Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 19, 1956
NUMBER 36, PAGE 9-10a

Jerusalem Church In A Predicament But Not In An Emergency

Bill H. Reeves, Harlingen, Texas

Brother Reuel Lemmons' editorial of November 15, in the Firm Foundation, "Can A Church Engage In A Work Larger Than Its Local Capacity?", is indeed a piece of sophisticated thinking; it is a big disappointment to those who know his capabilities. If his reasoning is legitimate, behold he places in the most ridiculous position every congregation which has planned and is executing "brotherhood projects," admittedly larger than their local capacities! They all awoke one morning to find themselves involved in a program larger than their local capacities! The Jerusalem church "found itself" in a predicament (Brother Lemmons says "plight." Webster gives "predicament" as a synonym for plight), got busy and asked for help, and got it. Therefore, other congregations can go do likewise. This is the effort of Brother Lemmons and his learned conclusion! What's the situation? Why, it's this: the "sponsoring" churches haven't planned any programs and projects, they haven't schemed nor given birth to any — no, not that! They have simply found themselves involved in a program "too large to handle alone."

Now, who is so childish as to believe this? Does Brother Lemmons help his cause any by this ridiculous defense of brotherhood projects? He has Highland church in Abilene "finding itself involved in a program" of preaching over a national network of radio and television, can't handle it alone, and so therefore said church has a right to go out and ask for help in their predicament! The reason? Why, Jerusalem church found itself in a plight and asked for help and got it! He has. Broadway church in Lubbock, or San Benito church moving right along taking care of orphans (not to say "their orphans" — B.R.), and then they wake up one morning to "find themselves involved in a program too large to handle," so they go out to seek help and get it, to get out of a predicament! He has a "sponsoring" church evangelizing a whole foreign country with many evangelists involved, overseeing all of the phases of the work in the foreign country, but one morning the "sponsoring" church awakes to "find itself involved in a program too large to handle," so what does it do? Simple! Just follow Jerusalem — ask for help and get it!

The only answer I know to such folly of argument is to say: It just isn't that way! No less than three times in one short editorial Brother Lemmons refers to a church that has "found itself involved in a program." It looks like Brother Lemmons is the one who ought to "find himself." I doubt that one single subscriber to the Firm Foundation was fooled by this editorial into believing that the brotherhood projects among us are simply programs that the churches have suddenly "found themselves" in and therefore — on this ground — are seeking help. No. every one of these projects and programs is the result of much planning and promoting, and none was launched until the help was guaranteed!

Brother Lemmons employs a tricky transition of thought by use of carefully chosen words. He begins with the word "engage." "Can a church engage in a work larger than its local capacity?" (Title of his editorial.)

Next, he introduces the word "undertake." "Much has been written recently about the right of one congregation to undertake a work too large for it to finance alone. Much unnecessary abuse has been heaped upon good churches engaged in a work so large that no one church could do it alone."

So far, so good! It is obvious to all that he's talking about undertaking or engaging in a work which has been planned and therefore which a church has brought upon itself. ONE LITTLE WORD would spoil his whole effort. That little word expresses EXACTLY what is being practiced today by "sponsoring" churches. The word? — PLAN. Let's insert it in the title of his editorial and see if he could still make his line of argument: "Can A Church Plan A Work Larger Than Its Local Capacity?" Brother Lemmons, this is the issue! Why did you avoid it? Yes, much has been written recently about the right of one congregation to PLAN and sponsor a work too large for it to finance alone.

But, let us continue with his line of presentation. Leaving the terms "undertake" and "engage in," he next employs the term "task." "There are many tasks to be done that are far beyond the financial capacity of any one congregation to undertake." Of course he doesn't name any of these tasks! "It would be inconsistent with the Great Commission to take the position that churches of our blessed Lord were forbidden to tackle them."

Now comes the slippery transition — the strategic move. Leaving the three terms, "undertake," "engage in," and "tasks," used in reference to churches today who have planned and are sponsoring programs of work, he with adroitness takes up the handy term, "find itself." Listen to him:

"May we point out a New Testament church which found itself engaged in a work too big for the congregation to handle alone? In this work help was asked of another church; help was given by another church; help was received from another church. The program of work was a program of benevolent work."

Brother Lemmons, why the switch in terms? Why didn't you offer to tell us about a New Testament case where a church UNDERTOOK a work too big for one congregation to handle alone? You liked the term "undertake" when setting up the problem for solution. Why didn't you stick with it? Everyone knows that some churches today are UNDERTAKING some programs and projects. Why switch, then, to a church which "FOUND ITSELF ENGAGED" in something?

