By Cecil Willis
The New Testament abounds in warnings given to both individual Christians and to churches. Many dangers and pitfalls may beset us. “Beware” is a word frequently used in the New Testament. In this article, and in another to follow, I would like to sound a word of warning to generous hearted Christians and to churches who are prone to being “suckered into” helping or supporting unworthy individuals, or causes.
The apostle Paul warned against men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth,” who suppose that “godliness is a way of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). There are hosts of people who traipse over this land who maintain their existence by preying upon generous hearted brethren or churches. They are simply “dead beats,” worthless, lazy, good-for-nothings, who eke out a shameful existence by pyramiding lie upon lie in order to beguile honest brethren and to prey upon the sympathies of generous hearted sows.
Some brethren become wonderfully excited when they hear us teach that churches are obligated for the charitable maintenance only of “believers … disciples,” “brethren,” or “saints” (See Acts 2:44, 45; Acts 4:32-35; Acts 6:1-6; Acts If: 27-30; I Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25-32; 2 Cor. 9: 1, etc.). If there are some others for whom the congregation has benevolent responsibility, I would be glad to have someone to call it to my attention and to cite the Bible passage, which so obligates the congregation. Not only are churches limited by the scriptures in benevolent responsibilities to those just mentioned, but also congregations are even instructed not to assist certain among the saints.
Those Not In Need
For instance, neither the congregation nor the individual has any benevolent responsibility toward those who are not in need. You will notice in Acts 2:44,45 that distribution was made “according as any man had need.” Paul declared that Christians should be gainfully employed in order that they “may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). You may think that this truth is so obvious it need not even be called to our attention.
However, such is not the case. I once had a lady approach me who wanted me to help her get into a “Church Old Folks Home” so that the churches of Christ would maintain her, though she freely admitted that she was not a member of the Lord’s church, had never (so far as I know) attended a single service of a church of Christ, and that she had $30,000 in cash! But she had heard that some churches of Christ supported some Old Folks Homes, and she wanted to get into one of them. The congregation has no benevolent responsibility to a non-Christian, and especially to one who has $30,000 cash!
The name of this lady will not be divulged! Suffice it to say that she lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and was a member of the Methodist church. I state emphatically that her name will not be divulged, because there are several of the so-called “Church of Christ Old Folks Homes” that would be glad to “take her in,” providing she either turn her money over to them, or will it to them, and providing that she is not in very good health, and it therefore does not appear that she will live very long.
The Old Folks Home in Houston, Texas, which is sponsored by the Central Church of Christ, requires that any person who enters be prepared either to pay a monthly fee for board and medical expense, or that someone else be secured beforehand to guarantee the monthly payment of this fee, unless their admission requirements recently have been changed. The Madison, Tennessee church announced some time ago that they were going to build some condominium apartments. This is an arrangement by which each couple purchases from the church the apartment, but the buyers must also agree to will the apartment back to the church. And one must be at least 60 years old to get in. I do not see how they possibly could lose on a “deal” like that! Such shenanigans as these are why it is necessary to say that the congregation has no benevolent duty toward those who are not in need.
Those Who Will Not Work
Neither does any Christian, nor any congregation, has any benevolent responsibility toward those who will not work. Paul is emphatic on this point: “If any will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3: 10). Nearly all of the $15 “church bums” fall into this category! If you doubt my word, the next time one comes along with this pitiful “tale,” offer him a job instead of a handout, and see what response you get. These “professional beggars” nearly all tell the same woeful tales. Either they were just passing through town and their car broke down, and their children are hungry; or they have a job in a distant state, and if they only could get the money to get there; or else a relative has died and they are on the way to the funeral; or they use another little patent tale or two. In nearly every instance, all they need is $15, and they quickly volunteer to send the money back just as soon as they arrive at their destination. I have never even afterward heard from one of them; certainly none has returned any money as he volunteered to do.
Some brethren are entirely too free with the church’s money. We have the same responsibility not to help the lazy and unworthy as we have to help the needy saint. A lot of brethren would rather dole out $15 of the church’s money than to look one of these bums in the eye, and to tell him “No!” In twenty-five years of preaching, I cannot remember a single instance where the evidence showed a single one of these $15 bums to have told the truth, and for later evidence to vindicate that he was indeed a case worthy of our benevolent concern. Think that over. My guess is that nearly every preacher or elder in the land could truthfully make the same or a similar statement.
