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

Scriptural Church Cooperation (Concluded)

Marshall E. Patton, Birmingham, Alabama

Congregational Equality

The principles of congregational equality are plainly laid down in II Corinthians 8:14: "But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality." The principle of congregational equality applies not only in a work of benevolence, but also in all church activity! The above verse reveals four things by which churches are to be governed in the matter of sending money one to the other, which four things make for congregational equality.

  1. TIME — Paul says "at this time." The reason for which the money was sent was TEMPORARY, not permanent.
  2. ABUNDANCE — The contributing church must give out of its "abundance." This precludes sending to another church when the sending church is itself in distress and is receiving help from other churches.
  3. WANT — Money sent to another church must be sent to one that is in "want" with a view to relieving that "want" so that a state of equality is brought about. This "want" was inability on the part of the Jerusalem church to perform duties to which others were not equally related — duties peculiarly her own. Not every church that solicits money from other churches is in "want" in the Bible sense.
  4. EQUALITY — This is the end in view. Hence, churches should send to the one in "want" till the objective is reached, namely, equality — so that none are in "want." It even anticipates a reversal of order. The church with an "abundance" may in time become one in "want." The one now in "want" may become one with an "abundance." If so, the order is to be reversed so that once more the state of equality may be reached.

"Herald of Truth" is in violation of all four of these prerequisites to scriptural church cooperation. It violates the "TIME" element in that the need for which the money is sent is permanent, not temporary. The divine order is reversed! It violates the element of "ABUNDANCE" in that it solicits and receives funds from churches that are themselves in "want," which churches are themselves receiving help from other churches. Again the divine order is reversed! It violates the element of "WANT" in that Highland (the receiving church) is not herself in "want," but has an "abundance" of which she continually gives to other churches. This, too, is a reversal of the divine order! It violates the element of "EQUALITY" in that Highland asks of the "abundance" of others when she herself has an "abundance," and continually gives of the same to others. "Herald of Truth" COMPLETELY reverses the divine order!

Observance of these four things necessarily prevents any church being exalted above another — honored, praised, and glorified — in a great work of which she is "sponsor" when actually she is doing less than some of the contributing churches. This is God's WALL OF PROTECTION against the undue exaltation of one church or one group of elders above another. Remember, IT WAS JUST SUCH EXALTATIONS THAT OCCASIONED THE FIRST APOSTASY! No man can correctly estimate the worth of this wall of protection to the future security of the church. "Herald of Truth" runs rough shod over God's wall of protection by violating these New Testament principles of congregational equality.

Congregational Autonomy

The principle of "congregational autonomy" is axiomatic among children of God. Even some denominations affirm faith in it. However, as paradoxical as it may seem, many violate the principle while loudly affirming faith in it. No doubt they are unconscious of any guilt, but guilty, nevertheless. Proof is forthcoming.

The noun "autonomy" is defined by Webster: "Quality or state of being autonomous; right of self-government; a self-governing state." The adjective "autonomous" is defined by the same authority: "Independent in government; self-governing; also, without outside control." By "congregational autonomy" we mean the right of each church to manage its own affairs under the authority of Jesus Christ as revealed in His Word. AN AUTONOMOUS CHURCH IS ONE FREE OF "OUTSIDE CONTROL" IN THE WHOLE OF ITS ACTIVITIES — IN DOCTRINE, IN WORSHIP, AND IN WORK.

In the "HOMEWOOD VISITOR," Feb. 24, 1955, we read concerning "Herald of Truth": "The Highland Church, Abilene, Texas, exercises its NT autonomy in asking sister congregations to help it preach the gospel in this way and other congregations exercise their autonomy by either helping or declining. Thus the autonomy of no congregation is violated; the congregations are bound together in no sort of an organization, actual or in appearance." Thus, the editor asserts that in the work done by "Herald of Truth" the churches involved retain their autonomy, (1) because each church involved makes its own decision. (2) "The congregations are bound together in no sort of an organization, actual or in appearance." Gospel preachers have been meeting argument No. 1 all through the years from denominational preachers. It is putting it mildly to say we are surprised to meet it coming from a gospel preacher.

In conversation with a Baptist preacher of Cullman County, Alabama, a few years ago I denied that Baptist churches holding membership in their associations were autonomous. He affirmed that they were, saying "a Baptist church exercises its autonomy in making its OWN DECISION to join the association; by making its OWN DECISION as to whether it adopts and practices the suggestions of the association, and by making its OWN DECISION of withdrawal at any time. He denied any control on the part of the association over the churches and affirmed that the actions of such churches were strictly VOLUNTARY and according to their OWN DECISION.

Digressive preachers still affirm the New Testament principle of congregational autonomy. They deny that the missionary society violates the principle upon the very same grounds that the Baptists deny that their association violates the principle. They both argue that in as much as each church VOLUNTARILY makes its OWN DECISION with reference to its every action in relation to the organization under study, that it still has its autonomy.

It is easy to see that the editor's assertions on autonomy parallels that of the denominations. Indeed, he would be hard pressed to show any difference. Perhaps his only recourse would be, like they when hard pressed, to jump from one argument to another. However, argument No. 2 affords absolutely no comfort. Whether churches are bound together in another church, or an organization apart from the church, makes no difference so far as "autonomy" is concerned. EITHER CAN VIOLATE THE PRINCIPLE!

