|Vol 5 No 3||January 16, 2000|
W. L. Wharton, Jr.
Should men of questionable character or practice commence meeting together in professed service to Christ, they would certainly constitute a congregation. The character of the congregation would reflect the character of those who constituted it (as in the seven churches of Asia) either for good or bad.
A congregation of Christians can, through the efforts in Christ, bring others to be Christians. This is part of the work of a congregation. But while a congregation can in this sense establish Christians it does not and cannot establish a congregation. Christians establish and constitute a congregation and it is not "established" by another congregation. If a congregation may establish another congregation it may oversee it, because oversight would be essential to its establishment. If a congregation may oversee another congregation then it may discipline it, for discipline is essential to its oversight and establishment. Too, it would of necessity have to support and maintain the "new work" until it was self-supporting because it would be its responsibility. As certainly as a congregation can, under any circumstance, oversee its own work and that of another, then we have the established principle and fact of one eldership over two congregations! Where is the man who will attempt to defend such by the Scriptures?
A congregation must be supported, disciplined and established with its own individual framework and organization. Those within its own ranks who are divinely qualified (1 Tim 3; Titus 1) are charged with its supervision. Hence every congregation is free under Christ from every other congregation both in its beginning and continuation!
It is fashionable to speak of congregations beginning a "new work," meaning the establishment of another congregation. Generally lots are selected and possibly a meeting house is erected by the "sponsoring" congregation. Frequently it manages the selection of those who will serve as elders because it is most unlikely that a congregation will spend so much of its time and resources without maintaining "control" of the direction the "new work" will take. In all, every indication is given to prove to all that the "new work" has the official sanction and endorsement of the "mother church." Congregations are being urged to establish another congregation as quickly as possible.
In contrast, if a group of Christians should decide to start meeting in a new location and did not first obtain the official sanction of existing congregations they would most likely be branded as schismatic. However, congregational charters are from the gospel of Christ, not other congregations! If brethren begin to meet and serve God they do not need the sanction of any man or set of men on earth or any congregation. Their rightness or wrongness will inhere in the character of their lives and work -- not in their permission from another congregation to exist.
No eldership on earth has power to restrain within its membership those who, bound by their conscience to God feel impelled to begin another congregation. Men voluntarily come under the jurisdiction of a local eldership and in so doing do not forfeit their liberty to leave that fellowship for any honorable reason sufficient to themselves and God. While elders regulate affairs within the congregation over which they serve such oversight does not extend to deny men the right to leave that congregation. To contend to the contrary will but grant to Rome the power she and her cohorts have always claimed was scripturally theirs. Contrary views to the above will grant to an eldership absolute power over such as come under their care and no matter what is done men cannot draw back from their leadership without their permission unless they are willing to be marked as schismatic. While men may be schismatic in reference to some eldership it does not always follow that they are schismatic in reference to Christ! Whether another congregation will be permitted to form and function is not under the jurisdiction of any eldership on earth!
The current idea that abounds in some circles to the effect that no congregation is "started right" unless it is either fostered by an existing congregation or has their official sanction is nothing short of Romanism. By the same reasoning, no man could be sure that the congregation with which he worships is a 'true' church of the Lord unless he can trace its succession through approved organizational sanction through the ages. This will put to shame the claim of the Baptists on "church succession."
Anywhere on earth that true men gather themselves together and form a congregation after New Testament order, such a congregation is a church of Christ whether or not any congregation on earth recognizes them as such. This is the essence of Christianity. This is how the first congregation started and how every true congregation has started since. The other is human ecclesiasticism.