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Clovis T. Cook

Since I started preaching the gospel in 1932, I have tried to keep visible a line of consistency in my preaching and convictions on issues which have caused a great amount of anxiety and unrest among the churches of Christ. The system that I deal with in this article, formally called ‘The Pastor System, Located Minister” etc., is no exception to the rule.

In my early preaching years, I became associated with several gospel preachers with whom I later had to disagree on the use of a plurality of drinking vessels in the communion service. However, I found myself in total agreement with these brethren on ‘The One Man Preacher System” which, at the time, was the position held almost unanimously by our brethren. Actually, the opposition to this system was one of the main reasons why Bro. C.C. O’Cleary, in 1923 started the North side congregation, in Wichita Falls, TX., now known as The Gardens Edge Church of Christ. This system is a divisive one and, if for no other reason, to bring it in over the protests of good conscientious brethren is wrong. The system causes offenses and “woe to that man by whom the offenses cometh!”  This system will continue to cause divisions and offenses as long as it is allowed to go unopposed.

The brethren with whom we have disagreed on the cups question have done more to discourage this system than we have. They have written at least three good books or tracts in opposition to the system. One by Leland H. Knight (now out of print), and one by Pat Man non and Jerry McCorkle. How many have we written against it? Why haven’t we? I think the answer is obvious. Many of our preachers like the system and so do many churches. As long as this is true there is very little we can do to prevent it, even if it does divide the church. Because of security reasons the preachers like it, sometimes asking for an agreement or contract allowing them to stay with a congregation for a stated number of years. The churches like it because it relieves them of many obligations and responsibilities. If a preacher strongly opposes the system within a congregation, which has its heart set on bringing in the one man preacher system, he will more than likely be cut off sooner or later. It matters not how long he may have preached for and worked with a certain congregation. If they decide to put in the system, and he opposes it, his days are numbered. This is a sad commentary on the so-called faithful Church of Christ; but it is a fact nevertheless because this writer has been the victim of such actions and circumstances and, therefore, knows whereof he speaks.

The State of Missouri has never lacked able gospel preachers. Homer L. King, Homer A. Gay, Joe Howard, Arthur Wade and Tommy Shaw, (all deceased); Ronnie Wade and myself, plus others no doubt, are men who worked hard to plant and develop congregations in this area according to the Bible plan. They baptized many of the brethrens children, married their sons and daughters, buried their dead, restored the erring, rejected the heretic, reproved and rebuked with all authority and held many public discussions among those with whom we differed. What do all these men have in common? To the best of my knowledge they all opposed (and still oppose) the “One Man Preacher System.” There are approximately forty congregations in the State of Missouri, but only a very few use this system.

Now, ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20).

No church in the Bible ever used the one man preacher system, so its no wander that we find no precedent, example, or pattern for it. The church at Antioch had at least five teachers and they are named in Acts 13:1. Who was the preacher at Antioch? The Bible names no such man. Another example is the church at Jerusalem. There were several teachers and preachers at Jerusalem and they are named in Acts 15:32; 15:15; and Acts 8:1. There were at least fifteen teachers at Jerusalem. Who was the preacher at Jerusalem? The Bible names no such man. Another example is the church at Corinth. Paul said, “Let the prophets (plural) speak…” I Cor 14:29. And “For ye may all prophesy one by one…” verse 31. Paul said, “Timothy will bring you in remembrance of my ways…as I teach everywhere in every church” 1 Cor 4:17. Evidently Paul taught all the churches to use a plurality of teachers and preachers. Who was the preacher at Corinth? The Bible gives no such man. But someone may say, “what about Ephesus?” Wasn’t Timothy the preacher at Ephesus? Paul told Timothy to abide still at Ephesus, when he went to Macedonia, for corrective matters, charging some that they teach no other doctrine l Tim 1:3. Then Paul calls him away from Ephesus in his second letter 2 Tim 4:9, 11, 13, 21. Who was the preacher at Ephesus? The Bible gives no such man.

There are no Bible examples where a church called or employed one man to be their preacher. At Antioch Paul and Barnabas continued to preach and teach the word of the Lord… “with many others” Acts 15:35. So, though Paul remained in Antioch for sometime teaching much people, the Bible no where speaks of Paul as their preacher.

If a church decides to call a man to be their preacher, what would they call him? What term would they use to designate him as such. There is no Bible terminology to use in reference to a man who is the preacher of a church. Is the word “Minister” the right word? This is the most common word used to refer to such a man. But the word “minister” and “servant” are used interchangeably in Mk 10:43, 44. The three Greek words translated “minister” in the New Testament all mean “servant”. It does not refer to a man that is a preacher of a church. The term “pastor” is used only once in the New Testament Eph 4:11. Usually translated “shepherd”, and refers to the “elders” Acts 20:17; Acts 14:23. The term “evangelist” is found three times in the New Testament. Eph 4:11 uses it as one type of teachers in the church. The other two passages refer to specific men 2 Tim 4:5 & Acts 21:8. No man in the Bible is ever called the evangelist of a church. The term preacher is used four times in the New Testament (2 Pet 2:5; 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11; and Rom 10:14) but never refers to the preacher of a congregation. So, what do you call the man chosen for the one man preacher system?

The tract from which I have quoted, and the title I have borrowed, was written by Jerry McCorkle. It is absolutely irrefutable. I have circulated this tract widely. He warns that “the real danger in this one man preacher system will come later down the stream of time when the professionalized pulpit brought about by the one man preacher system takes the church deeper and deeper into apostasy.”

Many churches like Israel of old are crying… “give us a king” and “let us be like the nations about us.” “Give us a full time preacher” is the modern cry. I once became part of a congregation (having been sent there by my home church) to help establish and develop a new congregation. The congregation began with several good teachers and song leaders; in fact, it was self-sustaining from the beginning. I envisioned the idea that I might be able to worship at this place the rest of my life with my family and brethren I had known so long. But soon I was asked if I would oppose a full time preacher? Naturally I did, Worse went to worse, and the one man preacher system was put in. In time, a dozen people (more or less) walked away leaving behind hopes that were dashed and crushed, and dreams that were shattered in a million pieces. This writer may not live long enough to overcome the hurt, the shame, the humiliation he suffered over this action. My opposition to the one man preacher system is doctrinal, not personal. Surely we will wake up before it is too late, is my prayer.  – OPA December 1, 1987 Issue

 Recommended articles:

Introducing the Church of Christ – Ronny Wade

God’s Sevenfold Unity – Jerry Cutter

Repentance – J. W. McGarvey


The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”