Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 2, 1955

The Point At Issue


In the present general disturbance over "sponsoring church" cooperative arrangements, there is one truth which needs to be continually emphasized, and which is being generally overlooked. It can be stated in one short sentence of three words:

Agency Implies Subordination.

An "agent" by definition is always subordinate to the one for whom he acts as agent. He acts only by the authority, and within the limits set by the one for whom he is agent. He takes orders from, and is subordinate to, his employer. The agent simply carries out the will and instructions of another. He may be paid for his services, or may not be.

This explanation will make it obvious why an individual CAN be, and why a congregation CAN NOT be, an agent for a New Testament church. An individual can be subordinate to a congregation; he can take orders from a congregation. But one congregation can NOT be subordinate to another congregation, and can not take orders from another congregation. There must be "equality" among New Testament churches. This equality is violated when one church is subordinate to another.

David Lipscomb's Agency

One of our exchanges has in recent months carried many articles from old files of the Gospel Advocate to establish the fact that in the years immediately following the Civil War, David Lipscomb acted as "agent" for many congregations and individuals in conveying their contributions to needy Christians in the south. It is the exchange editor's contention that this demonstrates David Lipscomb's approval of the "indirect" method of doing mission work — and, therefore, Lipscomb would have approved the modern practice of one congregation becoming the "sponsoring church" through which a thousand or more congregations operate in performing a work to which they are equally related. So our exchange editor implies.

Lipscomb, an individual, could act as "agent" for a congregation, or for several congregations. This was exactly what the "messengers" of II Corinthians 8-9 were doing. These men were subject to the churches for whom they acted; they did what they were told to do, acting always within the limits set by the congregations who had chosen them. The sponsoring church, a congregation, can not act as "agent" for other congregations; it cannot be subject to other congregations, accepting orders from them. That is the difference. No matter how many times David Lipscomb acted as agent for a congregation, or congregations, that has nothing at all to do with the question of a congregation (sponsoring church) acting as agent for sister congregations. For Lipscomb's action we might find a scriptural precedent; for the "sponsoring church" arrangement there is not even the semblance of scriptural precedent.

If our brother editor can once clearly grasp the truth that "agency implies subordination," he can easily under-stand the difference between Lipscomb's position and the position of the modern "sponsoring church." And perhaps then his editorials can grapple with the point at issue, namely: Is it scripturally right for one church to become the agency through which a plurality of churches can act in a work to which all of them (including the agent church) are equally related? That is the point at issue. The modern arrangements necessarily imply an affirmative; but the New Testament gives neither precept, example, or necessary inference which would justify such action. Here the battle is joined!

Don Carlos Janes' Position

There was a vast difference between Lipscomb's action and the later actions of Don Carlos Janes the "one-man missionary society." Lipscomb was "chosen by the churches" to convey their funds to needy Christians; Janes was self-chosen to his task. Lipscomb followed the instructions of the churches in handling their funds; Janes used his own will and own desires in determining how the funds were spent. He even accumulated an estate of many thousands of dollars, and made provision in his will for its distribution among certain favored "premillennial" missionaries. (This does not refer to his personal estate, which he left for the promotion of premillennial literature.) Janes was in effect the sole authority in the expending of the funds which he collected. He made the decisions; he determined who should, and who should not, be supported; he decided how much support to give to each missionary, etc. Thus he fulfilled actually the role of the Missionary Society. When a congregation specified where its money should go, we feel sure Janes followed their instructions; but that he handled vast sums which were not specified or earmarked for any particular work or person is evident from the size of the estate he left. The churches in turning their mission funds over to Janes for his control and spending surrendered and delegated to him a responsibility which God had placed upon them; and which they had no right to surrender, nor he to accept. We do not believe this was the case with Lipscomb. If it was, he was as much in error then as Janes was later.

We have a New Testament pattern for congregational cooperation. Let us follow it.

— F. Y. T.