This Thing of Limited Benevolence
Wm. E. Wallace
Shall the congregation administer aid to the physical needs of the non-member? Liberal brethren, who seem more interested in creating prejudicial and unjust attitudes, are exploiting the ill-advised magnifying of this issue by some conservative brethren.
Whether or not the congregation may take funds from the Lord's treasury to aid outsiders does not vitally affect the question of the infringement of institutionalism. Whether or not the funds may be taken from the church treasury to aid non-Christians does not fit as an issue to be discussed along with the controversy over organizational arrangements.
Honest students of the New Testament will have to admit there is no example of the treasury funds of the congregation being used for anyone other than poor saints and gospel workers. It appears that open minded expositors could see that such passages as Galatians 6:10 and James 1:27 are in contexts dealing with individual rather than church responsibility.
It is clear that the New Testament sets forth no obligation of the church toward non-Christians in the matter of benevolence. What does this do to the hungry orphan, or the ailing non-Christian widow who may come to the attention of the congregation? The truth that the church has no obligation to the outsider does not hinder or abuse these needy ones. It merely points to the responsibility of individuals to act in a normal Christian response to the need of those who are in distress.
Why should the church step in to do what the individual can do quicker and better? If a child suffers from an accident in front of the church building, if a widow craves for a morsel of food, if an orphan needs a home, why wait for someone to get the church to act? You see, the accusation that we would refuse the church the right to help a suffering child is based upon hypothetical creations that actually illustrate normal individual responsibility!
May the church care for orphans or unfortunate children? What do you mean, "care for them"? Do you mean give them a $5.00 bill? What would a little child do with a $5.00 bill? If there are unfortunate children to be cared for, they need Christian personnel to look after their needs. The Christian who accepts or assumes the care of a child in distress might need help to do so, from the church, and would thus classify as a needy saint. However, why burden the church, and tie up funds that should be used for evangelism, when individuals could fulfill their normal Christian responsibility and cooperate to relieve the needs of unfortunate ones?
It is unthinkable that Christians of New Testament days would not care for unfortunate children, and it is equally unthinkable that 'the church would refuse to help the who needed help in this work. But condition would be rare and severe, and circumstances would be unique and strange, to require the church to do what Christians would naturally do.
To argue over whether or not the church can take care of orphans is to dispute a specious point. In view of New Testament teaching emphasizing individual responsibility to the needy, it is clear that Christians who need help in relieving the needs of unfortunate children may receive funds from the church.
I am certain that the reason the New Testament gives no authority for a church benevolent program among outsiders, is that (1) the church is not basically a benevolent society, (2) it is to be understood that unfortunate children and other needy non-Christians are the responsibility of individuals, (3) and it is to be understood that the church can help saints care for their own or for those who become as their own.
There is much difference between the church helping saints who have in their care non-saints, and the church making financial grants to benevolent institutional organisms and societies which may exist as infringements on God's holy church.
The battle over institutional ism is one thing; whether or not the church can help the non-Christian is another. The two issues do not belong together. They are brought together by those conservative brethren who blunder, and by those liberals who had rather becloud the institutional issue than to fairly meet it.
Truth Magazine VIII: 5, pp. 18,24 February 1964