Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 28, 1961

"It's Own Orphans"

R. L. (Bob) Craig, Box 883, Bridge City Texas

Back in 1956 and 1957 I had considerable and lengthy correspondence with Reuel Lemmons, editor of the Firm Foundation, concerning the "orphan home controversy." There is little need to bring up that correspondence except to state that in it, we both had somewhat to say about a church caring for what we referred to as "it's own orphans." I was fully convinced that the church was not a general benevolent institution but that its benevolence was limited to church members and their children. Under certain circumstances, some children would become "our (the church's) own orphans," thus its responsibility.

I had begun to have some doubts as to the scripturalness of that position and was giving it a close study when in August, 1957, brother Lemmons came out with an editorial captioned as above, in which he asked the question: "Perhaps this is the time to ask the question, 'how does a congregation determine which are 'its own orphans' and which orphans are none of its responsibility'?" I sat down with the determination to show brother Lemmons, from the Bible, who "our own orphans" were. This I found to be an insurmountable task. I did not write to him but pursued my study a little farther, tried all my arguments on men of ability and came to the conclusion that: The church (the collective body out of its treasury) has NO obligation to any orphan simply because he is an orphan. The only obligation the church has in benevolence is toward "saints." Which of the saints is a question which must be relegated to another article. The church might have a responsibility toward some fatherless child, but it would not be on the basis of being fatherless, but only on the basis of being numbered among "the saints."

I hasten to explain that even though the church (the collective body) has no obligation toward any other than saints, we, as individuals, have a grievous responsibility that we have failed to impress upon one another, thus today we feel that nearly all benevolence must be a communistic or socialized effort. The little child needs a home with a father and mother, loving care and devotion, a personal companionship, thus God left that field of benevolence strictly to the individual, you and me.

I further explain that if there is a destitute father or mother, among the saints with children who are not old enough to be saints, the church may help that destitute parent to "care for his own" but this does not constitute that child becoming a ward of the church. If the father and/or mother were taken out of the way, the church would not inherit the obligation to care for those children, but we as individual Christians would. Call it indirect help if you want to. Quibble about it all you care to, but then let the Bible guide you in what course you follow.

I also hasten to state that I have not been forced into this position except by my conscience as I studied the Bible and came to these conclusions. And for the benefit of those who say, "But this is not THE ISSUE," let me state as I have on other occasions, I think I know as well as my learned contemporaries what the issue is. THE ISSUE is — "a lack of respect for the authority of God's word." Everything else is a side issue, a symptom of the disease, but relevant to the discussion at hand. Yes, as we look further at Lemmons' article, we will see just how relevant he seems to think this part of the issue is.

I wish I had room for all of brother Lemmons' article. If you have access to back issues of the F.F. turn back to Vol. 74, No. 32 and read it. I will quote most of it and try not to leave out anything which is pertinent to this discussion. Notice please:

"We wonder how, and if, brethren who propose to tell congregations what they can and cannot do really are able to determine which orphans belong to any given congregation, and are 'its own orphans.' By what rules do they make these determinations?

"Some solid progress has been made toward resolving some of these recently arisen issues.

"It is agreed that a congregation can establish an arrangement for caring for 'its own orphans.'

"It is agreed that, under certain conditions, one church can send to another church to help carry on this work.

"Therefore, the scripturalness of both these arrangements are agreed upon. It is simply the local circumstances surrounding the doing of an admittedly scriptural thing that is causing all the furor.

"If the Bible gives specific rules by which a congregation can determine which are 'its own orphans' we should be able to find them. If brethren make a rule concerning where the Bible makes none they fall into the error of all the creed-makers."

Notice three things in particular in this quotation. 1. The agreement Lemmons mentions was an agreement reached based on a faulty premise. Presently, with me, (and I speak for no one else) there is no such agreement. 2. He admits that determining who the church's "own orphans" are is the cause for the furor. If we can determine that the church has NO SUCH RESPONSIBILITY AT ALL, that would eliminate entirely the "furor" about orphan homes, whether elder-controlled or board-controlled. 3. "If the brethren make a rule concerning where the Bible makes none, they fall into the error of all the creed-makers." True. That statement will apply to Lemmons or to me. Which?

He continues with seven questions, which, he says, will perhaps help us in our study. Let's look at each.

