Questions about Church Cooperation 

Introduction

Continuing our study of church cooperation and the organization of the church, here we address some of the more common questions that may naturally arise from this study.  We hope that this will address any question that you may have.  If it does not, please contact either the author of this article or any of our other local contacts who would appreciate the opportunity to study the Bible scriptures on this matter and to refine this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What about the phrase from II Corinthians 8:19, "chosen by the churches"?  Does it authorize conventions?

    Taken from the following context, this phrase is sometimes offered as justification for conventions among churches:

    "And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us -- providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men." II Corinthians 8:18-22

    It should be noted that this phrase does seem to be a little ambiguous.  The language of this phrase could allow for either a number of independent churches or a collective convention to choose the same messenger.  Therefore, presuming either interpretation is an assumption unless we can reinforce these interpretations with other passages.

    If we consider any such convention of united will and funds, then some congregations in the minority will have to accept messengers or destinations with which they may have not agreed.  Therefore, such a convention would violate the autonomy of these congregations and their privilege to choose both the messenger and receiver of their funds.  Therefore, when we consider the consequences of these interpretations, the former interpretation ceases to be a presumption and rather becomes a necessary inference, since the alternative would be in contradiction with other New Testament teachings.

  2. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16  - Do these passages offer general authority for churches to devise their own methods of teaching, including collective cooperation?

    As with all practices authorized by general authority, we must be certain that our choices do not violate other specific commands, examples, or inferences.  For example, one cannot steal a car and justify it has being generally authorized by the command to "Go teach."  Our obedience to this general command is regulated by other specific statements.  Outside the exclusion of specific statements, we have authority to use any means that we consider to be best.  However, the form of church cooperation is specified by other passages that we have previously considered.  Therefore, we are not at liberty to choose a path that has been excluded by the specific teachings of these passages.  This would exclude all forms of institutions and organizations outside the autonomous and local church.

  3. Does the phrase from Philippians 4:15, "No church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only", authorize a central church that collects and forwards funds to preachers?

    When included in its larger context and examined in other translations, this passage from the Old King James Version becomes much clearer.  Moreover, it is best interpreted, as are all passages, in light of the entire Bible and its teaching as a whole on the subject.

    "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity." ... "Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress."

    "Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only."

    "For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.  Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God."  Philippians 4:10-18 (New King James Version)

    Since the word, "communicated" is used in the old King James Version, it is sometimes thought that the Philippian church served as a central, sponsoring church for Paul, which collected funds from all churches and channeled them to Paul through their messengers.  However, closer inspection of this word shows this not to be the case.  The Greek word for "communicate" is defined as follows in Friberg's Analytical Greek Lexicon:

    koinoneo {koy-no-neh'-o} 
    .  AV - be partaker 5, communicate 2, distribute 1; 8
    .  1) to come into communion or fellowship with, to become a sharer, be made a partner 2) to enter into  fellowship, join one's self to an associate, make one's self a sharer or partner

    When we look through the New Testament we find that the word is more often translated "distribute" or "partake" (Romans 12:13; 15:27; I Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 2:14; I Peter 4:13; II John 11).  Most modern versions actually translate the word here in Philippians 4:13 as "shared" or "fellowship" (ASV, NASV, NKJ, NIV).  The word "communicate" should be understood in terms of Old King James English which encompassed the idea of fellowship and relationship.

    This interpretation of the word also seems the most logical based upon the context.  Paul is expressing his great gratitude to the Philippians.  This gratitude is emphasized by the fact that they were the only church supporting him while nobody else would (vs. 11-15).  This developed a unique bond between him and the Corinthians which was fostered by their loyalty to him.  However, the idea that actually several congregations were supporting him through the Philippian church is in conflict with the sense of otherwise abandonment that is expressed in the prior verses.  Moreover, the idea of the sponsoring church is in direct violation of the instruction of Peter to elders to oversee the affairs that are "among them" (IPeter 5:1-2)

    Therefore, the correct and modern use of the word helps to clarify this question.  In addition, the immediate context and the context of all of the Bible's teaching on this point eliminates the possibility of this passage authorizing a sponsoring church arrangement.

  4. If a congregation voluntarily surrenders its control of its funds to an institution, organization, or sponsoring church, does it not still maintain its autonomy?

    There are two problems with such reasoning:  First, any church that does this has still lost its autonomy.  Whether done voluntarily or otherwise, some other organization is making decisions for that congregation about what is best and scriptural.  Second, there is a misunderstanding here about what is wrong with organizations.  It is wrong for both reasons of violating autonomy and lack of Bible authority.  This was best explained by one brother, who said:  "Exercise of free-will is not what keeps the local church scriptural:  the church must "will" to operate according to God's plan, and do it.  It is the inter-church arrangement itself that is unscriptural, and free-will participation makes the error worse, not better."  (Robert Turner, The Arlington Meeting, p.272)

Conclusion

Surely many other questions could be studied, but these were chosen since they seem to be the most common and substantive questions that can be raised in support of collective church cooperation and the use of outside institutions to perform the work of the church.  If any of these responses seem to be in error, the author of this article would appreciate any feedback that you would offer.  However, we hope that you will find these answers to be scriptural, accurate, and in harmony with all of God's teaching on this subject.  It is our hope that this collection of scriptures and explanations of them will be helpful to you and your quest for truth.  Moreover, we pray that they will be profitable for your evaluation of and determining a local church with which you may scripturally work and grow thereby.

 

Next: The Name of the Church

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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