A Convention body assumes that it is made up of messengers; that these messengers bear redelegated authority from the churches; that this redelegated authority may be, and is, transmitted to its boards; that it lives on and on in its boards during the interim of annual meetings; and that its actions are binding upon the churches. It really assumes that it is an extra integrated creation of cooperating churches carrying in itself the authority of the churches.
Now, a Convention body does not err when it assumes that it is a body made up of messengers---that is simply what it is. It does, however, greatly err when it assumes that it lives on and on as a Convention in its boards during the interim of annual meetings; and it greatly errs when it assumes that its actions are binding upon the cooperating churches. These last assumptions are actually unscriptural, being supported by not one scintilla of Bible evidence. Actually, there is just as much scriptural sanction for the Pope being Christ's vice-regent on earth as there is for a Convention being the spokesman of Christ to His churches. The scriptures are dismally silent on Christ delegating authority to the Pope to speak for Him among men, and they are ominously silent on Christ delegating messenger bodies to speak for Him to His churches.
An Association body assumes that it is made up of churches associated in the work of the Lord; that its messengers bear to Associational meetings redelegated church authority; that this redelegated authority may be, and is, transmitted to its committees; and that the will of the churches associated together is officially represented in its committees during the interim of its annual meetings.
Now, an Association body errs when it assumes that it is made up of churches. A local church cannot be a member of anything. Membership implies partness of a whole. A sovereign body can't be a part of anything without losing part of its sovereignty. The moment a church becomes a member of anything it becomes a part of a larger whole. Then, as touching missionary and benevolent labors, it fuses its will with the wills of other churches making up the larger unit. There is just as much scriptural authority for the unification program of the National Council of Churches as there is for an Association being made up of a body of churches---both enslave churches. Both are extra scriptural matters.
Redelegated authority in Associationism is straight-out Conventionism. Such is human and unscriptural. The burden of proof for the redelegation of church authority to messengers is on the shoulders of them who practice such.
But someone argues that an Association is not a body. If it is not a body, then what is it? It cannot be an assembly of churches yet, there is an assembly, and this assembly is a group of messengers who act like an organized body. These messengers transact business---not for the churches but for themselves. They elect a moderator or a president, and they elect clerks and missionaries, etc. Since they exercise the function of an organized body, then why should anyone assume that such is not an organized body, then why should anyone assume that such is not an organization. The assumption that an Association is made up of churches and exercises redelegated authority from churches cannot be sustained by the scriptures.
Then you say, "What can churches do scripturally?" They can find fellowship in the work of the Lord. The churches of Asia Minor found fellowship in service by sending out messengers---not messengers to a general meeting but to churches and communities to preach the gospel and to raise funds for the poor. The only assemblies disclosed in the New Testament are local church assemblies. Denominations, Associations, and Conventions are human creations without any expressed divine sanction. The messengers of the 8th chapter of 2 Corinthians were not messengers to a messenger assembly from local churches, but they were messengers chosen by local churches and sent out to witness, just like Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4). So far as we can see, there is no harm in brethren from churches coming together for a meeting to find fellowship in the Lord and the study of His Word. But to go beyond that, dangers are clearly involved.
Now, brethren, to write these things as I now do means that I have made a great adjustment in my thinking. I once believed in the red legation of church authority and that missionary and benevolent endeavors could be scripturally projected by a body of messengers assembled from churches. I have been compelled to surrender these beliefs. I have yielded them because I have found that the scriptures do not sanction them.
But, another brother says, "I grant you that there is no expressed scriptural sanction for such assumptions, but there is nothing said against them. So what is wrong with using our wits in order to get cooperation?" Now we offer the following reasons for not doing so.
1. To do so, would compel us to apply expediency as a rule of procedure when we know that expediency is a carnal principle and that carnality is against God (Rom. 8:7).
2. To do so, would compel us to ignore the Holy Spirit of the churches who stands in them in the stead of the Lord Jesus (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-13; Acts 2:1-47). While Christ was in the church in person, He exercised absolute control of its work and we must assume that the Holy Spirit exercises the same responsibility today. To butt in on His responsibility is little short of blasphemy, if any.
3. To do so, would compel us to ignore the pattern of missionary endeavor set for the churches by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-47; 13:1-4). He shows us the method of missionary endeavor by personal example.
4. To do so, would compel us to assume that divine principles are not intended to control the practice of the saints in church life. All doings of a church must be in harmony with Deity. The Lord is God and we must not dicker with that truth. As sovereign, God says today, even as yesterday, "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isa. 30-21).
5. Finally, a wrong method will in the end destroy a right message. Satan devises false methods in the name of expediency knowing that each false one will in the end sacrifice truth divine. Accordingly, we need to heed the Holy Spirit's injunction by Paul (1 Cor. 16:13), "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong." Our challenge today is "Back to the Bible and to the churches."
What We Should Do
1. We should look to the Holy Spirit for our message and our method.
2. We should leave our churches free to turn to the Holy Spirit for evangelistic, missionary, and benevolent endeavors.
3. We should indoctrinate our churches on church truth.