A Debate That Didn't Materialize

W. E. Warnock
Akron, Ohio

(The following article was supposed to have been the first of a series of articles in the Bible Herald published at Parkersburg, W. Va., in the form of an anonymous written discussion between I and brother Clifton Inman. The written debate was to deal with churches contributing from their treasuries to human benevolent organizations. Bro. Inman said he would have the debate, but since sending my months ago, I haven't heard one thing from brother Inman. Therefore, I have decided to run the article in Truth Magazine without any alterations. Maybe we can yet warm up his interest in such a discussion.)


Brethren are being divided over whether or not churches may contribute money from their treasuries to operate and maintain institutional orphanages and widowages. Somebody is wrong on this issue and stands in need of correction. As the Bible furnishes us unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), I believe the answer is within its pages. We are, therefore, engaging in this discussion to try to arrive at the truth. Fictitious names will be used so that personalities will be eliminated.

The Issue

The issue in this discussion is not whether orphans and widows are to be helped or relieved. I believe there are circumstances when the church is obligated to help widows and orphans. Again, the issue is not whether benevolent organizations operated by individual brethren have a right to exist. I believe they do as private enterprises. The issue in our discussion is: MAY CHURCHES SCRIPTURALLY CONTRIBUTE FUNDS TO HELP OPERATE HUMAN BENE\-OLENT ORGANIZATIONS? If such practice is scriptural, then there is Bible authority for it. Book, chapter and verse could easily be cited authorizing the practice, either by generic or specific authority.

Precepts and Examples

In my study of the Bible, I haven't been able to find any Scripture authorizing church contributions to institutional homes. I find in the Bible where the church is to relieve certain widows (I Tim. 5:16), and I read where the church, ITSELF, relieved widows (Acts 6:1-4), but I don't find a church or churches sending money to institutional orphanages or widowages.

We can also read of a church helping other churches relieve their poor (Acts 11:29-30), and churches sending relief to help a church (Rom. 15:26; I Cor. 16:1-4). But in all of this, there were no human benevolent societies or organizations that acted as agencies for the churches. The Bible is as silent as a tomb about such. There is neither command, example, or inference that would allow church contributions to human organizations.

Church Is Benevolent Society

The church is God's benevolent society, just as it is God's missionary and edification society. God specified the local congregation as the organization through which the church is to do her benevolent work (1 Tim. 5:16). Hence, churches ought to be doing the same work that some are paying the Homes to do.

Churches should be doing the work of benevolence in their community instead of having to send money, in many cases, hundreds of miles to a human institution. If all churches would take care of their responsibilities in their area, there would be thousands of divine benevolent societies relieving the indigent. Churches need to get busy and quit turning their work over to human boards and conclaves.

But some say that the church can't do anything but provide the money. Friends, the Jerusalem church did more than provide the money. Read Acts 6:1-6. The church may do whatever is necessary to relieve those that become her responsibility. This may require a house, food, clothing or even attendants. The elders have the oversight of the care, as they do in any function of the church, and they are to see that everything is provided.

No New Doctrine

Opposition to church contributions to benevolent institutions isn't something that has arisen in the last few years. Bro. A. B. garret, founder of Abilene Christian College, wrote in the Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930, page 247, the following: "Individual Christians, any number, may Scripturally engage in any worthy work, such as running colleges, papers, and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should be called upon as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its Scriptural prerogatives. "

Bro. F. B. Srygley wrote in the Gospel Advocate, July 9, 1931, page 828, "Paul directed the church to care for the widows that were widows indeed, and there was nothing said about any institution except the church through which it was to be done."

Though these preceding statements from brethren Barret and Srygley don't constitute the standard of authority, they do show that they thought that there was no Bible authority for churches turning their work over to human institutions, even 30 years ago.

Keep in mind that during this discussion, IT IS THE BURDEN OF MY OPPONENT TO GIVE BIBLE AUTHORITY FOR CHURCHES CONTRI BUTING FUNDS TO HELP OPERATE BENEVOLENT ORGANIZATIONS. This is his contention and a proponent of any position or practice is obligated to prove it. Let's see if he can produce the verse of Scripture. If he can offer no authority, then my position stands!

Truth Magazine IX, 4: pp. 21-22
January 1964