How may churches cooperate?

Q. I enjoyed reading the questions and answers that you and others give. Most of the time we would agree, not that that really matters. What really matters is not when we agree with one another but when we agree with the Bible. Point is, we could agree on the answer to a Bible question and both be wrong.

I would like for someone to help me understand how the “sponsoring church arrangement” is authorized in the New Testament. Is the Sponsoring Church arrangement, specifically one congregation sending money to a second congregation (the sponsoring congregation, who may be collecting money from one or a dozens other congregations) who in turn sends that money to a third congregation which is a mission work, scriptural? How does this arrangement differ from the missionary society?

How is the autonomy of the first/sending congregation affected when they relinquish funds, defers oversight of the money which they were to be good stewards of, by sending it to the sponsoring congregation where the elders of the sponsoring congregation now assume control? Can the elders of the sponsoring congregation in actuality deny that they are overseeing, at least to some extent, the work of two congregations, the congregation that is among them and the receiving congregation?

Why would a congregations who wanted to support a new mission work not send the money directly to someone, the preacher, the elders, or other responsible individual who was directly associated with the new mission work?

A. You have raised an issue that has been around for a couple hundred years. Fifty years ago among churches of Christ this was an issue that was debated, written up in church papers and discussed among a lot of church people.

It is not likely that I will be able to give the lengthy answer that you may want, but I think I can give you some food for thought.

There was an excellent book, We Be Brethren, written in 1958 by J. D. Thomas, Ph.D. who was a professor of Bible at Abilene Christian University. He later became the head of the department of Bible. I don’t know if the book is still available in print. This is a well written book covering these subjects.

“The Missionary Society is a human organization that involves control over the churches that comprise its membership, its use would demand the violation of local church autonomy. It therefore necessarily infers a form of church government that differs from that of local autonomy, the required pattern and it thus is an excluded specific, and is definitely a violation of God’s pattern and will and is sinful and wrong. What we mean by control is that the Missionary Society is an organization whose board legislates or passes rules that they expect to be binding upon the member churches and where the member churches expect to be so bound. The society chooses for, directs, assesses contributions and legislates; all of which are binding and obligatory upon the member churches. The will of the church is subservient to the will of the society; both the churches and the society understand that this is to be the arrangement, and therefore the member churches have surrendered their autonomy. They no longer have self-government or the right of self-government.

By way of comparison, please note here that no sponsoring church, no orphan home or any organization related to them has ever in any wise dominated or controlled any church.

They have never legislated, assessed, directed, exercised coercion or brought authoritative organic pressure upon churches that contribute to or through them, but rather are in position only to suggest or request and they are totally dependent upon the choice and or the mercy of the contributing church.” (J. D. Thomas)

The function becomes one of delegated responsibility versus surrender of control with loss of autonomy.

The elders of the contributing congregation maintain the right to designate the workers, the place and such details and gives the other church or churches a choice about participating in a particular activity. When the elders send funds or goods to another congregation for use in a certain work, obviously the sending elders would provide instruction on the use of those funds and would require reports from the recipient congregation and should as often and practical as possible visit the local work of the recipient congregation to determine that the instructions of the sending elders are being carried out. Wisdom would require that the elders of the sending church make judicious inquiries to determine that their instructions are being followed.

2 Corinthians 8:10-24 (NIV)
10 And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so.
11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.
14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality,
15 as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.”
16 I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.
17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.
18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.
19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.
20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.
21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.
22 In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you.
23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.

In the above example from scripture, several churches (we don’t know how many) pledged and later gathered funds for the support of needy Christians in Jerusalem.

Scripture does not tell us how or to which specific individuals the funds were distributed in Jerusalem.

The churches who gave the funds gave of their own free will for a purpose that they were pleased with. It seems clear to me that the men who delivered the funds accomplished two things: One, the churches made sure that the men delivering the funds actually made proper delivery, and two, these responsible men made sure that the funds were delivered to the place intended.

Acts 15:22-16:4 (NIV)
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.
23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.
25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-
26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing.
28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:
29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.
30 The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.
31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.
32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.
33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.
35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”
37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them,
38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.
39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.
41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 16:1 (NIV)
1 He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek.
2 The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.
3 Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
4 As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

The Jerusalem church assisted in teaching and mentoring the churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. This obviously was a cooperative effort.

Organizations that are scriptural are simply groups cooperating or working together, but which do so within the authorization and in subjection to the eldership of the local congregation. They do not make demands of the local church or dominate or control it. Their will and limitations of action are dependent upon the will of the local church.

The local church has an obligation to preach the gospel, to care for the widows and orphans. Elders have the responsibility to carry out these God-given obligations and they may do that through their preacher or preachers, Bible class teachers, benevolent committees, mission committees or other groups designated by the elders for those purposes. As an expedient, they may use another congregation for the distribution of funds or if they so desire they may distribute the funds directly. I am thinking of the confusion that would reign if individual churches had decided that they must personally give their money to victims of the Katrina disaster, rather than allow some local congregation to distribute food, clothing and other necessities. In our personal situation, more than one congregation working together fed, clothed, housed and provided medical care and help in finding employment for victims of Katrina. The task was too large and involved for a single congregation. The only other option was just to do nothing.

As to your question about sending money to one congregation who will use the funds for a third congregation, I have this thought. The third congregation may be new converts, with few men or persons capable of handling funds for construction of a building or other activities and wisdom might dictate that a congregation geographically located nearby would oversee the distribution until other arrangements can be made. This would especially be true of churches in underdeveloped countries, where mission efforts are meager and limited in certain areas. These are practical questions that elders in their wisdom may use expediency in how they carry out their intended work.

In summary, the key issue is who controls and who has authority (directly or designated) to determine how and what is done.

Thank you for your question. I hope I have been helpful.

Lavelle Layfield

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