Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 15, 1958
NUMBER 3, PAGE 9a-10a

The Church And The Individual

Dudley Ross Spears, Cookeville, Tennessee

Basil Overton was honored with front-page billing in the Gospel Advocate of March 6, 1958. This "honor" was due to his favorable comments toward churches of Christ putting a benevolent Institute into their budgets like Potter Orphan Home of Bowling Green, Ky. Prior to noting some of his error, all who read his dissertation should notice that he insinuates that all who oppose him in this are "modern scribes," "the wise," "the scribe," "the disputer of this world" of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 1:2ff. He paints a picture of his opposition and tints it with an insinuation that some of us desire no more than a quarrel over matters too trivial for the likes of him self.

Overton thinks that if someone should want to "show your stuff" it may be done by showing that "individual Christians contributing to an Orphan Home" might be scriptural and that "the church cannot" do likewise, for he thinks there is no difference in the two. He offers everyone the chance as he says, "All right, here is your chance to 'show your stuff,' " and by this ultimatum permits anyone to "grapple with this question" and evidently become either "stuffed or unstuffed." It is not within the purview of this article to "show" any "stuff" that is peculiarly mine, but the only "stuff" I want to show is that the "stuff" written by Basil is sophistical and erroneous and will not justify what he'd like for it to.

Overton cites Luke's inspired statement found in Acts 8:3. "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women, committed them to prison." At the end of his "front-page" thesis, he says that if he (Overton) had done like Paul, only as he says, "went from house to house among the little band of saints where I (Overton) work and gathered some money, food, and clothing for Potter Orphan Home at Bowling Green, Ky. On my way to the place where I (Overton) am preaching in a series of meetings I stopped at this home (Potter Orphan Home) and left those supplies." Now he asserts that this "offering (to Potter Orphan Home) was made by the church, according to the principle taught in Acts 8:3." He further says, "Suppose that instead of gathering supplies for an orphan home I had taken those who made the contribution to jail, would anyone deny that in so doing I would have made havoc of the church?" Well, I for one "suppose" not, but while supposing, "suppose" that Overton had taken the supplies to a "Christian Jail-house" instead of Potter Orphan Home. Would the principle of Acts 8:3 allow churches of Christ to contribute their fifth-Sunday contributions toward the maintenance of a "Church of Christ Prison?" Better still, "suppose" Overton had taken the supplies to David Lipscomb College and left them. It's just a Bible school, but does this mean that the "principle" taught in Acts 8:3 allows Lipscomb a part of the budgets of the churches of Christ? Why will the "principle taught in Acts 8:3" allow you to take up supplies from individual Christians and give the goods to a home and not a school. Surely Overton will not be "Anti-Bible-College" thinking it wrong to educate young people in a Christian atmosphere!

The distinction made in the Bible respecting an individual saint and a congregation of saints needs to be understood especially by Basil. The relief of "widows indeed" is a work of benevolence charged to a local church of Christ. Individual Christians are also charged to relieve widows. The two (Individuals and churches) both have a "charge" to "relieve" widows. "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Timothy 5:16). In the same field (benevolence to the poor) two different duties exist, one to individuals and the other to the church. What is meant by the phrase, "any man or woman that believeth?" We answer, individual Christians. They are "men and women" like those "men and women" in Acts 8:3, and they are "the church" also that Paul had at one time made havoc of. But here Paul also says, "let not the church be charged." Overton would have Paul contradicting himself in the same sentence by his use of the "principle taught in Acts 8:3." Basil makes Paul to say out of one side of his mouth, "If any man or woman (the church) have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church (men and women that believe) be charged ..." But the Apostle does not speak contradictorily. He uses the word "church" here in the local sense — the local body of saints under the supervision and oversight of Elders (See Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-4). The "man or woman that believeth" are individual Christians, members of the church, but not local congregations under the oversight and supervision of Elders.

Also, there is a difference between individual Christians not only in the duty of benevolence, but also in the methods both may employ in raising funds necessary to do the work. As far as I am able to read and understand, only two methods are revealed by which a church can raise money to do its duty toward the poor. (1) By individual contributions as taught in 1 Cor. 16:2,3. (2) When circumstances beyond the control of a church caused it to be unable to provide for the "needy saints" depending on that church for relief. Then, under these circumstances, other churches contributed to the needy church to supply the lack of financial ability as taught in Romans 15:25-28; 2 Corinthians 8:1-14. Respecting the silence of the Scriptures, pie-sales, rummages, and raffles are excluded as methods used in order to raise money to help the poor. The church cannot engage in private business. It cannot get into the mercantile trade or any other kind of trade in order to raise money to help the poor.

Paul instructed the church of Christ over at Ephesus, which like all other churches of Christ was made up of individual Christians, that those individuals could use other methods to raise money and aid the poor. "Let him that stole, steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Ephesians 4:28). The only limitation Paul placed on the individual in raising money for the poor was engaging in any work classed as "that which is good." This excludes theft, gambling, defraud, and beggary as well as anything classed as that which is bad. But an individual Christian could sell pies, clothes, and anything that was good, and this in order to "give to him that needeth.'

So, the duties in the same field are different; the methods used in obtaining financial ability to do the work are different; and therefore the two (churches and individuals who compose them) are not the same in every respect. The business establishments operated by the individual cannot be operated by the local church for any worthy purpose. The private business organizations owned and operated by the individuals are not "church-organizations" — they are quite different. Basil may now find us some Bible principle that will allow a local church to build and maintain some business enterprise for the purpose of making money to be used in administering charity to the poor, and indeed if and when he does, he will administer a blessing to many of us because that is precisely the picture of things as they are when enterprises such as Lipscomb College and Potter's Home are put into the budget of the churches of Christ.

In the special issue of the Gospel Guardian some time ago, a statement was made by Brother Roy Cogdill. He made it again in his book, "Walking By Faith," and also in the Birmingham debate. I have not heard anything or read anything that answers it. As it is apropos, it follows and possibly Basil can answer it for us. "Much is involved in this question that deserves careful and prayerful consideration. For instance, has Christ given to His Church authority to build any other organization at all? Can the church rightfully build anything but the church?" (Gospel Guardian, May 3 & 10, 1956, page 20). Where is a passage that authorizes in some way or other the church of our Redeemer to own and operate some business organization to raise its money to do the work of the church respecting relief of needy? There is quite a difference and distinction between private business organizations and "church owned and operated organizations" and Basil should know this, but how could we expect that much out of him? He doesn't know the difference between a saint and a congregation of saints. He doesn't know the difference in an individual Christian owning and operating a bakery, selling. pies, cakes, etc. and a local church owning and operating a "bakery" selling pies, cakes, etc. I hope these words help him, and in closing such is my prayer.