Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 19, 1951
NUMBER 49, PAGE 2-3b

Institutions: Objects Of Charity

Clarence C. Gobbel, Tempe, Arizona

It was my pleasure to read with a degree of profit, an article with the above title, appearing in the Gospel Guardian written by Robert C. Welch of Florence, Alabama. It is no doubt a profitable work for brethren in Christ to speak out against some of the tendencies of the times. It is especially timely in these days, when there is a tendency toward larger, and more powerful organizations among us. It is true, however, that students among us for generations past, have constantly taught against the encroachment of institutionalism. It is evident that none of us are wanting to see any form of such pervading the ranks of the true church of our Lord. When, and to the extent, that institutions, such as orphan's homes, begin to exercise power and influence over the churches that support them, to the degree that too much honor, and glory attaches to them, rather than to the Lord, and his church, then a halt is in order, a change must begin to take place for the better, if the cause of New Testament christianity survives. That individuals are objects of charity rather than institutions no one can afford to deny. Brother Welch makes the point that the orphan home is not an adjunct to the family. Question: If it is not an adjunct to the family, to what is it an adjunct? The Church? Since we have it existing, and such cannot be denied, then to what or of what, is it an adjunct?

We have this statement in this article: "The Bible teaches that the orphans and the needy are to be cared for. It is both an individual and church obligation." He proceeds to prove that in New Testament times such were taken care of by churches in their respective communities. He leaves the impression, if not actually the attempted proof, that all of these passages quoted, with the exception of James 1:27, teach that churches sent money to, and for the aid of the poor and needy. And to get more definitely in mind the general run of his arguments, we quote quite fully:

"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. (Close of quote)

A few questions and observations on the above:

1. The brother states here that: "the poor and needy within a congregation are to be cared for within that congregation." But in the paragraph before this, he wrote: "Churches took care of those in need within their own midst, using their own members to care for them," and then quoted Acts 4:34, 35. Therefore, the members caring for the needy, was really the church caring for them. He must mean this, since he used the terms interchangeably. Of course, I see nothing wrong in coining to that conclusion. Therefore, since that is true, what is wrong in applying James 1:27 to congregational work in caring for the poor, rather than declaring that it applies to individuals only?

2. He then continues: "Other churches supplying that which the local congregation lacks." Now the only scriptural precedent for this, which the writer gave, is the case of the churches of the Gentiles, sending to Judea to help the needy there. Question: Was this a permanent setup, in Jerusalem, or Judea? Did the churches continue to send regular monthly donations for the upkeep of the indigent in Judea? If not, then, do we have a scriptural proof for this statement?

3. He writes, as we above noted, that each congregation should provide for its own charity cases, providing homes, food, clothing or education, as far as able, but if not able, solicit the aid of other churches. Question: How could other churches do that, when they are busy taking care of their own orphans of their own community? Besides it isn't clear to me what brother Welch might mean by at least a part of this statement. Does he mean that individual homes should take into their own families, orphans, and needy, with the church donating to their upkeep from the treasury? Or does he mean, that it would be all right, for a certain house, a separate structure to be provided by the congregation, wherein these unfortunates might be sheltered clothed fed, and educated? If this is what he means, then what is he condemning? Isn't that what the churches are doing when they send donations to an orphans home?

4. That ties in with the next idea, when he says: "If it (a congregation) can provide for more than its own number in the community let it do so." (Gal. 6:10) Of course, Gal. 6:10, does not authorize this statement, necessarily, at all. A congregation then who is taking care of its own indigent, with the help of other churches, then takes in others outside of its own community, as he herein suggests, again I say, what is he fighting in this article? Isn't that what has been done, and is being done, today? Most any of these homes, under an eldership, caring for orphans, with the help of other churches, donating from their treasuries, measure up to exactly what this brother suggests is scriptural.

5. So he decries the idea of institutions being objects of charity, and condemns the idea of churches helping, or having anything to do with such charitable institutions, then before he turns around, he has a local church providing a home, food, etc., for the orphans, and asking help from other congregations round about. Question: How is it possible for a congregation to provide a home, food, shelter, education for a group of orphans, unless they have a home in which they are to be kept? When this home is thus provided, do the elders have the time to personally take care of them, or would it be wrong for them to select a supervisor, matrons, and teachers for them? If that isn't wrong, then again I ask, what is he criticizing? Webster says of the term INSTITUTION: a disposition, arrangement, establishment. Then when a local eldership makes arrangement for orphans to be cared for, together with the help of other churches, can we call that an institution? It seems that we can from this definition. Thus, since the brother approves of this kind of an arrangement, and says it is a scriptural procedure, then why does he have so much to say against institutions of this sort?

Brethren, we do not deny that we need to be careful in our elevating any such charitable work above its merit. We need to ever and continuously remember that—"Unto him be glory in the church of Christ Jesus throughout all ages," and not ever be content to exalt any kind of sort of institution, or establishment above that of the church of our blessed Lord.