Issues that Divide Us (VII): Understanding Benevolence

By Robert Jackson

We continue our study of issues that divide us within the ranks of the body of Christ. As stated before, this is indeed a shame and a tragedy, but something that we must face and deal with and be willing to accept the Bible as the authority to solve all of out problems. In our study thus far we have given a brief survey of what caused division from the early New Testament Church, showing that it was a lack of respect for the authority of Christ. We discussed lessons on what is the church and what is a local church; and then we traced it all the way down to the dividing of the body of Christ even in our day. Now, within our ranks, in our last article, we discussed the division that was caused in regard to evangelism.

We found where some brethren wanted to get away from the missionary society that was established under a board of directors in 1849 in Cincinnati, Ohio, so they decided that we needed a sponsoring church under an eldership and this would make it right. As the same basic principle, it denies the autonomous nature of the local church, it is without any Bible authority whatsoever, it has elders overseeing work away from their work which they have no authority for, it violates 1 Peter 5; and so this has brought division within the ranks of the body of Christ. Then also, we had the Herald of Truth radio program — a nation-wide effort under the church out in Abilene, under the Highland Avenue elders’ oversight. Again, this was identified as a Sponsoring Church effort, all of it is without Bible authority, a lack of respect for the teaching of God’s word, and as a result of it, has brought division.

People who differ with them they identified as antis. They say that you are anti-evangelism, but that is not the issue. Churches today still believe in sending out the men of God, but we believe in doing it like they did it in Bible days, and that is for the church to send directly to the preacher. If there is anyone that has any Bible authority how it is any other way, I would be glad to receive the information. I would be glad to preach that and take my position along that way. But until someone can give me book, chapter and verse, I must stand opposed to the sponsoring church method and therefore, the missionary society, and say the churches of Christ ought not to have anything to do with them. As a result, they have divided the body of Christ, and they must bear the burden for this.

But then there is another thing that has lead to division within our ranks, and that is in the field of benevolence. Of course you recognize when you talk about benevolence that you get on a very emotional subject. People get all emotionally upset when you talk about taking care of widows or taking care of little orphans. So many times they let their feelings run away with their thinking of what the Bible has to say. Now first of all, we want to keep in mind as we study the subject of benevolence that we want to find out what the Bible says, and to base our feelings upon the teaching of the word of God. This is the only way that we can stand approved in the eyes of Jehovah, and it is not a complicated matter.

If you will take your Bible, you will find that the church did perform acts of benevolence. First of all, in Acts 2, you will find there was a need for the saints of God in the city of Jerusalem. Keep in mind that there were “devout Jews there from every nation” on the day of Pentecost, and when they obeyed the gospel of Christ, they remained in that city. As a result, the saints of God had need. There was a famine in their own midst because of the fact they had stayed over in Jerusalem. They had to relieve this, and how did they go about it? The Bible said in Acts 2:45, “They sold their possessions and goods and parted to all men as every man had need.”

Now the church had to raise its money and take care of its own needs, and this is the way that it ought to be done today — saints of God giving on the first day of the week, not only in the supporting of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but likewise in relieving the needy of the saints of God. If you will turn to the book of Acts, chapter 4, you will find that this met the needs of the brethren. In verse 34, “Neither was there any among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of land or houses sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold and laid them down at the apostles’ feet, and then it was given to every man as he had need.” So then, when it was laid at the apostles’ feet, it was given into a common treasury, and then it was distributed by apostolic authority. This is exactly the way it should be today. Note again, in verse 37 of the 4th chapter, “having land sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” So then we have the pattern for the church: to sell its possessions, or if they have any money to put it into the common treasury, and let it be used by apostolic authority. Now when it said, “They laid it at the apostles’ feet,” it does not mean that they put the money under the feet of the apostles in a literal sense, but it means that it was used by apostolic

authority, and therefore, the apostolic authority was for the church to relieve its own needy.

In Acts 6, we find another case where the disciples were in need. The Bible says, “There was a murmuring between the Grecian and Hebrew widows because they were being neglected in the daily ministration.” The twelve called the multitude together, they called the church together, and said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom whom we may appoint over this business.” Now there we find again that the church met its own need and relieved its own needy. They selected men to care for the poor, and the apostles said, “We must not leave tile word of God,” showing that the most important thing is the preaching of the word of God. But, he said these widows must be cared for, and it is the responsibility of the church to do it, so let the church take care of its own. Thus the church was able to do what God told it to do, it was able to provide for these people and carried it out and met the needs.

