Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 2, 1958
NUMBER 22, PAGE 9-10a

For Whom Is The Church Responsible In The Realm Of Benevolence?

Thomas Shropshire, Cactus, Texas

In the controversy on the matter of benevolence, as well as on other things, it seems that brethren are more interested in defending certain practices than they are in what the scriptures teach about them. They will affirm that the scriptures teach certain things and then assume much of their affirmation and use almost everything except the scriptures to try to prove the remainder. We are constantly amazed at this lack of respect for the sacred writings on the part of many today.

Arguments are numerous in defense of human organizations to do the work of the church in the field of benevolence. These human organizations are engaged in providing care for the needs of certain individuals — young and old — in and out of the church. Arguments are made in defense of the support of these organizations by donations from churches on the ground that the work done by the organizations is work for which the church as such is responsible. Now in order for an argument to have any value whatsoever, it must be proven that the scriptures teach the thing for which the argument is made. Those who defend human organizations to do the work which they are doing for the church, must prove two things: (a) They must prove that the work is the work of the church as such; and (b) they must prove that the church may do this work through a human organization by contributing funds to it. Those who respect the authority of the Bible, will want real Bible proof for these things and not just a lot of human reasonings, constituent elements, component parts, "silly-gisms", etc. They will require a Direct Command, an approved apostolic example or a necessary inference from God's divine word as proof.

Let us consider some of the obstacles in their way of producing proof of their claims concerning the two things mentioned above. Take first the work for which they assume the church to be responsible. For whom is the church responsible in the realm of benevolence? Old folks? What scripture would one go to to prove it? Gal. 6:10? Gal. 6:10 is not a command to the church as such and we can show why. In the first place, it must be assumed that the "do good" of Gal. 6:10 includes benevolence in order to use the passage to prove a specific proposition. Secondly, we must all recognize the fact that if we apply a passage of scripture in such a way as to conflict with another passage, then our application is wrong. Gal. 6:10 is general in its application and to apply it to the work of the church as such, would be to make it conflict with I Tim. 5:16 which is specific in its application. Here is why that is true. If we apply both passages to the church as such, we would have Paul telling the church in one place to do something which he tells them in another place not to do. When we apply Gal. 6:10 to the church as such, we disregard one of the basic rules of Bible study. That rule is to observe to whom a command is addressed. Many people ignore the distinction which is made in the New Testament between the individual and the church. There is only one of two applications which can be made of Gal. 6:10. We have shown plainly that the application cannot be made to the church as such so it can apply only to the individual Christian.

If the church is responsible for the care of "old folks,"where do we find the approved, apostolic example? In Acts 2, 4 or 6? In Acts 11 or Rom. 15? In I Cor. 16 or II Cor. 8 or 9? All of these scriptures deal with ministering to the needs of "poor saints" in special circumstances and not "old folks." There is but one passage which deals with the care of "old folks" and that is I Tim. 5 and in it the care is limited and restricted to a specific class of "old folks". Of course we are still speaking of the care of "old folks" by the church as such. I Tim. 5 makes the distinction between the work of the individual and the work of the church as such.

If the church is responsible for the care of "old folks", where do we find the necessary inference in the New Testament. We will be glad to look at it when someone is ready to produce it.

For whom is the church responsible in the realm of benevolence? Orphan children? If so, what scriptures teach it? Where do we find the command for it? In James 1:27? This passage has been used probably more than any other in defense of orphan homes, built and maintained by the church. But does this scripture prove the proposition? If James 1:27 applies to the church as such, then there is no possible way for the language of the New Testament to make any distinction whatever between the individual and the church. But James 1:27 cannot apply to the church as such for the same reason we pointed out in regard to Gal. 6:10. Too, the context of James 1:27 is such that it makes the application of it to the church as such ridiculous. Brother Gayle Oler ridicules the idea of anyone suggesting that the church is not to practice "pure and undefiled religion." Let Brother Oler prove by James 1:27 that the church is to practice the "pure and undefiled religion" of that passage. The passage does not prove it because the application is plainly to the individual and not to the church as such.

Where is the approved, apostolic example or the necessary inference for the church as such to have the responsibility of the care of orphan children? As we have said before, when someone finds the passage, we will be glad to look at it. Some argue that the church has the responsibility of caring for certain orphan children because they were left orphans by members of the church. The question is, did the church ever sustain any special relationship to these children if they were not members of the church? We readily agree that the church did sustain a special relationship to the Christian parent while the parent lived. But the church did not sustain any special relationship to the child while the parent lived, so why would we conclude that the relationship changed after the parent's death?

The misuse of the scriptures by some in regard to these things is amazing. It is pointed out that we are to abide by the laws of the land. But it is also pointed out that in many cases relative to the care of orphan children, that neither the individual nor the church as such can legally care for them. This is shown to prove that it is scriptural to establish and maintain human organizations, supported by the church, to provide for their care. But to one who respects the teaching of the Bible, this factor proves absolutely nothing. While it is true that the Bible teaches the Christian to observe the laws of the land as long as those laws are in harmony with divine teaching, but when keeping the laws of the land causes us to violate the teaching of God's word, we are to obey God rather than man. To assume to change God's law to conform to the laws of the land is absurd and fatal.

What then is the responsibility of the church in the realm of benevolence? As far as a direct responsibility is concerned, it is confined to the ministering to the needs of "poor saints" in special circumstances of a temporary nature and to the care of "widows indeed" as set forth in I Tim. 5. Except these, there is no direct responsibility of the church as such in the realm of benevolence taught in the New Testament scriptures. We realize the play which is made on this by the defenders of human organizations supported by the church. They claim that we have no regard for the welfare of suffering humanity and are just about as inhumane and anti-Christian as anyone can get. All of which perturbs us not at all. Let them prove their claims by the Bible. It is evident that the reason such claims are made is because they cannot present scriptural proof for them.

But what about suffering humanity in general? What is the responsibility of the church with regard to general benevolence? Here is where scriptural teaching is so sorely needed. Some are so intent upon defending and maintaining unscriptural schemes in the realm of benevolence, that they have little or no time to consider the actual and only responsibility which the church has in the realm of general benevolence. The responsibility of the church regarding general benevolence consists in EDIFICATION. The work is to be performed by INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS as they are EDIFIED OR TAUGHT by the CHURCH to do so. As far as the church is concerned, it is a matter of EDIFICATION and not a matter of THE PRACTICE OF GENERAL BENEVOLENCE by the church as such. But as we have said, many churches are so intent upon promoting their schemes to practice general benevolence by the church as such that they have almost, if not entirely, neglected their responsibility of edification.

The truth of the matter boils down to this: In view of what we find revealed in the New Testament scriptures, the only people which the church as such has an obligation to in the realm of benevolence are members of the church. This obligation grows out of that relationship of the church to its members. Therefore, the obligation of the church as such in the realm of benevolence is specific and not general. The obligation of the church as such is in specific benevolence which grows out of the relationship of the recipients as members of the church to the church. The individual member of the church as an individual Christian, has an obligation in the realm of general benevolence, Gal. 6:10 and James 1:27. But the church has an obligation in the realm of edification (teaching the individual members) to teach the members to practice general benevolence individually.

There would be no organizational troubles if the churches could learn what God teaches them to do and if they could be content in doing only what God has made them responsible for.