By Eugene Crawley
In view of the existing differences among churches of Christ today in regard to the care of the unfortunate (fatherless, widows and needy), often it is necessary to point out the real issue. Too many brethren are uniformed or ill-informed through prejudiced and unscriptural charges; therefore, they have no real idea of what is actually involved. Some of these are purposely kept in the dark, being shielded from hearing one who differs with their informants. Because of this, barriers have been raised that only serve to further prejudice and inflame brethren against brethren.
Due to the fact that the real issue has been kept covered, it becomes necessary at times to inform, by the best possible means, that which is rarely the cause of division. Some have written at great lengths to say but little other than to cloud the real facts by various arguments that have no scriptural basis.
In the beginning, let it be stated that no true Christian is opposed to assisting any and all as he may have ability and opportunity. Therefore, this is not the question at issue. Rather, the question is: “Whom has Christ authorized the church, the local assembly, to assist from its treasury?” To determine this, or scriptural authority for any other activity of the church, there must be found either positive command, approval apostolic example or necessary inference in the New Testament. Either of these will establish scriptural authority. That the Lord has directed individual Christians to engage in this work is evident from many passages such as: Matt. 5:16; 6:1-4, 19, 20; 10:42; 19:21; 20:28; 25:31-46; Mark 14:3-7; Luke 3:8-11; 6:38; 10:30-35; 11:41; 12:33; 14:13, 14; 16:19-31; 19:8; John 19:26, 27; Acts 9:36-39; 10:2-4; 20:34, 35; Romans 12:8, 13, 20; 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:3; 16:15; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 5:4, 16; 6:18; Heb. 6:10; 13:2; Jas. 1:27; 2:6, 15, 16 and 1 John 3:17, 18.
That the church may relieve poor saints, care for its own needy, is evident from such passages as: Acts 2:45; 4:32-35; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 2 Cor. 8 and 9; Rom. 15:25, 26 and 1 Tim. 5:16. From these passages we see the responsibility of God’s people to show compassion to the unfortunate.
That no other organization, either larger or smaller than the local congregation, is essential to carrying nut the work of the church authorized by the Lord is evident by its absence from the complete revelation of God, wherein He gives us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and furnishes us unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
The issue, therefore, is not that this work is to be done, nor how it is to be done, but who is authorized by the Lord to do it. Whoever, or whichever organization, does the work, the same how (facilities, personnel and necessaries) must be employed. The need then is not another organization to do this work. The need is not a human society, but actually the need is teaching of the mission of the church. The church needs to be taught to do its work rather than to establish a human organization and turn the work over to it. Brethren of the past have been able to see the parallel between evangelism and benevolence; between an orphan home with a board of directors to do the work of the church and the United Missionary Society. The need now is for those advocating such human arrangements to produce the scripture, or scriptures, that authorize the organization other than the local church under its elders. Brethren need to understand that the church is not a legislative body, nor are its elders endued with legislative powers to make rules to govern its work, but that we must be content to be governed by the authority of Christ expressed -in His last will and testament. This is but to say that all that we do in word or in deed must be done in the name – not of the church, but of Christ (Col. 3:17).
When the church (local) contributes to the need of a saint, it is simply helping him to fulfill his responsibility to himself and those dependent upon him. Thus, you can see that some non-members may be assisted indirectly (benefited) by such help (1 Tim. 5:8, 16 and Acts 6:1-6).
Some elders and local churches attempt, it seems, to salve their consciences by sending a “token” contribution each month to a care-taking institution. Many times, if and when, brethren will take the time to figure what their contribution per member is, it will perhaps amount to no more than 20 cents per month, or $2.40 per year. What kind of care do you think that this would provide? (And, if each sent their contribution it would require 15 cents to mail it!) Can this work really be done “by proxy”? It appears that this kind of contribution is simply “to be seen of men,” or “be identified with certain brethren.” “What do those who oppose churches contributing to orphan home arrangements give?”, you may ask. Hardly any of these will boast of their love and concern (as some do) for such needy people, but when the truth is learned, it is far more than the above amount, and yet they are accused of having no pity and no compassion upon the less fortunate. “By their fruits (works) ye shall know them.”
We should be set for the defence of the gospel and feel no obligation whatsoever to attempt to defend the various arrangements and projects of men. Let us, therefore, be content to follow the Lord’s work, rejecting the wisdom of men.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 26, pp. 428-429
June 26, 1980