Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 20, 1964
NUMBER 15, PAGE 4,10b-12a

The "Great Preacher" Settles The Issues Regarding General Church Benevolence (Sixth In A Series)


James W. Adams Introduction

It is regrettable that this series of articles has been somewhat delayed. This is not the fault of the editor of the Gospel Guardian, It has just not been possible for the author to fulfill other responsibilities and finish the series more rapidly. We are sorry.

In the present article, we shall be reviewing material contained in the Baxter Booklet, Section III, pages 11-13: "Can the Church Provide for the Needs of Non-Christians?" We have previously emphasized that the "Great Preachers" and his liberal colleagues would like — for prejudicial purposes — to shift the issue from the questions of "centralized control and oversight" and "institutionalism" to "the subjects of church benevolence." We do not propose to allow them thus to evade their responsibility in the present controversy. The question concerning "whom the church may relieve" has not produced current problems, strife, and division among the churches of Christ — except in rare instances.

The issue is: (1) May churches of Christ scripturally delegate their benevolent responsibilities to human Institutions and support said institutions from their treasuries? and (2) May a church of Christ become a cooperative benevolent society to which other churches of Christ may delegate their benevolent responsibilities and contribute their funds for the accomplishment of those responsibilities? However, since the "Great Preacher" makes some observations on passages of Scripture in an effort to prove that it is the obligation of churches of Christ to assume the responsibility of the relief of the needs of the indigent of the world in general, we shall pay our respects to what he has to say.

Are Churches Of Christ General Benevolent Organizations?

Dr. Baxter asks, "Can the church provide for the needs of non-Christians?" Like all his liberal colleagues, our learned brother would like to place the laboring oar in this matter in the hands of conservatives, whereas the responsibility is his. He would have conservatives affirm a universal negative; namely, that nowhere, at no time, under no circumstances may a church of Christ relieve one who has not been previously baptized into Christ. Some conservative brethren have, in our judgment, unwisely allowed themselves to be maneuvered and pressured into the affirmation of this unwarranted, prejudicial, universal, negative position in public controversy. Actually, Dr. Baxter and all other liberal disputants are logically and ethically obligated to affirm that churches of Christ are general benevolent organizations charged with the responsibility of relieving the physical needs of all of the world's indigent and that the Scriptures so teach. We have yet to meet one of our so-called liberal brethren who will so affirm in public debate — written or oral.

In introducing his scriptural proof (?) of general benevolence, Dr Baxter betrays the influence his sectarian theological training has had upon him by saying:

"In some circles the view is held that while individual Christians can provide for the needs of non-Christians, it is not scriptural for the church to provide benevolence for any but those who are members of the body of Christ. That this is not the teaching of the New Testament is demonstrated quite clearly, I believe, to those willing to read with an open mind, noticing both the spirit and the letter (emphasis mine, JWA) of New Testament teaching." (Baxter Booklet, pages 11, 12.)

Sectarian theologians have for many generations tried to prove their unscriptural practices by a nebulous something called "the spirit of New Testament teaching." The New Testament contrasts the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ by referring to the law as "letter" and the gospel as "spirit." (2 Cor. 3:6.) But where in the New Testament is there a reference to the "spirit" of its teaching? The so-called "spirit of New Testament teaching" is a matter of purely human inference and possesses no more authority than the man whose inference it is. We have never been able to distinguish the "spirit" of Christ from what he said and did, the "spirit" of the apostles from what they said and did, or the "spirit" of the New Testament from what it says, exemplifies, and necessarily implies.

If the Scriptures teach that churches of Christ are" charged with the responsibility of relieving all of the world's indigent, let Dr. Baxter produce the precept, approved apostolic example, or necessary inference — from a single passage or a combination of passages of Scripture — which so affirms. Let him not seek to establish his contention with a purely human inference of his own fallible intellect which he tries to dignify by calling it "the spirit of New Testament teaching."

The "Great Preacher" introduces a quotation from the Sermon on the Mount: "For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same?" (Matt. 5:46, 47.) He also introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37.) These passages teach only the responsibility of the individual disciple of the Lord to love and assist persons other than his own brethren. More than this one cannot legitimately deduce from them. Therefore, nothing may logically or scripturally be inferred from them relative to the responsibility of a congregation in the field of benevolence.

We assume Dr. Baxter will agree that the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the application of the teaching of the "Sermon on the Mount" in a practical way. Hence, he can surely see that to get the local church into the statement quoted from the "Sermon on the Mount" (so as to have bearing on "questions and issues of the day") the "Good Samaritan" would have had to have gone back to Samaria and called the "elders of the church" together (the Samaritan church of that time), obtained a decision from them relative to helping the suffering Jew on the Jericho road, and received funds from the church treasury to pay for his care or authorization to commit him to some Samaritan relief society. Verily, the abuse to which the "Sermon on the Mount" and the parable of the "Good Samaritan" have been exposed by brethren writing on "the questions and issues of the day" is nothing short of amazing, especially in view of our long-standing claim of devotion to a "thus saith the Lord" and sound principles of exegesis. No conservative denies the obligation of Christians to help their neighbors who are in need whether those neighbors be members of the Lord's church or not. This writer denies only that the Scriptures lay the obligation for the care of the world's indigent upon churches of Christ. Dr. Baxter introduces no passage which refutes our position. If there is such a passage, surely the learned Dr. Baxter knows where it is and could have produced it. He offers only unfounded and unnecessary inferences of his own fallible intellect. As "great" as his brethren think he is, his inferences would hardly qualify as law.

