Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 17, 1955
NUMBER 28, PAGE 8-10a

"Church Cooperation" (Continued)

Cleon Lyles, Little Rock, Arkansas

Now, there are some things that the Bible does not say. The Bible does not deal in methods, the Bible deals in principles. Our Lord's teaching was largely principle, and methods the Bible deals very little in. Take for example in the case here — how many elders did these congregations have? I don't know. Now for me to come along here and say they had so many, I am legislating. And that's what I learned in the first argument that I can't do. I can't legislate where God has not legislated. We have been in the congregation at home for some few years — we had six elders and only six — need a lot more than that. After tomorrow, the Lord willing, we will have nine, unless somebody objects between now and tomorrow, and I'm sure they won't. And so we'll have nine. I'm sure there ought to be more than that, and I am sure as days come and go that there will be more. But how many should a congregation have? Well the Bible doesn't say. And I can't legislate there, I've got to leave that there.

On the other hand, how were these elders appointed? Well, I don't know. I know that these inspired men appointed some, but how does a church that doesn't have an inspired man appoint elders? Well, I don't know. I mean by that I don't know anything in the Bible about it. I know what the general custom is — or method. The Bible doesn't deal in the method of appointing elders. The Bible just says it ought to be done. So, the method that is generally used is for somebody, maybe the present elders, maybe a committee selected, maybe in some other way, to suggest the names of brethren whom they believe are qualified, to approach them with the idea and if they are favorable to it, to announce it to the congregation and give the congregation time to study it over, and pray about it, and if any body in the congregation feels they are not qualified they have a right to express themselves, and if the congregation doesn't express itself unfavorably, that that means that they accept them and they go on operating. Now I guess there are other methods but that's the general method where I've been, and generally that's what's done. How does the Bible say do it? Well, the Bible doesn't deal in methods like that. The Bible says that elders were to be appointed, but didn't say how to appoint them and didn't say how many we ought to have.

On the other hand, how were these elders going to operate? Shall they meet in a business meeting once a month? Or shall they meet in a business meeting twice a month? Or shall they meet in a business meeting at all? Shall they include the deacons in the business meeting? or any of the congregation be invited? Or shall they have a closed session? How are they going to operate? The Bible doesn't say. The Bible tells them what to do but the Bible doesn't tell them how to do it. The Bible said tend the flock. That you are examples. Don't do it by constraint and as lording it over God's heritage, but you are examples to the flock. Now, how are you going to operate in the matter of business meetings? and deciding various questions? The Lord didn't deal in that idea or in methods along that line, so the thing I want you get there is that the Bible teaches in the first verses that I read that I cannot legislate where God did not legislate. I can't come here and tell you you have got to have six elders, or three elders, or ten elders — you know best how many elders' you can have. And I can't come and tell those elders that they must meet in a meeting with the deacons or without the deacons, with the church or without the church, once a month or twice a month, at all. I can't tell them that, because the Bible hasn't legislated. They have to determine that. The Bible told them what to do, and how they do it is left entirely up to them as far as the Bible is concerned.

Well, the scriptures authorize a pattern for worship. Eph. 5:18, 19, "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Col. 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God."

Now, what have we learned from those verses? First of all, we learn that men ought to sing. We also learned what instrument is to be used. Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. And we have learned the kind of songs that ought to be used — psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Now, if I understand that correctly, that means that I couldn't stand here and sing, "Mairzy doats 'n dozy doats 'n little lamzy divy", and be pleasing to God. Or that I couldn't sing any other of the modern songs that men and women sing generally because they are not spiritual and do not teach and do not admonish. Well, of course, that is an elementary illustration but you understand what I mean. So, he said, "psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs." Now that confines me to the kind of songs. "In your heart to the Lord," that confines me to the kind of instrument.

