Benevolence (No. 2)

F.E. Sewell
St. Louis, Mo.

In this article the scriptures will be examined for the method used by the churches under Apostolic direction to care for the poor and the principles that govern this work. It has already been shown by the law of exclusion that the church is the only institution established by God to do his work. The simple fact that there is no mention of any other in the New Testament should suffice for proof to all who appeal to it for authority.

In Acts 4 these in need were cared for by the church through the seven men appointed especially to handle the emergency. In A c t s all the money from Antioch was sent to the elders in Judea. The money from the churches in Achaia and Masedonia, about which we read is I Cor. 16 and 2 Cor. 8:9, was taken by Paul and his companions to Jerusalem and was given to the church. The destitute widows, spoken, of by Paul in I Tim. 5, were to be the care of the church. No institution larger than the local church, such as a benevolent society, board-controlled home, or similar ones have any more right to do the church's benevolent work than a society has the right to do the church's evangelistic work. It matters not whether they be Christians or aliens. Likewise, no organization small-, er than the local church, operating independently of the elders, such as Ladies Aid societies, Dorcas societies, etc.', have any authority for their existence for this work.


Sometimes the argument is made that the Bible commands the work to be done but does not tell the "how, " so there is liberty in methods-that is, the most expedient way may be used. This principle is correct, but the application is wrong. The Bible prescribes the organization through which the work is to be done -- the local church. Now there is liberty in the methods that the local church may use to do this work, as long as they are under the control of the local church and no other New Testamen,t principle is violated. The church may support the infirm or the needy in their homes, or the widow in her home with her children. It may support them in the home of another f amily. It may buy or rent a building and keep in it, a large number of fatherless, infirm or needy under the care of people selected by it, if conditions warrant. (These cases are members of the church and their families which the church is necessarily obligated to support as shown in a previous article).

Here is a thought provoking question: Why is so much more stress usually placed upon the fatherless than upon widows and other needy? There is no scripture that makes that phase of benevolent work more important, In, fact, more is said about care of widows by the church than orphans. Is the care of orphans more important than that of saintly widows or pious gospel preachers who have spent their life in the work of the Master?

If space permitted, we would like to show that many of the arguments for organizations o t h e r than the local church for doing its benevolent work were used by the proponents of missionary societies a few years ago, e.g. on the principle of expediency, of liberty, greater effectiveness, the job was being done, church at work, appeal to sentiment and emotions, etc. They no more justify benevolent organizations than they do missionary organizations. Things must be lawful before they can be expedient. Brethren, let us listen less to the appeal of man's wisdom and eloquence and go to the scriptures an,d search diligently therein for authority for all our beliefs and practices.

Individual Responsibility

It has been shown that the necessary obligation of the church as a congregation is limited to members of the church. Since it has been, shown that the individual Christian moves in three realms, namely the church, the home and the state, it is expected that the individual has wider latitude in benevolent work than the congregation. In addition, to contributions to the church, part of which goes for benevolent work, there is the obligation to support relatives: "But if any man provideth not for his own, and especially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Tim. 5:8). He is also enjoined to help his spiritual brother: "If a brother or a sister be naked and in lack of daily f ood and one of you say unto them, 'Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled' and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?" (Jas. 2:15,16). Likewise he is to help any in need when able as the occasion arises: "So then as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, an,d especially toward them that are of the household of faith." (Gal. 6:10) ; "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (Jas. 1:27). This is a personal admonition, as the latter part shows, and not one for the congregation.

But the argument is made that the congregation should do benevolent work rather than the in.dividual in order that the church may receive the "glory," (Eph. 3:30). A study of this scripture shows that benevolent work is not under consideration, but it is emphasizing rather the exalted position of the church, in that it was the eternal purpose of God to show forth his manifold wisdom through building it, and that in or through it and Christ, God is glorified. When a Christian conducts himself improperly, does it not bring reproach upon the Church? When he does good as a Christian, does it not bring glory to the church? Jesus said, "Even, so let your light shine, before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 5:16).

The case of the good Samaritan also teaches benevolent work. The easy and impersonal way is to give money to the church or to an organization and go on our way. The way that requires sacrifice is the way that requires our time and personal e f f o r t. This method brings us face to face with the hardships and sufferings of others. More of this we need, rather than the indifferent, remote, institutional kind. There are examples of this kind in the scriptures.

Work of the State

Benevolent work for the benefit of non-Christians then is not only enjoined upon, the home or individual, but evidently all will agree that it is also a function of the state, as it is not a necessary function of the church. Evangelism is different-it is purely spiritual and therefore must be done by the church or the individual Christian. No other organization or the state has authorAy in that realm and Christians cannot support them for that purpose. The state, therefore, can tax Christians for benevolent purposes and we give without protest, but if for religious purposes we would protest vigorously. This nation's founders recognized this principle and our constitution forbids it.

Does not the conclusion follow from the above that private organizations hicluding hospitals, cancer societies, Red Cross, homes for the poor and infirm and for the fatherless, may exist to do benevolent work, provided these organizations and institutions do not take over the support of Christians which is the obligation, of the church and then request support for the institutions by churches? This does not mean that the church cannot pay the hospital bill, hotel bill, or similar expenses as the principle is entirely different. In these cases the church is not supporting a private institution but is paying for services rendered as when paying electric or gas bills. As the in.stitutions are not doing the benevolent work of the church, therefore individual Christians may contribute to them. Brethren, these things are not quibbles, but involve principles. Let us search diligently the sacred pages.

Truth Magazine I:7, pp. 6-7, 19
April 1957