Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 18, 1961
NUMBER 3, PAGE 1,12-13a

Heart - Breaking Statements

Judson Woodbridge, Mulvane, Kansas

A Discussion Of Present Problems And Attitudes

There comes to my desk a number of gospel papers and bulletins, all of which I am happy to receive. Brethren are not agreeing; but I am sure the fair thing to do is to read both sides of any issue. Recently I have read some heart-breaking statements. For instance, one paper says that there has developed in the church a teaching that "It is unscriptural to feed and clothe a homeless, helpless child." If that is true, I simply say, "Shame on such teaching!" If anybody knows the name and address of any Christian who teaches or ever has taught such a doctrine, I would like to have it. I give you my word, I will get in contact with that person, and try to help him. Now, I know that there are many brethren who believe that the local church is the largest, and the only institution the Lord established for the doing of the church's work. Many teach, and will gladly cite scripture to sustain their contention, that the congregation is under obligation to care for its own. These brethren teach that other congregations may and should (and did) give to a church which was unable to care for its own. And these teachers are often asking for somebody to cite the scripture that shows where the "church universal" cared for orphans in an institution separate and apart from the church, or even where the church universal ever cared for orphans through an institution built and operated by elders of some other local congregation as a facility for the church universal.

Could it be possible that the writer of the paper I examined had these brethren in mind? If so, he has sadly misunderstood, and because of that, has misrepresented these brethren. He should correct this misrepresentation; and should not suggest (as he did in the article) that members who worship in churches whose elders think it wrong to work through these institutions, get together and send their money to the institution anyway. This sounds like the brother thinks more of the institution than he does the church. Heart-breaking it is, indeed, when a Christian becomes so involved in some human arrangement that he thinks more of that institution than he does of the church which is the body of Christ.

It seems that some of the brethren connected with these institutions are under the frightening delusion that orphans would not be taken care of if it were not for their institutions. I feel sure they attach too great an importance to their work. Will somebody point out a single homeless, helpless child in the congregation where I labor? Or, let the elders of this church have the name and address of any congregation on earth who has more orphans of its own than it is able to care for? I am certain that help will be forthcoming immediately and in generous proportions. I will certainly do my best to get a contribution to such a place. If all of us had spent one-half the time in teaching congregations to look after their own needy that had been spent in encouraging the building of brotherhood institutions (whether directed by an eldership or otherwise), the helpless children would be faring far better than they are. Remember, I am anxious to help the needy congregation care for its own needy; and I'm not interested in helping some "brotherhood institution." I am fully convinced that elders are out of their God-given realm when they go out and search for orphans who are not even remotely connected with the flock over which God has made them bishops, and then, put out cries for all the churches in the land to help them. They are out of place, too, when they ask other congregations to send their orphans to them, along with some money, and assure the brethren that they will take care of "their" orphans by begging churches to assist them. If elders will remember that they are the shepherds of their own flocks, they will do well. (See Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2)

Please study the following statement, coming from the head of one of the orphan homes among us. He was asked, "Do you believe it is right for the congregation who owns and operates your orphan home to do the benevolent work of other congregations?" He replied, "Our congregation couldn't do the work of other congregations even if we wanted to. These other congregations do their work when they make a contribution to the home." This is simply saying: Contribute to us, and you will be doing your own benevolent work. This is a frank admission that the orphans this home has gathered up are NOT the obligation of the church that operates this home. But this church has gone into the business of gathering these children up from all over the country, and then pleads for other churches to give to "our home" to fulfill their duty to the Lord. Ah, brethren, you cannot fulfill your duty that way. And elders have no right to be in business for other churches. If the orphans being cared for are the responsibility of the local congregation which owns and operates the home, let them say so. If they are this church's responsibility, it will be only a matter of a few years till all these children will be reared to maturity, and able to provide for themselves. Then the congregation can sell the elaborate buildings and facilities they have, and get out of the business — unless, of course, they find themselves under the necessity of caring for still more orphan children who are their responsibility. But if this church intends to keep on going out all over the nation and gathering up unfortunate children (not one in ten of whom is an orphan), let them say so. When such things are made plain, brethren will the more easily understand.

But again, the Superintendent of this home was told, "The Home of which you are Superintendent is an 'institution' set up to do the work of the church. Such institutionalism is wrong." His reply was: "Who said so except your preacher? The home, the church, the Bible School, the gospel paper you take are all 'institutions' just as surely as an orphan home is an 'institution'." This reply shows a lack of clear thinking. A part of the list comes under the heading of "institution," but certainly not all. Have we gone so far as to claim that the Bible school is an "institution" through which the church is doing its work? Is it an "organization separate and apart from the church" set up to do the work of the church? I have debated with those brethren who say it is wrong to teach the Bible in classes on Sunday morning; and I have consistently denied that the Sunday School arrangement is any sort of an institution or separate organization set up to do the church's work. This arrangement is nothing more nor less than the church at work. It is no more an "institution" (a self-governing body) than is a gospel meeting, a Sunday night meeting, or a prayer, meeting. If the Bible School is a separate institution set up to do the work of the church, then I will object to it on exactly the same ground I would object to a Missionary Society.

