Nothing exists in total isolation. We speak of "independent, locally autonomous congregations" but no such congregation exists. Each church has a network of interdependencies.
Any endeavor requires organization. While small groups can operate with little organization, larger groups can not. As the Restoration Movement grew, its perceptions changed and it became a movement with worldwide vision. Local congregations remained small. How could they take the Gospel and the plea to the world? The answer: organize!
Here are some the early attempts to organize and look at reactions.
I. Early cooperative efforts
Early Christian Baptist articles blasted denominational cooperative societies. Campbell declared missionary enterprises the tools of the clergy established to expand their power. Furthermore, he said, missions extorted funds from Christians. Campbell cited budget figures to prove that Christians sent much money to sectarian or denominational causes. Campbell also maintained more efficient methods existed to do evangelistic work.
At the same time, Alexander Campbell regretted the Mahoning Baptist Association's demise. Earl I. West said that "Alexander Campbell was not pleased with the dissolving of the Mahoning Association, but sensing the intense desire on the part of the majority, he silently acquiesced." Since many considered extra-congregational organizations unnecessary or unscriptural they scrapped such structures.
In spite of this fact, churches held a number of cooperative meetings based on a need for fellowship and the underwriting of common causes. The "New Lights" began cooperative efforts in Kentucky in 1804, in Ohio in 1808, in Virginia in 1814, in Indiana in 1817 and in Illinois, Vermont, and Maine in 1818.
Walter Scott wrote in favor of cooperation in the Christian Messenger as early as 1827. Stone, the editor, agreed. Four years later Campbell published five essays concerning the necessity of cooperation. Scott wrote two of the essays. Campbell simply argued, "We can do together what we can not do alone. It is expedient that we cooperate to get the job done." Campbell advocated cooperation again in 1842 when he began publishing a series of essays on "Church Organization." These essays continued until 1848.
Campbell's cooperative vision differed from that practiced in denominational churches, however. Campbell began the Christian-Baptist during the "Benevolent Empire." Denominations cooperated to build a whole set of structures for missions and church assistance. These structures stood independent of churches and laymen and clergymen from various denominations administered them. Campbell envisioned churches cooperating together to build structures answerable directly to the churches. Campbell's structures assisted the church and were not to rule over it.
II. Specific organizational efforts
Once Campbell argued for cooperation, the idea quickly spread . Even though the Mahoning Baptist Association ceased, the former members met occasionally for mutual edification. In New Lisbon, Ohio, in 1831 someone moved to begin cooperation on a county basis. Both Campbell and Walter Scott preached at this meeting. A committee met and soon outlined the intended cooperation. Its report stated:
Similar results soon came from meetings in Mayslick, Kentucky, in 1835. Cooperative meetings drew churches from Virginia and eastern Ohio to Wheeling in 1836. County cooperative meetings began in Indiana in 1836 and these Indiana meetings led to state meetings by 1839 where they discussed education, cooperation and the sustaining of evangelists.
After Campbell's series in the Millennial Harbinger organization began on a wider scale. Numerous structures resulted.
For a while the ACMS annual meeting served as the brotherhood's general convention. Protests attacked the membership setup arguing that the society "sold memberships." They felt the poorer churches had less voice and that powerful individuals governed the society.
To solve this problem and others a committee of 20 met in Louisville in 1869 to come up with a better way. From their meetings came the "Louisville Plan." According to this plan, churches sent delegates to district, state, and national conventions. States sent two delegates plus an additional delegate for every 5,000 Christians in the state. Each congregation reported and presented its offerings to the district convention. The district convention kept half the money for its purposes and sent the rest on to the state. The state then retained half and sent the rest to the General Convention.
In time all of these organizations became the International Convention of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), a structure now structured into a full denominational hierarchy.
III. Protests against the flow
Protest arose right after the ACBS's formation. Jacob Creath Jr. objected the loudest because he believed the church should do what the societies tried to do. Creath argued vehemently that Scripture did not authorize the use of conventions or other similar organizations. Speaking of conventions Creath said:
The brotherhood reacted with shock and disbelief with the adoption of the "Louisville Plan." Most identified this plan as an elaborate ecclesiastical system. Creath again objected. So did many others. Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb began editing the Gospel Advocate in July, 1855, promising to investigate cooperation's scripturality. Later they announced their opposition. Benjamin Franklin, who edited the American Christian Review supported the cooperative ventures at first, even the "Louisville Plan." He later changed his mind and threw his influence to those opposing the societies and conventions.
Objections came on three grounds: (1) Scripture did not authorize conventions. (2) The organizations could infringe on the rights of local congregations. (3) Support for such structures soon become a test of Christian fellowship. Benjamin Franklin wrote:
Those who opposed cooperation saw Campbell as old and under the influence of younger men. The acapella brethren accept this because of Charles V. Segar's statement that after 1847 Alexander Campbell just was not himself. Because of illness and several unfortunate accidents, and perhaps even a stroke, W.K. Pendleton and Robert Richardson pretty well led Campbell here and there. Tolbert Fanning substantiated this after a visit to Bethany. Speaking of Fanning's visit, David Lipscomb wrote:
West disagrees for four good reasons: (1) Campbell was active in the missionary society and defended its existence. (2) Campbell never thought he had changed his mind. (3) Campbell favored the principle of a missionary society before 1847. (4) Campbell did not criticize organization before 1847. West writes:
Campbell believed in organizational structures, but Campbell was wrong! We speak of "independent, locally autonomous missionary organizations today but many of these structures operate cooperatively. Independent churches also support openly cooperative efforts such as Brazil Christian Mission, Christian Missionary Fellowship, and numerous state and local evangelizing associations.
As we move on into the Twentieth Century we will look at some of the problems within the Disciples of Christ and the United Christian Missionary Society which led to the Cooperative/Independent split.
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