Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 31, 1962
NUMBER 5, PAGE 2,10-11a

Is Church Benevolence For Baptized Believers Only?

Warren Rainwater

In the battle over pernicious institutionalism which has been raging for the last few years, many questions have come up for examination and discussion. Only as we are able to examine all arguments, will we be able to see the true consequence of any position advanced. An open mind to learn the truth is necessary if we expect to come to the unity of the faith expected of us by the Lord.

First in this essay, I would like to give some background relative to the subject to be discussed. When the fight became heated several years ago over the institutions, we fought them and I believe correctly so, on the basis that they were doing for the church what the church ought to be doing itself. The creation by the church of an organization which in turn becomes free of control by the church to do for the church what it ought to be doing itself is contrary to the Word of God. The institutional orphan home or society was shown by Porter and others for what they really were — another organization.

Soon, however, some began to advance the idea that the church had no obligation in the realm of orphan care in the first place unless the orphan was a member of the church and then the care was not because he was an orphan in need but because he was a member of the church, in need. It is my conviction that a congregation can care for orphans under the direction of her elders. I also affirm that the church is God's organization for doing everything God wants done so far as organization is concerned.

Out of the need to give an answer as to how orphans are to be cared for, some have solved the problem by taking the position that the church has no obligation to any person that is not a saint. This position has become known as the "saints only" doctrine. The question then before us is, "Is it scriptural for a congregation to take money from the treasury under any conditions and use that money for the relief of any person in a material way that is not a baptized believer?" The "saints only" doctrine will do for the church the same thing the "faith only" doctrine will do for the religious sects. If we properly apply the position of "faith only" in conversion, it will eliminate anything else in the plan of salvation. Grace is left out as well as baptism, etc. The same use of the restriction as we apply it to the problem of benevolence will leave out any person that is not a baptized believer. Therefore any child, regardless of its condition, could not 'be a recipient of help from the church unless it was old enough to be a member of the church.

It is my belief that this position is arrived at by a misapplication of commands. The problem seems to be over when a command must be done by an individual exclusively or when collective action is allowed. There are two thoughts which take us to extremes. One is that any action an individual engages in is the church or can be the church. Or putting it another way, anything the individual does the church does. This position has caused the brethren to put the church into recreation, youth movements, support of every kind of institution you might think of and anything else that might fancy our minds. They look at James 1:27, and see nothing but institutions. They are working on hospitals and other endeavors. There is no stopping place for this position.

On the other hand, there are those who have taken the position that any command given to an individual must be carried out by the individual exclusively and that no collective action can be allowed. The anti-class brethren have held to this view all along. They have argued that the great commission was given to individuals therefore, it must be done by individuals and no class work can be done in teaching the gospel. They are not opposed to teaching but put everything in the individual capacity and by so doing, rule out the classes when the whole church comes together. A principle of interpretation which will not allow any collective action in a command given to an individual gets the job done for them.

In James 1:27, we have a command that is general in nature. This command is to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions. That it is given to the individual is without question so far as I am concerned. The question and problem is — can the individual act in a collective way through the church treasury or must he attend to the demands of this passage with exclusive action. We might ask the same things about the great commission. Surely we must agree that It was given to the individual. But the apostles understood it could be carried out both ways. See the following diagram:

Chart Goes Here

We see in the case of the commission of the Lord, even though it was given to the individuals, it was understood by the apostles to apply to the church. We see the demands of the passage being carried out both ways. This proves that all passages that are given to individuals do not have exclusive individual action. But of course, when something is done by the church, it must be under God's organization and not a man made arrangement. There is nothing in the passage to justify any kind of society.

James 1:27 does not tell anything about how the visiting is to be done. Of course we all know that one of the first laws of proper interpretation is when a passage is directed to an individual, it must apply to him unless there is something in the context that will demand another action. The same thing applies to the church. Any passage that is directed to the church must always apply to the church unless there is something in the context to alter or change the application.

We will notice that whatever applies to the widow, also applies to the fatherless. The person who visits the widow must also render service to the fatherless. So far as I know, this is not in question. Please notice that we have an example of the church relieving the widows in Acts 6. Therefore we must conclude that the Christians were practicing pure and undefiled religion so far as assistance to these widows were concerned just as the Christians in Macedonia were sounding out the gospel when they were supporting Paul.

