Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 3, 1955

Some Unanswered Questions -- Part 1

Wayne Smethers, Paul's Valley, Oklahoma

Like many other brethren, I have followed with great interest and concern the various articles on "Institutionalism" in the papers published by the brethren. It will be a great pity, indeed, if the great strides forward in the past are now swept away by digression from New Testament teaching, but even that will be no greater pity than to have the church sinfully divided over human opinion.

Because of this latter possibility I would like to mention and discuss questions which have been raised in my own mind in a couple of recent issues of the Guardian.

The first article is one entitled "There Are Scriptural Ways To Care For the Fatherless and the Widows," by Brother M. F. Manchester, in the December 2 issue.

The first portion of his article was dedicated to the conclusion that orphan children must be eared for by individuals in their own homes. His argument ran like this:

1. James 1:27 is a command to care for the fatherless on an individual basis.

2. Acts 9:39 contains the record of a Christian (Dorcas) caring for the needy as an individual. (the example.)

3. Therefore, all ministration performed to the fatherless and widows must be on an individual basis.

Now, the first question I raise is: Where does James 1:27 say that caring for the needy must be done on an individual basis? James is not laying this requirement; he is only giving some of the requirements for what goes into making a pure religion. This passage does not contain the whole realm of Christian service; it merely sets forth some of the necessary ingredients. Granting that keeping one's self unspotted from the world is largely an individual mater, is it exclusively so? What about Galatians 6:1, Romans 13:1, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14?

Even a hasty reading of these passages will reveal that there is a cooperative responsibility even in discharging James 1:27. It must be clearly admitted that individual responsibility does not preclude help or assistance. The assumption drawn from James 1:27, is too exclusive, when other New Testament passages are considered.

Not only this, but Brother Manchester used the word "teach" as being an example of a generic term. He quoted James 1:27 as being the opposite of this — viz., a specific command. But where is the specificity? Just how specific is the word "visit"? Or the expression "keep himself unspotted"? Is there one specific act which, when completed, will mean that a person has "visited" the fatherless and widows and kept "himself unspotted"? If there is not, then James 1:27 is not an example of specificity, but of generality!

There is no question that Dorcas is an example of a woman helping the needy on an individual basis. What of it? Are we to assume by the use of this passage, that this example prohibits helping the needy on a cooperative basis through the church? All that is proved by referring to her as an example of an individual Christian helping the needy is just that — that an individual Christian helped the needy!!

I will give a parallel of the reasoning:

1. Jesus said to go and preach the gospel to the whole world. (The command: Mark 16:15-16.)

2. Philip preached the gospel as an individual while riding in a chariot. (Acts 8, the example.)

3. Therefore all preaching of the gospel must be done as an individual while riding in a chariot.

In the portion of the article which was devoted to caring for "widows indeed" 1 Timothy 5:16 was quoted. The assertion was then made, "This means the LOCAL (Caps mine — W.S.) church is to take care of its 'widows indeed' out of the church funds." I have read this passage carefully, but I fail to find the word "local" either in the text or necessarily implied — that is, to the extent that if the brethren of one congregation wanted to send some money to another congregation who had an unusually heavy burden of widows to provide for, and the congregation which had the widows wanted to receive the money, they would sin against God, and violate church autonomy if they did so!!!

The assertion is further made, "there is no medium through which the church universal can act." I beg to differ. I recognize, of course, that there is to be no integral and organic organization, superior to church, through which the church can act, but it can act through the medium of brotherly love!! (Col. 1:4; Gal. 6:10.)