A Review Of "Caring For the Needy"
An Open Letter to Gus Nichols
Ft. Smith, Arkansas
Webmaster's Note: Some of the charts used in this article did not come through in scanning. We apologize.
The issue before brethren today is not the care of orphans and indigents per se, but upon whom has God laid this responsibility. Some contend that collectives of the Lord's people (local congregations) have been charged with this responsibility. Others contend that the mission of the church is spiritual, and any alleviation of physical distress is limited to its own constituency so as not to overburden the body with a secular charge and distract from its spiritual calling; individuals as they have opportunity are to alleviate general distress. The issue is resolved: May churches of Christ (collectives of saints) expend their treasuries in the care of indigents in general benevolence (in care of non-Christians)? There is only one possible way to answer this question rightly. What does God say?
In your attempt to produce authority for church-financed general benevolence, you cite a number of Scriptures, some not even concerning benevolence, some directed to the church, and some to the individual. In studying your tract, I have listed these scriptures accordingly in order that we might analyze your usage of them and to determine if your conclusions were rightly drawn from the references (or whether the references are merely used in an attempt to justify your preconceived contention).
If these passages are not correctly catalogued, please call our attention so that correction may be made.
Now to study the Scriptures referring to the benevolent work of churches. In order as presented in the tract --
1) Acts 11:29-30: "relief unto the brethren."
2) Acts 6:1: "the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected."
3) 1 Tim. 5:9-10, 16: "if she have diligently followed every good work . . ."
4) 1 Cor. 16:1-2: "Now concerning the collection for the saints . . ."
5) Acts 2:44-45: "And all that believed were together, and had all things common "
6) Rom. 15:25-26: "to minister unto the saints . . ."
7) 2 Cor. 9:1: "As touching the ministering to the saints . . ."
8) 2 Cor. 9:13: (12) "supplieth the want of the saints . . ." "distribution unto them," (saints in Judea) "and unto all" (saints).
We call to your attention the fact that in every case of church-financed benevolence that the recipient is a saint! There is no controversy here. But since some have enlisted churches in a general benevolent program (a "social gospel" design), to finance the care of orphans and other indigents whom God left to the care of individuals, we must have authority for this practice or we are obligated to oppose the unlawful!
(The reader will recall that you admit: "I know that James is discussing the individual when he mentions visiting the fatherless and widows. (James 1: 2 7. ) " Where then is authority for churches? There is none!)
In every reference, the object of church relief is saint or saints! In an attempt to justify church-financed general benevolence you take directions given to individuals and transfer then' to churches! And then you transfer this transferred direction to a human society!
Transferring From Individual to Church
In your attempt to transfer the directions given to the individual to the church you make three (3) arguments to which we now refer.
While admitting that James 1: 2 7 is addressed to the individual you reason that since widows may be relieved by the church, then orphans may be, also. By what process of reasoning you so conclude, you fail to tell us. Your text showing church relief of widows (1 Tim. 5) proves opposite of your conclusion. Your subtle inference is, and your conclusion so states, that since some widows are the charges of the churches, then orphans are with all widows.
Notice that James 1:27 authorizes and charges the individual to visit widows without restriction. But 1 Tim. 5 restricts church care of widows! Paul says, "let not the church be charged" with all (just any and every) widows "that it may relieve them that are widows indeed," which widows are saints "well reported of for good works!"
The "transfer attempt fails--you cannot find where the recipients of James 1:27 are ever transferred to the care of the churches! You cannot find any widow except a saint relieved by the churches!
In denying that church relief is restricted to saints you connect Gal. 6:10 to 1 Cor. 16:1-2 as "one of the places where Paul 'gave order to the churches of Galatia."' Your contention is, then, that Paul gave order to the churches to do good unto "all men." Yet my Bible says that the "order to the churches of Galatia" concern the collection "for the saints" (1 Cor. 16:1). Now what you say the order was and what Paul says are two different things!