The 'Great Preacher" infers from the performance by Jesus of miracles upon unfaithful Jews such as Mary Magdalene that churches of Christ are obligated to care for the world's indigent. Mary Magdalene would rather represent an apostate member of the church than an alien sinner. Does Dr. Baxter contend that apostate members of the church are the scriptural subjects of the benevolence of the congregation? If so, he must reject practically everything the New Testament teaches concerning the relation of the churches to their apostate members. We should like also to remind our learned brother that the mission of Jesus, in the labors of his personal ministry, was "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:21-28) and the performance of miracles by Him upon other persons than the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" was not the rule but an exception to the rule, which was by the Lord (1) carefully noted as an exception, and (2) justified on the basis of the peculiar merits of the case involved.

Anent Galatians 6:10: "So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith." The "Great Preacher" makes two arguments on this verse. First, however, he recognizes the fact that conservatives contend the teaching of the verse involves individual, not church, activity. Conservatives do so contend, and they are right. No unbiased mind can consider the verse and its context without reaching the same conclusion. Though brethren" (adelphoi) and "ye...spiritual" (pneumatikoi) both admittedly plural, are addressed, observe the individual (singular) application of the teaching: "considering thyself (seauton - singular) lest thou (su-singular) also be tempted" (vs. 1); "For if a man (singular) thinketh himself (singular) to be something when he (singular) is nothing, he deceiveth himself (singular)" (vs. 3); "But let each man (singular)" (vs. 4; "For each man (singular) (vs. 5); "But let him that is taught . . . communicate" (vs. 6); "whatsoever a man soweth (singular)" vs. 7). Need we say more?

Now observe the two arguments of Dr. Baxter. (1) He argues that the word "brethren" implies group rather than individual responsibility. (Booklet, p 13.)

He had previously noted that the Galatian letter is addressed "unto the churches of Galatia." This poses an interesting dilemma for our learned exegete. Since the letter is addressed to the church of Galatia, if the word "brethren" denotes group activity, it unquestionably have to denote the group composed of the parties addressed. Since churches, not a church, are addressed, Dr. Baxter's argument would prove the scripturalness of diocesan action — the churches of Galatia as a group "working that which is good toward all men." And since discipline "restoration" of the erring) is the subject under consideration, not benevolence, the "Great Preacher's" argument would have the churches of a province acting as a group in a matter of church discipline. Yet, Dr. Baxter, strongly affirms his faith in church autonomy. To infer from the terms "churches" and "brethren" that the obligations imposed by a text constitute "church action" is wholly gratuitous. Letters written to the churches in the New Testament often impose a multitude of obligations upon Christians as individuals.

(2) Because verse 6 says, "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things," the "Great Preacher" infers that church action is contemplated. He reaches his conclusion in the following way:

"It is universally agreed that it is proper and right for a congregation to pay a preacher from its treasury, rather than requiring that the preacher go about the congregation to receive his salary from individuals." (Booklet, p. 13.)

While we grant the truth of this statement, we deny the inference drawn from it. We would not appeal to Galatians 6:6 to prove that it is right for churches to support preachers. If it be granted that the word "communicate" in this text refers to the financial support of the preacher (which we do not) the passage might conceivably corroborate the general rule that "the laborer is worthy of his hire" (Lk. 10:7), and in this sense only having bearing on church support of a preacher. Otherwise, its application is unquestionably individual, hence if "communicate" means to support the teacher financially, it lays upon the individual Who is taught (in the sense of the text) the responsibility to support his teacher. It does not furnish authority for the support of a preacher by the church; this must be obtained from other passages. (1 Cor. 9:14; 2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:15, 16.)

The word "communicate" is from the Greek word "koinoneito" (root "koinos") which means "to have in common, sharer, to become a sharer in, partnership" (Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon.) It may and sometimes does refer to monetary support, but this is not its exclusive significance or use in the New Testament. It is our persuasion that the "good things" of Galatians 6:6 are things morally and spiritually good, hence it is our further persuasion the passage teaches the person who is taught to enter into partnership with his spiritual mentor by faithfully practicing that which he is taught and by emulating the example of the instructor in seeking the moral and spiritual good of his brethren in the Lord as well as those "not of the household of the faith (vs. 10)." This view of the meaning of the passage is in harmony with the context, whereas financial remuneration of the teacher for services rendered is wholly out of context, H. A. W. Meyer in his Critical Commentary on the Greek New Testament gives a clear and, we believe, correct analysis of the passage in question:

'Fellowship, on the other hand, let him who is being instructed in the doctrine (in the gospel...) have with the instructor in all good (ver. 10), that is, let the discipline make common cause (endeavor and action) with his teacher in everything that is morally good." (Galatians, pages 327, 328.)

In either case, whether "communicate" means financial support or partner-in moral and spiritual matters, it can be seen that the verse is individual in application and does not signify church action, hence does not teach what Dr. Baxter would have it say.


As we have previously said, whom the churches may relieve is not the issue disrupting fellowship and dividing churches. Yet, even in this regard, the "Great Preacher" has nothing to support his cause but sentiment and unjustified human inference. He is without a true "thus saith the Lord." We shall be discussing in our next article the question: 'What Do The Scriptures Teach Concerning Care for Orphans, Widows, and Others in Need?" Look for us under the title: THE "GREAT PREACHER" RESOLVES THE QUESTION OF INSTITUTIONAL BENEVOLENCE.

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