The Church and The Individual - A Reply

Monroe E. Hawley
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

In the October issue of Truth there was reprinted, together with a review by Brother Foy Vinson, my article, "The Church and the Individual", which originally appeared in the Firm Foundation. I wish to thank the editors of Truth for this opportunity to make some additional observations regarding the article and Brother Vinson's comments.

First, my primary purpose in writing the article was to get brethren to thinking in the hope that they would restudy the question. I feel that often brethren have tended to follow a line of reasoning because it was espoused by some paper rather than to examine the reasoning on the basis of Go,d's word. If we would all do our own thinking and studying instead of letting others do it for us we would not find brethren lining up in camps and factions.

My article sought to, establish the following: (1) The local church is a group of individual Christians working and worshiping collectively for the advancement of Christ's cause. (2) This being true, any responsibility delegated to the individual Christian because he is a Christian may also be carried out collectively by the local church.

Brother Vinson concurred with the above premises and with a portion of the application. He disagreed with my reasoning respecting James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10 regarding benevolence and the right of the church to assist non-Christians in a material way. I expressed the thought that the injunction "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27) is a Christian responsibility and that on the basis of the above propositions this command may be carried out collectively by the local church as well as by the individual. Brother Vinson has sought to prove that this is essentially a humanitarian responsibility which exists without respect to one's being a Christian and that therefore "general benevolence is not essentially a religious Christian responsibility."

Now, there are commandments to Christians which fall in other categories than Christian responsibility. In my article I illustrated it in the parental relationship. We read, "And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:5). Fathers have a duty to their children even though they are not Christians. As I suggested in the previous article, being Christians will make them better fathers. However, this duty is one which cannot apply to the church as a whole because not all Christians are fathers, or, for that matter, even parents. It is obviously a command directed to a specific group of Christians, not to all disciples.

However, the teaching of James 1:27 "to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction" is not limited to a specific group. We must assume that it applies to all Christians. The question is whether this is essentially a Christian responsibility. Brother Vinson feels it is first of all humanitarian. He has sought to establish this by the cases of the moralist, the good Samaritan, and Job. I will agree that "visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction" is humanitarian. Any act of helping those in need is humanitarian. The assistance one renders to a fellow Christian by way of feeding or clothing him when he is in need is humanitarian. But this does not mean that it is not a Christian responsibility. I think Brother Vinson will agree that it is humanitarian to help such a Christian, but that it is also a Christian duty and that it may also, be performed by the church as well. My point is that the humanitarian nature of an act does not preclude its being a Christian responsibility.

Bro. Vinson disagrees with my view that the commands of James 1 :27 and Galatians 6:10 may be carried out either individually or collectively, i.e. by the local church. He states, "Brother Hawley assumes that these commands instructing us to engage in general benevolence are given to us 'because we are Christians' and hence are peculiarly a Christian duty." From this statement I conclude that he agrees that James 1 :27 pertains to "general benevolence" rather than benevolence directed exclusively to Christians. It simply remains for us to determine whether 11 visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction" is essentially a Christian responsibility.

We do not need to restore to the involved reasoning of Brother Vinson to answer our question. James 1:27 answers the question for us. "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." If the word religion does not make this a Christian responsibility, I don't know what it would take. And if there is any doubt note that James is talking about "pure religion, undefiled before God." It thus has to do with man's relationship to God, and is a spiritual or Christian responsibility. That Brother Vinson recognizes that that which is Christian is religious may be seen in his statement that "general benevolence is not essentially a religious (emp. mine) Christian responsibility."

Since the context of this passage establishes that the care of the fatherless and widows is a Christian responsibility, and since we agree that Christian responsibilities may be borne either individually or collectively, I do not see how we can deny that this passage provides authorization for the local church to "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction."

Truth Magazine, V:4, pp. 12-13
January 1961