Notice again, that you say that the order given to the churches of Galatia is found in Gal. 6:10. Yet you admit that the "context says the individual." This, by your own admission, bears out that church relief (1 Cor. 16:1-2) concerns "saints, "whereas the individual "as he has opportunity" is to do good unto all men!
You ask concerning Galatians 6, instruction to individuals, "Does this exclude the church?" Authority, sir, includes, not excludes. What is not included is excluded from practice by reason that it is not included (2 John 9). "Churches" are not included in individual instructions. You say, then, "the individual is to support the preachers (Gal. 6:6,10). Does this exclude the church? Must preachers be supported by individual members, and not by the church?" No, Gal. 6 does not exclude the church nor include it. Churches may not support preachers by authority of Gal. 6--they are not here authorized. Does this mean they cannot then? No, for they are authorized in 2 Cor. 11:8, Phil. 4: 15, etc. -- and this authority does not "exclude" the individual nor include him. The truth is that churches are authorized to support preachers, and individuals also may communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." Churches may support the teacher--we have authority (2 Cor. 11:8, Phil. 4:15, etc.) Individuals may assist the teacher -- we have authority (Gal. 6:6). Now, brother Nichols, for you to have church relief for "all men" you must find authority. We have ample authority for church relief of saints. Now where is authority for church relief of aliens?
Next we go to 2 Cor. 9:13. Here Paul speaks of the liberal distribution unto the saints in Judea (as you parenthesized) and unto all. "All" is an adjective and modifies the extent of those helped. To deny that the substantive is "saints," i. e. "all" saints including others besides in Judea, is to cause the passage to read that the contribution met the want of all the needy throughout the world! Who will affirm this? On the other hand, if the substantive be understood, then "all or any that are of the class indicated by the noun," in this instance being "saints," are the ones under consideration, viz. all of the saints besides those in Judea. (Page 491, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon.) This certainly makes sense: the Corinthians assisted and supplied aid for needy saints in Judea and elsewhere; but hardly could we conceive of a church supplying the wants of the needy everywhere!
It is a most labored effort to try to find general benevolence in 2 Cor. 9:13! It is contrary to the facts every place else stated in no uncertain language. The churches assisted "saints"; where is the passage that shows any general benevolence of churches?
Church Work Transferred to Human Societies
After assuming a transfer of individual responsibility to the collective (local church), you attempt to transfer the church's assumed work to human societies. Your excuse for doing this is, "The church is its own missionary society, but the church is not its own care taking institution." In this you are mistaken. Using "care taking institution" in parallel with "missionary society," the church does provide care for its own! Reference: Acts 6:1-6. This is the church at work!
Of course, we realize that you shift terms from the society to that which is provided by the society. But to parallel, the product of the missionary society is, let us say, a tract. The product of the care taking society, i. e. that provided by the society, is the house (incl. shelter, food, clothing, etc.) In both instances the church is its "own society"-- the church can both provide for its indigents (1 Tim. 5:16) and can produce its own tracts. To say that the church is not its own "care taking institution," meaning house (shelter, food, etc.), is to shift from the society itself to what it provides, and is equivalent to say that the church is not its own tract!
After removing the sophistry the contention itself is removed. But one further point just here. Since you transfer James 1:27 to the church and support a separate society in "visiting," tell us does Matt. 25:36 work as well? Does "visit" here authorize a hospital society to be supported by churches of Christ in discharging the individual's responsibility transferred to the churches? Don't you see, without authority and in this transferring nonsense there is no stopping place!
In case there is authority for your advocacy not mentioned in your tract, please let us have it. We cannot go beyond what Christ has authorized (Matt. 28:18, 2 John 9).
Bro. Nichols, we are sincere in our request and most willing to do what God authorizes -- but without authority we cannot go with you in apostasy and we plead for you to return.
Truth Magazine IX: 2, pp. 7-9