The home, the church, and some gospel papers are "institutions." The home is an institution for one purpose and the church for another. Christians belong to both; but the mission of the church is not the mission of the home. If we could remember that, and not be trying to have the church do the work of the home, nor the home do the work of the church, we would all be better off. This would keep the church out of the entertainment and social field, and leave the home free to provide for these things in their proper order. Some gospel papers and literature may be produced by some printing and publishing institutions. The church can buy the products of these companies (institutions) just as she buys the products or services of other institutions if they offer something she needs. Churches buy the services of public utility companies (telephone, electricity, gas, water, etc.), but these are not companies through which the church is doing its work; neither are they companies which solicit and receive contributions from the churches. The church simply pays for the service or product which it receives, Put all the "institutions" among us which are causing so much disturbance in that category, keep them there, and keep their hands off the church treasury, and this turmoil in the land will cease. As long as these institutions or businesses, whether operated by boards or elders, attach themselves to the churches, there will be disturbances — and there should be! The cry against such should be loud enough, and long enough continued, to get these things out of the church.

But in defense of his institution, the Superintendent asked this question, "When did an emergency ever make a wrong right?" Emphatically, an emergency never did, and never will, make a wrong thing right. Whether in an emergency or out of an emergency, it is always wrong to create an institution, whether operated by elders or otherwise, to do the work of the church. Let the elders of the "orphan home church" tell us whether it is the church (of which they are elders) or the orphan home (of which they are directors) that is in need. Is it the church or is it the institution they have started and are overseeing that needs? If it is the church, then others will help them as long as they need help. If it is their business they have started, expecting other churches to support it, then that is a different matter. Which is it?

Let us not be confused as to the issue. The problem is not whether a congregation has a right to provide the services of an orphan home (or any other kind of home) if that congregation needs such to fulfill its own duties. The issue is not whether one congregation has the scriptural right to send money to another congregation in need. The question is not whether more than one congregation may send to the same needy place. But the issue is whether institutions outside the church are to be started and supported by the church to carry on the work of the church. The issue is whether elders of one church can start a work for many churches and these churches can carry on their work through this one eldership. Are brotherhood projects, whether carried on by boards or by elderships, scriptural? That is the issue.

For ten years, at least, I have been doing some serious thinking about this matter. It was not easy to come to the conclusion that practices of the brethren were to be questioned. I knew the motive back of their activities was good. I knew they were sincere. They are brethren, anti I want to treat them as such; and I would like for them to do the same by me. Any "muddying of the waters" by wild charges that this or that person is "opposed to feeding and clothing an orphan," or is "opposed to cooperation in good works" should be left out of the discussion. All name-calling, branding, ostracizing, quarantining, should be carefully deleted from our discussions, and we should deal with the real issue. I know that is hard to do; but let us all try it. Let us study our practices in the light of God's word.


Since the writing of this tract in 1957 many brethren have continued to travel the road of apostasy, while others have seen the truth and turned back to the way of the Lord. We have seen many efforts to justify man-made institutions in the church. Some have said the institutional orphan homes are just methods, and others have said they are "restored homes." Those who become acquainted with the facts and the scripture should readily see the fallacy of these positions. An institution is not a method, but an institution that uses a method. Neither is an institutional home (board of men) a restored home. There is not the same relation of parent and child. In fact, when death destroys the home, that relationship cannot be restored. Only a substitute can be made. These institutional homes are providing substitutes — building a house and hiring personnel to care for children. If the church is obligated to provide the substitute (house and personnel) to care for children, then let the church do it; and not a board of men who so organize and incorporate for the purpose of securing property for a family constellation. The elders of the flock can do this the same as they can build a house in which to assemble for worship. The church is equipped to do all that the Lord wants it to do. If there is a work the church is not equipped to do, then, it is a work the church should leave alone.

Some say, "The church is obligated to do benevolent work;" and then in the next breath say, "It cannot be it's own benevolent society." If this be true, then the church cannot do what God commands it to do. This means that the church, the Lord established, is not perfect and all-sufficient.

Brethren, the elders can see that all needy for which the church is obligated, receive care. They can see to this work without the help of this extra self-appointed board of men. God did not appoint this extra board (institution); but he did build the church with elders to do the work he commands the church to do. If there is 'benevolent work the elders cannot direct, then this is benevolent work the church must stay out of. And let me add that the Lord didn't give to the church the obligation to care for all needy in the world — it's obligation began and ended with saints. The church has no business in general benevolence.

Questions And Passages For Study

1. Is the church all-sufficient and perfect? Ans. The Lord built the church and is the head of it — Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22. The church is propagated, edified and directed by an all-sufficient, perfect word — Lk. 8:11; Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. Would the Lord and his word produce an insufficient church?

2. Is each congregation independent, and the elders limited to the responsibilities of that one congregation? Ans. Consider Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2.

3. Is there an universal, earthly organization through which many or all congregations operate? Ans. Nothing like this in the New Testament. All church work was done through the congregation — God's organization. Acts 6:1, 2, 11 :30 ; Phil. 1:5, 4:14-16.

Did one church or many churches send to a PROMOTING (sponsoring) church? Ans. Churches only sent to a needy church to help it meet its own needs. - 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; Rom. 15:25-28; 2 Cor. 8 & 9. Collecting promoting churches were unknown in the New Testament.

5. Did the church ever assist any besides saints? Ans. No case can be found (Jas. 1:27 and Gal. 6:10 are individual in application, the same as the instruction concerning marriage in 1 Cor. 7) All passages which mention the church as assisting needy specify saints. Acts 2-6; 11:27-30 1 Cor. 16:1.

6. Was there a limitation to helping saints? Ans. Yes. 1 Tim. 5:16; 2 Thess. 3:10-12.