The Review of a Statement
I want to consider a statement made by David Pharr
in the January 2010 issue of the Spiritual Sword. This particular
issue of the Spiritual Sword had the theme of, "How a Church Changes," a
timely theme, I might add. Author Pharr's article contained some good points,
but one alarming statement is the one that I have been asked to review.
Here is Pharr's statement: "The fundamental error of the missionary society in the eighteen
hundreds was not that churches wanted to cooperate in evangelism but that an
organization was formed which presumed to speak for the brotherhood" (Spiritual
Sword, 2010, p. 23, dm.).
Pharr actually made several arresting statements in the
context of the above
quotation that merit a detailed review, which I shall not herein attempt to
provide. For instance, "We believe in the scripturalness of congregational
cooperation and the right of churches to financially support and endorse
programs which are under the auspices of other congregations..." (Ibid., p. 22).
Dear reader, the only time we observe one or more
churches contributing to a receiving church is in the area of benevolence for
needy saints. I might add, this was a circumstance that was beyond the
means of being requited by the recipients and it was not ongoing (cp. Acts 11:
28-30). In this situation, there was not a sponsoring church arrangement
with one overseeing board of elders that engaged on an assiduous or ongoing
basis in serving as "...the auspices of other congregations." In the
matter of preacher support, a work that was constant and ongoing, no church or
churches are ever seen sending to a church or churches to assist in their
preaching or edification needs (cp. Phili. 4: 14-16). The sponsoring
church practice is of more recent origin, being the product of human thinking.
Anterior to noticing the statement that I have been
asked to review, consider this interesting comment by Pharr:
"We have seen in our own times how
cooperative efforts have gone afoul, as for example Herald of Truth, as well as
in the case of certain schools" (Ibid.).
While Pharr appears to only adversely speak of the
abuses of the Herald of
Truth and "certain schools," it is refreshing that one would even dare to
mention what Pharr does. David Pharr may end up being labeled an "Anti,"
just as many who have warned about the digression involving the polity and
government of local churches. Lest we digress from our assignment, allow
me to return to the specific statement made by Pharr, one which has the manifest
endorsement of the Spiritual Sword:
"The fundamental error of the missionary
society in the eighteen hundreds was not that churches wanted to cooperate in
evangelism but that an organization was formed which presumed to speak for the
brotherhood" (Spiritual Sword, 2010, p. 23, dm.).
I do not want to "presume" anything and thus
misrepresent Pharr. I am not sure, though, what he means by, "...the
fundamental error...." I would understand from the gist of Pharr's article
that he would not necessarily experience any problems with a missionary society
provided it functioned as the Herald of Truth, void of the perceived
abuses (see addendum 1).
Particular nuances of history can be difficult to
ascertain and reproduce. I would, though, imagine that the mentality and
rationale that precipitated the formation of the American Christian
Missionary Society was the ostensible, at least, desire to "cooperate in
evangelism" (addendum 2). Did the missionary society attempt to "speak for the
brotherhood"? I answer with an emphatic, "yes." However, such was a
secondary problem. The primary problem with the missionary society,
Herald of Truth, etc., within themselves, which problem Pharr does not
apparently acknowledge, is that such organizations, practices, and arrangements
are without Bible authority, notwithstanding any "noble" aspirations of the
promoters (addendum 3).
Rather than forming a conglomerate or head (sponsoring)
with a descending order arrangement, the early local churches functioned in an
independent fashion. While preaching for the church at Corinth, Paul
wrote: "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service"
(2 Cor. 11: 8). Notice that "other churches" sent to Paul, not to some
sponsoring church, which in turn distributed the monies, and "other churches"
did not even send to the Corinthian church. Pharr attempts to apparently
justify such arrangements as the Herald of Truth when he wrote, " Without
such cooperation there are opportunities for good works that otherwise might be
left undone." Such attempts to justify involve human rationale and by
using such, anything can be allowed! "Good works" alone do not stand
automatically approved, they must be authorized of God (cp. Matt. 7: 21-23).
Yes, the American Christian Missionary Society
"...presumed to speak for
the brotherhood." However, so has the Herald of Truth! In
fact, all of the
parasitic orders of which I am, to date, aware at some point in their existence
have attempted to "speak for the brotherhood." The point, though, is these
entities, orders, and organizations are at their root existence without Bible
authority and have no right to exist. Eliminate the basic wrong, their
existence, and we do not have to be concerned about the abuses or systemic
The time that produced the most phenomenal spread of
the gospel, concerned reader, was the time when each local church independently
functioned in preaching the gospel. It was a time void of sponsoring
churches, missionary societies, or any other human contrived arrangement.
It was a time simply when individual Christians were zealous and went about
teaching others with whom they came in contact (cp. Acts 8: 1-4). Yes,
this unprecedented spread of the gospel that covered the populated earth in
about twenty-five years was not simply or even foremostly the result of churches
concurrently working or the efforts of the apostles, though both were involved,
it was the consequence of individual Christians being "on fire for the Lord"
(Rom. 10: 18). What we need today, I submit, is not human organizations,
but more dedicated Christians and a return to respect for Bible authority!
Addendum 1: The truth of the matter
is that the essential difference between the American Christian Missionary
Society of 1849 and the Herald of Truth of 1952 is that instead of a
board of directors, the Herald of Truth has a board of "elders" of one
local church serving as the board of directors. Both arrangements lack
scriptural authority and lend themselves to many inevitable abuses and
constitute a violation of the autonomy of local churches by virtue of their
Addendum 2: There are a number of
indicators that show, I believe, that a serious percentage of the impetus that
resulted in the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society
involved politics and power hunger.
Addendum 3: The type of
"cooperation" in the area of preaching the gospel characteristic of the early
local churches is seen as concurrent rather than organizational and synergistic.
There can conceivably be work done that might be too great for one local church.
I mention such with no small
amount of caution. When I preached in East Texas in the 70's, we did some
saturated teaching that was too financially challenging for just one local
church. However, each church maintained its autonomy and no circumstance
was produced that could threaten the autonomy of each local church. The
church where I preached, for instance, purchased radio time for one week and
another local church purchased time for the next week. The elders of one
local church had nothing to do with any time other than the week that church
provided the program and at the beginning of each aired program, it was clearly
mentioned who was bringing the program, etc. Such was independent and
concurrent action. There were no sponsoring churches or exterior
organizations. I only mention such to illustrate how churches are not as
limited as some would have us believe.