Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 21, 1958
NUMBER 16, PAGE 8-9b

What, Where, And Whose Is The "Work"?

Frank Driver, Sioux City, Iowa

It often happens that the meaning of a commonly used word is taken for granted, and comes to be used carelessly in controversy, where an exact definition is necessary. This is true of the word "work." It is very true that a word may have many definitions, but one cannot shift his definitions in a chain of reasoning and make a true argument.

A "work" is an action, exertion of effort, something performed. Much more could be added, and other shades of meaning and uses of the word could be given, but this simple definition should serve our purpose. When we speak of the work of the church, we have in mind the work the church does. This is also what we mean when we speak of the work of the college, orphan home, or religious paper.

The amount of work a church is able to do and responsible for performing depends on the native and acquired ability of its members, and its financial substance. I do not see how a church can do a work it is unable to do, even if it has the funds of other churches at its disposal. When a famine in Judea made the church dependent on others, a work of relief existed which it was impossible for them to perform, and the work was done by others who could perform it. But when a similar situation existed earlier and the members sold their lands and brought the money to the apostles' feet for this use, this was a work of the church in Jerusalem alone.

Paul spoke of the contributions of the Macedonia churches as a ministering to the saints. (II Cot 8:4.) McKnight calls it "their share of the ministry to the saints." Others, as the Corinthians, helped also. But who would say this was the work of the saints who received the help? The Bible calls it the ministry (work) of those who made the contribution. Paul speaks of his own part in the ministration, (Rom. 15:31) but no where is this or any other contribution to other churches spoken of as the "work" of those who received it.

When a church sends funds to either a preacher or another church, it retains control over who receives the funds and for what purpose, but not over the preacher or the church. The church at Philippi sent funds to Paul, and thus controlled the destiny and use of those funds, but who would say they controlled Paul as they did their own members? When Paul "robbed" other churches to enable him to preach in Corinth, they had the same control over the destiny and use of what they sent, but they did not receive control of Paul on that account. Yet, the preaching of the gospel which they made possible was their work.

If we can determine what is involved in the work to be done and whose it is, perhaps we can arrive at a better understanding. The work of any church is simply what that church does, whether at home or elsewhere. If a church preaches the gospel or ministers to the needy in its own realm of local influence, or membership, it not only provides the funds but supervises their use, and personally, through selected members, may perform the action of ministry. If it does this work elsewhere, it provides the funds and others may do the rest.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I first read the announcement that a gospel preacher was denying in public debate that a church is adequate, in its congregational capacity, to do all the benevolent work God has given the church to do!" We read of quite a bit of it being done in the Bible, and nothing is mentioned as doing it but the church. There is considerable difference in the church being in the child care business and the church providing the care that may be needed. But if a church makes a general contribution to a child care institution this makes it engaged in the child 'care business, just as a church is in the educational business in contributing to a college, or the lumber business in contributing to a lumber yard.

If brethren were willing to recognize the difference between a church contribution to a benevolent institution (child care agency), and a purchase of its services it has to offer, a better understanding would prevail. The church does not have to "build and maintain" lumber yards in order to provide lumber to construct buildings for needy churches, nor "assemble and maintain" a corps of doctors to provide medical care for those unable to afford it. Neither does the church have to "build and maintain" benevolent institutions to meet its obligations to the needy. It can purchase these services, if need be, in existing institutions, just as it buys lumber and pays for medical services. No one has ever objected to any church purchasing any service it needed in carrying out its work, but there is an abundance of scriptural objection against a church or churches "building and maintaining" institutions that make it a business of providing those services.

Another word that needs defining is "home." It would be interesting to read from or hear a brother who will tell us what he means by a "home", and stay with his definition in defending the right of churches to "build and maintain" benevolent institutions. We usually think of a home as a self-sustaining relationship, but benevolent institutions are neither self-sustaining or are they a relationship unit in society. A church may contribute to the needs of a family, indeed must do so, to provide the necessities of life. This is its work. But if a church "contributes" to a family to enable it in turn to relieve the needs 'of other families, the church delegates its work to the intermediate family. This is exactly what it does when it "contributes" to a benevolent institution. The institution becomes the intermediate agency between the giver and the receiver.

The benevolent "work" of the church embraces the determination of those who may truly be the responsibility of the church (I Tim. 5), as well as the actual, physical ministry to the needy, in addition to the provision of funds. Of course, this is already done in the case of helping other churches in need. But the benevolent institutions have done all this work of supervision and oversight, and that is the reason why a contribution to them is a delegation of church work that the church ought to be performing itself.

A church supported orphan home is more than a collection of children to be cared for; it also includes an administration and trusteeship (elders or otherwise). This element runs the home. It selects or rejects children, has complete control of those it accepts, and details of ministration to them. This is "work" any local church could do for its own needy, but is turning over to something that is not the church when it makes general contributions to the orphan home. When the church relieves the needs of a family, it does so because the entire family unit is in need. It has retained the right of selection and administration of benevolence. But when it contributes to an orphan home, it not only relieves a need, but delegates these other functions to a part of the home, not an object of need, the administration and trusteeship, which it should have retained as a part of its own "work." This is the reason why contribution to one is right and to the other is wrong. It is a difference in the exercise of control, and where and by whom the "work" is being performed.

Likewise, the centralized arrangements for gospel preaching are not local churches at work. They are not even instances of local churches working together! But they are examples of local churches functioning through a single group of elders!! All this talk about churches co-operating, working together, and helping each other is entirely beside the point, so far as defending the practice under question is concerned. I do not know why it should be so difficult for brethren to see that it is just as wrong for churches to work through a single group of elders, as it is for them to function through a "board."

Brethren are treading on dangerous ground, who declare boldly that the church has nothing to do but make a contribution to another institution which does the actual "work."