Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 15, 1951

Organizing An Orphanage

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

"The tendency of all human institutions, especially of all moneyed and chartered institutions, is to augment continually their power, that thereby they may become the more effective in their operations." (Lard's Quarterly, vol. 2, p. 138) The truth of that statement is being demonstrated more and more as institutions are added by Christians. Moses E. Lard made that statement with reference to the missionary society which was at that time gaining its power and momentum. Some deny that orphan homes have any power or exercise any control over churches. Any person who will consider the facts knows that orphanages do have control over churches. It may not be despotic and dictatorial control. It may be unintentional, but the control is there never-the-less. Sometimes people ask to be ruled and controlled. It is no less true of churches. Some of them want someone else to tell them what to do. They do not want the responsibility of planning and working themselves. They want someone else to tell them what to do with their finances, to take care of their work for them. That is what is happening with reference to orphanages and all types of benevolent societies operated by Christians. Churches know that the Scriptures require them to support the needy. It is work to take care of the "daily ministration," a work which is hard to get done. Some brethren decide to build an institution (maybe called Childhaven) with contributions from churches and individuals. Some churches decide to do their benevolent work in this way...Thus they actually do no work of that kind themselves. They contribute their funds to this institution which is to do their work for them. Since it is their money that built the institution they consider themselves responsible for the institution; thus, whatever is required by those running it to carry on the work seems to be the responsibility of the supporting congregations. It is not arbitrary control. But just as surely as they exist there is control over the contributing churches by the institutions. Those churches become willing subjects of the institution. Just like some churches subject themselves to the rule of the preacher; not because the preacher wanted to be a ruler; but, because the congregation would have it no other way.

Elders Over Directors

In order to cure the malady of a separate institution doing the work of the churches, some have sought to remove the symptoms of the organization disease by having a board of directors from a wide territory under the elders of one congregation. That is the system questioned by Charles A. Holt in the article "Kingdom Business" in the Gospel Guardian. If that institution and its board are under the elders of one congregation, those elders are ruling and overseeing some members of other congregations. Where do the Scriptures give a group of elders in one congregation the authority to rule over members of other congregations? Furthermore, since the institution is organized from members of various churches, it is not the work of one congregation but the work of members from many congregations. Hence, the church with the supervising elders is overseeing the work of those other congregations.

Others have thought that the organization would pass the approval of contributing churches if the elders of the local congregation were made the directors, retaining the directors from several localities as an advisory board. Thus the elders are submitting to the oversight of a council of men from various places. I am sure those elders would never think of subjecting the churches to a council or convention like the denominations have for all of their work and organization. If it is needed in one phase of the work of the church and it is right to have it, then there is no harm in having a group of brethren from various localities to supervise all the work of all the churches. Neither of those plans will solve the institution problem. Both are but a camouflage, seeking to justify the establishment of a human institution for doing the work of the local congregations, having an organization which destroys the autonomy of the congregations.

Elders Made Directors

The most common practice for the organization of these benevolent institutions is to make the elders of one congregation the directors of the "home." There is a lesser evil or danger in this plan because the separate board has not been attached to the churches. But this plan is questionable. Such an institution is not the church at that place but is an added institution within the church. Men have often questioned the practice of contributions being made and sent by a "Ladies Class" or "Sunday School." What is the difference in their sending it, and in an "Orphan Home" receiving it? Contributions are not to be made to the "sponsoring church" of these homes. They are to be sent to the institution within the church. If that institution within the church and under the elders can receive the funds, then those other institutions can be organized within the church and under the elders and send the funds in their own names. The fact is, that neither has the scriptural right to exist and operate in such a fashion. If funds are contributed and sent they must be contributed by individuals and sent by the church. When they are sent they are to be received by the church with distribution overseen by the elders. When done this way it will conform to the examples in the Scriptures. (Acts 11:29, 30; I Cor. 16:1, 2)

These institutions as they now exist are not confining their charitable work to those within the locality of the overseeing church. They are making a responsibility by gathering their subjects from any place they can find them, instead of merely fulfilling their God-given obligation. After they have made such a responsibility, they then try to pass the obligation on to all the surrounding churches. There is a scriptural example for one church's helping another when it is in want. But there is no example for one church's hunting for something in order to obligate other churches. If a congregation has orphans and old folks, without supporting relatives, surely it can take care of them. If it is needed, the congregation can supply them with a house and supervisor or other things necessary to their welfare. (Acts 6:3) That procedure is unquestionable. But the practice of building a great big institution, calling for subjects of charity from everywhere, then begging other churches to help the institution, is questionable. If one congregation has more orphans and old folk than it can care for by itself, other churches are obligated to help. But there is no authority for taking—into a permanently costly institution—more than that church is responsible for, expecting other congregations to help. If churches so desired, they could spend all their contributions to help the poor, and there would still be needy people unaided, with no support of gospel preaching at all. The Lord has not required the church to feed the world. He has commanded that the gospel be preached to all the world. No church has the right to take from its contributions more than is necessary to take care of the needy of the churches, when there are people who need to have the gospel preached to them. Those who are building these large benevolent institutions are shunting funds into charitable work which would support the preaching of many a gospel sermon. This does not purport to deny the need for charitable work; but, it does seek to remind that we cannot withhold support of the gospel in order to build and support institutions for which there is no authority in the word of God.

Since the institution with its "elder" directors does not confine its work to those within that congregation, it takes on the evil—mentioned before—of doing the work of other congregations. Instead of fulfilling their obligations in helping their own needy and overseeing the work, churches send their charitable contributions to the institution for other elders to oversee. Thus it becomes a case of one church or its elders doing the work of other churches; and, through the institution, controlling other churches in their work. Such a system destroys local autonomy in so far as the benevolent work of the congregation is a part of the responsibility of each church.

Private Enterprise

Why must churches become involved in these added institutions? Why must they become a part of a system that is unmentioned in the will of the Lord? Churches have published their own papers and pamphlets, but they have not tried to build an institution of such, to the extent that they require other churches to help them. Individuals have engaged in private enterprise where books and papers are published. They have not sought to make that enterprise a part of the church, nor have they sought to make congregations members of the enterprise, nor have they sought "contributions thereto by the churches. They have advertised their materials for sale. Churches have seen the value of the material and have bought from them. Those churches did not consider themselves obligated to make a contribution to the enterprise because they used their material. Schools have operated as private enterprise without attaching themselves to the churches. Churches have paid them for services rendered in instruction to students who could not pay their own tuition. Other schools have not kept themselves separate, but some have. Hospitals have existed for years to take care of the sick, and churches have paid them for services rendered to the poor among their number. If men want to build an institution to care for orphans and aged, let them make it purely a private enterprise. Let them not try to attach it to the church. If a church wants to care for its own needy at home let it do so. If it desires to pay this private enterprise—when such a "home" is established—for services rendered in providing a home for its orphans and aged, there is no practical difference in that and in paying tuition, hospital bills, and prices of literature. There is no right nor reason for the building of an institution and making it an object of contributions from churches, making it a part of the work of churches, controlling the churches in their work. If men must organize and build them, let them be wholly separate and apart from the church; and if the church needs to use their facilities, let it pay them for their services the same as it pays a lumber company for materials in its house of assembly. I am not suggesting that brethren build these institutions; I am only insisting that the churches get out of the business of building unauthorized and human institutions.