Relationships and Duties

Foy W. Vinson
Elgin, Illinois

There has been considerable discussion in recent years over the duty of the church in the realm of benevolence. Many have contended and yet contend that benevolence and evangelism are on an equal footing as far as church responsibility is concerned. They believe that just as it is the duty of the church to "preach the gospel to every creature," so it is the obligation of the church to "do good unto all men" or practice benevolence on a general or universal level. In fact a number of years ago one of the superintendents of a certain orphan home in a sermon on the work of the church spoke of the two-fold duty upon the church of teaching the gospel and engaging in benevolence and made the remark that he would not say which of the two was more important. Not long ago, in a Bible class which I was teaching, one brother declared that the primary work of the church was, as he put it, "charity work," and he went on to opine that he thought churches were spending too much money on evangelism and not enough on benevolence. This, of course, was an extreme statement and I am sure not representative of the thinking of most brethren, but such does serve to illustrate the confusion which is commonly found in regard to the matter of church responsibility in the area of benevolence.

In searching the New Testament "from cover to cover" we find that there are only nine references to church benevolence. It is granted that there are many other passages on this subject which are directed to the individual, but we are now speaking of that information and instruction concerning benevolence which involves church responsibility, collective action as the Lord's church rather than individual action. The references are Acts 2:44, 45; 4:34, 35; 6:1-5; 11:27-30; Romans 15:25,26; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8; 2 Cor. 9; 1 Tim. 5:16. An examination of each of these passages reveals that in every instance where instructions were given or practices were engaged in which involved church action in benevolence that such was always confined to needy saints.

In spite of the very obvious limitations imposed upon church action in benevolence by the above-mentioned passages, many it seems have extreme difficulty in reconciling their concept of church responsibilities with the above limitations. They wonder why the church should be thus limited. Of course, "it's not ours to reason why; it's only ours to do or die." Brethren should have enough respect for the authority of God's word and the silence of the scriptures to follow implicitly its teaching even if they never understand the "why!" However, in regard to the matter of church responsibility in benevolence, I believe that with some consideration we can understand the "why" as well as the "what" of the New Testament teaching. The answer to this problem is found in an understanding of relationships and duties. In this connection I submit to you the following reasoning in syllogistic form for your consideration:

Major Premise: All duty grows out of relationship.

Minor Premise: The church, a spiritual institution, sustains no relationship to the physical body of the alien or one outside of Christ.

Conclusion: Therefore, the church has no duty to the physical body of one outside of Christ.

I. The Major Premise

The major premise, stating that "all duty grows out of relationship," is self evident. I suppose it could be correctly called a "truism." However, as illustrative of this, let's notice a few examples: As a citizen of the United States I have certain obligations. These obligations grow out of the relation of a citizen to his govenment. For this reason I pay federal taxes and respect federal ordinances. I have no such obligations to any other national government for I sustain no relationship to any other. This same principle obtains on a state level. When I lived in Texas there were certain state laws peculiar to Texas which were incumbent upon me as a resident of that state. When I moved to Illinois I terminated my relationship with the state of Texas and thereby ceased to sustain any duty thereto. However, I entered into a new relationship and thereby assumed new duties. Now I have a personal property tax to pay and there is even talk of instituting a state income tax, but these matters only concern those who sustain a relationship to the state of Illinois, for "all duty grows out of relationship."

This fact also is illustrated by a consideration of family relationships. As a man I have no obligation to a wife. As a husband I do. As a father or parent I am obligated. Furthermore, as a man I have no obligation to parents. But as a son or child I have. Surely all can see that duty always grows out of relationship and that where there is no relationship there is no duty.

II. The Minor Premise

The minor premise simply denies that the spiritual body of Christ, the church, sustains any relationship to the physical body and/or the material needs of aliens or thost outside of the body of Christ. It is admitted that the church, being a spiritual institution with a spiritual mission, is in a sense related to the spirits or souls of aliens and hence has the obligation of endeavoring to save their souls through the preaching of the gospel. But there is no passage of scripture or any process of reasoning from which it could be properly inferred that the church sustains any relationship to the physical body of the alien.

Perhaps someone is ready to object as follows: "You are making a play on the expression `spiritual institution' and are concluding, that since the church is spiritual it cannot help the physical body of the alien. Your argument, however, proves too much, for you will admit that the church may meet the physical needs of saints and yet their bodies are no different than those of aliens." Let me point out that this objection is not valid because the bodies of saints most assuredly differ from those of aliens. The New Testament teaches that the body of the saint is to be presented to God as "a living sacrifice." (Rom. 12 :1) In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we read: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which art God's. According to this passage the body of the Christian is just as much a possession of God as is his spirit. Therefore there is a distinction between the body of the saint and the body of the alien. The church sustain a relationship to the saint's body. It is not related to the body of the alien.

III. Conclusion

The conclusion that the church has no duty to the physical body of one outside of Christ is inevitable if the major and minor premises stand. It is my belief that they do and this should suffice in showing why the church in the first century when engaged in acts of benevolence only ministered to needy saints. When we come to a realization of what the church truly is, what its relationships are, and hence what obligations are imposed upon it, then perhaps we will cease endeavoring to compete with denominationalism and with the great humanitarian projects which are launched and promoted by different groups. Once again we need to consider the plea: "Let the church be the church."

Truth Magazine, V:6, pp. 2-3
March 1961