter printed in this issue.) It is not hard to see now that all the fears of an ecclesiastical hierarchy being formed, unscriptural organizations being set up, and pressure and control being exercised in an unchristian manner, which some of us have had and about which we have sought to warn the brethren everywhere were all well founded. The inevitable has happened. The "centralized control" is a certain fact. The whole set up is out in the open. (See illustration.)

v4n45p2 illustration

The Lubbock elders constitute a General Board of Missions to control all of the funds of all the churches that contribute through them. They have an "Executive Committee" in brethren Richard Walker, Weldon Bennett, and Otis Gate-wood. This "Executive Committee" answers to the Broadway elders and is responsible for carrying out their instructions. Any group of Christians or any worker on the German field who would receive any of the benefit of the funds handled by the Lubbock elders must cooperate with this "Executive Committee." Thus the authority and control of the elders of the Broadway church in Lubbock is actually extended and exercised over not only all of the funds handled by them but the workers in Germany and the congregations in Germany are likewise subjected to their control or they will be refused any benefit from these funds. The evidence is also incontrovertible in the letters accompanying this article that if these workers sent out by these "sponsoring churches" do not bow down to such ecclesiastical authority and work in subjection and cooperation to it, no matter how it may offend their consciences or how much good they are doing, they will be cut off and either have to come home or find other support. The Grove Avenue church in San Antonio is the example of such a spirit. They are not interested enough in the good work done by Brother Smith and his fellow worker, Max Watson, in Karlsruhe where they have established a congregation of German people numbering about fifteen, that they are willing to keep them there. They must come home even if the work at Karlsruhe fails. Why? Because they are unsound in doctrine? Will Grove Avenue say so? Is it because they are unclean in life? Will Grove Avenue say so? NO! It is because they will not cooperate with the "Lubbock-Frankfurt Missionary Society" set-up.

The Lubbock elders tell us through Brother Paul Sherrod that they feel responsible for the funds other churches are contributing through them. Well, we are not surprised at that for we would feel the same way if we were in their place. When a man or group of men accept the position of agency or trust in which they handle several hundred thousands of dollars for others, they accept such responsibility. They should not only see to it that it is directed properly but they should make a report on their stewardship and render an accounting. We think the "sponsoring" elders are responsible to those churches contributing through them too. The very relationship that makes them responsible to other churches is the thing that is unscriptural. When did a church in the New Testament ever recognize its responsibility to another church in such a manner? New Testament congregations were all equally responsible only to the Lord.

They also tell us that they are in no way over the churches that have been established in Germany and they so state in their letter to the workers in Germany, but read the letter carefully. Have you noticed the "however"? It explains that because of their responsibility to the contributing churches they must exercise control over the funds which they administer. The very definite inference and the fact positive is that if any worker or any group in Germany wants to participate in the money forwarded by the Lubbock elders they must "cooperate" with the "committee" designated by the Lubbock elders to oversee its administration. No cooperation will mean no participation. That is about the system of control which the Baptist General Convention exercises over Baptist churches. They will tell you that each congregation has its own business meetings, board of deacons, its own budget, selects its own preachers, etc., but if that congregation expects to be recognized and receive any benefit from the general administration of affairs among the Baptist churches by the convention and if the preacher of that church expects to receive any recognition, consideration, and endorsement by the convention, they had better cooperate. From the actual report from the field, I seriously doubt if the Baptist General Convention really exercises as much control over Baptist churches as the Lubbock elders do over the brethren in Germany both among the preachers and in the churches. Money talks, it controls things, and the man who has the administering of the funds has the power. When so much appears to depend upon it people will sometimes "cooperate" and submit to things which they really do not believe.

Then to extend that influence and power not only to the buildings, the use of the tent, radio work, etc., but actually to bring enough pressure to bear, or to have enough power and influence that when a fellow-worker cannot or does not cooperate with "the committee," he will be recalled, summarily, and to begin with he will not even receive an adequate explanation for his recall, nor will he be given enough time to solicit and raise other support. Think about the Grove Avenue church demanding the return of a man and his family whom they had sent on thirty days notice. Why such haste? Well, it wasn't because of bad character, or unsound teaching. When he squeezed the reason out of them, it was because of "a failure to cooperate with the Frankfurt work," and his opposition to it. What is the Frankfurt work? Why that is the center of the Lubbock operation. Some thirteen workers stationed there and the "committee" holds forth there. Besides that the cathedral is there and it is the center of the whole operation. It must be some "temple."

Other singular facts appear. In a letter mailed out from Lubbock soliciting an additional $50,000 for further buildings in Germany there is the statement by Brother Gatewood and evidently endorsed by the Lubbock elders that in the campaign for building funds the churches of the United States had contributed $120,000. In a more recent statement appearing in the "Christian Chronicle," February 4 issue, 1953, Brother Gatewood said, "We asked you brethren to give $200,000. You gave $120,000. We knew then that this was not enough to erect the buildings that were needed." But in a recent public meeting in a church in the western part of Texas at which Paul Sherrod and J. C. Moore spoke and showed some pictures, in response to the direct question, "How much money has been contributed for the church buildings in Germany?", the answer was, "$280,000. When they were asked, "How much money was spent on the building in Frankfurt, the West-end congregation?", the answer was, "$190,000." How do these brethren reconcile these figures? Which is correct? Have the churches over here contributed $280,000 or $120,000 for buildings in Germany? No one knows but this group themselves. Then under what kind of circumstances do they justify building a "temple," comparatively, in Westend of Frankfurt costing $190,000 according to their own statement when they knew to begin with they didn't have enough to go around. The largest group that meets in this building for worship, according to their own admission again, numbers only 135, yet the auditorium of the building is capable of seating 750. In the school building unit there is an auditorium large enough to accommodate a good many more than their congregation. It appears that they do need to render an account of their stewardship.

I would like to join Brother Tant in suggesting that these brethren and congregations who do not believe in such "centralized control and oversight" come to the rescue of brethren Max Watson and Dick Smith. From all information they are in every way worthy of our help and they need to keep the good work at Karlsruhe going. Here is a chance to demonstrate our faith by our works. Will we do it?