Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 27, 1964
NUMBER 16, PAGE 4,10-12a

The "Great Preacher" Resolves The Question Of Institutional Benevolence


(Seventh in a series)

James W. Adams Introduction

While there are unresolved questions among brethren concerning the extent of the obligation of the churches as such to orphans, this has not produced current division among the churches of Christ. The question is not: "May churches care for orphans?" The question is: "Shall churches do their works of benevolence through the God-given organization, the local congregation under its own elders, or shall they build and maintain human organizations to which they may delegate the performance of these works? Involved also is the question: "May a single church become a cooperative agency through which other independent churches of Christ function to perform works of benevolence which are their own peculiar responsibility?

The Care Of Orphans, Widows, And Others In Need (Baxter Booklet, Pages 13-19.)

Like many others, the "Great Preacher" predicates most of what he says under this heading on an imagined responsibility which the church has to something he calls "the home" This term is used so variously and ambiguously by so many that it is practically meaningless and confusing without end in a discussion of "the questions and issues of the day." It is used to refer to an institution, to the house or facilities employed in the care of children, and to the family. Obviously, in argument it could be assigned only one meaning and be used always in that sense. To do otherwise, would be to commit a common logical fallacy and impugn any conclusions thus reached. That the churches, as such, have responsibilities to needy persons is abundantly demonstrated by their discharging those responsibilities in New Testament times under the guidance of the apostles of Christ. (Acts 2; 6; 11: 27-30; 20; Rom. 15; 1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor. 8; 9.) However, we have never read anything in the New Testament, nor has Dr. Baxter cited anything from that source, concerning the churches of Christ discharging responsibilities to "the home."

The good doctor introduces James 1:27 and Matt. 25: 36-46 to impress upon us the obligation of the Christian to care for widows and orphans, a thing denied by no one known to us. He has somewhat to say also concerning the definitions of "to visit" (episkeptesthai) and "orphans" (orphans) as contained in the Greek-English Lexicons. We can admit all he says, though some of his assertions are highly questionable, without materially affecting our differences on "the questions and issues of the day." However, let it be observed in addition to what he says regarding the expression, "to visit," that the very meaning of the Greek word "episkeptesthai" precludes the possibility of an individual completely fulfilling his obligations to the widow and the orphan by relief through proxy such as characterizes institutional benevolence. Note the following comment from scholarly Marvin It. Vincent in his classic "Word Studies in the New Testament:"

"To visit (episkeptesthai). See on Matt. XXV, 36. James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world's sorrows, to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction." (Vol. I, p. 736.)

Following this, the "Great Preacher" spends some considerable space in an attempt to prove there is a generic command in James 1:27 to the churches to relieve orphans and no method of relief given, hence that any method which comports with best human judgment is scriptural. He then attempts to prove that institutional orphans' homes such as are owned, operated, and supported by brethren and churches of Christ are scriptural by reason of the fact that they are but expedient "methods" of orphan care. Hear him:

"In discharging the obligation mentioned in James 1:27 to care for fatherless children, brethren have generally recognized the fact that this is a generic command, in which the Lord has not specified the means or method of fulfilling the command. If there is a means or method of caring for orphans spelled out anywhere in the New Testament, it has not been found. In view of this fact, Christians have had to use their own best judgment in carrying out this God-given obligation. To my knowledge there are at least six different ways in which conscientious brethren have discharged this responsibility. They have cared for orphans in (1) private homes without outside help; (2) private homes with other persons helping; (3) private homes with the church helping; (4) houses provided by the church to widows and orphans; (5) orphans' homes under the direction of elders; and (6) orphans' homes under the direction of a group of Christian men." (Booklet, p. 15).

Several observations are in order relative to these statements. In the first place, James 1:27 is directed to individuals, not to the church as such, as even a casual reading will show. Note verse 26, "if any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain." (Emphasis mine, JWA) Now observe verse 27, "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." The person who can find church action in these verses would have no trouble finding infant sprinkling in Romans 6:3, 4. Our learned exegete, Dr. Baxter, potently armed with his divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, at this point, takes refuge behind the polished, yet unlettered, sophistry of Guy Napoleon Woods. This is slightly surprising since Brother Guy does not qualify as one of "our brotherhood's" coterie of sectarian theological seminary trained thinkers, and schoolmen. Oh well! even theological dignitaries are not completely immune to the philosophy expressed in the old adage, "any port in a time of storm."

