By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: When individuals are helping those who do not qualify for help out of the treasury of the local church, is it permissible to pass the collection plate after the regular contribution in order to help such people?
Reply: The New Testament clearly specifies who is to be helped out of the local church treasury. They are needy saints for whom the church is responsible. Each church provided for its own needy in the matter of benevolence (Acts 2:44,45; 6:1-7; Eph. 4:12; 1 Tim. 5:16). When the local church was unable to provide for its own (as in the event of a famine), other churches assisted it in supplying this need (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:14; 9:1). From these Scriptures we learn that the benevolent work of the church was limited to “brethren,” d4saints,” “poor saints” and “widows indeed.” But, as noted in our second sentence in this reply, “needy saints for whom the church is responsible.” This is to say that not all needy saints are to be helped out of the treasury of the local church. Family members who are able to supply their needs are to do so, that the church be not burdened. Widows are a case in point (1 Tim. 5:16). The Bible clearly teaches that children are to help their parents; it is their obligation (see Mk. 7:8-13). The point, then, is clear. The church is authorized by the Scriptures to assist from its treasury only needy saints for whom it is responsible. To go beyond this is to be beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6).
As to assisting those who do not qualify for aid from the church treasury, individuals are to do it. It is proper that they do it after the service has been dismissed. To pass a collection plate during the service to help non-members, and after the regular contribution, is about the same as “tweedle dee and tweedle dum,” the only difference being the purpose of the two collections. Both collections are made during the assembly. The money in both instances is contributed by the church. It is difficult to see what would make the first a church contribution but not the second.
The church is not authorized by the Scriptures to take up a contribution for any work which it is not authorized to do. This applies to contributions for colleges, benevolent institutions or non-members in need. If persons are in need and worthy of help, individual brethren should make up money among themselves and not involve the church. Just as schools are to be supported by individuals and not the church, so those not qualifying as needy saints are to be supported by individuals and not the church.
The failure by many to make the distinction between what the church is to do and what individuals are to do is responsible for many of our problems in the church today. We must be careful to always stay within the bounds of scriptural limitation.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 7, p. 197
April 2, 1987