Benevolence, the Brethren, and the Bible (1)

Luther Blackmon
Pasadena, Texas

Doctrinal error is always a matter of authority; that is, (1) what constitutes authority, and (2) our attitude towards it. The basic error of the Catholic Church is in the first: failure to recognize the Bible as complete and final authority. The errors of Protestant denominationalism would fall more properly into the second: they claim the Bible as their authority, but insist on their right to take liberties with its teaching. An Episcopal preacher admitted to me that New Testament baptism is immersion, but he claims the right to substitute sprinkling. With this attitude, human opinion is held to be as sacred as truth. Yet some of us who denounce the liberal attitude of such preachers, try to defend things that have no more Bible authority behind them than sprinkling. The Episcopalian admits that New Testament baptism is immersion, but he says the fellow who insists that there is only one method (mode) is narrow. My brethren say they know that the church is all sufficient to do the work God gave the church to do, but the fellow who thinks that there is only one method (institution) to do the benevolent work of the church is "anti!"

When some of us object to these human institutions we are told what a terrible thing it is to divide the church. The Christian Church has always said that those who opposed mechanical music and societies divided the church, but I never believed that. Did you? Ask a modern defender of these institutions if he would have opposed the music and societies to the division of the church, if he had lived back there. He will say, "That was different." But how was it different? The only thing in the world that made it wrong to play an organ in the worship is the fact that the Lord said sing, and never said play. But that's enough. The only thing that made the missionary society wrong was the fact that God said for the church to preach the gospel, and never said anything about any other institution doing it. But that's enough.

God also said for the church to do it; benevolent work and never said anything about any other institution doing it. As far as I am concerned, that is enough reason for me to oppose human institutions. Let someone find scripture for these things and I will admit that "this is different!" But, until be finds it a fellow stands on mighty poor ground to lecture anybody for opposing such to the division of the church, unless he is ready to apologize to the Christian Church for the conduct of men like David Lipscomb, who fought the societies and the instrument until the church divided.

All the Christian Church needs to be able to rightfully blame us for the division a century ago is scriptural proof for their societies and the music. And that's all the brethren need now.

"Tell Us How You Would Do It"

If I believed in letting orphans starve and freeze, it would prove that I am a bad apple, but it would not prove that it is scriptural for the church to set up human organizations and do their work through them. But I don't believe in letting orphans starve. And I can point out several ways that the church may take care of all the orphans it is obligated to care for, without violating any scriptural teaching. One is by buying service from a childcare institution as you would buy service from a hospital, a plumbing company, or any other private concern. Then some churches are caring for the "fatherless" by send a monthly check to the mother to supplement her income and enable her to care for children in the home they already have. There's nothing wrong with this. There is plenty of scripture for churches helping needy saints, and a Christian woman with some fatherless children which she is not able to care for is a needy saint. And if the children have neither father nor mother, there are fathers and mothers standing in line waiting to get their hands on such children and give them a good home.

Orphan children are just like our children, in that they need a family, a mother and dad who will give them personal care and love. They deserve better treatment than to be institutionalized. Some handicapped children need institutional care, but those who have made a study of child psychology tell us that nothing is more important to a normal child than to grow up in a family atmosphere. Many states and denominations are trying to get out of the orphan home business, but the brethren are building more and more. Why?

Orphan Homes

Orphan homes have become the storm center of the present dispute. This is unfortunate, because orphan homes are not the real trouble. If every orphan home in the country went out of business, the attitude that prevails among us, that if a thing is good we don't have to have scripture for it, would continue to spawn other unscriptural projects. And don't tell me that kind of attitude doesn't prevail. If not, explain why we are doing so many things for which no one can find any scripture.

In the second place, the emotional use that is made of the orphan homes is keeping a lot of people from seeing the real issue. When you convince people that homeless children are roaming the streets cold and hungry and that the "antis" don't care, any scriptural argument will fall on deaf ears. The fact that there is not a word of truth in such claims doesn't help much, because where people believe it, the effect is the same, true or false. It would likely sound cruel to a Methodist to tell him that his beloved mother was not saved because she was not immersed, but that is what the Bible teaches, and I must preach it at the risk of being thought cruel and narrow.

Arguments of Desperation

Defenders of benevolent institutions to do the work of the church have felt the weight of the argument made by comparing the benevolent society with the missionary society, and have tried hard to divert the attention of the people from the comparison. A good example of this is the chatter about the church not being its own benevolent society. Nonsense! If the church is all-sufficient with the organization God gave it, then it is able to do, its benevolent work with the organization God gave it. And if it is not able to do its benevolent work with the organization that God gave it then the church is not all-sufficient. It is as simple as that. It smacks of hypocrisy to keep saying, "I believe in the all-sufficiency of the church" while contending that the church must set up another organization to do its work. That's about like saying, "One mule is sufficient to pull the load, but one mule cannot pull the load without the help of another mule."

Another effective cover-up for lack of scriptural proof is the "method" argument. We are blandly told that such institutions as Boles Home Corporation are methods of caring for orphans; that God said for the church to do it, but didn't say how, and Boles Home is a "how."

It has been pointed out again and again that these are not methods,, but organizations that use methods. But, the quickest way to show a fellow the fallacy of this "method" argument is to ask him this question: "Suppose the Boles Home Corporation began receiving funds from churches and sending out preachers; would that corporation then be only a method of preaching the gospel?" Cecil Willis wrote three letters to brother J. D. Thomas,, author of We Be Brethren, trying to get him to answer this question. Brother Thomas said the question was loaded. It certainly is. You see this arrangement looks too much like a missionary society, and that is a bad word among the brethren. But if such an institution can receive money from churches and do part of their benevolent work, why cannot the same thing receive money from the same churches and do some of their evangelistic work? Why?

You know, brethren, what we need as much as anything else in this discussion is some good old down-to-earth, country honesty. Away with this double-talk that sounds like a politician speaking on segregation.

Truth Magazine, V:2, pp. 12-13
December 1960