Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 4, 1955

Present Day Problems And Basic Principles

Gordon Wilson, Saticoy, California

Such things as "institutionalism," "centralized oversight" of funds, and the "sponsoring church" idea all have their origin in a lack of understanding of the basic principles of the work and organization of the church. I have here attempted to catalog some of these principles and to present them in "poor man's" language, in the hope that they will be of help in clarifying and defining some of the problems of the church today.

(1) The only organization known to the New Testament is the local church, or congregation. There is no such thing as a universal church organization. The local church is sufficient to do everything that God wants His church to do. Whenever the "church universal" must act to get a work done, one of two things is apparent. Either the local church as God organized it is not sufficient, or else the work is not one which the Lord wants us to do. I'm certain that the latter is always the case.

(2) The authority of elders is limited to "the flock which is among you." (I Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28.) There are no elders over special works, nor can one set of elders oversee a work which belongs equally to more than one congregation. Texas elders cannot scripturally oversee a work which belongs equally to more than one congregation. Texas elders cannot scripturally oversee a work in Germany, or vice versa. They may contribute to such a work, but once the money reaches its destination it no longer belongs to them and they cannot control its use. Any control involved must take place before the money leaves their hands. Elders have a place in the church if they will just stay in it.

(3) The right thing must always be done in the right way. Surely we can see that the end does not necessarily justify the means. (See II Tim. 2:5, Rom. 6:1, 2.) God has not only told us what we are to do, but also how to do it. Methods of work are not left to man's discretion entirely as some brethren seem to think. Whenever we oppose modern schemes they cry, "Look at all the good we're doing." On these same grounds we could defend denominationalism, the missionary society, or what have you. What is wrong with organizing a group of Christians for the purpose of preaching the truth on baptism, and calling them Baptists? Or another group to preach the truth about Christian character, and calling them Holiness'? "Look at all the good they could do." Yet we have always opposed such things because the Gospel is to be preached by the church, and that means the local congregation. I do not mean that these denominations do preach the truth. I just use them to illustrate that the end doesn't really justify the means.

(4) Responsibility is commensurate with ability. Responsibility means "response to ability." Therefore, anything which we are not able to do as the local church is not our responsibility. And when we start doing things for which we are not responsible, we are out of order. Some think that responsibility is based on the task to be done, but this is not so. It is based on our ability to do the task. The worthiness of a work then is not the issue. "A congregation has no right to build anything larger than it is able to support. It has no right whatever to its own selection." (E. R. Harper, Tulsa Lectures, 1938.)

(5) No church can act as agent through which another does its work. This is not only unscriptural, but it is also impossible. It is unscriptural because every congregation is to be both independent and equal. "Agency implies subordination." (Yater Tant, G.G., June 2.) There was no agency involved when New Testament churches cooperated except that Paul and the other messengers were agents of the churches they served, and were subordinate thereto in that particular work. I say it is not possible for one church to act as agent for another because the control of funds is retained by a contributing church while the funds are still in the hands of the agent. But when one church works through another, it loses control of its funds.

If the will learn these principles, and learn them well, maybe we can come to agreement on how to do our work. The only way we can ever agree is by accepting the rules bind any other congregation to any program of work of laid down in God's Word. May He help us all to do that.