The Sponsoring church: Objections Considered

No passage of scripture speaks of congregations banding together to a form a network or coalition of congregations, pooling money for evangelism, setting up a sponsoring church, or anything remotely akin to it. No passage of scripture gives elders in one church the authority to oversee the work of other (contributing) churches. Elders are to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you” ( 1 Peter 5:2). The sponsoring church’s elders have become, in effect, a brotherhood eldership. No passage of scripture speaks of a brotherhood treasury, or a district treasury, or an area-wide treasury yet this is exactly what the sponsoring church arrangement creates. No passage of scripture says anything about the “super church” that the sponsoring church becomes.

It violates local church autonomy.

Each church must manage its own affairs in matters of judgment and expediency. The Corinthian church selected its own messengers ( 2 Cor. 8:19). Paul even said “And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem” ( 1 Cor. 16:3).

Each congregation must oversee its own work. Paul told the Ephesian elders to manage the flock in Ephesus ( Acts 20:28), and no others. Peter told elders to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you” ( 1 Peter 5:2). How can elders in one state shepherd the work of a flock in another state?

A local church cannot turn over control of its work, completely or partially, to another eldership in another congregation. To do so is to surrender and lose autonomy.

It shows a wrong concept of the church.

Many conceive of the church as a group of congregations. Thus it is only natural to try and activate that network or web of churches.

But the term “church” is used in the Bible to refer to the group of all saved Christians of all time (the universal church), or it is used of local congregations. It never refers to an alliance or group of congregations that have banded together to do a work.

The idea that the local church is part of a larger working unit is simply incorrect.

“When we say the organizational structure of the church begins and ends with the independent congregation, we mean there is no divine authority for a collective of Christians (an organized unit) larger, or smaller than the local church. There is no authority for a plurality of church to act collectively” Robert F. Turner, Organizational Structure of the Church,The Sinton Review, January 1962, page 1

Until “book, chapter and verse” can be produced showing that the sponsoring church arrangement is part of God’s will for His people we must resist it as an innovation.

Objections and Defenses of the Sponsoring Church Arrangement

“We have not lost autonomy because no one makes us send money, and we could quit at any time.”

Answer: Autonomy can be lost without force. It can be voluntarily surrendered. For example, a church must discipline its own members ( 1 Cor. 5:1ff). What if congregation A willingly turned over discipline of the wayward to church B? The fact that control over the work of church A has been given to another voluntarily and that the arrangement could be ended at any time does not change the fact that A has surrendered (part of) its autonomy to B.

An illustration from the secular world may help. If I invest in a mutual fund I turn my money over to the fund manager. I could get out at any time, but it is certain that while I am participating in the fund I lose control of my money. The fund manages my money, not me. I have lost (at least part of) my autonomy.

Likewise, the sponsoring church receives the money, and makes all the decisions how to spend it. Who will preach, or what to mail out, or what to teach on - these decisions are made by the sponsoring church. Yet these are the very kinds of decisions an independent, autonomous local church makes!

There can be no doubt that the participating churches lose their autonomy when they contribute to a sponsoring church arrangement. The published material about these projects clearly states “This work is overseen by ——— church.” If the sponsoring church is overseeing it, then the contributing churches are not! They have lost their control, and forfeited (some of) their autonomy. Where is the passage that authorizes a church to give up its autonomy and independence?

“You do not believe in church cooperation.”

Answer: Not so. The Bible does not teach that churches may pool their money together under one eldership, but that is not the only form of cooperation available to us. Churches did send money directly to a preacher ( hil. 4:15). In doing so churches are working toward the same goal and trying produce the same effect, one of the dictionary definitions of cooperation.

H. Leo Boles said,

“Every church in the universe that operates or works according to the will of God cooperates with every other church in the universe that is working according to the same rule. Church which are fulfilling their mission separate and independent of other churches nevertheless are cooperating with all other church that fulfill their mission. It seems that we ought to see this, that we ought to recognize this fundamental truth.” Leo Boles Gospel Advocate, 1932.
“The universal nature of the responsibility imposed in the Great Commission is too great for any local congregation, therefore, some church cooperation is necessary.”