And another thing — this New Testament church your editorial proposes to tell us about "found itself engaged in a work too big for the congregation to handle alone." Why did it find itself so engaged? Will you tell us? You know why; it's germane to the issue. Did it find itself engaged in this program of benevolent work because of an unprovoked emergency, or because it planned, schemed and designed this work? This is the issue; why circumvent it by switching terms?

Pursuing the editorial, once again we find the term "find itself." 'We refer, of course, to the church in Jerusalem, which is perhaps, our foremost example of apostolic righteousness. The Jerusalem church found itself involved in a program of caring for the poor that was larger than it could handle by itself. (You don't mean that the Jerusalem church planned this program, do you? — B.R.) The apostles evidently did not think it a sin to undertake (what about "PLAN" — B.R.) a task too large for the local church to handle alone. They carried the message of their plight to the church in Antioch." (Acts 11:28.)

Here we have another "key word" in this picture — "plight." Earlier in the editorial we were told about "tasks." The Great Commission compels us to tackle them, according to Brother Lemmons. Now we're told that they are "plights." I have known for a long time that the Great Commission describes a work to be done, but I didn't know that it was a "plight." Webster gives "predicament" as a synonym of "plight." Are we in a predicament when we tackle these tasks? What task does the Great Commission put on one congregation that it doesn't put on all congregations? If on all, why don't all congregations "find themselves" in these "plights" and set out to ask help of everyone else? This INDEED would be a PREDICAMENT!

Continuing with his story about the plight of the Jerusalem church, he says that "when he had explained the matter to the church in Antioch, which evidently included the fact that it was a work too great for the brethren in Judea to finance by themselves, Antioch determined to send aid. This they sent by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. THE BRETHREN (emphasis mine-B.R.) received the proffered help, and thus carried on the program that was too large for them to carry on alone." WHAT brethren received the help? the brethren in Judea at large, or the brethren that made up the Jerusalem church? Evidently the latter according to Brother Lemmons, for his illustration is about the program of caring for the poor in which the Jerusalem church found itself involved! But this isn't what the scriptures say! (Read Acts 11:29.) That money did not go to Jerusalem church, to get them out of an emergency — oh, excuse me, predicament! It went to "the brethren that dwelt in Judea."

Thus the transition is completed: undertake — engage in — tackle the many tasks — find itself involved in a plight — ask for help and get it. So there's the New Testament example of planning a work larger than the local capacity of the congregation! Of course, just avoid that word "planning," and use such terms as "undertake," or "engage in." Then when someone asks for New Testament authority, just cite Jerusalem, but don't say that Jerusalem planned a work of benevolence, just say that they "found themselves involved"! Surely Brother Lemmons has got himself greatly "involved."

The editorial makes an effort to prove that the case of Jerusalem's "plight" or predicament, wasn't a case of emergency. Says Brother Lemmons, "This was no emergency!"

Let's call on Webster again: "EMERGENCY — an unforeseen combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action .... arising unexpectedly."

In view of the authoritative definition of an English work, I'm at a loss to know why Brother Lemmons would describe a church which FOUND ITSELF in a PLIGHT (predicament), a famine which certainly was an unforeseen combination of circumstances which called for immediate action, having arisen unexpectedly, AND YET denies that such was an emergency! He is all mixed up. For a while he talks about "undertaking works," "engaging in works," "tackling the many tasks to be done consistent with the Great Commission," all this in reference to present day programs PLANNED AND SPONSORED by single congregations, and then begins to talk about churches "finding themselves in a plight" because an emergency — excuse me! because an unforeseen combination of circumstances which called for immediate action suddenly arose — a famine!

One last observation: The editor tells his readers that "this was no emergency," for "this very same condition existed for many years." Well, don't forget, Brother Lemmons, that you called it a "plight." How long did the PLIGHT last? How long were they in that PREDICAMENT? The emergency lasted as long as the plight did! When the plight was over the emergency was over. Did Jerusalem still send out messages pleading for help after the plight was over? Anyway, Jerusalem church did not sit down and plan that predicament. As Brother Lemmons well puts it, they "found themselves" in it! Indeed! And when a church, or churches, "finds itself" in a plight, others should help them in their predicament, in their EMERGENCY. But this is a long ways removed from the plans and schemes of some congregations today, who devise the program for the brotherhood at large and then before they find themselves involved, go calling for money to guarantee the success of the "undertaking."