Benevolence, the Brethren, and the Bible (2)

Luther Blackmon
Pasadena, Texas


Another popular argument in favor of church supported benevolent institutions is the appeal to tradition. "We have always done it this way" they tell us, "and nobody but Sommerites called it in question until recently." The following quotations show how false this statement is. All these quotations, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Gospel Advocate, via the article by A. C. Grider, entitled, "I Was Taught." Note the dates:

In 1929, H. M. Phillips said, "I believe that the church is the only organization that should and can do it." Referring to benevolent work.

In 1929, James A. Allen said, "Every local congregation was all sufficient in every avenue of charity and benevolence."

In 1932, W. Claude Hall said, "There was not another organization formed to take care of this work." Speaking of benevolent work.

In 1934, W. E. Brightwell said, "Church debts, institutions and cooperative enterprises will as surely enslave and destroy us as it has enslaved and destroyed others."

In 1936, A. 0. Colley said, "An orphan home with its board distributed over a given territory . . . is an unscriptural organization. . ."

In 1933, George Pepperdine said, "If a separate organization to own and operate a children's home is not unscriptural, then I do not understand why it would be unscriptural for the same board of directors to operate a missionary society."

On March 13, 1930, A. B. Barrett, founder of Abilene Christian College, said, "So now we have delegates, brotherhood colleges, orphanages, brotherhood publishing houses and literature, all of which is just as foreign to the New Testament as were the corruptions of the congregationalism of the churches of the early centuries of Christianity. 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."

In 1949, Nov. 17, G. K. Wallace said, "There is a parallel between an orphan home that has a board of trustees, other than the elders of the church, to do the work of the church, and the United Christian Missionary Society."

I might add here that Brother Wallace now tries to defend these institutions. But if he has given any scripture for his change, I have missed it.

On June 15, 1933, C. R. Nichol, quoted by James Allen, said, "If it ( ) orphan home is an organization other than a local congregation, and congregations of the church of Christ are functioning through it, why may we not have them function through that, or some other organization as that, in mission work . . . ?"

On Dec. 3, 1931, F. B. Srygley said, "They had no organization larger than their local churches. There was no discussion among them about how to build and control institutions such as orphanages, or homes for the aged, or hospitals for the sick. There is no more authority in the New Testament for the control of such things than there is for the control of a farm or a health resort."

On July 9, 1931, F. B. Srygley said, "This is no new thing with people who have read the Gospel Advocate in the past. Missionary work and benevolent work was done in the early church without any organization except the local church. . . . In the days of the apostles there were needy people, widows and orphans, just as there are now, but there was no organization or institution by which the churches were tied together in supporting them. Paul directed the church to care for widows that were widows indeed, and there was nothing said about any institution except the church through which it was to be done. . ."

In the 1946 Annual Lesson Commentary of Gospel Advocate Co., p. 338, Guy N. Woods said, "For another such contribution for the poor in Jerusalem, see Acts 11:27-30. It should be noted that there was no elaborate organization for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the offerings. This is the New Testament method of functioning. We should be highly suspicious of any scheme that requires the setting up of an organization independent of the church in order to accomplish this work." . . . ibid, p. 340, "There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church. (Emphasis mine-L.B.)

Brother Woods is another that now tries to defend these organizations for which he once said there was no place in the New Testament, and yet he insists that he has not changed. Read what he said and then decide for yourself on that score.

Benevolence Limited

Actually, the church does not have as much responsibility in benevolence as we are inclined to lay upon it. Pick up your New Testament, begin with Acts 2, and read through it. See if you can find where a church engaged in benevolence except among saints.

1. Acts 2:44-45, "All that believed were together . . . sold their goods . . . parted them as every man had need."

2. Acts 4:32-34, "The multitude of them that believed ... bad all things common having lands and houses sold them . . . distribution made."

3. Acts 6, "When the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem . . ." This tells of the needy widows in the Jerusalem church and how the church took care of them.

4. Acts, 11:27-30, then the disciples determined to send relief, unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea."

5. 1 Cor. 16:1, "Now concerning the collection for the saints . . .

6. 2 Cor. 8:1-4, ". . . ministering to the saints. . ."

7. 2 Cor. 9:1, "For as touching the ministering to the saints . . ."

8. Rom. 15:25-26, "Now I go unto Jerusalem to, minister unto the saints, for it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem."

9. 1 Tim. 5:16, "If any man or woman that believeth hath widows, let them relieve them and let not the church be charged, that it may relieve them that are widows indeed."

The apostle here forbids the church to enroll needy Christian widows who have children or grand-children to care for them. And who has the right to open the treasury of the church to, the world of unbelievers?

Some think that Gal. 6:10 and James 1:27 are exceptions. But these passages deal with individual action. Read them. In the first eight verses of Gal. 6, you will find the words "man," "him," and "such an one" ten times. This "man," this "him," this "one" is the one who is to "do good unto all men." If this is church action, there is no meaning in words. James 1:27 makes as much room for church support of widows as for orphans, and we have shown from I Tim. 5 that church support of widows is limited to saints (verses 4 & 5) who have no one to care for them. The church has no obligation to orphans simply because they are orphans any more that it has an obligation to widows just because they are widows. If so, why? The church in the New Testament helped needy saints. This would include the dependents of the the needy saints, and this would sometimes include orphans and widows. But where is the scripture that authorizes the church to engage in a work of general benevolence ?

