Congregational Cooperation

Text: 1 Timothy 4:6

From time to time it is good to revisit questions that brethren have debated in the past. If we do not, there is a danger that the next generation can fall into the same errors we once opposed. The question under consideration is this: Can local churches work together? If so, how? This issue has been called “congregational cooperation.” We want to consider what the Bible has to say that will help us answer this question.

What We Must Understand Before Answering Our Question

  • The need for authority (Colossians 3:17) – not enough just to claim to be doing things for the Lord (Matthew 7:21-23); we must follow the pattern given in the word of God (2 Timothy 1:13)
  • Definition of a local church – a body of Christians in a local place that has joined together to serve God; independent (does not rely on other churches to do its work; self-sufficient – 1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 4:16); autonomous (self-governing; above the elders is only Christ – 1 Peter 5:2, 4)
  • The work of the church – evangelism (1 Thessalonians 1:8); edification (Ephesians 4:11-12); benevolence (Acts 11:29-30)
  • How evangelism might be accomplished – supporting preachers, printing literature, hosting radio programs, etc.
  • How edification might be accomplished – acquiring a meeting place, purchasing class materials, etc.
  • How benevolence might be accomplished – help (money, goods, services) provided to needy saints

Possible Ways Churches Might “Cooperate”

  • [For now, I’m using the word “cooperate” loosely – this is how the term may be used by people, regardless of its accuracy; not all of these necessarily require coordination or even knowledge of activity between churches; also not differentiating here between the authorized and unauthorized, simply listing ideas]
  • Working independently toward the same goal (1 Thessalonians 1:8; Acts 18:8-11) – gospel spread in two places without coordination between the brethren in each place
  • Supporting a preacher (2 Corinthians 11:8) – churches not coordinating together; communicating with the preacher directly
  • Relieving needy saints (Romans 15:26) – used the same messenger (one delivering the funds), but this was not required (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:3-4)
  • Jointly funding/operating an evangelistic effort – could be planned by either individuals or churches
  • Sending funds to one church to do a particular work – “sponsoring church arrangement”
  • Supporting an organization to preach – “missionary society” or multi-church association

Is Any Form of Congregational “Cooperation” Authorized?

  • How can we determine whether a way of cooperation is authorized? – go to the Scriptures (2 Timothy 1:13; John 12:48); also, we need to understand the nature of the work
  • There is a difference between churches working concurrently and churches working jointly
  • Concurrent action – we must be careful with our definition as this word could be used to mean anything from simultaneous action to joint participation; for our purposes, we are using it to mean action by multiple parties (churches) that is not coordinated and not inherently connected; in other words, one party could stop without affecting the other
  • Joint action – working together directly; common oversight; sharing work and/or expenses

Examples of Concurrent vs. Joint Action

  • In these examples, the concurrent actions are authorized and the joint actions are unauthorized
  • Two churches plan to promote the gospel through a week-long gospel meeting – option 1: each local church plans, prepares, funds, and carries out its own meeting (concurrent); option 2: the churches come together and plan, prepare, fund, and carry out one joint meeting (joint)
  • Two churches plan to preach the gospel through a radio program – option 1: each local church buys its own air time and uses it to preach the gospel (concurrent); option 2: one church conducts a radio program, other churches send funds to be able to reach a larger audience (joint)
  • Multiple churches want to send men out to preach in different places (foreign or domestic) – option 1: each church selects what preacher(s) they will support, send money directly to them (concurrent); option 2: churches meet together, select the preacher(s) and the field and fund their mission (joint)
  • Two individuals (members of different congregations) plan to organize a Bible study – option 1: the individuals do everything to plan, prepare, and carry out that study (individual action – not even that the churches are working); option 2: the individuals’ respective churches provide funds for facilities, material, advertising, etc. (joint)
  • Again, we need to emphasize the need for authority (Colossians 3:17) – local churches working together jointly is nowhere authorized in the NT; does not matter if the work is planned and executed by organizations, churches, or even individuals; joint work among local churches is unauthorized

Why Is This Important?

  • Some may think these matters are inconsequential – but we cannot do whatever seems right to us and still please God (Proverbs 14:12; Matthew 7:22-23)
  • Others may simply look at the end results (“the ends justify the means”) – Paul was sent to preach, not to baptize (1 Corinthians 1:17); allow God to give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6); our responsibility is to obey God, not produce results
  • There are consequences for disregarding the pattern God has given us in this matter – we are disobeying God (Colossians 3:17; Matthew 7:21-23); the next generation does not learn respect for Bible authority (Judges 2:10-11); the floodgates are open to any number of things (1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Timothy 3:13); interdependent churches allow error to spread more rapidly and effectively (Acts 20:28-30)

Conclusion

  • The Lord wants the gospel to be spread – but He also wants us to follow His plan in doing so
  • We need to trust Him enough to do things His way and let Him give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6)
  • To do something other than what He has authorized reflects either a lack of faith in Him or a lack of understanding of His word

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