Answer: The churches in the New Testament were charged with the same Great Commission and seemed convinced it could be fulfilled within the limits of God’s mandates for church function and organization. It would be a strange thing indeed for God to tell us to do something that we could only do by violating His word! The truth is that NT churches did cooperate ( Phil. 4:15-18; 2 Cor. 11:8), and that no one local congregation is responsible for teaching the entire world any more than any one Christian is responsible for teaching all 5 billion people now alive on the earth.

“Churches sent to one another in Acts 11.”

Answer: This was done in benevolence, not in evangelism. From Acts 11 we learn

“that one church may help sister churches when they are in want produced by causes over which they have no control, and that such help is to be directed to the elders” James Adams, - How New Testament Churches ‘Cooperated,’ Gospel Guardian, Volume 8, May 3, 1956, page 29).

The purpose of this giving was to create “equality” in the churches ( 2 Cor. 8:14), not build up one giant “super church.”

“The sponsoring church is only a method of evangelism.”

Answer: One should be careful here - this argument was introduced to support the missionary society! In truth, many sponsoring church arrangements seem like much more than just a method. They involve a whole new organization (in some cases) with paid staffers, headquarters, directors, budgets, etc. Some of these sponsoring church projects seem to have very loose affiliations or ties to the church that is supposed to be sponsoring it. It is not unfair to ask, in such cases, what the differences are between these sponsoring church organizations and a missionary society.

But even if we grant that the sponsoring church is a method it is an unscriptural method because it is without authority, violates church autonomy, and demonstrates a false and denominational concept of the church.

“The church at Philippi served as Paul’s sponsoring church (Phil. 4:15-16).”

Answer: This is simply not what the text says. All that is in Philippians 4:15-16 is one church sending directly to one preacher. Guy Woods wrote of this passage,

“Here, too, we see the simple manner in which the church in Philippi joined with Paul in the work of preaching the gospel. There was no ‘missionary society’ in evidence, and none was needed; the brethren simply raised the money and sent it directly to Paul. This is the way it should be done today.” Annual Lesson Commentary, Gospel Advocate Co., Lesson XI, December 15, 1946, p. 341.
“Look at all the good being done.”

Answer: Obviously, the end never justifies the means. We may not do evil that good may come ( Romans 3:8).

“You are opposed to evangelism.”

Answer: Not so. The Westside church is vitally interested in evangelizing the lost, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. But even if that were not so, and this church did not care anything about the lost or evangelism our sin would not make the sponsoring church arrangement right. Sin on our part will not atone for sin on someone else’s part!

“The messengers who carried the money from Macedonia to Jerusalem ( 2 Cor. 8:23) constituted an organization outside of the church that did church work.”

Answer: This is assumed, but certainly not proven. What organization did these messengers have? How did they become an “organization?” Did they vote on a leader, pick names out of hat, what? We don’t know - and should not assume! If those messengers do serve as authority for an organization outside the church wouldn’t they likewise serve as authority for a missionary society? The truth is those men were not a missionary society, were not a sponsoring church, and were not an organization outside of the church. They were individually selected messengers of various congregations, and no more.

“There is no exclusive pattern for cooperation in the New Testament.”

Answer: If there is no pattern for cooperation than it is so that we cannot do any wrong in the matter of cooperating. Thus, what would be wrong with the missionary society?

Long ago Alexander Campbell began

his search for the “ancient order.” He noted that the question is “Either there is a divinely authorized order of Christian worship in Christian assemblies, or there is not. On the supposition that there is not, then the following absurdities are inevitable. There can be no disorder in the Christian assembly, there can be no error in the acts of social worship; there can be no innovation in the department of observances, there can be no transgression of the laws of the King. For these reason, viz. Where there is no order established there can be no disorder, for disorder is acting contrary to established order; where there is no standard there is no error, for error is a departure or a wandering from a standard…” Christian Baptist, Vol. 2, pp. 239-243).

Again, we set the issue before you: where is the book, chapter and verse that authorizes the sponsoring church arrangement?