Helping Widows and Orphans

By Weldon E. Warnock

Question: Why is it wrong to help widows and orphans by taking money from the church treasury?

Answer: To my knowledge there is nobody who opposes helping widows and orphans from the church treasury, providing they come within the scope of the church’s responsibility. The church is not obligated to help, financially, all widows and orphans, but just certain ones.

The Word of God teaches to “honor widows that are widows indeed” (1 Tim. 5:3). W.E. Vine states that “honor” means “the respect and material assistance to be given to widows.” Concerning the word, “indeed” (ontos), Vine says it “denotes really, actually. ” Hence, the meaning of the passage is “to care for those women who are really, actually widows.” (The principle also applies to widowers.) Williams’ translation is clear: “Always care for the widows who are really dependent.”

In 1 Timothy 5:16 Paul states the limitations of church assistance to widows very succinctly. He says, “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” Children should take care of their own mother or grandmother, that the church be not burdened in order that the church may be able to relieve those saintly widows who are dependent and destitute. This dependency may be as a result of not having any family or the children are so sorry that they will not help. Albert Barnes wrote, “To require or expect the church, therefore, to support those women we ought ourselves to support, is, in fact, to rob the poor and friendless.”

The Jerusalem church supplied the needs for its widows by selecting seven men to expedite the church’s responsibility toward those worthy saints. We must not be any less concerned for our widows and widowers today.

As to orphans, I have never seen a single orphan who became the responsibility of the church. This does not mean there has not been any. It simply means I have not seen one. Someone says, “There are orphans, or homeless children, all over the world.” This is true! But are they the obligation of the church? Certainly not! God never gave the church the chore of taking care of all the orphans any more than he gave the church the job of relieving all the widows, or caring for all the sick, or all the hungry and naked. The governments of the world have not been able to alleviate the benevolent needs of all the people, and it is certain the church cannot.

The Bible teaches that the church is to provide for its own – the needy saints (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32; 6:1-3; 11:27-20; Rom. 15:25,26; 1 Cor. 16:12; 2 Cor. 8:4; 2 Cor. 9:1,12,13). A good example of this practice was at Jerusalem. None of the saints lacked, as stated in Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32. However, in Acts 3, the beggar at the gate Beautiful, asked alms of Peter and John. Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none . . . .” The church had funds, but Peter did not refer him to the church. Wonder why? Because the church had no responsibility. Brethren, the church’s obligation to the world is to try to save souls through preaching the gospel.

Now then, if there are orphans who are Christians, then the church may relieve their needs. But as I said before, I have never known of a situation where a child was orphaned or left homeless with no one to care for it, other than the church. Either grandparents or an aunt or an uncle would take such a child, and this is the way it ought to be.

Our hypothetical cases about children being abandoned on the doorstep of the church building overlook the civil laws that regulate such incidents, if they ever happened. The first thing the church would do, and must do, is call the police and they would handle the matter from there.

However, the crux of this issue is not so much whether the church may care for widows and orphans, but whether the church may make contributions from its treasury to human benevolent institutions in order for them to care for widows and orphans. This, the Bible does not authorize. The church may not, scripturally, subsidize any human organization. If so, where is the passage that authorizes it, either generically or specifically? The reasoning that allows the church to include in its budget allocations for widow wages and orphanages, also allows the church to allocate money for hospitals, publishing houses, sanatoriums, Bible colleges, etc. If not, why not?

Although the church is limited in its benevolent work, there is a need in the world for general benevolence toward orphans and homeless children, the elderly, the infirm and the sick. Institutional homes for children and nursing homes for the elderly and infirm serve a useful purpose for the indigent. All of us, individually, may contribute to any deserving benevolent organization to help provide food, shelter and clothing for homeless children, the elderly and the infirm. If circumstances permit, we could adopt one or more of these children or act as foster parents. Pure religion is “to visit the fatherless and the widows” (Jas. 1:27).

Brother Foy E. Wallace, jotted down the following diagram for me several years ago as to what the church may and may not do with the money. It shows the difference of the church doing its work and subsidizing human organizations. (Searching the Scriptures [Apr. 1986], pp. 79-80.)

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, pp. 398-399
July 5, 1990