"Question No. 1. Since the elders can oversee only the local congregation over which they are elders, must an orphan be a member of the church, and also a member of that particular congregation in order to be one of 'its own orphans'?"

Answer to No. 1. Yes. The only Bible example we have or the only Bible statement made concerning benevolence is toward those who are members of the church. If I am wrong, where is the exception in the scriptures?

"Question No. 2. Does the church have any benevolent responsibility to any non-member of the church, and if so, which ones?"

Answer to No. 2. No. If so, which ones, and the Bible reference for such, please?

"Question No. 3. Would a baby, left an orphan by a member or members of the congregation be classed as one of 'its own orphans'? If so, upon what grounds?"

Answer to No. 3. There are no Bible grounds upon which we could, admit this baby "among the saints' who are the only Bible recipients of church (collective body) benevolence.

"Question No. 4. Would a little child, left an orphan next door to one of the members of the congregation, and to whom the attention of the church had been called by this member, but whose parents were not Christians, be eligible for help from the congregation as one of 'its own orphans'? Would it be the responsibility of the congregation to administer the charity of the church to this child?"

Answer to No. 4. The same answer as given for No. 3 above.

"Question No. 5. Would a child left an orphan on the other side of town, and geographically closer to a sister congregation, but to whom the attention of the church had been called by one of its own members, be 'one of its own orphans'?"

Answer to No. 5. Geography would have nothing whatsoever to do with church responsibility. The only thing that would determine church responsibility would be "are we related to that particular one in Christ?" That is, is he a saint?

"Question No. 6. If an 'outsider' were to call the attention of the congregation to a destitute orphan, would the church have any responsibility to consider that orphan as its own orphan'?"

Answer to No. 6. No. 4 and 5 answer this question also.

"Question No. 7. Since the 'Kingdom of Heaven is within you,' and has no diocesan, or parishional boundaries, how do the elders of a congregation determine which orphans are 'its own orphans'?"

Answer to No. 7. Easy. If that particular one is a member of "the kingdom of Heaven" and had the further qualifications of being destitute, etc., he would be the ONLY one who would be the object of church care.

Then brother Lemmons closed with a touching appeal:

"We sometimes feel that if the love of God has not been sufficient to consider every mother's son of us 'His own orphans,' we would have died lost. If Jesus Christ had been as exclusive in the administration of his charity as some of us, even the strictest of us would have died lost. What could be more anti-Christian in principle than the idea that the church has responsibility only to a select few orphans which it calls 'its own orphans,' and that outside this limited sphere it has no responsibility whatever to any other?

Here brother Lemmons stoops to the level of others before him and tries to leave the impression that since the church as a collective body is not a universal benevolent society like the Salvation Army, then we as individuals will necessarily pass up all who are not members of the church. Do you see how he shifts gears? Consider the apostle Paul. Was he exclusive in his exhortation concerning the administration of church charity toward widows? Remember he said in 1 Tim. 5:11, "but the younger widows refuse." Did he mean that we were to let them starve to death simply because the church was not to relieve them? You know better than that. And then in verse 16 he became exclusive again when he told those who had widows to "relieve them, and let not the CHURCH be charged." Notice also in this closing appeal, Lemmons gives absolutely NO scripture to sustain his statements therefore falls into self-condemnation: "If brethren make a rule concerning where the Bible makes none they fall into the error of all the creed-makers." "What could be more anti-Christian" than that mentioned by Lemmons? Just this: to make a rule where the Bible makes none.

Now a closing thought. Guy N. Woods in his debate with Cogdill said that churches of Christ were caring for 1,400 children in the nineteen homes being operated by the contributions of these churches. Goodpasture says we have 10,000 congregations and approximately 1,500,000 members. A pitiable situation, isn't it? That's what all the "furor" is about. Had we been taught our individual responsibility in years past and gone, our homes, our hearts, and our pocketbooks would have been opened, and we would never have allowed these 1400 to be shuttled off to an institution for mothering and fathering, and the nineteen societies would not this day be bleeding congregations all over the country and causing strife and discord among brethren. But right now, literally hundreds of families are begging, crying, for youngsters to give a home to, and they cannot get them.

No, I am not advocating turning little orphans out to perish or turning them over to our sectarian neighbors, but I am advocating a return to the Bible. Let the church care for its "own" (obligations) and let us as individuals care for our "own" and then God will be glorified, and one of the breaches in the walls of Zion will have been mended.