Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 3, 1956
NUMBER 1, PAGE 6-8,13b

The Direct And Indirect Method

C.E.W. Dorris, Nashville, Tennessee

First of all, we wish it to be distinctly understood that the writer believes in church cooperation; and that each church should send its contribution directly to the missionaries. He also believes that the "sponsoring church" method is a central money power, unknown in New Testament times. He believes that churches ought to follow the method that all parties agree is scriptural, on which all can stand and work together in union and harmony. On this platform, he has stood for sixty years.

It is admitted by all, that to send support direct to workers in the field is scriptural. This is the direct method, over which there is no controversy, so far as the method itself is concerned. The controversy is over the indirect method — the sponsoring church. This is the heart of the issue and the battlefield.

I am one of the few now living of the generation that lived about two thirds of the time the war raged against the society by loyal brethren. I know the position they held. The main battering ram was the Gospel Advocate, with David Lipscomb in the lead. He held back the onrushing tide of societyism, coming from the North, from making much headway in the South. He accomplished this by the direct method. The original editors of the Gospel Advocate took the position that churches supporting missionaries should send their support direct to the laborers in the field. They held this position until God called them home.

For the information of younger brethren, who may not know this to be true, we give a few extracts from the writings of the old editors. J. C. McQuiddy, office editor, said: "The scriptures establish clearly that in New Testament times churches commended, sent, communicated directly with, and received the reports of the laborers in the field. If we now have proper respect for divine example, we will not turn away from the church of God to a human society to do mission work." (G.A., 1910, p.329). F. D. Srygley, first page editor, said: "The Advocate called the Standard's attention to the fact that in New Testament times churches sent money direct to the missionaries instead of sending it to a missionary society to be, by the society, paid out to the missionaries." (G.A., 1892, p. 386.) "In mission work each church, in New Testament times, sent its contribution direct to those who were doing the work" (G.A., 1892, p. 449.) M. C. Kurfees said: "The churches themselves, as such, were the divine organizations for mission work, and were in direct communication with those whom they supported. Hence, it is simply an incontrovertible fact that in working through the church apart from all other inventions and organizations, that dealing directly with the missionaries in the field, we are following the expression of divine wisdom, and are, therefore, infallibly safe." (G.A., 1894, p. 160.) E. A. Elam said: "Brother Minton denies a plain statement in the Bible, that the church at Philippi communicated directly with Paul . . . The church at Philippi did communicate directly with Paul at Thessalonica . . . . The New Testament churches not only communicated directly with the missionary they supported, but when they helped the poor they sent the help directly to those needing it." (GA., 1897, p. 358.)

May 27, 1911, the Christian Standard published an article indorsing the method of churches and Christians contributing directly to J. M. McCaleb in Japan. David Lipscomb lifted the following extract from the article, and published it in the Advocate.

"Brother McCaleb advocates that method, now growing in favor, by which each missionary and his work is supported by churches and Christians contributing directly. Not many months ago we published a report of his work, and we are pleased to note that it continues to prosper." Brother Lipscomb replied under the caption: "A True Method of Work." Here is what he said. "We publish this to show how the true method of missionary work is approved by all. The Standard has done more in its time and its work to build up the societies than any other influence. I am glad to see it rise above all selfish and party influence and commend that which all must recognize as scriptural and right. The Standard says this method is now growing in favor. The churches and individuals are contributing directly to the work without the intervention of the man-made societies; which method brings familiarity with the work to the knowledge of the members and forces them to study and know its facts and workings, as the human system fails to do. It is singular that any one who understands the Bible and believes in its being of God should hesitate as to what course to pursue. The present method is God's approved method. He guarantees its success if Christians will faithfully use it, and churches growing out of it will be, beyond all doubt, true and faithful churches of Christ. We thank the Standard for its faithful statement of the truth and commend the work as approved of God and that must be a blessing to men. Why should men strive to introduce other systems, when all can unite in this way; when all can, without hindrance or hurt, cross or objection, work through God's appointed ways?

"Sooner or later all professed Christians must be one. There is no possible chance for Christians to live as children of God and not become one. They must be one in Christ, one in the understanding and practice of the word of God. They must be one as Jesus and the Father are one. 'Even as Thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me.' (John 17:21.) The world is waiting to believe on Jesus, and he who strews discord and division among the people of God by introducing things not required by Jesus Christ is contrary to God and His teaching. He is not a worker with God. Let us all so believe and act as to stand with and for God that we may be one with him." (G.A., 1912, p. 337.) Thus we have the teaching of David Lipscomb, editor-in-chief of the Gospel Advocate, on "the true method of missionary work" — "God's approved method" — One "approved by all" — One "all must recognize as scriptural and right" — One that God "guarantees success." But what is that method? Here it is: "The churches and individuals are contributing directly to the work."

