Vol.VIII No.IV Pg.3
June 1971

Abuse Vs. Principle

Robert F. Turner

Have you noticed that when we discuss the Missionary Society, an abuse of government is usually the error cited? After 135 years of controversy (including the past 25 years rehash) many brethren who wouldnt touch a missionary society with a ten-foot (O.K., feet) pole; still do not know the basic error involved.

Forty to fifty years after the A. C.M.S. had been formed, its divisive fruits clearly seen, its abuses exposed — the arguments of church of Christ vs. Christian church settled on instrumental music and the control which the society supposedly exercised over the churches. (The control was real enough, but usually took the form of influence or advice which churches accepted because of the supposed benefits of cooperative action. A restructured church with congregations organically bound together, is a recent development in the Christian church.) Perhaps it was easier to point out abuses than to analyze the error of churches acting collectively —but, for whatever reason, our generation was given but a superficial knowledge of what is wrong with the missionary society.

If a missionary society (or any other board of directors, sponsoring church or arrangement) serves as a media through which a plurality of churches act as one, it is the fact that churches so act which is contrary to New Testament teaching. In order for a plurality of churches to act collectively (as a team) there must be some means of coordination, some means of reaching a common mind, by which team activity is possible.

A dictatorship (one-man rule by some means of coercion) intensifies the error, making it more obvious and vulnerable to criticism; but the N.T. principle of indep- endent, self-governed churches, operating within their several ability, is violated when the common mind is reached by chosen representatives. Nor is the basic error corrected if the common mind is reached by a one man, one vote process, where action is taken only on unanimous decisions.

Can we not see that changing the form of government by which a project is executed collectively, does not remove the fact that churches are acting collectively? Have we become so wedded to the rhetoric concerning the abuses of the missionary society, or the sponsoring church, that we would readily accept the error if we could devise a better modus operandi? Must we spend our energies debating Dictatorship, Republic, or Democracy; While Gods plan for independent, self-governed churches suffers?

And if this pushes some to question strict independence, and to look for some form of collective action on the part of N.T. churches — in Paul, and Company or the Messengers Fund for Needy Saints — consider carefully your course. Does Gods word then really teach congregational independence? How far would you allow (as if that mattered) inter-congregational funds and administration to progress, on the basis you now advocate, before you cry. Halt!? And would not your argument then be right back where we began — crying Abuse! rather than scriptural principle??