Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 27, 1957
NUMBER 9, PAGE 11a-12a

Missionary And Benevolent Societies

Eugene Britnell, Tuckerman, Arkansas

In their efforts to defend the institutional orphan homes in the brotherhood, some good brethren vehemently deny that there is a parallel between the benevolent societies or associations among us and the missionary society So far as I know, no one contends that they are parallel in enough ways that they must stand or fall together. By the benevolent society, I mean the organizations separate from the church that provide and oversee the means and methods involved in benevolent work, just as by missionary society I mean the organization (stripped of any abuse) separate from the church to provide and oversee the means and methods in evangelism. With our terms defined and our aim clearly stated, I invite the reader to a consideration of the following points or similarity between a missionary society and a benevolent society.

1. BOTH originated in the mind of man.

2. BOTH perform a work of the church.

3. BOTH are organizations separate and apart from the church.

4. BOTH solicit and accept contributions from churches for their support.

5. BOTH operate under the oversight of a board of directors.

6. BOTH are organizations larger than the local church but smaller than the universal.

7. NEITHER is under the oversight of nor amenable to any church or eldership.

8. BOTH have their own constitution, by-laws, and rules.

9. BOTH are organizations designed to give greater efficiency in the mission of the church.

10. BOTH assume the oversight and responsibility of portions of the Lord's treasury.

11. BOTH emerge in the sight of the world as official functioning organs of the churches of Christ.

12. BOTH propose to do what individual congregations cannot do themselves, thus supplying a missing link in God's work.

13. For authority to exist, BOTH claim to operate in the realm of expediency.

14. BOTH cause division in the church.

15. BOTH have to provide the means and methods involved in doing their work.

16. BOTH are organizations to activate the universal church. I am not saying they have done so, but the principle by which they operate will certainly allow it.

In view of these sixteen points of similarity (and there may be others), I am unable to see how anyone could deny that there is a parallel between the two societies. About the only way in which they differ is in the work each is designed to do. One operates in the field of evangelism and the other in the field of benevolence. Actually, the benevolent societies are often a combination of benevolent and missionary societies for some of them send out young men every Lord's day to preach the gospel. Someone may be ready to deny that the organizations (superintendents, directors, etc.) that provide and oversee the brotherhood homes are benevolent societies or associations. Well, if they are not, how would it be possible to form a benevolent society or association? I am unable to see how a person can accept one and reject the other.

Just to show that I am not the only one to hold this position, I now refer to a few of the many men who have taken the same position and the works wherein their statements are found. I know that this does not prove my position to be right, but it is worthy of consideration anyway.

C. R. Nichol, "C. R. Nichol A Preacher of Righteousness. Page 247.

Jack Meyer, "Gospel Visitor'. Nov. 26, 1952.

Homer Haley, "Attitudes and Consequences" page 69.

G. K. Wallace, Gospel Guardian, May 24, 1951. F. B. Srygley, Gospel Advocate, Jan. 11, 1934. There are hundreds and thousands of gospel preachers, elders, and other Christians who recognize the similarity between the two organizations.

Parallel Arguments

I now call attention to the fact that the arguments used both now and in the past in an effort to defend the two organizations are BASICALLY THE SAME and many times IDENTICAL. To show this, I shall show the parallel between the arguments being made by brethren today in their efforts to defend the institutional homes, and those made by J. B. Briney in his defense of the missionary society in the Otey-Briney Debate in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908.

1. Brethren frequently contend that God commanded us to care for orphans and widows but didn't tell us HOW. Now note Briney's argument. "I stated that the Saviour said Go, and that I said there was silence as to how, leaving the brethren to decide as to methods and details in regard to the matter — leaving them largely to exercise their own judgment with reference to it." (OteyBriney Debate, page 287. See also pages 162 and 193).

2. Brethren often find other "parallels" to the homes — organizations such as railroads, publishing houses, hospitals, etc. from which the church may buy services when needed. So did Briney. "This is to say, they form an organization, and they go upon business principles, and the purpose of this organization is to preach the Gospel by means of this periodical." (Ibid. page 163). On page 165, Briney compared the Society to a railroad.

3. Some brethren argue that without the brotherhood homes many small congregations could not do what God requires of the in caring for the needy. Hear Briney on this as he defends the Society. "Now, is there any objection to those small congregations co-operating with each other? I ask my friend how small congregations that are not able to send a missionary each are to cooperate? How are they to take part in this work? Now, the society provides for that. They co-operate. (And I suppose those who didn't believe in the M. S. didn't believe in cooperation. E. B.) They send their mites, as it were, to men who will see that their contributions reach the men and women that are at work on the field . . ." (Ibid, page 199). He made the same argument on page 167. Evidently he didn't realize that responsibility is determined by ability and opportunity. If those small congregations preached the gospel to the extent of their ability and opportunity, they did all God expected of them. Small congregations today can fulfill their obligations in benevolence without acting through some society, and if one has more needy than she can care for other congregations can and will help her.

4. Brethren today often want to know what we are doing toward helping orphans and widows. They seem to think that if we are wrong or inconsistent that makes the institutional homes right. I've never thought that a man could prove that he would be saved by proving that someone else will be lost. I'm sure the work of many who oppose the institutional homes would compare favorably with some who claim to believe in them. Let that be as it may, here is Briney's effort along that line of argument. "I would be very glad to know of him and those who sympathize with him in his ideas, if they are doing anything worthy of the name in mission work. I should be very glad, indeed, to consider the figures. Where are their missionaries? What are the fields? What is the work that they have accomplished?" (Ibid. page 195) Do you suppose that Brother Otey wasn't preaching the gospel at all at that time?

5. Many point to the work being done by the institutional homes as justification for their existence. They sometimes ask if people will go to hell for helping those orphans. Such arguments are to create prejudice, and based upon the erroneous idea that the end justifies the means. If simply doing a good work will make an organization scriptural what is wrong with the Baptist and Catholic benevolent organizations and the Salvation Army? They do a "good work." But Briney made the same kind of argument. "I want to know of him, and I have a right to know, and so do you, whether or not he thinks that the Lord frowns or smiles upon that work? Which? Is it pleasing or displeasing to God? There are 1109 of these churches." (Ibid. p. 217) Now, brethren, how would you have answered? Will they be lost for preaching the gospel (saving souls) through the missionary society?

6. Some say the institutional homes are just a systematic plan or arrangement for doing the work. But Briney said the same about the Society. "My friend says, 'through the church, the one body.' I say that too, but I deny that these societies are anything else than agencies employed by the church, the one body, to carry on this work systematically." (Ibid. page 284).

So by these arguments Briney thought he proved the Missionary Society to be scriptural. Did he? No, a thousand times, no! And to this I'm sure all faithful brethren will agree. Then how can they prove the benevolent societies scriptural by the use of the same arguments? One may contend as long as he pleases that there is no parallel between the two, but so long as two organizations depend upon the same arguments in an effort to defend themselves, it seems to me there must be a parallel along the line somewhere. Let no one accuse me of not believing in caring for widows and orphans. That would be just as false and absurd as to have accused Brother Otey and all who oppose the missionary society today of not believing in preaching the gospel. The church, God's organization, with its bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1) is to provide and oversee the works of evangelism and benevolence.

May we all continue to work, pray, and study God's Book to the end that unity shall prevail in the body of Christ.