Guy N. Woods, at present a staff writer of the Gospel Advocate, commenting on Philippians 4:15, 16, said: "Here, too, we see the simple manner in which the church in Philippi joined with Paul in the work of preaching the gospel. There was 'no missionary society' in evidence, and none was needed; the brethren simply raised the money and sent it directly to Paul. This is the way it should be done today." (Annual Lesson Commentary, Gospel Advocate Co., Lesson XI, December 15, 1946, p. 341.) G. C. Brewer, also at present, a staff writer for the Advocate, in a message to me, dated September 30, 1953, said: "Yes, Brother Lipscomb advised that it was better for the one who contributed to a missionary, be the donor an individual or a church, to send direct to the missionary instead of sending through the Gospel Advocate or an individual. This is the best method and there is no question about it."

Whatever may be said in defense of other methods, we all are agreed that it is eminently scriptural and unquestionably right for churches to send support directly to missionaries they support. Then why not let us come together on common ground, cease to expend our energies against each other, and all make a united effort for the evangelization of the world?

Here is a sample how churches in those olden days worked. Campbell Street church, Louisville, Kentucky, "We raised this money exclusively by freewill offerings, the only way of giving recognized in the Bible, and sent it to the laborers in the field, thus dealing directly with those whom we support, as New Testament churches did." (G.A., 1894, p. 41.) "The brethren at Castalian Springs, therefore, probably, acted wisely in sending their gifts for mission work directly to those who are doing the work." (G.A., 1892, p. 242.) "The Plum Street church, Michigan, ignores the general denominational societies and sends its contributions for mission work direct to those who do the work, after the manner of New Testament churches." (G.A., 1892, p. 785.) Nashville, Tennessee churches supporting. Bishop in Japan; "About twelve of these churches of this city are now cooperating in the support of Brother Bishop. This is done by each church being in communication with him. These churches have measured their strength and each has agreed that it will do so much during the year. Each church takes up its offering and forwards it direct to the missionary, as though no other church were cooperating with him." (G.A. 1911, p. 1221.)

Here is a short history of the origin of the indirect method and "sponsoring churches." The indirect method was born when brethren met in convention and organized the American Christian Missionary Society at Cincinnati, October 24, 1849. It caused strife and division among brethren from its birth, and finally developed into two separate and distinct churches — the Christian Church and the Church of Christ The first Church of Christ that dressed itself up looking like a sponsoring church, was the church at Henderson, Tennessee. On January 13, 1910, eight brethren sent out a call for "every preacher, with the elders of the various congregations in West Tennessee, Southwest Kentucky, East Arkansas and North Mississippi to meet at Henderson, Tennessee, January 25-29, 1910." (G. A., 1910, p. 59.) The meeting was held at the appointed time. Plans were agreed upon. The Henderson church was to direct the work and take charge of the funds raised by the contributing churches and pay the evangelist. The evangelist was selected. (G.A., 1910, p. 329.) The brethren had the machinery set up, oiled and ready to go, but never pulled out from the shed, for the reason Lipscomb, through the Advocate, shot its propeller off so it was never able to fly. Lipscomb killed at Henderson what is considered today a "sponsoring church."

At the close of World War I, we had a good sized crop of what was called the "One Man Missionary Society." That is, individuals appointed themselves to collect money from churches and forward to missionaries. It, too, sowed discord among churches. But, brethren, through the Gospel Advocate, killed the influence of these promoters.

At the close of World War II, we had one or two sponsoring churches supervising mission work, receiving and disbursing money from other churches. The method has grown until now we have sponsoring churches located in many parts of the country. This method, like those mentioned above, has sown discord among brethren from its beginning. This, the Lord says, is an abomination unto him.

The sponsoring church method is a human invention, invented by the wisdom of man and guided by the spirit of man, to do the work God gave to each individual church. The implications are far reaching. First, it is implied that the individual churches as God gave them, are incapable of doing the work God gave them to do. This in turn reflects upon the wisdom of God and puts man's wisdom above God's. Second, it is implied that the Bible itself is not an all-sufficient guide in religion. The school of thought that will tolerate the existence of a method of work unknown to the word of God, will, in time, cast reflection upon the inspiration and authority of the scriptures. It is a human invention whose logical end is apostasy. It robs churches of their independence and takes control of their money, creating a power and authority God never granted to any one church, and therefore, contravenes the word of God.

One reason given for starting this new method of work was, the churches were not doing their duty in doing missionary work, and, therefore, the new method was necessary. But grant that they were not doing their duty. What then? Was it necessary to put to work a new method unknown to the New Testament to do that which churches had failed to do? Surely not. The thing that ought to have been done was to set about reforming the churches, in order that they might do the work the Lord required of them, instead of inventing something new that contravened the word of God and that set His wisdom aside. The sponsoring church borrowed its method of work from the society. Here is the way both work:

Comparison of methods

Both parties operate through a middle institution — one through the society board, the other through a sponsoring church. There is as much New Testament authority for one as there is for the other. There is none for either. Both are inventions of men and sow discord among brethren. Subtract from the sponsoring church all it has borrowed from the society, there is nothing left but zero. "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." (Rom. 14:19.)

