Benevolence (No. 1)
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Bro. Sewell is an elder the Spring and Blaine congregation in St. Louis, Mo. His thinking is clear, his presentation is instructive. We exhort you to read this first of two timely articles.)
The work of the church is readily divided into three groups, viz..: (1) preaching and teaching the gospel, (2))
edifying the members, and (3) benevolent works. There has ever been in the, church a lack, on the part of some, of proper understanding of the scriptural methods of performing these works. Under the first 'there arose missionary societies and at the present there are super sponsorships of congregations over areas of work. Under the second, factions have arisen opposing a preacher laboring regularly with a local congregation, contending for mutual edification and permitting women to speak and to word the prayer in the church assembly. Under the third there have arisen aid societies and benevolent institutions doing the work of the church, and ideas have been advanced that the church is obligated to care for all the homeless and poor in the world and to participate in all good works.
Due to the sentimental element in it there is perhaps less clear thinking on benevolent work than on the other two phases of the Lord's work. Exactly what is meant by works of benevolence? A definition of terms is always essential to fair discussion of a subject. The word (benevolence) is not found in the American Standard Version. It is found once in the King James, I Cor. 7:3, where it deals with a husband'~; proper and considerate treatment of his wife. Thayer's definition of the word is "good-will, kindness." Webster defines the word as follows: "Having disposition to do good, possessing or manifesting good will toward mankind and a desire to promote men's prosperity and happiness, disposed to give to good objects; kind, charitable." Benevolent work, then can be said to include all acts of kindness, assistance and charity.
As in other phases of the work of the church, there are two extreme positions. Most people are somewhere between. The cold, indifferent. formalism or legalism of some who are content with casting into the church treasury or sending to a charitable organization A their superfluity, and feel that they have done their duty, but their hearts are touched but little. These form one extreme. There are those on the other hand, however, who are sentimental to the extreme, going into the highways and byways searching for all sorts of afflicted, and urging their care upon the church, many times not very much concerned as to how the caring is done, whether scriptural or not, just as long as the work is done.
The zeal of the latter is more commendable than that of the first, but their attitude toward methods is to be deplored. We walk by faith, we speak as it were oracles of God, we worship in spirit and in truth. There must be sentiment in our work for the Lord, for without it the service becomes legalism. But too much sentiment not governed and controlled by reason is fanaticism. Service to God has always been of a reasonable nature. "Come let us reason together," spoke God to ancient Israel by Isaiah (1:15). Paul reasoned with Jews and Greeks when he preached the gospel to them.
Before making a study of the benevolent work which the church as a congregation is necessarily obligated to do it is well to show that the obligations of a congregation and those of individuals are not the same. The church as a congregation moves or operates in things spiritual only. It is the spiritual body of Christ, (Eph. 1:22, 23), its nature is spiritual, not after the kingdoms of the world (Jn. 18:36), its worship spiritual, (Jn. 4:24), it is composed of people born of the spirit (Jn. 3:5), the citizenship of its members is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and its work, therefore must be in the spiritual realm. There is not authority in the scriptures for any other institution to do this spiritual work in the place of the church. By the law of exclusion it is wrong for any other institution to attempt to do so.
Individual Christians, however, move in three realms: besides the congregation, they function in the social realm of which the home is the center and, thirdly, in the realm of civil government or civic affairs.
Some may be confused over the terms, "Spiritual institutions" and "divine institutions." It is often said that the church and the home are the only two divine institutions. It seems to me, however, that with propriety, civic government may be called a divine institution as in Rom. 13:1, Paul says it is ordained of God. That, however is not synonymous with a spiritual one. The home and the civil government are not spiritual institutions (1) because the members may not be Christians, and (2) these institutions exist only in this world. A Christian is, of course, a Christian in the home and in the state, and must always conduct himself in obedience to the general rules given in the New Testament, but he exercises relationships in those spheres that he does not in the congregation. For example, a man may be an overseer in the church, but in the home he has obligations and duties to his wife and children as a husband and father, and to friends, that are not altogether spiritual. Included in this sphere are entertainment, recreation, etc. In respect to government he has obligations as a citizen not at all spiritual, and may not be an overseer of anything.
