To Promote the General Welfare

Bryan Vinson, Sr.
Tulsa, Okla.

The preamble of the Constitution of the United States reads: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, PROMOTE T H E GENERAL WELFARE, and secure Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." These words should be familiar to every school child in America. A proper and respectful understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution of our Nation would have protected our people against the dangerous and disastrous ideology of one-worldism that is inundating America today. Under a specious and presumptions interpretation of the "general welfare" clause of the above preamble, a paternalistic government has developed within the last twenty-f ive years. It is not the aim of this paper to discuss or endeavor to prove the foregoing, or even to delineate the development thus mentioned. It is assumed we are all familiar with it, some approving of this radical transition in the structure and functioning of our government while others gravely oppose and lament the change.

However much one may look with favor on the changes so radically wrought in our political economy and subsequent way of life, there is no gainsaying the fact that unwarranted liberties have been taken with the constitutional law of the land. To assume such powers by a liberal interpretation of the "general welfare" provision as necessitates and results in a change in the constitutional machinery of our governmental operation, is to act licentiously in respect thereto. Equally true do those in the church become guilty of a similar distortion and application of the "general welfare" passages of scripture in the New Testament, our Constitution from our Lord and King. However benign the spirit and laudable the objective may be of those who promote, advocate or support such measures and modes of operation, such doesn't constitute an acceptable substitute for a divine authorization for their actions. A horde of dreamy-eyed, self-anointed do-gooders have carried our nation down the road of socialism, but their idealism constitutes no safeguard against the ruinous consequences of such a course. If our constitutional form of government, fashioned by our fathers, perishes from the earth, human liberty, individually enjoyed, will be unknown by the next generation. Even so, if the present corruption of the Divine Order continues, the people of God will lose the liberty with which the Christ has endowed them. Human law, as the expression of the human will, supplant the sovereignty of Christ, and the traditions of men gain ascendancy over the traditions of the apostles.

Let us examine some of the more familiar statements of Holy Writ which are so frequently cited in support of the various efforts and developing course being charted for the church by brotherhood promoters. First let us look at Titus 3:1. "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men." What is embodied in the "good works" of this passage? It has been cited as affording authority for any organized effort which may be inaugurated for any conceivable objective that offers the possibility of doing or resulting in good of any kind. It is employed as a blank authorization for the church to engage in anything, and to be filled in with any particular scheme of operation conceived in the imagination of self-appointed promoters. The unquestioned good being accomplished by colleges under the control and direction of brethren, in educating our children, has been cited in relation to this passage with the assumption that such warrants the church supporting these schools. Is there anything in this passage suggesting church action or support in the obedience thus enjoined to be ready to every good work? Is the church as such under obligation to function in its collective and corporate character in response to these directions given in this verse? It says: "Put them in mind", thus teaching that the obedience to the powers that be, being ready to every good work, exercising gentleness, speaking evil of no man, etc., are instructions to be individually performed as distinguished from congregational action. MacKnight says: "to be ready to perform every good work enjoined by the laws of their country.' Christians are to be good citizens of the political community of which they are a part, and this entire statement is made out of regard for this principle of relationship thus sustained. We should respect the setting of a statement, rather than feeling free to invest it with an elasticity which enables us to construe it suitable to our own designs and purposes.

Another of the frequently employed general welfare" passages is Galatians 6:10. It tells us to "do good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith." To whom is this directed, to the church to perform or to individuals? Is it apostolic authority for the church to engage in a program of general benevolence? If so, is there any limitation placed on the church? The context clearly establishes the fact that the direction here expressed is to individuals, acting in their individual capacity. There is no restriction, therefore, placed on the individual Christian to whom he may show benevolence by extending assistance, though giving priority to the obligation he owes his fellow saints who are in need. But the objection might be raised that this language in Galatians also sets forth the obligation to support those who preach, and if it is restricted to individual action in the tenth verse, it also is in the sixth. The seventh verse says that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap", thus showing that the entire statement is directed to individual behavior. No church or collective group shall be judged the last day, but we shall be individually judged. Then, it follows that the sixth verse, as well as the tenth verse, is related to the individual. Does it, therefore, follow that the gospel preacher can only be supported by individuals and not by the church? If this was the only verse teaching on the subject such would follow, but the other passages which teach that the church did, and should, support the gospel preclude such a restricted conclusion. Equally true, if there are commands or examples of New Testament congregations engaging in general benevolence, then the exclusiveness of this passage would lose its force, and would only afford authorization for individual action as well as, and in conjunction with, congregational action. We have authority for both congregational and individual support of the gospel and the relief of the needy saints; we have only individual authorization, either by precept or example, for general benevolence. At least I so believe, and my faith is subject to alteration if and when evidence comes to my attention to support a contrary persuasion.