"Herald Of Truth" Violates The Principle Of Congregational Autonomy

Let the issue be clear! We do not affirm that Homewood loses ALL her autonomy in contributing to "Herald of Truth." The issue is this: In the performance of her duties, Does she have a divine right to turn over to "outside control" a portion of her contribution? In so doing, Does she thereby surrender her autonomy in that particular?

Suppose a young man proposes marriage to a young maiden and she accepts upon the condition that after marriage he turn over to her all his earnings to be spent at her discretion. He VOLUNTARILY makes his OWN DECISION in favor of the marriage. Question: Does he have any autonomy with respect to his earnings after marriage? Did he not voluntarily surrender the same?

If, because Homewood VOLUNTARILY turns over a portion of her contribution to "outside control" argues that she yet has autonomy in the matter, Would it not be equally true should she VOLUNTARILY turn over ALL of her contribution to "outside control"? Just how much of her contribution may be put under "outside control" before her autonomy is surrendered? Frankly, we have never been able to understand how any person or church can surrender a thing to "outside control" and still maintain control over it. It is like "having your cake and eating it, too." What a paradox!

Let no one deny that contributions to "Herald of Truth" are turned over to "outside control." Highland herself affirmed with EMPHASIS that "Herald of Truth" radio program is a work of the church of Christ at Fifth and Highland"! ("That the Brethren May Know"). Repeatedly of late she has affirmed that it is her work; that she directs and controls everything in relation to it. If this were not so, then she would find herself in the embarrassing position of being dictated to by other churches. SHE WOULD BE EXPENDING MONEY AT THE DIRECTIONS OF ANOTHER. Thus, her own autonomy would be surrendered!

It does not meet the issue to affirm that the "Herald of Truth" arrangement parallels the New Testament examples of church cooperation. Too wide a difference obtains between the two. It is this difference that many have overlooked. Nevertheless, a difference is there! Honesty compels us to acknowledge it! In the New Testament examples the contribution was sent directly to the object in "want." The relief was under the control of the sending church ALL THE WAY — even while in the hands of its messenger — till the church in "want" was reached. This is not so in the "Herald of Truth" arrangement. In fact, the receiving church is not in "want" at all — not in the Bible sense. Furthermore, she is without divine authority in asking funds of other churches when she herself has an "abundance." (II Cor. 8:14.) WHAT USE HAS SHE FOR THESE FUNDS? None, save to discharge a duty to which both she and all contributing churches are equally related. IT IS THIS MATTER OF TRYING TO DISCHARGE DUTIES THAT ARE AS MUCH THE DUTIES OF OTHER CHURCHES AS HER'S THAT VIOLATES BOTH THE NEW TESTAMENT PRINCIPLES OF CONGREGATIONAL EQUALITY AND AUTONOMY.

Competitive And Embarrassing

If it be God's will that one church seek control of the "abundance" of other churches — when she herself is not in "want" — to promote a program of her own design, it necessarily follows that it is God's will for ALL churches. Think what a competitive and embarrassing state of affairs this would bring about! Every church would be obligated under God not only to make full use of its own resources, but all the resources of other churches which, by persuasion, might be VOLUNTARILY surrendered to her control. It was this type of cooperation — seeking control of a work to which all churches involved were equally related — that developed the "man of sin" that Paul condemned in II Thessalonians 2:1-12. Once we go over God's wall of protection in this matter there will be no stopping this side of Rome!

The Basic Evil

This is the basic evil of the missionary society. IT SEEKS TO CONTROL AND DIRECT THE PERFORMANCE OF CHURCH DUTIES WHICH DUTIES ARE EQUALLY RELATED TO ALL CONTRIBUTING CHURCHES. It provides a means through which the church universal can function as a unit — a means and function for which God has made NO PROVISIONS in the divine pattern. The fact that the missionary society is "an organization separate and apart from the church doing the work of the church" is but a by-product of this unscriptural concept of control and church action. Correct this UNSCRIPTURAL CONCEPT and we make IMPOSSIBLE any "organization separate and apart from the church doing the work of the church," regardless of its nature — evangelistic, benevolent, or otherwise! Correct this UNSCRIPTURAL CONCEPT and we make IMPOSSIBLE such control and church action both without and within the church. Until we thus strike at the roots of this evil, it will continue to spring up in varied forms to disturb the peace of brethren and to threaten the future security of the church.

The overseers of SUCH work are without divine authority — it matters not whether they constitute a board of directors apart from the church or call themselves elders within a single congregation. I Peter 5:2 precludes their serving in such capacity as elders in the Bible sense! Elders in the Bible sense are overseers ONLY of the church "which is among you." If this has any meaning at all, it means they CANNOT in the Bible sense oversee any congregation save the one of which they are a part. It also NECESSARILY follows that they CANNOT oversee any WORK as elders in the Bible sense save that which is peculiar to the congregation of which they are elders, which means, A WORK TO WHICH OTHERS ARE NOT EQUALLY RELATED. The elders of Highland in overseeing "Herald of Truth" are directing a work to which all contributing churches ARE EQUALLY RELATED. Therefore, they are in violation of I Peter 5:2, There is no escape from this conclusion! Let him try who will!