Now, Lord, how many songs are we going to sing? Shall we sing three before prayer, and one after prayer? Or shall we sing two before prayer and two after prayer? Or shall we sing one before prayer and none after prayer? Well, the Lord didn't say. And so if I come along and lay down the law and say, "Now here, you've got to have three songs before prayer and one after — and we've done that so long that a lot of brethren have come to think that is a law, and I find many churches are doing otherwise just to prove that it isn't. I remembered a meeting I recently had part in, which closed Wednesday night. They had two songs and then the announcements, another song and the prayer, and they just kept stacking things until you didn't know which way they were going, but they always sang and they always prayed, and they always did it right. How may songs? He didn't say. Now if I come along and tell you you've got to sing so many with so many verses, why I am legislating. A man came into my study a few years ago and he said, "Brother, there is an ungodly thing going on in the brotherhood that's leading to digression, and we are going to be divided and the church is going to apostatize if we don't get rid of this damnable heresy that is taking place in the church of our Lord." There is a man who had served as an elder of the church for a number of years, and so I asked him, "What is it." He said, "This idea of just singing three verses to a song when there are four verses or five. If the Lord didn't intend for all of those verses to be sung, I'm sure he wouldn't have put them in there. And so unless we sing all of them we're doing wrong." Well, he is trying to lay down a law that God didn't lay down. I left, and left someone else to explain it to him who was more nearly his age. But, nevertheless, the Lord didn't say how many verses to put in a song or how many songs to sing. Lord, what kind of songs shall we sing? I mean by that — shall we have 4/4 time, shall we have 6/4, shall we have 2/4, or 3/4, or 1/4, whatever 4's there are? Lord, what time shall we sing in? Shall we sing rapidly, shall we sing slowly, shall we sing songs that have an after beat, where one man grabs a little piece of it and runs off over that way, or shall we sing songs altogether? He didn't say. And I never felt it was my duty to go into a congregation and tell brethren how. I heard a man arguing not long ago that a song that has a following up in it — I don't know enough about singing to know what it is — but where one group sings one thing and the bass said something and the alto said something — that it is unscriptural. Well, it would come nearer being scriptural than anything else as far as history is concerned, for we have dating right back to 117 where the Christians met and they sang songs voice against voice. Therefore, one group would sing and another group would answer, another group would sing and another group would answer. Now God didn't lay that down as a method. But if a man wanted to get technical about it I guess we could trace that part of it back further than anything else. But I have no right to go into a church and say you can't use this song because one is singing while the others are resting — another resting while the others are singing. Or you can't sing this song for another reason. I can't legislate. The Lord said, "sing." He told us the kind of songs to sing, but he didn't say what about a song book, and didn't say who's the writer to be, he didn't say whether to have books or not; he didn't say whether to sing out of a book or to sing by memory, how many songs, how many verses, or how they are going to be written or whether they are written at all. Now that's elementary. I am not talking about something you don't know anything about. I'm talking about something you know something about. so I can get to something we ought to know something about. That the Lord does not allow me to legislate. I have no right to legislate regarding a method unless God has legislated regarding the method.

Now, the scriptures authorize a pattern for congregational cooperation. Acts 11:27-30, "Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius. And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." 1 Cor. 16:1-4. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem: and if it be meet for me to go also, they shall go with me." 2 Cor. 8:13-15, "For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply or your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack." 2 Cor. 8:16-24, "But thanks be to God, who putteth the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he accepted indeed our exhortation; but being himself very earnest, he went forth unto you of his own accord. And we have sent together with him the brother whose praise in the gospel is spread through all the churches; and not only so, but who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace, which is ministered by us to the glory of the Lord, and to show our readiness: avoiding this, that any man should blame us in the matter of this bounty which is ministered by us: for we take thought for things honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have many times proved earnest in many things, but now much more earnest, by reason of the great confidence which he hath in you. Whether any inquire about Titus, he is my partner and my fellow-worker to you-ward; or our brethren, they are the messengers of the churches, they are the glory of Christ. Show ye therefore unto them in the face of the churches the proof of your love, and of our glorying on your behalf." 2 Cor. 11:8, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you." Phil. 4:13-16, "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need."

Now what do these verses teach us? First of all, they teach us that there was cooperation among churches in the matter of giving, for the purpose of relieving poor saints, in the localities that are mentioned. That there were messengers of the churches who were traveling around among the churches and obtaining the funds that the churches had. That the funds they had were brought to the elders and given to the elders — and the suggestion here that perhaps some of it was administered by the apostles, yes, by the apostle himself; or whether that be true or not we will leave that, and stay with the idea that all of it went to the elders. There was a famine and churches cooperated. Churches sent funds to one church. The funds went to the elders of the church. Now, right there is where the Bible stops. And right there, if I am going to stay with the Bible, I have to stop. By that I mean that I have no right to legislate. I want to tell you tonight if I see anything, that our difficulty is a matter of legislation tonight, not a matter of the principle, but a matter of legislation. These verses teach that congregations cooperated. Congregations sent money, money for a purpose; and the money was sent to the elders of the church. Now there are instances of course where the money went directly to a man on the field — why nobody is going to deny that, because they are in the Bible. But hear in mind, churches here cooperated. They sent their money to a church and the money of a number of congregations was sent to the elders of the church. Now what did those elders do with that money? How did they take care of the matter? I know why it was sent there but what method is involved in the matter? What method did the elders use in dispensing that money? How did they operate? I don't know. There is not a man under heaven who knows. The only thing we know is that they cooperated with the church; that the money of several congregations went into one congregation; that it was given to the elders and that the elders had the money. Now how did they carry it out? How was this matter of benevolence operated? I don't know. Was it all in one congregation or did some other congregation receive aid? I don't know. Did they call them in one by one, or did they take it to their home? I don't know. How much did they give each one? I don't know. And if I try to tell you, I am legislating where God didn't legislate.