Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 22, 1955

Don't Criticize The Digressives!

Ronnie Pope, Dickinson, Texas

Not long ago I was talking with a good friend, a Gospel preacher, about the subject of congregational cooperation. We naturally went to the Bible (I wonder why?) to find what Inspiration had revealed on the subject.

The findings of our search included 2 Cor. 8:13-14, 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 for your want: THAT THERE MAY BE EQUALITY:' (emphasis mine, R. P.). Though possibly not eternal, this principle was established as motive, justification, and authority for a contribution from one congregation to another.

We looked to such passages as Acts 11:27-30, where we saw the application of the principle, when the brethren at Antioch, according to their ability, and in view of the prophesied famine, determined `to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea'. On yet another occasion the application of the principle of equality was seen, as in 1 Cor. 16:1-4 the congregation at Corinth, according to their prosperity, made 'collection for the saints' in Rom. 15:26). Also the brethren of Macedonia made application of the principle for the production of equality as they 'according to their power' (2 Cor. 8:3) made a 'certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem'. Rom. 15:26.

But in these studies we noted something else which I believed to be also principle. Acts 11:27-30 . . . as the brethren at Antioch sent 'relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea', we see them sending it to the elders (of Judaea) 'by the hand of Barnabas and Saul'. What congregation mediated between the congregation at Antioch and the elders in Judaea? What congregation sponsored the work between Antioch and Judaea? Did not Antioch serve as her own sponsor? What congregation served as messenger for the church at Antioch as she ministered to the 'brethren that dwelt in Judaea'? Inspiration does not here tell of any congregation serving as messenger or agent for the church at Antioch, but that Paul and Barnabas as individuals served as messengers for the congregation at Antioch.

Again, Rom. 15:25-26. As Macedonia and Achaia had made a contribution to the poor among the saints of Jerusalem. Paul said, 'I go unto Jerusalem, ministering to the saints.' Evidently Paul served as messenger of these congregations, in application of the principle, that if a congregation have messengers, that messenger (or messengers) be an individual (or individuals) and not another congregation!

In 1 Cor. 16:1-4 we found that as the church at Corinth was sending a contribution to Jerusalem, they were at liberty to choose 'WHOMSOEVER ye approve' (not which ever congregation you choose to sponsor or oversee this work), but WHOMSOEVER ye approve `to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem'. If they saw fit to use Paul, he made HIMSELF available to them as their messenger.

Again in application of this principle, we read in 2 Cor. 8: 18-18, 'the brother . . . who was also appointed by the churches to travel with us in the matter of this grace...In verse 22, 'our brother', verse 23, 'Titus, or our brethren, THEY are the messengers of the churches.. .'

Also in Phil. 4:15-18 Paul commends the brethren at Philippi for sending 'once and again unto my need'. Yet he says he 'received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you'. Is not this in establishment and application of the same principle? Do we do any injustice to, or perversion of the Scriptures to understand from these verses that:

  1. Abundance in one congregation and need in another congregation justifies, motivates, and authorizes a contribution from one congregation to another in the production of equality.
  2. A congregation, when justified in contributing to another congregation, or when sending a contribution to the 'field' (to Paul, as was the case in Phil. 4), has the right to choose her messengers.
  3. Those messengers for one congregation may be acting at the same time as messengers for other congregations, having been chosen by them.
  4. Yet those messengers were individuals (or an individual) and not congregations (or a congregation)!

As my friend and I talked, I do not recall the scripturalness of such conclusions being questioned! There was no doubt but that if our work today be done just like that, it would be scriptural. And yet we differed! What was our difference? It did not amount to a questioning of the scripturalness of the aforementioned plan, but it amounted in essence to this:

"The production of equality justifies the contribution from one congregation to another, but would not some other reason equally justify one congregation's contributing to another congregation?"

"An individual or individuals may serve scripturally as messenger for a church or churches, but would it not be equally right for a congregation to serve as messenger or agent for other congregations?"

Such thinking and reasoning is not new, for it has characterized sectarians and digressives for years, but brethren have bombarded such positions with verses such as "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God", etc. Can we not sharpen our swords on such verses and wield faithfully the Spirit's Sword to defeat such positions, even when the exponents and adherents of such positions are members of the Lord's Church?