Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 25, 1969

Limited Benevolence

Mack Kercheville

I had a hard time accepting the idea that the church was limited in its work of benevolence. I realized that there was not one single example in the New Testament of churches helping anyone but needy saints. I was gradually driven by the power of logic and common sense from every other text which I had tried to use to prove that the church could help anybody and everybody with material help.

But even after I was left without a proof-text that the church could render material aid from its treasury to people outside the church, I still clung to the position. It just seemed to me to be so contrary to the very spirit of the teaching of Christ to stop the church from rendering aid to everybody whether he was a saint or not.

The solution to my problem came when someone said to me, "Don't say that the church has no mission at all to relieve human suffering, because it does. But you need to study how it operates to fulfill that mission." So I began to study from this point of view.

First of all, I came to understand that the main mission of the church is spiritual. (Eph. 3:10; I Tim. 3:15). This work is so important, that if the church rendered no material aid at all, but dedicated itself completely to preaching the Gospel, it would still stand as the most glorious institution on the face of the earth!

However, the preaching of this same Gospel, which saves souls and prepares men for Heaven, also operates to relieve human suffering here and now. When people are persuaded to repent of their sins, a great deal of human suffering is stopped. Why are so many hungry? Because so many are lazy, so many are drunkards, so many are dishonest, so many are greedy. Why are there so many orphans? Because there are so many adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, murderers, etc. So it is with most human suffering. Remove sin, and lazy people will go to work, drunkards will give up the bottle, greedy men will start paying their employees a fair wage, governments will render justice, wars will stop, and crime will come to an end. All this will curtail tremendously the suffering of mankind. If the church stopped right here in its efforts to relieve suffering of all men, it would stand on this basis as the most effective relief agency in the world, bar none!

But the church goes farther. It teaches me the doctrine of Christ to love my neighbor as myself, to imitate the example of the good Samaritan, to practice pure religion, visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to do good unto all men as I have opportunity, (Matt. 22:39; Lu. 10: 25 — 37; Jas. 1:27; Gal. 6:10). The result of such teaching is a veritable explosion of good deeds, kind words, and sacrificial service to humanity performed by not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing. The result can very well be that callous and foolish thinkers will say, "I may be doing my good deeds the wrong way but you are not doing anything at all!" Who can measure all the private and secret good works done by the Lord's people? If all the church did in the field of human suffering were to teach its members to go out and do good to all men, it would by this teaching outstrip all other agencies in this field.

Even beyond the two kinds of work mentioned above, God then authorizes the church to relieve directly from its treasury the needs of the saints. If it does this, and nothing more, will it not stand far above human institutions? What man-made church even takes care of its own? The Catholics? Certainly not. The Mormons? Federal welfare money is about the same, per capita, in their communities as in others. The Salvation Army? If they did it at all, they would do it with other people's money and not their own.

After these wonderful and very special services which the church renders to save souls and relieve human suffering at the same time, is it strange that the Lord has not authorized it to go farther in giving material aid. If it went farther it would have to give the material and the physical more importance than the spiritual.

I know of a very fine public school located in the middle of one of the worst slums in the U. S. In this school there is a fine cafeteria which serves wholesome food, but ONLY to the students and the teachers. Not once has this school opened the door of its cafeteria to feed the hungry people living nearby. Is this being cruel and hard-hearted? I don't think anyone considers it so. In the first place the law provides for the cafeteria to feed the students and the teachers. The school would break the law if it went beyond these limits in feeding the hungry. Then, too the hungry and needy parents of these children would rise up in protest if the school were diverted from its real purpose to serve tables. If this cafeteria opened its door to all the hungry, then the teachers would have to stop teaching and give their time to waiting on tables. Money which had been used for text-books would have to be diverted to buying beans. The work the school is doing is much too important to allow this to happen. In exactly the same manner the great mission of the church is too important to allow it to be sidetracked to something less important. If the church does its work right, needy people will be taken care of as a direct result of the good influence of the Gospel in their lives. Anyone who has seen the great poverty in Mexico knows that nothing but the Gospel can change that. Then let not the church be diverted or slowed down in its efforts to preach the Gospel. The most benevolent thing that can be done for needy people is to convert them to the Lord, and that includes the here and now as well as the hereafter.

— Box 3487, El Paso, Texas 79923