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Sunday, June 27, 2010 am        Listen to this lesson        PowerPoint

CAN CHURCHES COOPERATE

 

Among churches of Christ, as with most religions today, there are divisive differences that either strain or sever fellowship.  While such is not what God and our Lord Jesus desires (cf. John 17:20, 21), respect for Biblical authority in all that we do is an absolute necessity and takes precedence over man devised unity.   If we are to be pleasing to God, we need to follow the pattern we have in the New Testament for the church Jesus built.  Today, we want to examine one issue that causes division among so-called “churches of Christ.”  We want to discuss the subject of church cooperation.

I present this lesson, because we are often asked, “Why are churches of Christ divided?”  Also there are many, who realizing there are differences, see them as no big deal.  In a recent periodical published by brethren (not a work of any local church), the following question was asked: “As much separation as the Church of Christ has from the outside (denominational) world, does it really make sense that we (the church) continue to be divided internally concerning the institutional vs. non-institutional issues?” (Truth Magazine, May 2010, pgs. 12-13)  The answer appealed to respect for authority of the pattern in all that the church does.    Such is also my appeal and will be the foundation of this lesson.  Christians need to study ALL of God’s word to 1) Determine what we can and cannot do and 2) to give a defense for what we do (1 Pet. 3:15).

So today we will examine one issue that is dividing the Lord’s church.  It involves the attitude of churches toward institutions other than the local church.  We sometimes refer to these issues as institutionalism.  Today we will discuss church cooperation.

That churches can cooperate is established by examples in the New Testament.  We find on occasions several congregations sending relief to the church in Jerusalem and on another occasion, relief is sent to “the churches of Judea”.  We also find as Paul preached the gospel, at times he was supported by more than one church to do that work.  In this lesson we will examine some of these examples and notice HOW churches cooperated according to the examples of the New Testament.

 I.                     What Do We Mean By Cooperation?

a.        What is cooperation?
The word is defined as, “1 The act or practice of cooperating. 2 The association of persons or businesses for common, usually economic, benefit.” – American Heritage Dictionary, 2000
Cooperate means, “1 To work or act together toward a common end or purpose.   3 To form an association for common, usually economic benefits.” (AHD)

b.       THESE two definitions give us an idea of two different ways that churches can cooperate – collectively and concurrently.  In this lesson we will determine what type of cooperation we have authority for. 

                                                   i.      The word collective means, “Assembled or accumulated into a whole” (AHD)
By collective cooperation we mean that two or more congregations centralize their efforts and/or pool their resources to accomplish a specified work.
For example: A local church may decide that the gospel needs to be preached in the country of Yugoslavia.  So they contact other congregations soliciting funds to begin the work.  Some of these churches respond by sending money to the sponsoring church which in turn creates the work and sends one or many preachers to Yugoslavia to preach and start other churches.  As the work continues, they oversee its progress while they continue to receive funds from the various congregations who are jointly cooperating in the work.
But is there authority for such cooperation?

                                                  ii.      The word concurrent means, “Happening at the same time as something else.”(AHD) By concurrent cooperation we mean that various congregations may have a common goal in mind, and may even be aware of the intents of other congregations, but they independently and autonomously do their part sending directly to the source of the need. 
For example: A local church decides that the gospel needs to be preached in the country of Yugoslavia.  They begin looking and notice there is a sound preacher who wants to preach in that country.  They begin financially supporting that preacher according to the ability they have so that he can preach in that country.  However because the local church is unable to fully support the preacher, he solicits support from other congregations.  There are two other congregations that decide to support him as well, so they send funds directly to him as he preaches the gospel.  These congregations have cooperated concurrently in preaching the gospel in Yugoslavia.  But is there authority for such cooperation?

 

II.                   How Churches Cooperated

a.        Let us notice some of the examples of cooperation found in the Bible to help us understand what God’s pattern for the church involves.

b.       In Evangelism

                                                   i.      Paul was supported by the church at Philippi.

1.        Philippians 1:3-5.  Paul uses the word “fellowship” which means a mutual sharing.  They shared with him.  In what way?

2.        4:14-18 – While in Thessalonica, on more than one occasion, they sent aid to him, being the ONLY church for a while.

3.        2:25 – Epaphroditus was their messenger sending funds to Paul

                                                  ii.      Paul was supported by several congregations as he preached in Corinth.

1.        2 Corinthians 11:7-9 says he “robbed other churches taking wages of them”. 