Let me propose, if you have not already adopted such a procedure, that you begin not giving out any money until you have verified the genuineness of the need, and the truthfulness of the one beseeching your help. What am I suggesting? I propose that you invest a couple of dollars in a telephone call to the congregation where this person claims to be a member. In the first place, any faithful church would prefer to help its own, if they are in need. In those instances in which I have called preachers or churches cited to me as “references,” I have not yet had a one of them to advise me to give the beggar any money. When I called a Louisiana church where a certain dead-beat was supposed to be a member, I was told: “Don’t give that bum one red cent. He won’t work I We got him job after job. He quickly lost each one of them. Thinking perhaps he had some kind of personality problem, we bought him a set of tools so that he could work for himself. He just flat won’t work.” You know how much I gave him? Not one red cent!
My own experience has been that the request for a name and a telephone number of someone who knows him usually highly “insults” the beggar, and he goes off in a huff, before you even have time to call the telephone number he gave you, if he waits long enough to give you a number. A woman passing through Marion a few months ago, and who wanted me to bring her $15 to the bus station, somehow could not remember the name and address of a solitary preacher who knew her, though she claimed to have been a member of the church for thirty years. Though my wife was with me, this woman was highly insulted when I asked her to step outside of the bus station, or into an office offered to us by the bus station, that we might discuss her “need.” Suffice it to say, I also did not give her one red cent.
Probably someone is ready to say, “That’s the way with those Antis. They just won’t help anybody.” Let me just say this in reply to that: I do not intend to give money to anybody whom the Lord specifically told me not to help. And that includes the lazy dead-beat who thinks either society or the church owes him a living.
In another instance, I called a Memphiss, Tennessee liberal preacher to “check-out” the story being told me by one of “their members.” The preacher said, “Would I like to get my hands on that fellow! I borrowed $600 to try to help out that fellow, and he gambled up half of it the first night and left town. Now I am paying off that $600 note in monthly installments.” In our city, the fellow ended up dealing repeatedly in stolen cars, under the guise that he knew a fellow who would like to buy it, “if you will only let me keep it a week or so in order that I might show it to him.”
A few months ago, one which represented himself to me as being a Nigerian gospel preacher wrote me a long letter telling me what a dreadful condition the widows and orphans left from the Nigerian civil war were in. He gave me the exact number of widows and orphans in each of the ten churches with which he had close contact. He wanted me to publish the report immediately in Truth Magazine. I almost fell for that one. But before publishing the report, I wrote Brother Wayne Payne, who then was working in Nigeria. Brother Payne replied immediately that he knew the fellow well who write me, and that he was a deliberate liar, and furthermore, that not a one of the ten churches he mentioned even existed! Yet I know of $600 his letter brought in, and no telling how much more he received from too generous hearted brethren.
Within the last six months I have had numerous inquiries about a certain Nigerian brother (Charles Onogwimoniya, alias Custom Esedekpahe) who apparently has written every brother and every church whose address he could get. He has even used more than one name in his pleading letters. I immediately sent him a $10 or $15 personal check when I received his first letter, as I imagine a host of other brethren did. I got “suckered” in that time. Upon inquiry from Brother Leslie Diestelkamp, I learned that this brother indeed was a brother, but that he is now somewhat demented, and should not be supported as a gospel preacher. Brother Diestelkamp at that time did recommend that small amounts might legitimately be sent to him because he was a needy saint. However, even that recommendation was withdrawn when it was discovered he was writing to people all over this nation, and under more than one name. A statement of warning to brethren regarding this brother was published in Truth Magazine just a few months ago. Yet I continue to receive chastising letters, containing many scripture references, from him because I have disregarded his further and frequent appeals.
What I am recommending is this: Attend promptly to every legitimate and scriptural need. But do not send sums of money to anyone anywhere, just because someone wrote you asking for it, unless you know the plea to be legitimate and the cause worthy. A host of deadbeats in this country are living off of gullible brethren, and some in foreign lands are trying to play the same game. Investigate before you send your money to help those who are scripturally your responsibility, as you have ability and opportunity. But by maintaining these professional beggars, you merely contribute to their further delinquency, and thus become a party to it. In an article to follow, I want to sound some similar warnings in the realm of evangelism.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 28, pp. 3-6
May 17, 1973