Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 22, 1955
NUMBER 33, PAGE 14-15a

Authority For Extent Of Congregational Cooperation

Earl Dale, McAlester, Oklahoma

In the Firm Foundation of May 17, 1955, there appears an editorial from the pen of Brother Reuel Lemmons, editor, under the caption "They Watch For Your Souls," in which he endeavors to settle the controversy which is at present raging in the brotherhood over "The Extent To Which Congregations Can Scripturally Cooperate."

In his editorial, "They Watch For Your Souls" (a better heading would have been: Elders Are the Judges In Determining the Extent of Congregational Cooperation — that was his subject) our brother brings out the responsibility of elders, their charge, our relationship to them, which is all very good. Then he comes to the authority of the elders, through which he proposes to settle the dispute which is raging in the brotherhood — "The Extent of Congregational Cooperation."

Let us notice some excerpts from Brother Lemmons' editorial:

"The elders, not the preacher, constitute the final authority in congregational matters." (Emphasis mine, E.D.) If our brother meant such things as time of meeting on Lord's day, class arrangements, discipline, whether or not one congregation was going to cooperate with another in something that is scriptural, number of meetings per year, etc., we would say he is correct. But that is not where he LIMITS the authority of elders. He has in mind a defense of the "Brotherhood Projects" among us as we shall see farther on. I have believed, ever since I learned the truth on the organization of the church, the jurisdiction of elders, etc., that JESUS CHRIST — not the elders — is "the final authority in congregational matters." The elders are only the under shepherds and they have no right to deviate from the authority of the " Chief Shepherd." The brother needs a good course of study in "What Caused the Great Apostasy" which was that the bishops arrogated to themselves the authority to legislate in matters of faith and practice.

I know the editor didn't apply "the final authority in congregational matters" to matters of expediency, human judgment where it must be exercised, etc., exclusively, because he uttered one of the most dangerous statements that can fall from the lips of a servant of God in these words: "Really, the extent of congregational cooperation is a thing for elders — not preachers — to determine" (emphasis mine, E.D.). There you have it, brethren — "The Authority Of The Bishops To Legislate In Matters Of Faith And Practice." That evil principle started the first apostasy. Of course. Bro. Lemmons says that "the Bible nowhere mentions a second apostasy," in one of his editorials. I have always believed that "the extent of congregational cooperation is determined" — neither by elders, nor by preachers — but by the Son of God. The work of the local congregation (not the brotherhood) is under the oversight of the elders of that congregation (not the elders of another congregation), but "the final authority in congregational matters" and the authority for "the extent of congregational co-operation between congregations" is Christ.

In the quotations below, our brother suggests what he thinks causes "Brotherhood Flurries" and gives his remedy for their cure:

"Whenever a brotherhood flurry arises, it usually springs up among the preachers rather than the elders. If preachers respected the place in which God put preachers — subject to the elders — much of the commotion would soon settle."

Again, "New Testament churches were congregation-ally autonomous. Much concern has been manifested recently regarding one congregation usurping authority of another congregation. Let it be understood that preachers as well as elders of one congregation may usurp the authority of another congregation. It is one of the tasks of the elders to guard the local congregation against encroachment by either outside elderships or outside preachers." (To this we can all agree and say Amen! But note the next statement:) Really, the extent of congregational cooperation is a thing for the elders — not the preachers — to determine. (emphasis mine, E.D.)

In the first of the above quotations, the editor gives the cause (he thinks) of "brotherhood flurries" — the preachers. He didn't mean this as a compliment, either! He didn't get at the root of the thing. "Brotherhood flurries." RESULT from wrong teaching and practice on the part of some. For example: "The teaching and writing of some brethren begin to be tinged with Modernism, premillennialism, universal church organization and function, etc. Faithful brethren begin to cry out against such errors. The result: "A Brotherhood Flurry." There are two ways the flurry could have been prevented: 1) Correct preaching and writing on the part of all, and 2) a refusal on the part of faithful brethren to combat error. It seems that, Bro. Lemmons is trying to tie the hands of preachers in order to prevent a "brotherhood flurry" of the second description. Brethren, when preachers quit crying out against such things, Satan will have a field day! Preachers, the same as elders must continue to cry out against such things. But, Brother Lemmons tells the preachers to keep quiet and let the elders settle all the brotherhood issues. So, according to his rule, every preacher, including himself, who cries out against ANYTHING that disturbs the brotherhood, is "Out of his place." It may be, I do not know, but — Is Brother Lemmons an elder? If he is not, what right has he, by his own rule, to speak out? Brother, let the elders settle the "flurries." You can't write on them, ANYMORE, in the Firm Foundation.

Brethren. I want to show you the consequences of Bro. Lemmon's compromise offer:

1. Remembers, he didn't say the final decision as to whether or not a congregation is going to cooperate with another is to be determined by the elders. He said, "The EXTENT of congregational cooperation is to be DETERMINED by the ELDERS" (Caps mine, E.D.) Now, what if the elders of a congregation "determine" that "the extent" of their cooperation with other congregations extends to membership in a Missionary Society? Does the fact that they decided or "determined the extent" make it scriptural and bring God's approval? The "digressives" tried that compromise about one hundred years ago, concerning Instrumental Music in Worship and Societies. They said, "Let the elders of each congregation decide" — as though that would make it scriptural. Now, along comes the editor of the Firm Foundation and says concerning that which is basically the same as the Missionary Society, "Really, the extent of congregational Cooperation between congregations is a thing for elders — not preachers — to determine."

2. Brother Lemmon's position would take the authority to legislate from Christ and give it to the bishops — an error that launched the first apostasy. What if Brother Lemmons had been living when brethren fought the battle of Instrumental Music and the Societies. On whose side would he have fought? Would he have said the same then concerning "brotherhood flurries" as he has said today? Would he have said, "The Bible nowhere mentions a second apostasy" as he said recently in one of his editorials ? Would he have said, to all those giants like D. Lipscomb, "Now you preachers be quiet. It is none of your business; let the elders of each congregation decide what they are going to do in reference to these things. If you are not earful, you will cause "a brotherhood flurry." Would he have said, concerning those "brotherhood flurries" that finally divided the church, "Really, the extent of congregational cooperation among congregations is a thing for elders — not the preachers — to decide ?"

3. Brother Lemmon's position would not permit preachers to preach what they are charged to preach. Read 1st and 2nd Timothy.

4. They would not be permitted to open their mouths and cry aloud against any of the many isms that threaten the brotherhood today, such as unscriptural marriage, Modernism, Premillennialism, universal-church-action-ism, etc.

When brethren quit fighting back against all the encroachments that plague the church today, it will be a dark day. The dark cloud of apostasy will engulf us. It will take elders, preachers and all Christians to roll them back. Brethren, my preaching brethren, everywhere, elders, Christians: Arise in the strength of the God of Israel, demand a "thus saith the Lord" for all we do. Fight to a finish any-thing for which we cannot find that "thus saith the Lord" and the ominous clouds of apostasy will appear.

If I understand the aim of Bro. Lemmons in his editorial, it is this: The Bishops Have The Authority To Legislate. My brethren, in matters of faith and practice, the work of elders is FUNCTION — Not LEGISLATION. No elder with any degree of respect for God's Word will arrogate to himself the prerogative which our brother suggests — "Really, the extent of congregational Cooperation between congregations is a thing for elders — not preachers — to determine." The simple answer is: "Sir, it is a thing, — neither for elders nor preachers — but for Christ to decide, Col. 3:17.