|Vol. 16 No. 5 May 2014
Louis Rushmore, Editor
I have a question regarding the work of elders. Can one large work be under shared oversight of multiple elderships? For example, a school of preaching (which I am currently enrolled) has several campuses located at different congregations. Each campus is independent and is under the oversight of that particular host congregation’s elders. However, even though each campus is ran independently, they all fall under the same name banner. The campuses share curriculum, name, and template, but make their own decisions in regards to the use of each. I have spoke with the director about this and he gave me an answer. However, the answer is what actually lead to particulars of this this question. This also has nothing to do with any other motives except ensuring that I am involved in a scriptural situation. I very much want to continue my work with the school, but in good conscience. Thanks for your time, and as always I appreciate you and the sound balance of Gospel Gazette Online.
We applaud the attitude of desiring to do what is correct spiritually and to maintain a good conscience. Romans 14 and verse 23 in particular require Christians to not violate their consciences. Essentially, even if a Christian believes something is wrong when it is perfectly alright, but does it anyway, violating his conscience, he sins. It is sinful to violate one’s conscience even if the activity itself is not actually sinful. In the first century, this especially applied to eating food that had been offered to idols. Lifeless idols are nothing, and they cannot eat the food dedicated to them. Therefore, the food was consumed at someone’s home to which a Christian guest may have been invited, or it was sold indiscriminately in the marketplace alongside other food that had not been offered to idols. There was not a thing wrong with a Christian eating the food that may have been offered to idols, as long as he was aware that there was nothing sinful about eating it. However, if the child of God was troubled about eating food that had been dedicated to idols, then he was not to do it. (In addition, Christians who knew that eating food offered to idols was okay would have refrained from eating that food if other Christians may have been influenced to violate their consciences or if non-Christians would have thought that Christians were honoring idols by eating the food.)
Now to the question. First, you have answered you own question when you wrote, “Each campus is independent and is under the oversight of that particular host congregation’s elders. … each campus is ran independently… The campuses share curriculum, name, and template, but make their own decisions in regards to the use of each.” You have described independent congregations administering their own local works. That is what the churches of Christ are supposed to do according to what can be discerned from the New Testament. Should it be necessary for each congregation to, so to speak, reinvent the wheel at each site, or can they use material and function in ways that resemble how the same type of work is being done in another congregation? Using a silly illustration for the purpose of emphasis, is it necessary for congregation “A” to crawl through the windows to enter their meetinghouse because congregation “B” uses the front door?
Your concern arises because the programs of work in the various local churches share the same name for their programs. “However, even though each campus is ran independently, they all fall under the same name banner.” If it is not possible for congregations to be independent from one another if they share a “banner” or name, then it is impossible for the churches of Christ to be independent congregations – since they all wear the name “Church of Christ.” You can easily see that your thinking has proved too much, and therefore, has not borne out the thought at all.
Your characterization of the scenario as you began your question does not fit with the details in the balance of your paragraph. “Can one large work be under shared oversight of multiple elderships?” That is a valid question, but it does not fit with the facts that you provided, because each congregation is doing its own thing, simply sharing the “template” of how best to do it locally.
From what you indicated, there is no mother or master organization to which member congregations must submit. There is merely wording or a “banner” that indicates the cooperative and combined intention of several congregations to accomplish the same thing in various places.
This is similar to my circumstances. Bonnie and I are World Evangelism team members, and we serve under the oversight of the elders of the Siwell Road Church of Christ in Jackson, MS. Other team members serve under their respective elderships of other congregations. Some of the congregations and their missionary servants specialize in mass evangelism (e.g., TV, radio, literature), whereas others specialize in foreign Bible schools and overseas campaigns. Others of us do some of both as well as bring other facets to the World Evangelism effort. Each of us and the congregations that we represent are voluntarily cooperating with each other. There is no independent organization called World Evangelism of which we missionaries are a part and that is governed by multiple elderships. The words “World Evangelism” are only that – words which refer to the cooperative effort to provide a well-rounded program of foreign evangelism that includes both outreach and follow up.
True, some of our brethren have skewed thinking and find cooperation between congregations on any level an anathema. They try too hard, make rules God did not make and pass by Jerusalem on the other side while conscientiously trying to avoid a loose or liberal treatment of the Word of God. We need to opt for biblical balance that relies on God’s Word and which strays not to the left or to the right.
What Bonnie and I do along with the others with whom we interact under the banner of World Evangelism are independent ministries that choose to cooperate and which can decide not to cooperate at any time we so choose. Likewise, the congregations mentioned in your question are independent ministries or congregations that have chosen to cooperate in preacher education, which can opt to no longer cooperate in that regard any time they should choose.
You have done the right thing in proposing to educate your conscience so that you can have peace of mind and not sin by violating your conscience. I hope that the forgoing has helped you determine that there is no reason for your conscience to feel threatened by the voluntary cooperation you describe. Thank you for your encouragement regarding Gospel Gazette Online – now in its 16th year of publication online.
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone asks, “By what authority is the Lord’s Supper served on Sunday night?” In one sense, this question is slightly amusing. The only Scripture in the New Testament designating the day on which and the frequency with which Christians observe the Lord’s Supper presents an example of its observance on the evening of the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). By the way, the Lord’s Supper was instituted by our Lord “in the evening” (Mark 14:17).
The one asking the question, however, may mean to ask about a congregation making the Lord’s Supper available in a morning worship, as well offering it to those in an evening worship who were not present in the morning. While we are thinking about that inquiry, add to that the Lord’s Supper being offered on the same Lord’s Day to other members of the same congregation who may be infirm at home, in a hospital or in a retirement home.
Going back to Acts 20:7, this apostolically approved example presents the obligation of every Christian to partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly on the first day of the week. The time of day is as immaterial as it is inconsequential as to whether the church assembles in an “upper room” or not (Mark 14:15; Acts 20:8).
Once I heard someone object to the Supper being offered a second time at the same congregation on a Lord’s Day on the supposed basis that those having already taken of it earlier in the day were ‘spiritually observing it’ in the evening, too, while some in the evening were partaking of it. That is not a biblical argument, but rather it is homespun and off the wall. For instance by comparison, have you ever heard anyone in the Lord’s church argue that someone could experience baptism ‘spiritually’ without actually being immersed? Are baptized believers being baptized again ‘spiritually’ if they are present at someone else’s baptism? The absurdity of the latter should reveal the absurdity of the former suggestion. Obedience requires activity as well as the investment of one’s Bible heart. In addition, there is no suggestion in the New Testament that Christians should partake of the Lord’s Supper multiple times on the Lord’s Day; it is a weekly requirement, along with the other four acts of New Testament worship.