By Hoyt Houchen
Question: To what extent is the church scripturally authorized to assist a needy saint? Can it make a car payment or a house payment?
Reply: This is a good question and an appropriate one, in view of the fact that many brethren are unemployed.
There is no question that the local church has an obligation to assist needy saints for whom it is responsible. (See Acts 2:44, 45; 4:34, 35; 11:29, 30; Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; ch. 9; etc.) But there may be cases where the local church does not have a responsibility to needy saints. For instance, if there are those in a family who are able to assist, the local church should not be burdened (1 Tim. 5:1-16). Also, as a case in point, young widows who are idle, becoming tattlers and busybodies, are not candidates for support from the local church (vv. 11, 12). So, while the local church is responsible to assist needy saints, there is a limitation as to which needy saints are deserving of that help.
To determine to what extent a local church may help a needy saint, is the point of our question. There is no scriptural authority for the local church to spend money out of its treasury for just any need that a brother or sister may have. I believe that all would agree that because some member of the church desires something, that within itself would not be a justifiable reason for assistance from the church. To illustrate: a member might desire to buy a new car, a new house, new clothing, a new diamond ring or a new television set; and while the member might feel that he is in need, he would not be within the scope of those needy saints to be helped out of the treasury of the local church. These would not be needs or necessities to help with the Lord’s money.
As to what extent a congregation of the Lord may assist a needy saint, the Scriptures quite clearly indicate that assistance would be for such necessities as food, clothing, shelter, or in some instances medical attention. In other words, those things necessary for physical sustenance. The benevolent work done by churches in the New Testament was that which involved the saints who were in physical need. In Acts 6:1-6 where a record of benevolence is given, the Grecian widows were neglected in the daily “ministration.” Arndt and Gingrich refer to this word, which is from the Gr. diakonia, to mean “specifically the service necessary for preparation of a meal” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the N. T., p. 183). To meet the need of the widows among the Grecian Jews, the apostles called the multitude together and said, “It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (vv. 2, 3). The word “tables” is from the Greek word trapeza, a noun which is “figuratively of that which is upon the table, a meal, food” (Ibid., p. 832). The disciples sent relief to the brethren in Judea because they were told by Agabus (a prophet) that there would be a famine in Judea (Acts 11:28-30). Later, contributions were made by churches to relieve the poor saints in Jerusalem, saints who had been impoverished by famine and persecution (Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:1-4 etc.) Whatever then, would come within the scope of food, clothing, shelter – physical necessities, the church would be authorized to provide.
As to the local church providing a house payment for a needy saint would depend upon circumstances. If a faithful member ispurchasing a house commensurate with his income, one that is modest and inexpensive and within the bounds of a conservative budget; and then, due to no fault of his own he becomes unemployed because of present economic conditions and he is sincerely trying to seek employment, in such an emergency the church where he is a member may scripturally assist him by making a house payment so that he will not lose his house. Shelter is being provided for him and his family in a time of emergency. If this dire need continues, then the brother should seek shelter for lesser cost; however, this is not always easily done.
There are abuses made of situations. A case was related to me of a brother who was employed and he and his family were living in an expensive house. He decided to quit his job because “the grass looked greener on the other side” and took another job. It fell through, so he asked the church to make a house payment for him. This would be a circumstance where the church would not be scripturally authorized to grant his request. The brother could sell his expensive house and move into a more reasonably priced one. He should not burden the church with the matter. And, suppose a member is employed, but he spends his pay check foolishly and then comes up short for his house payment. The church has no obligation in this case. It would be unscriptural to make these payments and would only lend encouragement to careless spenders. Unfortunately, some brethren (especially some young preachers), are impetuous and want to see money taken out of the church treasury for about any and all requests by brethren who want the church to make a monthly house or car payment for them. They do not pause to consider, as carefully as they should, for what the church is authorized to scripturally spend its money. As to the church making a car payment for a saint, is questionable, to say the least. When considering assistance to a needy saint, it should be determined if it comes within the scope of benevolence.
Our question poses some problems which are not easily solved. Each case of a needy saint has to be evaluated individually. There is no set rule because circumstances vary, as we have seen.
In summary: the local church has an obligation to needy saints. There is a limitation as to which needy saints come within the qualifications for aid from the church treasury. The Lord’s money should only be used for scriptural purposes and should not be abused. The Lord’s money is to be used discreetly and is to be used only for work that is authorized by the Lord. The question submitted is one that deserves more careful consideration than what has been given to it. It is an area in which more study needs to be done. There are some circumstances in this area which must fall into the realm of judgment. This is another reason why elders (where they exist) have a tremendous and serious responsibility in disbursing the Lord’s money. We need to take a careful look at how this money is spent; first, making sure that it is spent scripturally, and second, that it is spent in the wisest way possible. The Lord’s money is not to be spent for everything and for everybody who comes along.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 390-391
July 7, 1983