A Benevolent Church
Although the God of Heaven never intended that the church should function primarily as a welfare agenc y, the body of Christ is sometimes obligated to provide material assistance to certain ones in need. Such benevolent work is certainly authorized by the scriptures as a definite part of the mission of the church. Many passages teach regarding the work of charity, both as relates to the church and to the individual. Although the teaching regarding benevolence is broad enough to consume page after page of comment, this particular study is devoted to the example set by the church in the New Testament. Especially is the attention of the reader called to the Jerusalem church of the first century as a model. It was, indeed, a benevolent church.
The first church of Christ ever established was that one which began in the city of Jerusalem, A.D. 33. The establishment of the church which Jesus promised, in Matthew 16:18, to build, is recorded in the book of Acts, chapter two. The truth was preached by Peter and the other apostles on that occasion to "Jews . . . out of every nation under heaven." Many, convicted of their sin and desiring to rid themselves of it, responded in obedience to the preaching of the men of God. Three thousand souls were converted to Christ on that day, and that group constituted the Lord's church in Jerusalem. Others were converted as time passed and were added to the church (verse 47). Since many of the new disciples were from far away places, and were without the material things needed to sustain them in Jerusalem, it was necessary for the other members of the church to provide for them. This need, which arose within the church, was met by the church. Note the benevolent spirit which characterized those early disciples, "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need" (Acts 2:44, 45). The need for material assistance arose among them that believed, the disciples, and the same group, i.e., the Church, was obligated to relieve that need. The need was met by them through the only organization known to them. Thus, by example, it is learned that a need arose within the church and that that need was met by the church. In meeting the need, only the church was involved.
In Acts 4, further reference is made to the charitable attitude of the church in Jerusalem. Verses 32-35 reveal that the liberality of the brethren in Jerusalem made it possible for the church to perform its work of benevolence without any of the needy ones lacking. Those who possessed lands or houses sold them and brought the money to the apostles to distribute to those in need. The work of charity for which the church was responsible was still being carried on within the framework of the local church in Jerusalem. "Them that believed" were characterized by a liberality worthy of imitation. Because of this liberality, there were none "among them that lacked," distribution being made unto every man, according to need. Just how the distribution was effected, or what methods were used to get the funds to the needy ones is not recorded. Although the methods are not disclosed, the organization through which this work was done is indicated. "Them that believed" constituted the church in Jerusalem, and from among "them that believed" the needs were supplied. Thus, the church, without the aid of any other organization, could and did carry on its own program of benevolence.
Later, the number of the disciples growing all along, the church Jerusalem found itself faced with a special problem in the field of benevolence (Acts 6:1-6). Certain sisters in the church, widows of the Grecians, were being neglected in the daily ministration. As indicated by passages already referred to, arrangements had been made whereby the saints were supposed to be relieved of their needs. However, through neglect, the need of the widows was not being supplied. This neglect caused a murmuring among the Grecians, which murmuring became known to the apostles. To alleviate this condition, the twelve instructed the church to choose seven men from among them. This group of seven was to be given the responsibility of seeing that the needs of the widows were supplied. The apostles had resting upon them the great responsibility of ministering in the Word. Because of this, they could not allow their greater work of preaching to suffer. They did not have time to devote to supplying material things. T he seven men were chosen by the church in Jerusalem, and placed in charge of this particular work of benevolence. Again, the need was in the church, and by the church, through its own organization, the need was relieved.
The Jerusalem church should serve as a model for all congregations of God's people for all time. The example set by it shows the church to be sufficient and efficient. Sufficient, because it is the only organization ordained of God through which benevolent work is to be performed by the church. Efficient, because it operated according to God's plan. When men conform to the Divine pattern, they will be pleasing to God. When they deviate from it, and presume to formulate plans of their own, they reflect upon the Jerusalem church, the apostles who directed its work, and the Lord who ordained its organization.
Indeed, the church at Jerusalem was a benevolent church. It recognized its work and performed it according tot he plan of Almighty God.
Truth Magazine, III, 12: pp. 16-17