On page 17 of his Booklet, Dr. Baxter reasons after this fashion:

"Reference is again made to James 1:27 which lays upon Christians the responsibility of caring for widows and orphans. This passage tells what must be done. By turning to 1 Tim. 5 we can learn who is to do it. The passage in James links widows and orphans together as the responsibility of Christians; the passage in Timothy speaks of widows only, but obviously the principles apply to orphans as well."

We first read this reasoning from the pen of Brother Guy Napoleon Woods some ten years ago. Since that time, it has been parroted by numerous "me too" reasoners among the liberals so many times that it seems to have become proverbial with them. A more reckless and unrestrained handling of the Sacred Text could hardly be imagined. James 1:27 enjoins the care of widows and orphans by Christian individuals. 1 Tim. 5 enjoins the care of a certain class (a restricted group) of widows upon the church. So, what do our liberal brethren do: They extract the church from 1 Tim. 5 and press it violently into James 1:27 and wrest orphans out of James 1:27 and force them forthwith into 1 Tim, 5. Verily, allowed such liberty with the word of God one could prove anything by it. If as Dr. Baxter says, James tells what must be done and Timothy who is to do it, how will the good doctor apply the restrictions of 1 Tim. 5? If he binds the restrictions of 1 Tim. 5 on the what (widows) of James 1:27, will he also bind comparable restrictions on the care of the orphans of the passage? Or does our learned friend simply use what suits his purpose and ignore what does not: If he should insist on orphans' homes among the brethren and churches rejecting all children who have relatives able to care for them, there would be no issue over orphans' homes because there would not be enough children left in them to make it worthwhile to maintain them. This, we are persuaded to believe, Dr. Baxter knows to be a fact.

In the second place, the injunction of James 1:27 is not, from every point of view, a "generic command." It may well be generic as to "methods" of orphan care, but if it be granted, as Baxter contends, that it is directed to the church, the command is not generic as to the organization through which the work is to be done. God has specified the organization through which church work is to be accompanied, the local congregation under its own elders. (Acts 2:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 11:27-30.) A church, therefore, cannot turn its work over to another organization without violating the Divine will. As we have previously shown in this series, a method is one thing and an organization is another. Organizations are not methods; they utilize methods to accomplish their missions.

The "restored home" argument is also adopted by Dr. Baxter from his less erudite colleague, Brother Guy Napoleon Woods. He introduces it with some remarks concerning the missionary society. (See: Booklet, pages 15-17.) On page 16, he says:

"Some have felt that the orphans' home is exactly parallel to the missionary society, and is therefore wrong. To equate the orphans' home with the missionary society thus sweeping them both aside is a serious mistake. The missionary society is a separate man-made institution which replaces the church in the field of evangelism. It takes over the work of the church and even tends to dominate the church."

Baxter misrepresents the opposition to orphans' homes. It is not contended that such homes and missionary societies are "exactly parallel." This would imply that they are parallel in every particular. Such, of course, is certainly not the case. However, if it can be shown, and it can that they are parallel in even one unscriptural particular, then both are wrong. The orphans' home (erroneously so-called because it is neither a home nor does it house bona fide orphans) is, as is the missionary society, in Dr. Baxter's own words. "a separate man-made institution which replaces the church." The missionary society replaces the church in certain aspects of its evangelistic work. The organization of the so-called orphans home replaces the church in certain aspects of its benevolent work. Relative to this point, the "Great Preacher" confuses, as do others, the organization with the methods and means used by the organization to care for orphans. The organizations of our benevolent institutions select the subjects of benevolence, determine the scope and duration of said benevolence, select the method of care, own all property utilized in the work, and select, control, pay, and fire all workers. The only function of the churches in this system of orphan care is to collect funds and turn them over completely, without any element of control involved, to the controlling organization of the benevolent institution for its expenditure. This is precisely what the missionary society does in the field of evangelism save for the fact that churches do have an element of control in their delegate representation at the missionary conventions. In this respect, there is an undeniable parallel between the missionary society and the so-called orphans' home. Dr. Baxter recognizes this to be wrong in the field of evangelism but right in the field of benevolence. Verily, "the legs of the lame are not equal."

