By Dudley Ross Spears
In the May issue of Basil Overton’s paper, The World Evangelist, the good editor takes up the issue of general benevolence among those who are not Christians and after asking the questions, seems not to be able to find the right answer. Basil Overton is totally anti in his editorial. He is anti-saints-only benevolence from the church treasury. It would be extremely interesting to see Overton get positive and show from the Bible where the church has divine right to engage in general benevolence among those who are not Christians. It would be interesting to hear what he would have to say about churches supporting purely secular benevolent institutions or orphanages operated by the Masonic Lodge or some denomination.
If the church is not limited in benevolent work from the treasury then it must be either semi-limited or unlimited. Which is it, brother Overton? If the church, from the common funds, is unlimited in benevolent work, what objection could be registered against donating to the Red Cross, the Heart Fund, the United Way, or any number of other such organizations? If it is just the doctrinal aspect or denominational affiliation involved in some benevolent institutions, could the church help an indigent Catholic “Priest” or “Nun?” Would brother Overton object to such a practice?
Overton says that if some affirm that 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 means that church funds were to be restricted to “saints only,” then it would be inconsistent for preachers to be supported out of the treasury. The good editor has apparently never learned that 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 is instruction covering the collection of funds and is not an exhaustive treatment of the disbursement of the same funds. The passage says that the collection was to be taken “upon the first day of the week.” It was for the “saints” who were in need. To have used the funds for other than saints would be misappropriating the funds. But there are numerous other passages which teach how the New Testament churches spent their money which includes supporting the preachers of the gospel (Phil. 4:14-16; 2 Cor. 11:7-8).
More of the same type of faulty reasoning is seen in the editor’s confused thinking when he says that money from non-saints could not be taken into the contribution. He issues the challenge to any church that teaches that only saints who are in need are legitimate objects of congregational benevolence to tell him that no money from non-saints is taken into the treasury. Our answer is simply that there is authority only for the relief of needy saints from the treasury and only saints are commanded to contribute and there is absolutely nothing said about non-saints either contributing or not contributing. That is not the problem at all. We do not solicit non-members for money but we surely do our members. We cannot say it is a sin for a nonmember not to contribute into the common fund, but surely must say it is sinful for a member not to contribute. See the difference, brother Overton?
Brother Overton has been wrong about the difference in individual Christian action in benevolence and collective action in benevolence ever since I have known him and that goes back .over twenty years. He wonders why 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 means “saints only” when a local church does benevolence and why 1 Corinthians 16:5 does not mean “saints only” when individual Christians do benevolence. There are other passages which teach individual Christians to help saints and non-saints (Gal. 6:10). Other passages teach individual Christians to provide for their own relatives and not burden the church (1 Tim. 5:16). Thus it is right for individuals to help those outside the fellowship of the church “as we have opportunity,” but if brother Overton knows of a passage that teaches the local churches of Christ to do a general work of benevolence among non-members why doesn’t he produce it and stop being so negative about the whole matter of benevolence? No, it is not a sin to help those who are not Christians in relieving their needs – it is a sin to take funds from the treasury and relieve them. Brother Overton and those who stand with him seem more bound up with the treasury of the local church than anyone I can think of. They leave the impression that the only benevolence that is done must be financed collectively through the common treasury of the church. He needs to think more about this matter.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 12, p. 178
March 19, 1981