Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 31, 1957
NUMBER 38, PAGE 1,12b13a

Some Questions -- And Answers

T. A. Thompson, Decatur, Alabama

(Editor's note: Some weeks ago we received the following questions from Brother Thompson, with a request that some one respond to them. We have asked Brother Marshall E. Patton of Birmingham, Alabama, to answer Brother Thompson's questions; and herewith present the full exchange.)

Dear Brother Tant:

I have been reading the discussion of both sides of the questions of caring for orphans, the old-aged, widows, and of church cooperation; consequently, a number of questions have been raised in my mind. I am, I suppose, what those who have been to college would call a "corn field" preacher. I have studied the Bible from my youth, and have been preaching for something like fifteen years.

I want to go to heaven; I want to be right, do right, and teach the truth. It hurts me beyond expression to know that brethren who have more literary learning than I have should be divided on the way to obey the Lord. I am afraid that this is hindering the gospel of Christ and the work of the church. I am afraid that it will do more harm in the future if something isn't suggested that will bring an end to the controversy. It may be that there will be those on either side, or both sides, of the issue who will be lost over the matter, who would not be if the question had not been carried so far in the controversy.

I want to give you the questions which I have been asking in my own mind, that you or some one of your staff of writers may answer, and thus aid me in an understanding of these matters. These questions may have been asked and discussed in some of the debates, but I have only read the papers and have heard one speech by tape recording.

(Patton's response: I have known Brother Thompson for a little more than fifteen years. I hold him in high esteem both as a personal friend and as a gospel preacher. I do not question his integrity. He has never been one to straddle the fence on any issue. However, I suspect that his study of current issues was begun rather late. His questions show that the real issue is not yet clear in his mind. I sincerely hope that this exchange between us will be helpful in determining what is truth on the issues involved.)

QUESTION: (1) In what manner did the church at Jerusalem care for the widows referred to in Acts 6:1-6? Did they care for them in their own houses (the widows' houses), or did they rent a place for them to stay or for some of them, or did private homes open their doors to them and furnish them shelter and the church paid the family that cared for them? Or was the money given to the widows, leaving them free to provide a place to stay and to buy their own food? Or did the church pay for their lodging in some inn or some such place? These questions are to bring out the details included in the first question. Another, were they all cared for after the same manner? The thing that I have not seen in any of the discussions is the scripture authorizing any method of caring for these widows, either by command, example, or by necessary inference.)

(ANSWER: I do not know what method "the church at Jerusalem" used in caring for the widows of Acts 1:1-6. No faithful gospel preacher, to my knowledge, has ever affirmed that there is scripture authorizing any exclusive method for the church in caring for its needy. To imply that the issue is over church methods is to misrepresent the issue. It is to fight a straw man! I know of no opposition to any church using any or all of the methods listed in Question number 1.

The issue is one of organization. Is the church all-sufficient? Can not the church of today do what "the church at Jerusalem" did in caring for the widows of Acts 6, namely, select their own method? Or must such widows be cared for by another organization? Remember this other organization with its overseers (board of directors, etc.) must do the same thing that God's overseer's must do, namely, select some method of care. Both organizations use methods! If the human organization is used, is it not a reflection upon the all-sufficiency of God's institution? Can not God's overseers select a method that will be just as good as that selected by the overseers of the human institution? We must be careful to distinguish between methods and institutions.

The "Digressives" argued that the missionary society was only a "method" by which the gospel was preached. However, the board of directors of the missionary society had to do exactly the same thing that God's overseers had to do in executing the great commission, namely, select methods. Those acquainted with the digression of a century ago know that the great burden on the part of gospel preachers was that of showing our digressive brethren that their auxiliary organizations, societies, institutions, etc., were not methods. These, like the church, had to select methods for executing the work under consideration. "It hurts me beyond expression" to see otherwise faithful gospel preachers of today pressing upon the brotherhood organizations that are dividing the church of our Lord and seeking to justify them exactly as the "digressives" of old — calling them methods. Perhaps many are unaware of this similarity, but it is true, nevertheless.

Notice that all of the questions in Number 1 are confined to a consideration of the church in executing the duty under study. This is fine! If all were careful to conform their practice accordingly, all would be right in this matter. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (2) Did the churches that received the contribution from Antioch have a certain method in caring for the needy? If yes, what was the method? (ANSWER: The method used by the churches is not revealed. This is not the issue! — Patton.)

