Individual Or Collective Action
In last month's magazine my subject was "Revealed Religion." In that article a plea was made for authorized action. I urged that we be able to prove what is acceptable unto the Lord (Eph. 5:10) and that we recognize the limiting as well as the authorizing power of the scriptures. In this article we shall try to make an application to a specific problem that confronting God's people today. There is much controversy everywhere with regard to the law of Christ and its application to individuals and or the collective church. We shall study some of these problems under separate headings.
Before we discuss various questions concerning this problem, let us define our terms properly. By individual action, we mean that which a Christian engages in (or there could even he some application to some people who are not Christians). At any rate individual action is that which involves people (persons). It is that which one can do alone, or that which two or more do together, yet independently. By that I mean, individual action may involve many people acting simultaneously. For instance, if ten people each put money into the beggar's tin cup, they may all act at the same time but they act independently, therefore individually. Likewise when tell Christians each put money into the church treasury, they have acted independently, therefore, individually.
Collective action, on the other hand, is that which a group does together. When ten people put their money into a common fund, they have acted individually, but when that fund is used, it is collective action. The collection of the fund constitutes individual action, but the use of such fund constitutes collective action. Actually, then, with regard to the Lord's people, all of our work is individual action, except that which involves the use of that money which we have given into a common fund. The only work that the church can be said to do, collectively, is accomplished by the conversion of the church treasury into services rendered. When the churches collected funds for the relief of the needy saints (I Cor. 16:1, 2; etc.) individuals acted, but when those funds were used for that relief the different churches acted, each in the collective capacity. The brethren, for instance, at Corinth each gave, but the bounty they sent to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26) was given collectively.
The first problem we shall consider is indicated in the statement, "Whatever the Christians do, the church does." The favorite scripture that is used to try to justify this thought is Eph. 3:21, misquoted as follows: "To God be glory through the church." But the passage says "To God be glory in the church." The idea is not that whatever we do we must do it through the church, but rather this verse teaches that God is positively glorified in that the church is built - the very existence of the church brings glory to God.
Suppose a residence burns down next door to the meeting-house next Sunday morning and that as they leave the Christians all go by and give something to the people who lost the home. There is a sense in which it may be said that the church helped these people, but it was not collective action. But if the treasurer gives those people, whose house burned, the day's collection, that is collective action, and in another sense it is said that the church helped.
Certainly whatever the Christian does reflects upon the church, either for good or for bad. If the Christian is good, kind and helpful, those who observe this action will respect the church for it. If the Christian is mean, selfish and unkind those who observe will hold the church in dishonor as a result. On the other hand, it is not true that when one member is kind and good that the church is kind and good, nor is it true that when one memher is selfish and mean that the church is selfish and mean. Furthermore, when one Christian gives to a beggar, the church has not given to that beggar, and when a Christian steals from a widow the church has not stolen from that widow. Likewise, when a Christian sings the church has not sung, and when a Christian prays the church has not prayed.
In view of the foregoing conclusions, we now see a need for specific authority for the church to act. We certainly cannot quote a verse of scripture that is a directive for a Christian and say it authorizes collective church action. For instance, Christians are told that "Pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world." But one cannot quote that verse to authorize the collective church to "visit" the widows and or phans. Other verses do teach us regarding such church action, but this one is a directive to individuals. So it is with Gal. 6:10 which says that as we have opportunity we should do good to all men.
Just as we must have authority for all that Christians do in their work and worship, so we must have authority for all that the church does. Since the church only acts collectively in the conversion of its treasury into services, we must find scripture which serves as a directive for the use of that treasury. What does the New Testament say with regard to the use of a church treasury? Surely, we are all agreed that such treasury is collected by the authority of I Cor. 16:1, 2. This verse teaches "every one of you to lay by in store." If it be said that this was for benevolent work only, and that there is no authority for a collection for the support of gospel preachers, then let it be remembered that whereas I Cor. 16:1, 2 shows how the collection was taken, other passages show the use of a similar fund for gospel work (2 Cor. 11:8 ; Phil. 4:15, 16). Since the latter verses show that a collection was made, but do not show how, and since no other verse deals with this matter, we must conclude that it was in accord with the authority given in I Cor. 16:1, 2.