This position is not a new one, as it was held in the last century by those staunch faithful men trying to hold back the tide of digression sweeping over the church. Of two of these men, Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb, who probably wielded more influence than any others, particularly brother Lipscomb, brother Earl West writes in Vol. 11, page 388 of The Search For The Ancient Order as follows:
"David Lipscomb's views on teaching the Bible in schools followed that of Tolbert Fanning before him. No human institution had any right, as he viewed it, to exist to do the work God gave the church. This principle was clear in Fanning's mind. The simple fact was that a school, as he ran it, and he believed they ought to be run, did not exist to do the Work of the church. The school, to him, was a 'worldly' institution, not a religious. The Bible did not regulate those things of the worldly side of a man. The Bible did not tell a man what kind of house to build, what kind of horse to ride, how to plow his ground, how to earn his livelihood. They belonged to what Fanning would call the 'worldly' side of man. The principles of Christ may in a general way, guide and control this side, but no more."
These men took this position when asked for reasons why they condemned missionary societies but ran schools in which the Bible was one of the. subjects taught. The point I wish to make from this quotation is that they divided man's actions into "religious" and (i worldly." Under what they called worldly, I have divided into the home and government.
As members of the body of Christ we profess to look to the New Testament as authority for ALL that we believe and practice in the realm of religion. We contend that for things to be right. there must be a command, a divinel,T approved example, or a necessary implication. We insist that feeling is not evidence of pardon to the alien sinner. When it comes to benevolent work, however, due to the emotional element therein, there is a tendency to let our feelings and our sympathy govern rather than inspired instructions. In keeping with a proper respect for the authority of Christ, the scriptures will be examined to learn whom the church as a local congregation is obligated to assist and support.
Necessary obligations are those that must be met in order to meet with God's approval. The needy are readily divided into three classes: widows, fatherless and poor in general. (James 1:27; Gal. 2:10).
In Acts 4:32-35, the first case, those helped were "believers." In Acts 6, the widows ministered unto were "disciples" (verse 1). In Acts 11:29, 30, the money sent to the elders was for the relief of "brethren" in Judea. In Acts 22 Paul said, "I came to bring alms to my nation." This is after his third extended preaching tour concerning which alms he writes in Rom. 15:26, "for the poor among the saints," and in verse 31, "which I have for Jerusalem. may be acceptable unto the saints." This was the same collection spoken of in 2 Cor. 8:4. In Gal. 2:10 Paul was asked to remember the "poor." This was following his first extended preaching tour, so the poor to be remembered were the saints, as shown in 1 Cor. 16:1.
In I Tim. 5, widows whom the church was to support were not only Christians, but had to be without relatives to support them, and also must possess certain special qualifications, that the church be not burdened. (verse 16). The above scriptures clearly teach that a local church is not obligated to be burdened with the care of widows, fatherless and poor, other than the saints and their families. I know of no scriptures that teach differently.
These scriptures and others teach that the local church is necessarily obligated to care for its own poor and to assist other churches in emergencies. Paul makes this clear in 2 Cor. 8:13-15 where he writes the Corinthians that. they are obligated to help the needy saints in Jerusalem on the principle of equality, pointing out that the time might come when they would be in want. Then the Jerusalem church would be obligated to supply their need.
There were, without doubt, many other widows, fatherless and poor in Corinth and Jerusalem in tho-,e days, but there was no instruction to the church to be burdened with their care, so the obvious conclusion is that the congregation as such is not necessarily obligated to do so. In fact, from the strictures placed on the rare of Christian widows, it would be wrong to burden the church with caring for the alien poor.
God requires nothing of the church that it cannot do. It is to preach the gospel to every nation - this was done within about 31 years after the first Pentecost following the crucifixion of Christ. It is to edify its members, which every church can do. It is to take care of its own poor with the help of the other churches, which it did in Apostolic days. To take care of all the poor it cannot do, therefore that is not a necessary obligation. The primary purpose of the church is to save souls, secondarily to care for the poor, which is a fruit of the gospel and not the end within itself. So the conclusion seems obvious to me that there is not authority f or the church to burden itself in caring for alien poor rather than in preaching the gospel to those who sit in darkness of sin and error. (Next month we will study the scriptural plan of the church in caring for those for whom it is responsible.)
Truth Magazine I:6, pp. 12-13, 20