Method of New Testament Church

Here is another chart showing how New Testament churches worked: Philippi acts independently of all other churches and sends her support directly to Paul. There was no middle man nor institution standing between Philippi and Paul. The sponsoring church stands as the center and hub around which other churches revolve, and through whose hopper preachers and money are ground out. In New testament times there was no centralization of power, no combination of men and churches such as is seen in sponsoring churches. Philippi acted independently of all others in communicating directly with Paul. The sponsoring church- takes the work out of the hands of those to whom God committed it and does it for them. This can work only evil to all parties to it. God commits work to churches, not because he needs their help, but because the work will strengthen and build them up, and give spiritual growth and activity to the churches. Each church should collect, control and direct its own means, do all it can in spreading the gospel. They need this exercise for their own growth and development. One objection to sponsoring churches is they take the missionary work out of the hands of the churches and leave them to die spiritually of nothing to do. The work God gave to churches to do is as much needed for their salvation as for the salvation of the world. Each church should look after and use its own means both of men and money, for its own growth and spiritual strength. One church cannot turn over its own work to another and please God. In the judgment, each will be judged according to his own works, not according to the works of others. The church that turns mission work over to another to do it for them, will have but little, if any works, to be judged by. Why are not elders of one church as competent to look after the money and men of their own congregation, as are elders of another church to do it for them? If they are not competent, they are not qualified elders, and ought to step down and let the congregation appoint elders who are competent to look after the church's affairs.

There is a divinely appointed plurality of elders or overseers in each local church which God himself places over the affairs of the church they serve, and the sponsoring church arrangement interferes with God's order by transferring supervision and control to a central "board" of elders, a thing unknown in apostolic days. In the sponsoring church method, the churches hand over their money to the sponsoring church "board," relinquishing thereby all claim to it themselves, and leaving it to be used exclusively as the central "board" directs; and the central "board" then selects and controls missionaries precisely as it pleases, and the churches can have no voice in, and nothing whatsoever to do with the matter. In such cases, the churches have surrendered the control of matters to the central "board" and can themselves have no control as to whom or what their money shall sustain. In fact, so far as missionary work is concerned the churches have surrendered all power to a central board and have no voice or control in anything, not even the power to recall a missionary for false teaching, bad conduct, or both. The central "board" alone has the power to do this and the churches are powerless to act. Churches may withdraw from the sponsor and have nothing to do with it.

The one fateful fact about the sponsoring church method is the commitment of its advocates to the principle of a central "board" in religion and the placing in the hands of that central "board" of supervisors and managers, work which God placed in the hands of a plurality of managers and supervisors in each local church. Such a central "board" of supervisors and managers is not only contrary to God's order revealed in the New Testament, but it contains the seeds of ecclesiasticism. It is the one fatal rock on which the church in all ages has gone aground.

New Testament churches were entirely independent of each other. If 'there had been no central "board" of managers for missionary work among the advocates of the Restoration Movement, but each local church had been left, as God ordained it, to manage its own missionary work and all other business, the evil of division into two separate and distinct churches would never have occurred.

It is necessary to observe strict conformity to the New Testament ideal. But this ideal can never be attained and maintained except on condition of adopting and strictly following the principle or rule of procedure embodied in the famous and familiar motto: "Where the scriptures speak, we speak; and where the scriptures are silent, we are silent."

The scriptures furnish us unto all good works, and preaching the gospel stands pre-eminent gas a good work. We boldly affirm and earnestly contend that the Bible contains a divine system of evangelism that was powerful enough to shake the Roman Empire in its day and perfect enough to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth during the first century of the Christian era; and we modestly submit that, putting that faith and system into practice, it will be just as effective in our day as it was in primitive times. Believing that all now engaged in mission fields can be sustained and more work be done in harmony with the example of the apostles and inspired men, we come before you with brotherly love and beseech you in the name of our Lord that you abandon the "sponsoring church" method that found no necessity or recognition in apostolic times, and that you concentrate your zeal and energy in the divine method ordained of God, which we all admit to be common and scriptural ground; thereby removing a cause of widespread division and contention and bring about that union and cooperation in which there is strength and which will enable us to make more rapid conquest of the earth for Christ.

All professed Christians should do everything within their ability to bring about the unity of Christians. This is a great and vital truth for which all should labor. We feel sure that strife among God's people will never cease, until all Christians themselves, with an open New Testament, shall be willing to face and discharge the following threefold duty. (1) To carefully survey their faith and practice, retaining whatever they are preaching and practicing that can be read in the New Testament. (2) Laying aside everything that cannot be read therein. (3) Adding to their faith and practice whatever can be read therein that they are not already teaching and practicing. If this course was faithfully pursued, strife among God's people would vanish like a snow pile before the noon day sun, and unity and fellowship of all in Christ would inevitably follow. May the Lord help us all to see and follow this truth, is my prayer.