By Ferrell Jenkins
The Examiner does not oppose a treasury. With regularity it urges its readers to send their contributions to the Truth and Freedom Ministry, Inc. so its spiritual work of speaking and printing their message may continue. They tell their adherents that much good work will fail to be done if they do not give more (5:1, p. 32). The Examiner does oppose a treasury. The writers attack with regularity the concept of a local body of saints maintaining a treasury collected on the first day of the week, administered by the overseers of that group, and used for evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
I have read several articles in The Examiner, most of them by my friend and brother, Dusty Owens, and heard Stanley Morris speak on this subject at the Truth and Freedom Forum in Tampa, Nov. 4, 1989. Brother Morris was introduced as the “principal translator” of The Simple English Bible. Rather than deal with each point made by these brethren, I think it the part of wisdom to set forth a positive case for the local ekklesia treasury. I sincerely and confidently believe that this material adequately answers the contentions of The Examiner.
Other articles in this series will deal with the teaching of The Examiner about the local church. Rather than use the word church, I have chosen to transliterate the Greek word ekklesia. This is the word translated church in so many English versions of the Bible.
The reader should keep in mind certain principles as he reads this article. This writer does not oppose a group of saints (ekklesia) in a given locality meeting in someone’s house. In the New Testament an ekklesia did frequently meet in someone’s house (Rom. 16:3,23; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. 2; et.al.). We understand that individual saints may, even must, use their funds to help others in benevolence (Matt. 5:43-48; 25:35-40; Lk. 10:30-36; Acts 4:36-37; 9:36,39; 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 16:15-16; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 5;16; 6:18; Heb. 13:15-16; Jas. 1:26-27; 2:15-18; 1 Jn. 3:17-18). Individual saints may also use their funds or their facilities – which also cost money – for the support of gospel preachers (Gal. 6:6; 3 Jn. 5-8; Rom. 16:1-2; Acts 16:15; 21:10). The example of some brethren from Corinth seems to belong in this category (1 Cor. 16:17).
Much of the case against the common treasury, made by Owens and Morris, is the abuse which they see rampant in the “Churches of Christ.” We would agree with them that this practice is sometimes abused as other divinely ordered things are abused. The home, the state, and the ekklesia of Christ have often been made into something other than that which God intended. When we see the abuse we should correct it rather than discard the concept. The brethren associated with The Examiner are not the only ones who love the truth and they are not the only ones who are sincere in their belief and practice.
The Treasury in the New Testament
Saints in New Testament times did give a portion of their funds into a common treasury, Incidentally, Jesus and his disciples had a treasury and Judas served as the treasurer, at least for a time (Jn. 12:6). We ha ve records of various women contributing to the support of Jesus and the apostolic band (Lk. 8:1-3). Sometimes the funds got low (Jn. 6:5-7). Groups of people act as one through appointed workers or through their common funds. Let us look now to the New Testament examples of a treasury.
1. The saints at Jerusalem had a treasury. To care for the needy, saints at Jerusalem sold their property and brought the proceeds of the sales and laid them at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:34-35). In this case we have a treasury and treasurers. Luke singles out the example of Barnabas. He sold his land and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:36-37). In contrast to the good example of Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira sold property and pretended to be bringing the whole amount. You know the story. The funds they brought were laid at the apostles’ feet (Acts 5:2). This account states that even after the property was sold the income remained under the control of the owners. The account implies that they no longer had control after they laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 5:4).
Even churches with apostles have problems! As the disciples grew, one ethnic element among them perceived that their widows were being neglected in the daily serving of food (Acts 6:1-6). This was a group activity and must have involved the use of funds. The congregation was instructed to select seven men to look after the need. Since the apostles could not leave the ministry of the word and prayer, it is reasonable to conclude that the oversight of the treasury may have been passed, at least in part, to these men.
We might wish for more information about the activities of the ekklesia in Jerusalem, but we must be content with what we have. The book of Acts includes no record of the expansion of the word throughout Judea. Later, however, we read of saints at Lydda (Acts 9:32). Luke refers to the brethren dwelling in Judea (Acts 11:29). Paul affirms the existence of ekklesiais (plural of ekklesia) in Judea and informs us that his work extended throughout all Judea (Gal. 1:22; Acts 26:20). To know the truth one must read everything God has said. The book of Acts was written when ekklesiais were in existence through the Roman empire. Other references from Acts and the epistles will help us to fill out our knowledge of the activities of the saints of that period.
2. The Antioch contribution for Judea. When the Christians at Syrian Antioch were informed that a great famine would leave the brethren of Judea in need, “each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren” there (Acts 11:2730). The Greek text says they determined to “send” (Greek: pempsai). The NASB has added “a contribution.” The KJV, NKJV, and ASV use the term relief. The NIV has “to provide help.” The Simple English Bible, which is highly praised by The Examiner movement, states that “the followers of Jesus decided that they would all try to help.” This same version renders verse 30 as follows: “They gathered the money and gave it to Barnabas and Saul. Then Barnabas and Saul brought it to the elders in Jerusalem. “Their use of italics for “in Jerusalem” shows that they were supplying the phrase. They have missed it on this one, but the focus of this article does not allow further discussion.
