By Roy E. Cogdill
Many of the brethren are contending today that it is scriptural and right for the churches of Christ to build and maintain benevolent “organizations” to do the work of caring for the needy that God has charged the church to do. This proposition has been debated numerous times between brethren all over the country though its proponents have evidently decided that it is unscriptural to debate or that it is unwise, for they seem no longer willing to mount the polemic rostrum and try to defend their “benevolent societies.” They have tried numerous methods of defending them and none has seemed to work.
Unscriptural Arguments for the Benevolent Societies
They have asserted that such organizations as they have formed, viz., Ontario Children’s Home; Boles Home, Inc., Tipton Home; Tennessee Orphan’s Home; Southern Christian Home; Sunny Glen Home; etc., are necessary because the civil law requires such organization in order that the church may care for its needy. This has been proven untrue and they have had to desert it. It is obvious to anyone with any conception of truth and right, that the requirement of it by the law would not make it scriptural, but it was resorted to when they had no Bible passage with which to defend their position. No federal or state law in this country requires the church to form a human organization for any reason. It would be unconstitutional if it did and it would still be unscriptural even if it were constitutional.
Then they tried the contention that such benevolent organizations were merely for the purpose of giving legal protection to those who directed its affairs and had the oversight of its work in case they were sued or prosecuted by someone. When it was shown that such corporate organizations were not merely for the purpose of holding title to property but were formed and actually functioning as the controlling and directing agency in the work being done and that the directors were empowered by their very charter, which gave the organization existence, to control and direct its work and, hence, it was entirely removed from any supervision or control by any church, they had to surrender this contention.
They argued that it was “kingdom business”-the actual work of the church being done by the church, and that the organization was only a method employed by the church by which to do its work, such as the Bible classes on the Lord’s Day. It was shown in answer to this that an organization is not a method but that an organization employs or uses methods. It was further pointed out that if the church can charter a human institution to do its work of benevolence scripturally, and such an organization was merely the work of the church in the field of benevolence, like the Bible classes are the work of the church in the field of teaching, then the Bible classes could be incorporated under a Board of Directors just like the benevolent organization and that such a board could be scripturally authorized to carry on and direct the work of teaching. This obviously got them in trouble with the brethren who charge that the Bible classes are a separate organization from the church and delivered these institutional brethren into their hands so they had to abandon that contention.
Are Such Societies “Homes?”
In the evolution of their attempts to defend these human benevolent societies they eventually got around to the argument that such institutions are actually and only “homes” and that the “home” is a divine organization, separate from the church, and that its function cannot be a part of the work of the church and therefore elders cannot oversee such an institution or work. Therefore, it must be under a Board of Directors. They further argued that such Board of Directors were actually the parents, in fact, of the children cared for. But they have found this position just as indefensible as all of the others. In answer to this sophistry it has been clearly established that such an institution or organization is not a “home” in any Bible sense even though they may be known by such names.
The English word “home” comes from different words in the original language of the Bible but in all of their usages there are only four senses: a. a place of residence; b. figuratively the family living in such a place of residence; c. the family plus the household servants living in such a place of residence; and d. the estate of such a family.
It should be easily discerned that any kind of a “benevolent organization” is not a “home” in any of these senses. The organization is not a “place of residence.” The charters of every one of these institutions state that such organization is formed in order to “provide a home” or place of residence for orphan or destitute children. Surely in no sense is the organization or Board of Directors a “place” of any kind.
Furthermore, such an organization is in no sense a “family.” God, who ordained marriage and the family relationship, gave it form just like He did the church. That is, the husband and wife relationship, out of which grows the parent’ and child relationship. This “benevolent organization” does not even generally resemble such a relationship. Who ever heard of a family with a “Board of Directors” organized into the form of “President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer,” etc.?
When it was argued that under the law, the Board of Directors of such an organization are “en loco parentis” and that such constituted a parent and child relationship, it was pointed out that such is purely a fictitious relationship. This board does not live with the children. They do not even live in close proximity to them. They have no common place of residence. More than that, the board only infrequently visits the children. They do not themselves provide for the children of whom they are supposedly the “parents.” They beg others to provide for them. They do not teach, train, nor care for the children, but hire others to do so. They do not perform the function of “parents” in any sense actually, but are the “legal guardians” of these children and that is all. More than all that, by the very expression “en loco parentis” is meant not “parents” but “in the stead or place of parents.” Many, in fact, most of these children have living parents, who either have deserted them, refused to care for them, or in some other way have failed in their duty.
Such organizations are not churches of Christ in any sense. Neither are they “homes” in any sense. What are they? They are humanly designed, state authorized, statute controlled, benevolent societies run by a Board of Directors. They have the same status with reference to the work God has given the church to do as the missionary society. If churches can build and maintain such benevolent organizations, there is no rule or reason that would make it wrong for’ them to build such organizations to do their work of evangelism. The missionary society is just as scriptural, and for the same reasons that make the benevolent society scriptural. It is a package deal-swallow one and you cannot “gag” at the other!
Truth Magazine XIX: 54, pp. 860-861
November 27, 1975