2.        Paul was not a thief, but metaphorically speaking he was telling them he received support from multiple churches so that he would not need support from the Corinthians.

c.        In Benevolence

                                                   i.      A need arose in Judea.

1.        Acts 11:28-30 – Agabus foretold of a great famine that would affect the churches of Judea.

2.        Disciples in Antioch of Syria determined to send relief each according to their ability.

3.        They sent it to the elders of the various congregations in need.  A study of the work of elders helps us to understand their work was limited to their local work (see 1 Peter 5:2, Acts 20:28.

4.        By the hands of Paul and Barnabas – choosing their own messenger (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:3)

                                                  ii.      Later, there was another need that arose in Jerusalem larger than they could handle.

1.        Several of Paul’s letters mention a severe need in the church at Jerusalem.  Exactly when this occurred or why we are not told – it could have been the fact that all their resources had been consumed as they banded together at the beginning and then the famine previously mentioned.

2.        Romans 15:25-27 describes Paul going to Jerusalem to tend to this need.  He has resources from Macedonia and Acaia.

3.        1 Corinthians 16:1-4 – Paul gives instructions to Corinth as he had done in other places.  NOTE: Here we find authority for a treasury as well as instructions as to HOW we may secure funds.
2 Corinthians 8-9 deal with this in more detail as Paul encourages these brethren to follow the examples of Macedonia and fulfill the promises they had made earlier.

4.        Wherever funds were received, the congregations chose their own messengers to deliver their gift – see 2 Cor. 8:22, 1 Cor. 16:3, etc.

d.       NEVER in edification do we find cooperation.  The building up of saints was (and is) purely a local thing.

 

III.                 Observations in Cooperation

a.        In every example we have local churches maintained their autonomy.  There is NEVER an example of some church taking centralized control of a work or becoming the “middleman”.

b.       Where elders are mentioned, there is NO indication they overstepped the boundaries of their own local work.

c.        Each congregation gathered its own funds – 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Acts 11:29

d.       No church ever solicited funds from another church promoting a “good work”, etc.

e.        Churches chose their own messengers.  Note: Very possibly, some chose the same messenger (i.e. Paul, Titus, etc.), but this was not creating an organization or super-church structure – it was simply an expedient way to deliver the need (such as the post office delivering mail from several congregations to a man for support).

f.         Finally, no outside human organization was created to do a work God expected the local church to do.

 IV.                What is done today?

a.        Some churches do NOT follow the pattern mentioned above.  They pool their resources and at times create organizations other than the local church.

b.        In evangelism – churches will sponsor a work in a given location soliciting funds from various congregations, often advertising in great detail. (Such as One Nation Under God is an evangelistic project under the oversight of the elders of the Sycamore Church of Christ in Cookeville, Tennessee. By means of direct mail, the gospel is made known to population groups in various countries).

c.        In benevolence – churches will again create human organizations or a church will take it upon itself to sponsor a specific work

d.        In the name of edification – churches will pool resources to create colleges, school, etc.

 V.                  Why is this important?

a.        One might ask, “What difference does it make as long as the work is done?”  The answer is a matter of respect for the authority of God’s word and the pattern He has set forth.  Colossians 3:17 calls for authority in all we do.

b.       Improper cooperation creates an organization different than the NT pattern and thus it violates the Biblical patter of autonomy and independence.

c.        There are also other problems of collective cooperation.  The biggest concern is the surrendering of autonomy.  When a church sends funds to an organization or sponsoring church they are surrendering control of those resources.  What if the sponsoring church decides to endorse false doctrine?
Also, because of centralized support, there is pressure to conform to the beliefs of the organization or sponsoring church when it conflicts with the truth.  Because a failure to conform means total isolation or being cut off immediately.  When a preacher receives support from several congregations, if he is preaching the truth and one of the congregations disagrees with that – he only loses that amount of support – not everything.

d.        At times there may be problems with concurrent cooperation as well, but this is STILL the pattern we find in God’s word as we have seen.

e.        Also, consider this: Where will it end?  The Catholic Church is a product of gradually deviating from the NT pattern.  IF we change this, what will we change next?

 

Thus we can see that the only form of cooperation that is authorized is concurrent cooperation.  Because only in that way can we maintain total autonomy and independence as a local church.  Only then can we say we answer only to our Lord who died to present her unto Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle.  I realize that what I have said is not popular and it cast doubts on the works and ways of many churches, but I ask you to honestly open your Bibles and ask yourself – “Is God pleased with the way we do what we do?”  Only when we follow the New Testament pattern for all we do can we say “Yes!” with any certainty.  How closely are you willing to follow the Lord?