Dr. Baxter argues that the church can "in its own organizational framework" do its evangelism, but that "it is not possible for the church in its own organizational framework to provide care that is needed" for orphan children, or do its benevolence. (Booklet, p. 16.) Yet, as previously quoted on page 15 of his Booklet, the "Great Preacher" justifies an orphans' home under the direction of the elders of a church as an acceptable, scriptural method for the discharging of the Christian's responsibility to orphans. Now just look at the condition Dr Baxter has maneuvered himself into. (1) He says that the church can and does discharge its responsibilities to orphans through its organizational framework (elders). (P. 15, Booklet.) But (2) he says, "It is not possible for the church through its own organizational framework to provide the care that is needed." Which time do you suppose our learned doctor was right, the first or the second?

When Dr. Baxter talks, as do others, about "restoring the home," he proposes an impossibility. A "home — family" once destroyed cannot be restored. Furthermore, along with others, our learned schoolman needs to learn that an institution is not a "home" in the sense of a "family," restored or otherwise. God does not lay upon churches the responsibility of "restoring homes." The necessities of life (food, clothing and shelter), love, supervision, and care may be given to children and others. This is not a "home." The only way an orphan could be given a home would be for him to be adopted. This would not be his "home" restored. It would be a second home which might or might not take the place of the first except legally, of course.

The "Great Preacher" involves himself in still another dilemma at this point. He has argued that the church is obligated to care for the needs of the world (those not of "the household of the faith"). He now argues that an orphans' home is "the home" restored. Buckner Home of Dallas. Texas is organized precisely like Boles Home of Quinlan, Texas and for the same purposes. Buckner Home is operated by Baptists. Boles Home is operated by Christians. Dr. Baxter, may churches of Christ scripturally make contributions to Buckner Home? If not, why not: If it is simply a "home restored," and if churches of Christ are obligated to do benevolence among those of the world as well as Christians, there is no ground on which Dr. Baxter can logically or scripturally oppose churches of Christ putting Buckner Home in their budgets, When the "Great Preacher" gets Buckner Home out of the budgets of churches of Christ in his reasoning and takes care of his contradiction of himself on "the organizational framework of the church," we shall be glad to hear further from him on "the restored home" and delight to consider what he says, Until then, we must bid him adieu on this point. Also, when he gives us concrete evidence of the manner in which missionary societies "dominate" churches, we shall be happy to supply him with evidence just as concrete of the same kind of domination" of churches on the part of "our" so-called orphans' homes, We have it in our files. Challenge us to produce it, Dr. Baxter! ....

The "Great Preacher" further charges that "some have objected to the orphans' home because of the fact that it must be chartered by the state." (Booklet, pages 18, 19.) This is another misrepresentation by Dr. Baxter. It may be either ignorantly or designedly made; we know not which. If it is due to ignorance, our learned brother who prides himself in his scholarly objectivity should inform himself, If it is purposely perpetrated, he should, of course, confess and repent. No one known to us objects to an orphans' home simply because it is chartered by the state. It has been said, and rightly, that its charter does help to identify it as an institution separate and apart from the church. Dr. Baxter needs also to be reminded in this connection that Roy E. Cogdill has demonstrated, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of lawyer, Guy Napoleon Woods, that the care of orphans by the church and under the direction of its elders does not necessarily have to be chartered or licensed by the state.


This complements, as best we are able to determine, the arguments of the "Great Preacher" on institutional benevolence. We have not tried to reply to every assertion made by him, however wild, for such would have made our review endless. It is much too long as it is. He presents nothing new, but rather, re-hashes the potpourri of arguments that have been advanced over the years by his liberal colleagues. We shall next be discussing the "Great Preacher's" far to the left concepts concerning what the churches may support from their treasuries. These views placed him in hot water with Editor Reuel Lemmons and the sponsors of The Herald of Truth. We promise our readers some interesting disclosures concerning this fight — "war of roses" would be a better name.

— 3105 N. W. 35th Place, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73112