In Acts 11 we find another example where there were some people who were in need. Beginning at verse 27, “And in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” Now watch it. “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea.” Watch it. “Which also they did and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Alright, now we find where brethren gave, and they sent it “to the elders” where there was need in Judea. They sent it directly to the elders, and then the elders provided for their own. This is the way that it was done in the Bible days.

Thus we have an example in Acts 4 and in Acts 6 where the church took care of its own needy, where they had men to look after their own and care for them. In Acts 11, we find where a church sent to other churches who were in need. But, keep in mind that they sent it directly to the church that was in need and the elders of that particular church had the oversight of its work and saw that every man was relieved as they had need. Now there we have the pattern of benevolence.

But then again, if you will turn over to 2 Corinthians 8, you will find where they likewise met the need of the people who were in need. When we follow the pattern in the Bible, we find that churches of Christ in New Testament days were autonomous in their nature; they had the oversight of the local congregation and that is all. They took care of their own needs. They did it in the way that God specified, where the saints of God put their money into the common treasury and relieved the needy of the saints. Now where there was a church in need away from them, they sent it directly to the church and the elders of that particular church took the oversight of it and tended to its own business. Now that is exactly the way it was done in the New Testament days, and that is the way it should be done today.

Now for an example, in taking care of the poor, there are many ways it can be done. In James 1:26-27, individuals can help do it. We are to relieve the needy. In James 1, he said, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself (or oneself) unspotted from the world.” So then I can relieve the needs of people as an individual.

But then when it comes to the need of the saints, the church ought to be able to do it, and churches can help other churches do that. But, they always sent directly to the church that was in need. Now keep this in mind: When the need was met, they stopped sending a contribution to it! Keep this in mind. You can not find in the Bible where one church went out and brought a need upon itself by going out and bringing in poor people that they could not care for, and then say it becomes the burden of the church. You cannot read about this, my friend. What you read about in the Bible was where there was a need and the church met its own needs. The church never created the need. The church never went out and brought these people in and said, “It is your responsibility.” But we find where the church met its own need like God told it to do. And this is the way that it should be done today.

In fact of business, under certain conditions, the church ought not to even be charged, as in 1 Timothy 5:16. Measure what I say by the Scriptures: “If either a 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.” So there we find an example where the church ought not to even be charged, ought not to even be burdened. It is not the responsibility of the church to take care of all widows and orphans across this country. But as a result of such today, brethren are building benevolent societies and tacking these institutions on to the church. They have divided the body of Christ. In some cases they are homes for the widows. Sometimes they are orphan homes. Sometimes they are homes for unwed mothers. Then they say, “It is your responsibility to take care of them,” and as a result of this, they have divided the body of Christ. If you say, “No, there is not any Bible authority for it,” then they make the false accusation that you are anti-orphan carers, that you do not believe in caring for the poor, and this is not so.

But regarding some of these people today who say that we do not believe in helping the poor. I want you to remember what they said in days gone by. In the Gospel Advocate Quarterly of 1946, let me read to you what they said about Acts 11:27-30, 1 Corinthians 16, 2 Corinthians 8. Listen to it carefully: “It should be noted that there were no elaborate organizations for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the funds. This is the New Testament method of functioning.” Watch it. “We should be highly suspicious of any scheme that requires the setting up of an organization independent of the church in order to accomplish its work.” Why that is just as plain as it can be, and the truth. But listen again. “The self-sufficiency of the church in organization, work, worship and every function required of it by the Lord should be emphasized. This lesson is much needed today. The church is the only organization authorized to discharge the responsibility of the Lord’s people. When brethren form organizations independent of the church to do the work of the church, however worthy their aims and right their design, they are engaged in that which is sinful.” That is what they said in 1946. Then they changed and divided the body of Christ over it. This is one of the major issues that has brought division. We will have more to say of this in our next article.

Truth Magazine XXI: 19, pp. 294-296
May 12, 1977