Handling Aright the Word of Truth (XVIII)

By Morris W. R. Bailey

We continue our study of the subject of handling aright the word of truth, as it relates to the matter of considering every text in the light of its context. In the discussion of the issues that have been debated during the past thirty or more years relative to sponsoring churches and church support of institutional homes, the efforts on the part of some brethren to defend the above practices have been surprising, to say the least. I say, surprising, because they have been made by men who have been supposedly familiar with the concept of studying every text in its context. Yet in many ways they have proven to be as adept as perverting scriptures by taking them out of their setting as any sectarian ever has been. One scripture that has received such treatment is

James 1:27

This verse says, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself (himself-K. J. V.) unspotted from the world.” Recently, during a question period after a sermon, the preacher was asked regarding the authority for the church to build and maintain institutional orphan homes from its treasury. The above passage was cited, and the greater part of the audience thought that the matter was thereby settled. This is a typical example, for it seems that James 1:27 is almost invariably the passage that is quoted in support of the above practice. We are told that the institutional orphan home is just “a method” that the church uses in discharging its obligation to “visit the fatherless.”

What Is An Orphan Home?

In view of the fact that so much has been said about the orphan home’s being a “method,” it will be necessary at this point that we define the terms “method” and “home.”

1. The word, method, is defined by Webster as; “Regular arrangement of things, system, order.” Certainly no one would deny that the church is authorized to use “methods” in the form of orderly arrangement, or system, in carrying out its work.

2. The word “home” presents some difficulty, however, in view of the fact that it has been used very loosely, with some brethren using it first in one sense, and then suddenly using it in an entirely different sense, all of which has resulted in a great deal of confusion. Let us notice some of meanings that have been given to the word “home.”

(a) It is sometimes used to mean the family unit, consisting of husband and wife-with or without children. Thus when a man and woman marry it may be said that a new home has been established. Conversely if one or both of the parents die, or if divorce occurs, we say that the home has been broken. This is a permissible use of the word “home.”

Much has been said about restoring the children’s home in the case of the death of parents. But it must be obvious to anyone, unless blinded by infatuation for human institutions, that the placing of a child in an institutional home would not be a restoration of the home that the child had lost by the death of its parents. Certainly that is not the conception of the word, restoration, that brethren have entertained, when they spoke of restoring the New Testament order. If so, almost any protestant denomination could claim to be a return to the ancient order.

(b) The word “home” is sometimes used with reference to the house where one resides. We speak of buying a home, and of owning a home, and of providing a home for the destitute. When used in this sense its meaning is usually extended to include food and clothing. Again, this is a permissible use of the word “home.” And certainly no one would deny that orphans need a home in the way of shelter, food, and clothing. It is not to such that brethren object when they oppose church support of orphan homes.

(c) There is, however, a third way in which the word “home” has been used in the charters of incorporated institutions. And it is this institutional use of the word that has been responsible for much of the confusion that has grown up around the subject. As an example, let us note the following facts as gathered from the charter of Boles Orphan Home, which is typical of most institutional homes.

In one article of the charter we find this statement of identity. “The name of this corporation shall be Boles Orphan Home, Greenville, Texas.” Please note: It admits it is a corporation, yet calls itself a home. Other articles give its principal place of business, the number and names of its original directors with their required qualifications. The above features thus serve to identify the nature of this institution, both as to what it is, and what it is not. It is not the church, neither in the universal sense nor in the local sense, therefore not in any sense. It is not the natural home (husband, wife, and children). Nor can it be said to be a restored home. This is obvious from the use of the expression, in loco parentis with regard to its relationship to the children in its care which means “in place of parents.” But that which stands in place of a thing is not the thing itself. If my car breaks down and I use a bicycle in place of it, the bicycle is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a restoration of my car. It is only a substitute. So neither can a chartered corporation operated by a board of directors be a restoration of the natural home that the child lost through the death of its parents. It is only a substitute.

But of special interest is the fact that the above mentioned home is not a method of child care, but an institution that uses methods. This is evident from the following statement of purposes.

“The purposes of this corporation are to provide a home for destitute and dependent children, and to secure possession and control of other like children from time to time as said corporation may deem proper, for the purpose of providing them with a home and sustenance.”

Please note that this corporation, which calls itself a home, exists for the purpose of providing a home in the form of shelter and sustenance. It is thus obviously not a method, but a human institution that stands between the church and the care that is provided, and itself using methods. Such an institution (the corporation) could exist for a hundred years and not a mouth be fed, nor a body clothed if it did not use methods. From that standpoint it sustains the same relationship to the church in the matter of benevolence that the missionary society sustains to the church in the field of evangelism.. Yet it is such a corporation as this that some brethren profess to see in James 1:27.

This use (or misuse) of the above passage reminds me of a statement made by N. B. Hardeman so many years ago. Speaking of the unfounded assumptions of evolutionists, he said: “They assume first, the existence of matter. Then they assume the existence of force. Then before the brakes can be applied they assume that blind force acted on dead matter to produce life.”

This is, of course, too much “assumption” for the rational mind to accept. But it is no more unfounded than the assumptions that some brethren have made regarding James 1:27. First, they assume that this passage is directed toward the church. Then, they assume that it calls for a human corporation. Then, before the brakes can be applied, they assume that the church must support this human institution, otherwise it does not believe in practicing pure and undefiled religion. This is just too much assumption to make church support of a human institution scriptural.

The Context

Let us now look at the context of James 1:27. Whose responsibility is the visiting of the orphan and the widow? The context clearly shows that it is not the church that is under consideration, but the individual. The preceding verse (26) says, “If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” It was in this context that James said, “Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself (himself, K. J. V.) unspotted from the world.”

The substance of these two verses is obviously a contrast between vain religion and pure and undefiled religion. But of whose religion? Whose religion is vain? That of any man, not the church, but any man (the individual) who bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart. It is such a man’s religion that is vain. Does it not follow, then, that James is still discussing the religion of a man when he speaks of visiting the fatherless and widows, and keeping oneself unspotted from the world as the mark of pure and undefiled religion? If not, where is the evidence of the switch from the individual to the church?

Please note, too, that it is the one that keeps unspotted from . the world that is charged with the responsibility of visiting the fatherless and widows. But this one is identified by the personal pronoun, “himself” (K. J. V.) Pronouns always refer back to an antecedent noun, either previously stated or implied. In this case the antecedent of “himself” of verse 27, is the “man” of verse 26.

Whatever other verses may teach regarding the responsibility of the church toward the orphan and widow, it is not taught here. When considered in its context, James 1:27 has no reference to church action, but to that of the individual; it is a perversion of the scripture when it is used to justify church support of a human benevolent corporation.

Truth Magazine XXII: 7, pp. 118-119
February 16, 1978