Since the same assistance is to be rendered to both widow and orphan and we have shown that the church relieved widows, then the conclusion must be reached that the church can relieve the fatherless. There is no example where a Christian ever took an orphan into his home and cared for him but we must conclude that it is within the scope of the passage. The aid was to be given because of the need and condition rather than because they were members of the church. Nothing is said about the person whether saint or sinner. In fact, the passage in Acts 6 implies they were helped because they were widows rather than Christians.

What have we proven so far: we have looked at the scriptures and found there are some exceptions, at least, to the doctrine that a command given to an individual must always have exclusive personal action. The apostles understood that collective as well as individual action was in the great commission. We have shown that collective (diagram "B") action be in the general command to visit. Yet, it does not forbid individual action because it is directed to the individual in the first place. It must include personal action unless proven to be exclusive church action. This can't be done, of course. The term visit applies to the widow as well as the orphan. The church did visit widows therefore it can visit orphans. The conclusion is positive. But some may say that the example applies to the widows that were Christians and by the reasoning used then only the Christian orphan can be cared for. If that is true, then of course as per James 1:27, the only ones who an individual could help would be Christians. But we know that it is impossible to determine the condition of those in need as referred to in James 1:27. The general command to do good unto all men proves that we can act in areas outside the church.

If it can be said that we are preaching the gospel when we support a preacher from the treasury, then it can be said that we are practicing pure religion when we help a needy person from the treasury. If not, why not?

Again, if the doctrine is right that the church cannot help any person that is not a saint from the treasury, then those who are members of families where only the father is a member would be eliminated from any kind of help. Most of those I have talked to who take this position (saints only) will not take the consequences of the position. They will work them in through the saint at least indirectly. You have them contending for the direct method of supporting an evangelist and rightly so, but then using the indirect method or sponsoring method to get help to the outsider.

The position of the "saints only" brethren is identical with the anti-class and no women teacher groups. Note this illustration: The Lord teaches we are saved by faith but the sects of the day add "only." The apostles taught in one assembly. Some of our brethren add "only" and will not have classes. The scriptures teach that the church helped saints. Some are adding "only." The justification has been made by placing restrictions upon Gal. 6:10 and James 1:27, and making them apply to "saints only." The position is identical in reasoning with the anti-class brethren. There are many other passages we might introduce but space forbids in this essay. Every passage, just because it was given to individuals, doesn't mean it must have exclusive application.

I am not alone in the conclusions I have reached in this matter. Let me give a few quotations from some men who have wielded their pen in defense of truth for many years and cannot be considered as "shallow thinkers." Robert Welch said, "Let each congregation provide for its own charity cases in things needed; whether homes, food, clothing, or education; as far as it is able....If it can provide for more than its own number in the community, let it do so (Gal. 6:10)." This is from the Gospel Guardian. Hear Foy Wallace as he writes first in the Gospel Advocate and then a reprint in the Bible Banner, 1948: "HELPING THOSE IN NEED. The command to 'do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith' (Gal. 6:10), makes it the duty of the church to help those in need." Also hear Daniel Sommer as he refers to 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; Gal. 6:10, and other passages saying: "This means the poor saints, needy preachers, and even poor outsiders.

But no reference is made to needy institutions not mentioned in God's Book." (Apostolic Review, March, 1936) Now hear Curtis Porter: "In view of the teaching of the New Testament, in James 1:27 and other places, no one questions our right or responsibility of caring for orphans. It may be done individually or it may be done collectively. The work may be too large for one person to do it. In such cases others may help, even the whole membership if necessary, to provide a home for those who are thus in need. But the work can be done under the oversight of the elders without creating a human institution....Under the supervision of the elders the church certainly has the right to provide a home for orphans, and let the work be done as the work of the church....It may arrange and systematize such work, to be superintended by the elders, and operated within scriptural limits." (Gospel Guardian, 1953) Many other quotations could be used to show that we all believed a few short years ago that the church could care for orphans and whether they were baptized believers or not was not a consideration.

Only recently have we seen the doctrine of "saints only" come forth with vigor. The restriction to individual action only of Gal. 6:10 and James 1:27, is of recent date comparably speaking and smacks of accommodative interpretation. I have never taken the position that the church could not care for orphans and that the church could not under any conditions help a person who was not a baptized believer.

— 341 Southmore St., Plainfield, Indiana