Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 22, 1951

Institutions: Objects Of Charity

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

The argument is being made that an institution is an object of charity. This is the mode of reasoning: The family when left in need by death of parents is an object of charity from the church, and; the orphan home is an adjunct of the family for taking care of orphans, therefore; the orphan home institutions are objects of charity to be supported by the churches. The same argument could be made for the support of hospitals by churches, and in some cases it could be and is made for the support of schools by churches. The argument is made in an attempt to show that churches are obligated to support those institutions which are separate and apart from the local congregation.

The Bible teaches that the orphans and the needy are to be cared for. It is both an individual and church obligation. James says of individuals, "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." (James 1:27) That this obligation is individual can be seen from the preceding verses and particularly in this verse from the word, "oneself." That it is a congregational obligation can be noted from Paul's command to the church at Corinth, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches at Galatia, so also do ye." (I Cor. 16:1) These are given to forestall the charge that this article is opposed to the care of orphans and others in need.

The passages quoted in the above paragraph, and all other passages which mention the objects of the charity, designate individuals as the objects rather than institutions. The Bible does not say that the family is an object of charity; instead, it speaks of the fatherless, widows, saints. It does not speak of the church as an object of charity; instead, it speaks of those in the church in need of help. The fatherless, widows, and saints are individuals. Let the distinction be kept between the individual and the institution whether the institution be divine or human. Failure to make this distinction marks the fallacy in the first premise of the argument for church support of such institutions. If the first or major premise be fallacious the conclusion will also be false.

The second premise is that the orphan home is an adjunct of the family. If it is made an adjunct of the family, it will need to be shown that this is the only way orphans can be provided for, or that it makes no difference how they are cared for, in order to conclude that churches are to support the institution. God made provision for the family but he said nothing about such an "adjunct." Those who respect the limitations of Christians to that which is within scriptural teaching will be careful about adding something to be supported by the churches. (See II John 9) The minor premise also is lacking in completeness and scriptural authority. When both major and minor premises are fallacious, how can the conclusion be correct?

The Scriptures are not silent about the manner of providing for the needy. Churches took care of those in need within their own midst, using their own members to care for them, "For neither was there among them any that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need." (Acts 4:34, 35); also, "Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." (Acts 6:3) When one congregation was not able to provide for its own needy, Christians from other places helped those needy brethren, letting the elders of that congregation oversee the distribution of the relief, "And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea; which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:29, 30) Such relief was not the contribution of a Christian to another congregation of which he was not a member; the relief was collected in one congregation then sent on to be distributed to the needy of another congregation; "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye... whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem." (I Cor. 16:1-3).

If scriptural example is authoritative, the foregoing texts plainly teach that the poor and needy within a congregation are to be cared for within that congregation, other churches supplying that which the local congregation lacks. It is not necessary, therefore, that an institution separate and apart from the local church be established as an adjunct to anything to care for the poor and orphans, drawing its support from churches. It can be done in the manner described in the Scriptures. Let each congregation provide for its own charity cases in the things needed; whether homes, food, clothing, or education; as far as it is able: then solicit the aid of other churches if it cannot provide for its own. If it can provide for more than its own number in the community let it do so. (Gal. 6:10) The law may require a legal arrangement of directors and such things, as it requires trustees of church property. But let the work be that of each congregation, overseen by the elders of each church, according to the scriptural precepts and examples. There is no necessity of, nor scriptural authority for, an institution of benevolence separate and apart from the local congregation, drawing its support from many congregations. Such an institution is no more a case of charity than is a missionary society a case of evangelism. Such an institution is no more the work and obligation of the church than is the missionary society the work and obligation of the church. Both are additions to God's arrangement and will be found condemned by the same Scriptures.