Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 22, 1955
NUMBER 20, PAGE 2-3b

Benjamin Franklin On Congregational Autonomy

Luther Blackmon, Houston, Texas

When I began to preach I asked the advice of some older preachers about buying books. I don't recall having ever asked one that did not advise me to get, if I could, Benjamin Franklin's "Gospel Preacher" in two volumes. I acquired both volumes and have read them through the years with much interest and profit. I heartily recommend them to younger preachers who are in search of good books.

Recently a preacher friend of mine in Arkansas was "fired" right in the middle of a meeting . . . the meeting was abruptly closed . . . his part of it . . . because he preached a sermon on the organization of the church. Much of the material he used in this sermon was taken from volume two of the "Gospel Preacher," from Franklin's sermon on "The Simplicity of the Divine Economy." This preacher told me that he had not mentioned "Herald of Truth" or any of the other brotherhood projects, but had simply preached what the Bible teaches and what our brethren have preached ever since the restoration movement began. He let me listen to a tape recording of the sermon that he had made when he preached it in another church. It was a splendid sermon. It was inoffensive. It would have been received with hearty approval in most any church of Christ in the world ten years ago. But now? — now the truth set forth in it strikes at the root of some of "our arrangements" and it must not be preached. The local preacher in this particular church, feeling the injustice of the treatment accorded the visiting preacher and recognizing that the truth had been preached gave the sermon his endorsement and he was fired. Shades of the inquisition!! I liked the sermon better than any arrangement I had on the subject so I copied the outline. You can look for my name any day now on the honor roll.. But if my preaching the Bible on the organization of the church, in a dignified and Christ like spirit, sends me back to the cottonpatch, let it be. I will go with my honor and a conscience void of offense. I would rather be a good cottonpicker than a poor preacher. And a preacher who bows to the dictates of elders like these is not only a poor preacher but he is without conviction. I might mention that the local preacher who was fired is located in a much better work. There are more than a few churches that have not bowed the knee to the current campaign of pressure.

Benjamin Franklin was dealing with the missionary society in his comments in the aforementioned sermon, but much of what he said is so apropos of the present practice of many of the brethren, it sounds like something that was written yesterday. Note the following examples: After pointing out that the works of God in everything are perfect and that every arrangement made by Him is perfect and leaves no room for improvement, he says: "In the same way, the divine economy in the new institution was perfect at the start. It can not be improved — it is the perfection of infinite wisdom. The Lord's work, or the work he does Himself, is simply right. The revelation He has made to man is perfect — complete. The gospel is perfect — complete. Nothing can be added, nothing taken away, without bringing ruin on him that does it. The divine procedure in the first promulgation of the gospel, and turning the people of the world from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, was right, and that procedure was a model for doing the same work in all time to come." (Emp. mine L. B.) Hear him again: "... but men have become weary of the tedious process of hunting for scriptures: and another class and a much larger one admit that there is no scripture for any of them; (their human arrangements L. B.) but they are left free to form any kind of conference, association, cooperation or confederation they may see fit; or as expressed in a paper at hand, "That the scriptures leave God's people free to adopt whatever plan of general organization and cooperation may seem to them best calculated to promote the unity and prosperity of the churches." This assumes that the Lord has given no law or rule; no plan of general organization and cooperation; and as He has given no law, we are left free to adopt any law that may seem best. (Where have we heard this before? L. B.) But if the Lord has given no plan for the purposes here specified, why? Does the conclusion follow that we may adopt any that may seem best? Not by any means. More likely for the reason that He did not intend any such plan or organization, and that the whole affair is an arrogant assumption. I take it that he legislated where legislation was needed, and where He did not legislate it was not needed nor intended." (In other words, if God had wanted the church universal to work he would have given instructions on how it was to be done, L. B.) Note this next sentence by Franklin: "Why did not the apostles and first Christians proceed on this freedom, and legislate where the Lord failed to legislate, and do this great work which the scriptures left the people of God free to do." Good question, don't you think? But hear brother Franklin further: he asks another question, "Why try to get rid of the idea that the original church is a model"? He then answers that question by pointing out eight reasons. The sixth one reads as follows: "Because, if the original church is a model we have no precept or example of any arrangement for a great center where the money is to come from the churches into a treasury, and be at the disposal of a few men. . . . But in the original church there was no "plan" like this to extract money from the pockets of the people and make the churches tributaries, and by some kind of machinery convey the money into one common treasury, and arrange it for a few men to appropriate the money of the whole people. In the first congregations they had no great moneyed centers for avaricious men to wrangle over. The appropriations were made by the individual congregations and not by boards at a distance. The congregations that gave the money could also appropriate it." It has already been stated that Franklin was here speaking of societies and associations. But how does his language sound when applied to some of our "sponsoring church" arrangements, radio work, et cetera? Maybe that is why brethren who promote these programs cannot be persuaded to write on "What is Wrong With the Missionary Society"? But this final statement from the pen of the illustrious Benjamin Franklin, which correctly states the feelings and attitude of every lover of truth: ". . . this will cut us off from many fine things, now occupying more space in the prints than the gospel of Christ. But no matter how closely it prunes us, we must submit to it or surrender our idea of "ancient order," the "Bible alone", a "thus saith the Lord" for everything and the first church a model. All this must go for nothing and much more, or we must submit. I am ready to submit, for the wisdom of God was in the formation of the first church.

Whatever was not in it was left out by infinite wisdom because it was not needed. We must not assume deficiencies in the work of infinite wisdom, nor that finite wisdom can supply such assumed deficiencies. Such assumption would be arrogant in the extreme, and open the way for any heresy men could invent".