Webster defines the word “cooperation” to mean, “To act jointly with others; to unite for a common effort.” Luke 5:4-11 provides an example of cooperation. In this passage, we find two fishing boats cooperating together to bring in a great catch of fish.
The question is, can churches cooperate? Can two or more churches work together in a common cause? Some brethren have said “no.” Other have said, “Yes, but only in the area of benevolence and then only in cases of emergency.” How do we respond?
We clearly have scriptural precedence for churches cooperating together in benevolent relief. This example is set forth in Romans 15:25-26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Who can deny such?
But some say this only allows for churches cooperating one with another in emergency situations. Is this so? Consider the following: (1) This collection took considerable time to gather and transport (see 2 Corinthians 8:10-11; 2 Corinthians 9:1-2). Does this sound like an urgent emergency? (2) Not all in Jerusalem, or even all the saints were suffering from poverty (see Romans 15:26). (3) It appears that some who sent money to Jerusalem were in equally poor or seemingly even worse shape. Those in Jerusalem that did suffer poverty are described as ‘poor’ (ptochos, Romans 15:26); while those in Macedonia who were giving to those poor in Jerusalem are described as being in ‘deep poverty’ (bathos ptochos, 2 Corinthians 8:1-4). The Macedonians were in poverty to the extreme degree. Could it be that there is something more going on here than just poverty relief? (4) Paul asked the brethren to pray that this collection be accepted by the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:30-31). (5) This collection was for a much greater purpose than poverty relief. This was about pulling Jew and Gentile together in the one body (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).
Yes, most recognize that churches can cooperate in benevolent activities. But, can churches cooperate together in evangelism?
There is a principle set forth in the Bible – It is the argument from the lesser to the greater. Jesus used this argument (Luke 12:6-7; 14:1-5; 15:1-4). If one could assist an ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath, then couldn’t one help a man in need? If one would go look for a sheep that was gone astray, then shouldn’t Jesus seek the lost? Paul also used this form of argumentation (1 Corinthians 9:9-11; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). If an ox was to be supported physically in its work, shouldn’t a preacher or an elder be?
Read Acts 15:22-33. Thomas Warren has said of this passages. “This passage shows that one church can scripturally send some of its own men to render assistance to another church… this passage shows that the assistance which one church may give another may involve spiritual matters…this passage shows that one church may send a writing to another church. This writing may involve spiritual matters. This shows that a church may send a tract to another church. If a church may send one tract to another church, it may send a number of tracts to another church. This passage shows then, in light of the fact that a church may send a number of tracts to another church, that a church may send funds to another church so that the receiving church may use those funds in the purchase of writings which involve spiritual matters… if a church may send funds so that tracts may be purchased the same principle which allows this would also allow radio time to be purchased…” (Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes, p. 77-78).
Brethren, this subject can get to the point of ridiculous. Brother Warren tells this story, “Two churches in town, each with a television program, and one of the preachers loaned the other preacher some chalk. This chalk had been furnished by the congregation with which the first preacher was laboring. The second opposed church cooperation in ‘evangelism.’ When, in debate, it was pointed out to him that the principle which would allow one church to give chalk to another church would also allow it to give other assistance as well; I am told the preacher who had received the chalk gave the other preacher some money in order to pay for the chalk. This shows how ridiculous some of these ideas have become” (ibid, p. 45).
“What about church autonomy?” This is a common objection. “Churches lose their autonomy when they cooperate,” it is said.
Folks, this simply is not true. Did the churches in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia give up church autonomy in contributing to the great collection for Jerusalem’s poor saints? Brother Warren has said, “Elders don’t lose their right of self-rule just because they send funds somewhere else” (ibid, p. 110).