Brother Charles Holt gave me a much-appreciated copy of The Simple English Bible during the Truth and Freedom Forum in Tampa (Nov. 4, 1989). The SEB states that the believers “gathered the money and gave it to Barnabas and Saul.” Even without the looseness of this paraphrased translation, we can state that the money went into a common fund (treasury) either before it was given to Barnabas and Saul or at the time it was given to them. It is also clear that the elders “dwelling in Judea” received the funds. There was a treasury in Antioch and a treasury (or treasuries) in Judea.
3. The ekklesia at Philippi had a treasury. Paul commends the saints at Philippi because, at a certain crucial point in his ministry, they were the only ekklesia to have fellowship with him in “giving and receiving” (Phil. 4:15-16). This ekklesia had a treasury; otherwise they could not have sent funds to Paul more than once. No group, of any sort, can long operate as one without a common fund (treasury). The only way an ekklesia, like the one at Philippi, can send as a unit is from its treasury.
4. Ekklesiais sent wages to Paulfor preaching. Paul told the ekklesia at Corinth that he robbed “other congregations, taking pay from them, to help you” (2 Cor. 11:8, SEB). This passages has been used effectively in the past to show that a preacher of the gospel may receive wages. The Greek term opsonion is used of pay, wages, or salary (see Lk. 3:14; 1 Cor. 9:7; BAGD, 602). Paul had earlier taught the brethren that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14). These congregations could not send wages to Paul unless they had a treasury from which to send it.
5. The ekklesia at Corinth had a treasury (1 Cor. 16:1-4). Many questions have been raised about the instructions in this verse. Did the Corinthian ekklesia have a treasury? Did the saints contribute to this treasury each first day of the week? Does this text provide authority for a congregational treasury today? May the collected funds be used for purposes other than benevolence?
Many commentators see the crux of the issue in the phrase “put aside and save” (NASB) or “lay by him in store” (ASV) (Greek: par’ heautoi titheto thesaurizon). Many scholars believe that the laying by or putting aside is to be at home. Others see the context favoring a treasury common with other disciples. Aside from this point, I believe the passage shows that the ekklesia at Corinth had a treasury. Let us look at some of the other terms in the passage.
Collection (Greek: logeia). This word is used only twice in the New Testament, but Deissmann has shown that it was commonly used in Egypt and in Asia Minor “of religious collections for a god, a temple, etc., as St. Paul uses it of his collection of money for the ‘saints’ at Jerusalem” (Light From the Ancient East, 104-107; Bible Studies, 142-144). Paul insisted that the saints put aside funds from their prosperity on the first day of the week so no collection would be necessary when he arrived. If the funds were at home, it would still be necessary to make a collection when he arrived. If there was no group collection, how would Paul know a year later that they had not collected much? See 2 Corinthians 8:10.
That the collection at Corinth involved a group treasury is indicated by the fact that the brethren were able to approve men to take these funds to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3). This shows that a local ekk1esia could make its own decisions (autonomous) regarding the use of its funds.
First day of every week. This is the earliest reference in the New Testament to the first day of the week as a day of meeting for Christians. We know that the disciples at Troas gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). The habitual practice of assembling with other saints is mentioned in Hebrews 10:25. The saints at Corinth came together as an ekk1esia to eat the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:18ff). The theological reason for such a meeting on the first day of the week is built on the resurrection of Christ on that day. A strong case also can be made for the Lord’s day of Revelation 1:10 being the first day of the week.
There is no logical reason for individual disciples putting aside funds in their home each first day of the week, when they regularly gathered in an assembly on that day. The fact that they did assemble on that day would provide adequate reason for them to pool their funds on that day. Could it not be that the phrase “by him” (par’heauto) emphasizes the individual’s decision according to his prosperity?
Paul had given the same order or direction to the ekklesiais of Galatia. The epistle from which we are quoting is addressed to the ekkIesia of God which is at Corinth and to “all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Paul taught the same in every ekk1esia (1 Cor. 4:17). This causes us to expect, and to find, uniformity of practice among the ekkiesiais of the New Testament.
The late W. Curtis Porter prepared a written discussion with A.N. Dugger of the Church of God (Seventh Day) which was published as The Porter-Dugger Debate. Dugger’s sabbatarian theology caused him to deny the existence of a common treasury in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and to deny that the meal of Acts 20:7 was the Lord’s supper. Brother Porter set forth in a clear, logical fashion the case for the first day of the week as a day of worship for the people of God. Brethren who are enthralled with the individualistic views of The Examiner would do well to study this debate.
Who Controls the Treasury? The apostles were in charge of the treasury in Acts 4 and 5. The funds from Antioch were sent to the elders in Judea (Acts 11:30). The brethren at Corinth were able to decide about the use of their funds (I Cor. 16:3).
For what may the funds be used? 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 is the only passage which tells us the day on which the collection is to be taken, but it is not the only passage which states the use for the funds. We have already shown above that the brethren at Philippi and other brethren of Macedonia had a treasury from which they supported gospel preachers. I am willing to affirm that anything for which the ekk1esia is obligated may be taken from the first day of the week collection.
If we depart from the information revealed in the New Testament about the activities of the ekklesiais, then we are left to our own human wisdom to devise a plan of work and worship. This, my brethren, is dangerous ground. It is exactly the ground on which so many of the articles in The Examiner are built. Brethren, we plead with you to reconsider.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 19, pp. 586-588
October 4, 1990