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 consequences.

     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 designed existence.

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.