Concerning Brother Hawley's Reply

Foy W. Vinson
Elgin, Illinois

After reading Brother Hawley's response to my review of his original article which he mailed to me along with a letter which reflected a highly commendable spirit on his part, I feel that some additional observations are in order. I suppose that it is generally assumed that once two conflicting positions are taken by different individuals, be they brethren or otherwise, that irrespective of the arguments set forth or answers given that each will maintain his original position and positively contend that he is in the right and possesses the truth. If I know my heart, I have no such mind.

However, I did believe and yet believe that the arguments which were set forth in my former article are scriptural and that they do establish that general benevolence is essentially a moral or humanitarian duty which falls upon all men alike and hence is not peculiarly or essentially a Christian responsibility. I was very much interested in what Brother Hawley would do with these arguments and of what his answers would consist. However, though I appreciate the spirit, I am sadly disappointed in the content of his reply; for not only did he fail to answer the arguments but he did not even attempt to do so, passing them off as the involved reasoning of Brother Vinson."

In pursuing his reply I find that though he did not specifically deal with my arguments he responded with two counter arguments in an effort to offset my conclusion. I am going to endeavor to be more forthright with his reply than he was with mine. I shall reply to each argument specifically and then the reader can judge as to where the truth is.

His First Argument

The first argument he makes in an effort to uphold his contention that general benevolence is essentially a Christian duty, which would justify the church also engaging in such, according to his original premise, is found in the fourth and fifth paragraphs of his article. He is discussing parental responsibility and says: "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." (emp. mine) Then in the following paragraph he, observes that "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." Now, what is the point? It appears that Brother Hawley is contending that any duty that falls upon all Christians also falls upon the church! I wonder if he is willing to accept the consequences of this position? And besides, this is a far cry from his original affirmation that "any responsibility delegated to the individual Christian because he is a Christian may also be carried out collectively by the local church." (emp. his). Now he is saying that the church can do anthing all Christians can do, but before he limited it to what Christians can do BECAUSE THEY ARE CHRISTIANS. There's a great deal of difference! Now which will it be, Brother Hawley?

One duty which falls upon all Christians is that of being "given to hospitality" (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9). In Hebrews 13:2 we are told to "be not forgetful to entertain strangers." The word hospitality come from the greek term "philoxenia" which means "love of strangers." Hospitality is not the relieving of the destitute but rather the extending of courtesy or kindness or the receiving and entertaining of guests in a generous fashion. Now is there authority in these passages which are directed to all Christians for the church to build an inn or hotel and extend hospitality to any and all who might be passing that way? If an individual Christian were to do this he would be carrying out his responsibility in this respect. Now what about the church, Brother Hawley?

Another obligation which fell upon all Christians, not just a specific group, was that of foot washing. In John 13:4-17 Jesus instructs his disciples both by example and precept to "wash one another's feet." One of the qualifications of a "widow indeed" was that she must have "washed the saints' feet" (I Tim. 5:10). Whenever conditions prevail now as they did then, Christians still have this obligation. Yet through the years we have pointed out that this was an individual rather than a church ordinance. But now Brother Hawley argues that whatever all Christians may and should do individually may also be carried out collectively by the local church. If he is correct then one of the authorized activities of the church in its assembled capacity is foot washing! Again I ask, are you ready to accept the consequences of your position?

Brother Hawley continues as follows: "The question is whether this (general benevolence-FWV) 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 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."

Now in all of this Brother Hawley begs the question or point of issue. You will notice that he began by saying that the question or issue is whether general benevolence is essentially a Christian responsibility because his original point was that the church can only engage in that which is essentially Christian or that which one does BECAUSE he is a Christian. However he forgot the word "essentially" and concluded by saying that "the humanitarian nature of an act does not preclude its being a Christian responsibility." Brother Hawley, can a thing be essentially humanitarian and essentially Christian at the same time? This is the issue. You agree that general benevolence is humanitarian. Is it essentially or primarily so? If it is then it cannot be essentially or primarily Christian as well. The way you use the expression "Christian responsibility" in the above statement would allow anything incumbent upon a Christian irrespective of its nature to be used in place of "humanitarian." I could just as well say that "the parental nature of an act does not preclude its, being a Christian responsibility." So what have you proved?

His Second Argument

Brother Hawley's second argument centers around James 1:27 and especially around the term "religion" found in that passage. He is attempting to prove that " 'visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction' is essentially a Christian responsibility." He cites the verse in its entirety emphasizing the expression "pure religion." Then he comments: "If the word religion does not make this a Christian responsibility, I don't know what it would take." (emp. his) Now, Brother Hawley, if you mean by "Christian responsibility" that which is peculiarly and essentially Christian in its nature then it will take more than that!

A careful perusal of James 1:26 and 27 reveals that James is warning of inconsistency in our lives and that being right with God also involves our being right with our fellow man. That man who only obeys positive law and ignores moral law, who is concerned only with those acts of a religious nature as opposed to those of a moral character practices a vain religion. James specifically mentions the sin of improper speech, the sin of failing to help those in affliction and the sin of becoming spotted or stained with worldliness. You will notice each of these is of a moral nature. Hence the term "religion" is used in a general rather than a specific sense here and simply means that for one to be right in the sight of God he must dutifully respond not just to his spiritual obligations, but to all others which grow out of the various relationships which he sustains in this life.

If the term religion proves that general benevolence is essentially a Christian obligation, then according to the latter part of the verse I could prove with the same reasoning that to be honest, not to commit adultery, not to murder, etc. are essentially Christian duties rather than moral ones since such are most assuredly included in remaining "unspotted from the world."

Then too, according to Brother Hawley's reasoning on this verse, I could prove that parental duty or marital duty could also be church duty even as he tries to prove humanitarian duty to be church duty. Can one practice "pure religion" and at the same time beat his wife and let his children starve? Is not being a good husband and father included in "pure religion?" And if so, then as per Brother Hawley, this being a "religious duty" it is therefore a "Christian responsibility" and hence could be assumed by the church. Who can believe it?

It seems to me that Brother Hawley must do one of two things. He must either admit that general benevolence cannot be engaged in by the church since it is not something the individual Christian does BECAUSE he is a Christian (it being a duty that rested upon each before he became a Christian and which rests upon those who are presently not Christians due to its moral character) or he must relinquish his original premise which said that "any responsibility delegated to the individual Christian because he is a Christian may also be carried out collectively, i.e., by the local church." As I stated before, I believe he is correct in this premise and it is my hope that he and all others as well will only make the full and proper application of it which consistency demands.

Truth Magazine, V:4, pp. 13-15
January 1961