QUESTION: (3) Some one has suggested that the church might care for orphans by building a house for them just like building a preacher's home. Or the church might pay their expenses in some place just like paying the expenses for a patient in a hospital. Is there any scripture that teaches either by command, example, or necessary inference, that the church at any place ever built a preacher's home, or cared for any one in a hospital?

(ANSWER: The preacher's home is part of his living, authorized by I Corinthians 9:14. Whether the church pays the preacher wages (II Cor. 11:8) with which he rents or buys a house, or furnishes him the home itself is a matter of expediency.

The church has general authority by expressed statements and approved examples for caring for its needy. (Acts 6:1-6; I Tim. 5:16.) Whether the church furnishes the service itself (with its own personnel), or buys the service for its needy is a matter of expediency. In either instance the church makes the provision.

Concerning authority by command, example, or necessary inference for expediencies, I suggest a careful study of my recent article, "Authority For Expediencies" in the Gospel Guardian, December 6, 1956. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (4) Is there a scripture that teaches that an individual — private family — ever took an orphan into the home and cared for it?

(ANSWER: I know of no scripture that authorizes any exclusive method for either the individual or the church in caring for the needy. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (5) Is there any scripture which teaches by command, example, or by necessary inference, any particular method for caring for orphans? Just how many methods are taught in the scriptures and what are they?

ANSWER: See the above answer. — Patton.) QUESTION: (6) If there is no method or methods revealed, has the Lord commanded us to do something that we cannot do scripturally? Must we refrain from caring for orphans until the Lord gives us more revelation which includes the way to obey his command along this line?

(ANSWER: There are two kinds of authority — general and specific. To insist upon the specific when there is none is to occupy the position of the "Antis." We have general authority! Why wait? Why not act within the realm authorized. However, authority for the church to so act does not mean authority for some human benevolent society to so act in behalf of churches. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (7) When the church helps a private home that is in need, is the church doing its benevolent work through that home? Is the church in this case paying the home to do the work God has commanded the church to do?

(ANSWER: The answer to both questions is, no! Such a home is itself an object of charity. The church in this case would not be paying the home to do its work. The church would be doing its own work by giving directly to the object of charity itself — not through it. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (8) If it does not follow that helping a private home that is in need means that that home is thereby hired to do the work of the church, isn't the same thing true of a home of orphans?

(ANSWER: If I understand the question clearly, the answer is, yes, as far as "hiring" the work done is concerned. When a church makes a contribution to "a home of orphans" like Childhaven, it is not hiring such institution to do its work. In fact, very little of the work done by Childhaven can be called church work. This point is determined by what comes within the scope of the mission of the church. But suppose that the work done is church work. Then it follows that the church would be doing its work through an intermediate organization. Though the help be sent directly to the place — the home where orphans are cared for — it is nevertheless received and used at the discretion of the board of directors. It is all subject to their authority — their approval or disapproval. There is no intermediate organization in helping the "private home that is in need." — Patton.)

QUESTION: (9) Isn't there a difference in doing something for a home and doing it through a home?

(ANSWER: Yes! The difference is that which exists between an object of charity and an intermediate. Remember, however, that the opposition to "Orphan Homes" is not to the home (the place where the children are kept), but to the intermediate organization (the body politic, composed of a board of directors, etc.) to which the home is subject. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (10) If we had an organization composed of a president, secretary, a treasurer, and some field workers, to which the churches .contributed money to be used by this organization, from which each person received his salary, and the organization selected places to provide for the care of orphans, and they distributed money to the orphan homes as they wished, would not this be hiring an organization to do the work that the church has been commanded to do? Is there an orphan home anywhere that is thus operating?

(ANSWER: No. This would not "be hiring an organization to do the work" of the church. It is not the equivalent of buying the services of an organization. The churches would, however, be working through an intermediate organization. The answer to the last question is, YES. Child-haven! And all other church supported institutional orphan homes, unless you make a difference in the number of homes operated. If the officials of Childhaven can operate one, why not many?

Childhaven is an organization composed of a president, secretary, and treasurer. It has field workers. Churches contribute money to it. Workers receive salaries from it. The organization selected not only the place but also the method of care for the children in it. All money contributed to the organization is spent at the discretion of the officials of the organization. — Patton.)

QUESTION: (11) If individual Christians can help take care of orphans in a house provided for their shelter and care, why can't they as individuals contribute of their means on the first day of the week and leave it to the elders to use the money in caring for orphans? Since they are under the elders and the treasury thus created was for benevolent purposes.

(ANSWER: They not only can, but should do both, provided the elders use the money (make the provisions) in line with church duties, and do not leave it to some other organization to use. — Patton.)

(To be concluded next week.)