By Leonard Laurialt: Church of Christ
Enchantment — Farmers’ Rural Electric Edition is a monthly magazine published by the New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. While reading the October issue, I learned from an article entitled, “7 Principles Guide All Cooperatives,” that, “October was set aside to honor the cooperative movement, which began 161 years ago.”
Apparently, the seven principles were developed by a group of weavers in England who established the first cooperative. As I read that article, I thought, “Wow, this gives use a great glimpse of the greatest cooperative on earth – the church! It made good fodder an article on the subject of the local congregation as well.
First, cooperatives are based on voluntary, open membership. Being a member of the church Jesus built (Matthew 16: 16-18) is by choice as well. It is available to all who are willing to accept the responsibilities of membership (Acts 2: 36-41, 47).
In this cooperative there are no differences among members based on gender, social, racial, or political aspects. There is religious discrimination because, after all, God said, “You are to have no other gods besides (in addition to) me (Deuteronomy 5: 6).
Second, members (those meeting the above qualifications) exercise democratic control in decision-making with equality. In the church, members can choose anyone to be a leader who meets the qualifications outlined by God to whom all members and leaders are accountable (Acts 6: 1-7; 1 Timothy 3: 1-13; Titus 1: 5-; Hebrews 13: 17).
Third, members participate economically. You probably know what this means regarding the church. However, one difference between a cooperative and the church is that, in a cooperative, members receive limited, if any compensation (dividends?). In the church, members receive dividends that meet all their material needs (Matthew 6: 25-33) and eventually lead to eternal life where greater dividends are awarded (Matthew 19: 29).
Fourth, cooperatives are autonomous. That is, they support and rule themselves. I love this one. Because the church belongs to Jesus (Matthew 16: 18; 2 Timothy 2: 5, 6) and each congregation is to select its own leaders, each congregation is also autonomous. This means making decisions about activities on a local level and participation in activities elsewhere, without answering to anyone but God (1 Peter 5: 1-4; Acts 20: 28).
Fifth, cooperatives provide education and training to their members so that they can effectively contribute to the development of the cooperative.
Jesus has given leaders and teachers to each congregation for this very purpose (Ephesians 4: 11-16). This educational program includes informing the public about the mission and benefits of the cooperative (Matthew 28: 18-20) and develops future leaders (2 Timothy 2 1, 2).
Sixth, cooperatives serve their members effectively and strengthen the movement through local, national, regional, and international structures. Uh oh, what happened to autonomy, this is starting to sound like a denomination.
The difference is in choice. Autonomous cooperatives, like independent local congregations, decide for themselves what extra-congregational activities they want to participate in. One qualification for such activities is the same as intra-congregational activities, in that it must streengthen the cooperative movement. That means working together to see that the truth is preached throughout the world (Matthew 28: 18-20; Romans 10: 14-17; Philippians 1: 3-6; 4: 15, 16).
Finally, cooperatives show concern for the community and act for the sustainable development of their community through policies accepted by their members. Keeping in mind that God defines sustainable development, the members of the local congregation do what it takes to lead people to Christ (1 Corinthians 9: 19-27), because they are concerned about showing love for their fellow man as an act of love for God (Mark 1212: 28=31; John 15: 14; Matthew 28: 20).
These are the seven principles that guide cooperatives, electrical or otherwise. I have adapted them to describe local congregations of the church Christ built (Matthew 16: 16-18). Does your congregation fit the Biblical model of the church. Read the book of Acts to make the comparison. When you come to a topic you need or want more information on, use your concordance to see what the rest of the New Testament says about it. That is still the only appropriate guidebook for the church today.