We have Jesus as our perfect exemplar, and he went about doing good. Too, the lesson taught in the case of the good Samaritan is one involving individual benevolence. The idea of shifting every responsibility of the individual to the group, and the group, or local congregation, to the church general finds its counterpart, not in the New Testament record of the early church, but in the socialistic developments of our time as expressed by governmental, procedure in centralizing power and operation. Centralization of authority and operation, in politics or religion, must inevitably result in the destruction of freedom. Christianity dignifies and exalts the worth of the individual; socialism exalts the state and depreciates the worth of the individual. Hence, to whatever extent the ideology of socialism permeates the church, the truth and ideals of Christianity will be debauched. The basic need of the hour is to learn and respect what the New Testament teaches regarding the church, its character, mission, work and destiny.

Frequently do we encounter the sage suggestion: "Let the church be the church." This implies that the church is definitely delineated in the scriptures, and that we should be content to let it remain within and function in harmony with that delineation. The church as Christ established it and the apostles guided it, is competent to accomplish what the Savior designed it to do. It is not constituted either with authority or ability to function otherwise, and can only do so when, and if, we transcend the authority governing its activities and alter its constitutional framework by directing its energies and employing its resources unscripturally.

This is the course that has created apostasy, after apostasy, in its long and eventful history. We can either respect and profit from the lessons of history, or we can, with a blind and rash zeal, disregard both history and scripture, and follow the downward path that will ultimate in our ruin. We can infatuate ourselves with the Romish brand of Communism and endeavor to make the church the custodian of human society from the cradle to the grave, to care for the bodies, develop the social consciousness, safeguard the souls, and secure the economic well-being of society. Or, we can render unto Caeser the things that are his, and unto God the things that are His; in other words, we can distinguish and differentiate between what we are to do in the different relationships of life, ascribing supreme importance to those things God would have us do as the church collectively and as individual disciples of Christ, while retaining a just regard for the duties of a family relationship and as citizens of the community. The theory that the church can rightly invade the spheres of other fields of human relations and responsibility is without apostolic precedent.

Too, as a utilitarian theory is that to the effect that one congregation can assume the undertaking of a work for the church universal. This has become a necessary development of the idea of the church being a general welfare agency. In order to activate the church to such a grand scale of operation, it is necessary to either create an organization to which the churches can delegate their responsibilities in this field, or allow some local congregation to undertake the accomplishing of this responsibility of the churches generally. Hence, the utility of, and necessity for, the "Total Situation" and "Component Parts" doctrine of recent discovery among us. This theory was obviously the child of necessity to meet a felt need in defence of that already being alone, rather than a doctrine discovered within God's Word and then becoming the incentive and authority for that which grows out of it. The primary fallacy of this "constituent element" doctrine is that it is basically unethical for anyone, individual or congregation, to voluntarily and knowingly assume an obligation beyond the powers of the obligor to meet. Such a practice by individuals generally leads to a reputation not to be envied, and in the case of a congregation, to put it mildly, is to act rashly and presumptiously. The children of God, as individuals and congregations, are under the standing obligation to do what they have the ability to do, beyond this there is no responsibility, and this cannot be either transferred to others or assumed by them. I have as much moral and scriptural right to assume to do the benevolent work of all the children of God, in their individual capacity, as one congregation has to assume to do the benevolent or evangelistic work of all or any part of the congregations of the Lord's people. If not, why not? We have had our "one man Missionary Societies" in the past, and now we have our "one congregation missionary societies", and "benevolent societies" today. The assumption by a congregation to oversee and accomplish the work of the churches generally in the field of benevolence has been prompted by an inflated and distorted conception of the responsibility of the church of Christ with respect to material benevolence. This developing assumption among us has created the precedent for similar action in the proper field of obligation to preach the gospel to the lost. And so we go merrily, mistakenly and zealously along in a course that carries us farther away from the simplicity which is in Christ. Individually, we need to take heed unto ourselves ,and the doctrine; also, the elders need to take heed to themselves and the flock over the which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. When this is done as thus enlightened and directed by the Word of God, the cause of Christ will prosper, confusion and discord will disappear, and good-will among brethren will be restored.

However, as of the present, we are witnessing a widespread mania for every conceivable sort of venture and undertaking with but little regard being manifested for what the scriptures may teach respecting such. The course has been charted, and the promoters are so charmed and infatuated with the importance of their projects that they are deaf to all entreaties and warnings. They seek by insinuation and innuendo to silence their critics, and by an iron curtain to protect their followers from hearing any objections to their plans and programs. Verily, they find their counterpart in an entrenched bureaucracy in Washington. We are made to wonder, sometimes, in both cases, if the "do-good" mania is not one more devoted to their own well-being, temporally, than to the good of those they are affecting to help This we hope is not true, and our prayer is that their good sense and basic reverence for the truth may yet lead to an awakening on their part of the true character of the course they are pursuing.

Truth Magazine I:10, pp. 6-9
July 1957