But how did the church act in converting treasury into services? Careful study will reveal only two actions are authorized: (1) The example of the churches of Macedonia and Achaia in sending relief to the needy saints in Jerusalem authorizes a similar action today. There is absolutely no revealed authority for the church to use its treasury to help needy people of the world. Christians are to do that "as we have opportunity," but the treasury of the church is to be used in benevolence on1y for needy saints. (2) The example of the church in Philippi and of other unnamed churches (2 Cor. 11:8) in "sending once and again" unto the necessities of a gospel preacher, and in providing "wages" for him, authorizes the church today to use its treasury for a similar work. Whether this work is at home or away is immaterial, for Paul said that "the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
Perhaps it would be well just now to clarify these matters by pointing out some specific things for which there is no authority for the collective church to use its treasury. (1) Under the broad terms of Paul's language, Eph. 6:4, "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," and included in his responsibility as the head of the family, a parent may provide recreation for his children, but the church cannot spend its funds for recreational activities and do so with authority. (2) Since a Christian is told to "be ready unto every good work" he can use some of his money, time and energy to promote the work of a Community Hospital, or of the Cancer Society, or of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but the church certain1y cannot make contributions to such organizations. (3) Because of the authority given him as a parent, and because a Christian is authorized to teach the truth anywhere and everywhere and anytime, the Christian can give some of his money to build and maintain a school in which youth are taught Art, Science, Literature and the Bible, but the church cannot, with authority, give money from its treasury
to such institutions of learning, even when the Bible is taught therein. (4) A child of God can do some of his work "through" some human institutions, for his authority is broad and general (Titus 3:1 ), but since there is no such broad and general authority for the church, and since the commands, examples and necessary inferences of the New Testament provide no authority for the church to so do, we must conclude that the church cannot do its work "through" any instiution. (When the church pays the hospital bill for a needy saint, it does not do its work through the hospital , for its work was to pay the hospital. But if a church donates money to a hospital, then it is not doing its work but rather assisting the hospital to do the hospital's work. Likewise when a church sends funds to another church which is in need, the first church is thus doing its work, for its work was to help the needy church, but when a church sends funds to another church so that the second church can convert those funds into services which would be the work of both churches, then the first church has given up its work to the second one - and there is no authority for such action).
The question naturally arises: Can churches cooperate in the use of their treasuries? This is the same as asking if the churches can cooperate in collective church action-that is: can two or more churches, each acting in the collective capacity, cooperate?
In Paul's day, separate churches in Macedonia and Achaia each sent contributions for the poor saints at Jerusalem. In this way they did indeed cooperate. Each church acted independently, but all of them together cooperated in the same work. Another instance of cooperation is described in Acts 15, wherein we are told that the Jerusalem church sent two prophets, Judas and Silas, to Antioch, to assist the church in that latter place in a spiritual service. This is a case where one church cooperated with another church by sending teachers from the first church to the second one.
However, we do not find authority in the New Testament for one church to send to a second church so that the second church can send to a third church. Again let us remember that when one church sends some assistance to a second church, the first church has, in so doing, done nothing more or less than its own work. However, when one church sends a contrihution to a second church which is not in need, and when the second church uses this fund in its work, the first church was not doing its own work but was contributing to the work of another. For this there is no authority. In other words, the New Testament authorizes one church to cooperate with another church which is in need by sending assistance to the needy church. The New Testament does not authorize two or more churches to cooperate by pooling their funds into one treasury so that one of the churches may do a work in behalf of all of them.
If these things seems insignificant to us, let us remember that "God's ways are not man's ways," and the on1y way for us to know that we are right is to be able to prove it right by what the New Testament says. We need authority for the use of the church treasury just as much as we need authority for anything else. Let us seek that authorized way and be content with it.
Truth Magazine III:5; pp. 8-10