It is no accident that the early church confined its benevolence to the saints. Benevolence is not the mission of the church except in a secondary sense. The mission of the church is to save souls. Christ, the head of the church, said that his mission was to "seek and to save the lost" (Matt. 18:11, Lk. 19:12). The mission of the church would hardly be different from the mission of its head. It is true that he fed the hungry, but that is not why he came; and that is not why the church exists. The church is a spiritual body; it has a spiritual mission; it was purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). All the benevo~lent institutions could have been built and man's physical needs met without the shedding of blood, but, not a single soul could have been saved without it. So it seems quite obvious that the church was brought forth for something more important that providing for the needs of the body.

Some benevolent work necessarily and rightfully falls upon the church. Emergencies arise as in the Jerusalem church in Acts 2, 4, and 6. This is, benevolent work that ought to be done by the church. But this is no more the mission of the church than having a doctor with a sick child is the purpose of marriage.

The church is the manifestation of God's wisdom; the crowning perfection of God's eternal plan of the ages for the saving of men's souls. In the spiritual realm the church has no complement; there is no substitute; it stands alone in majestic glory. But apart from the work of preaching the gospel and worshiping God, there is nothing the church can do that some other institution cannot do just as well of better. If so, what is it? The man who church down from its lofty mission and make it into a glorified Red Cross has no conception of its proper function.

The church as God made it is sufficient to do the work that God gave it, or the church is not all-sufficient and God failed in his greatest work.

The Leak In The Dike

Someone once said, "There is no such thing as a little garlic." Surely there is no such thing as a little digression from the truth. Once the authority of the Bible is set aside to allow some unauthorized practice, no matter how commendable the practice or noble the purpose, there is no stopping place except, where human wisdom sees fit to stop. And the past performances of human wisdom in religion don't offer much room for optimism.

From the first, informed brethren said that church supported orphan homes could not be defended by the scriptures. This is seen in the quotations made earlier. But these homes looked harmless as far as a threat to control the church was concerned. And no one would deny that they were doing some good. So there was no sustained and unified opposition to them until some ten or twelve years ago. About that time there was a push to get the colleges in the church budgets. A fight ensued through some of the leading papers in which the advocates for church support of colleges were badly outnumbered and beaten. Then we begin to hear, "If the churches can support the orphan homes the churches can support the colleges." I think this is true. A. C. Pullias, President of David Lipscomb College, represents a large group within the church today when he says that the church supported college and church supported orphan home stand or fall together.

The orphan home is the key that unlocked treasuries of the churches of Christ to institutions, and now that the unauthorized benevolent institutions have been accepted and are defended as a part of our traditional practice, the wedge has been driven and the leak in the dike has become a flood. Now we are hearing such expressions as "Where there is no pattern," and "We do a lot of things for which we don't have scriptural authority," and "Where does the Bible say we can't do it this way?" Some are plugging for church supported hospitals. During the lectureship at David Lipscomb College, brother Marshall Keeble prophecied that within a few years we would have "Church of Christ" hospitals. He allowed that he would rather be"shot" by a Christian nurse and "cut on" by a Christian doctor than by some sectarian. This was his scriptural authority for church supported hospitals, but this is as good as anyone can offer for church supported benevolent institutions. The same Bible that says "Visit the fatherless and widows," says "Visit the sick." If "visit the fatherless" authorizes the church to build one kind of an institution, I am sure that "visit the sick" authorizes the church to build another kind, a hospital. Standing of the platform with brother Keeble, when he "uttered" this prophecy, were several prominent white preachers. They smiled their silent approval. At least they offered no protest. I am sure they could not consistently do so.

And now that we have accepted the principle that we don't have to have scripture for everything we do; now that we know that the masses of the brethren are so carried away with our greatness that they will pay no heed to these objectors, why should ambitious brethren stop with orphan homes. Why should not we have "our hospitals?"

The Christian Colleges teach the Bible. This is a "good work." Why should not the colleges be supported by the church, football teams and all. Try to stop them and see what happens to your "standing." It may be interesting to see what some preachers will be saying, or not saying, five years from now; preachers who have stigmatized as "antis" those who opposed these other human institutions doing the work of the church, while insisting that they themselves opposed the "college in the budget." "Anti-education" is not going to sound any better than "anti-orphan" or "anti-cooperation." And the college in the budget is not all. All over the country churches are building "fellowship halls" (dining rooms), sponsoring youth camps, baseball teams, boy scouts, etc. etc.

Where will it stop? It won't. As we have said before, when once the door is open to allow an unscriptural practice, however noble its aim, there is no place to stop. It is not any more a question of stopping the flood; all who are not blinded by the glitter of "big things" can see this. It is, now a question only of how many can be saved from the flood.

Truth Magazine, V:4, pp. 5-8
January 1961