By Ray Ferris
Recently several questions were submitted that they might be answered from the pulpit here in Kenosha. In the article which preceded this one we noted the bases upon which we can learn from the scriptures, the questions t h a t were asked, and answered two of the questions. The following material concludes the answering of the questions, along with some concluding observations of a practical nature now. You are urged to review the preceding article before continuing with this one.
VI. Who shall do the work of the church –the church or some man-made institution?A. We must recognize the church as a divinely created organism that is as perfect as an infinitely wise and powerful God could make it.
B. We must realize the church is sufficient to do everything God intended for the church to do. Otherwise the church must become subservient to an earthly, man-made plan to accomplish its task.C. The church must operate in all things according to the pattern set forth in God’s word.
D. This pattern sets forth clearly the principle that the church was sufficient to do, and did, everything God required of it in apostolic days. It was able to evangelize the world and care for its own needy without establishing any separate organization through which to function, and without supporting such organization after its establishment. To do so now is to evidence lack of faith in the pattern set forth in the Bible. Note: the buying of services from corporations such as the gas and electric company, hotel, etc. are not parallel to making contributions to build and operate these companies. To buy services from a hospital, orphan’s home or missionary society (purchase of Bibles) is not parallel to making contributions to build and maintain these corporations.
E. Often the issue is beclouded by someone saying the Bible does not say how to do some of the things that the church is to do, and that we are thus left free to determine the how. All of the present controversy over such matters is not over the HOW, but is rather a question of WHO shall do the church’s work? Shall the church control and do it, or shall it just supply funds for some other organizations?
VI. To whom can the church make contributions?
A. The answer to this question must likewise come from the pages of God’s word. When the pattern is examined we find the church making contributions in only two senses.
1. When individuals in the church in Jerusalem were in need, shortly after the church was established, the church helped those needy saints. Note again such passages as Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-37; 5:1-11 and 6:1-8. Thus the church is authorized to provide the necessities of life for individuals who are saints. This is in a very real sense a contribution, but it must be understood that the church was “over this business” (Acts 6:3), and that when the need no longer existed in any individual’s life the “contribution” would very logically cease. This was not a matter of contributing to private homes for them to continue to assume responsibilities they could not meet.2. The saints in a particular place might logically become destitute to the point of being unable to provide for themselves as a collective group. There are two different occasions pictured for us in the word when this happened.
a. In Acts 11:27-30 the whole land of Judea was involved. The brethren in Antioch resolved to help in this situation, and did, sending contributions by the hands of Barnabas and Saul unto the elders in Judea. (Note that the relief was sent to the elders where the help was needed — in Judea. There is no basis for the claim that all help was sent to Jerusalem’s elders and that they distributed it throughout the land of Judea.)
b. A number of years later–probably about eight or ten years later according to most historians–another famine arose that was limited to Jerusalem. Help for this famine (for needy saints) was sent by a number of different churches–Read again 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15; and Romans 15:25-33. The last passage indicates that the money was delivered to the church in Jerusalem.
c. Sometimes the dodge is used in these controversies that the churches make contributions to the preacher’s home, but that some preachers who thus receive contributions refuse to consider that the church can contribute to orphans homes. Or the argument will run like this: “Why can the church support a preacher’s home and not support an orphan’s home?” There is a deceitful change of meaning in the word support in this question. Churches pay wages to a preacher–(2 Cor. 11:8). They do not support his home in the sense of making contributions to it–at least they ought not to do so. If he quits preaching his wages ought to stop. That which the gospel preacher receives so that he may provide the necessities of life for himself and his family is not a matter of charity. Note also: the objection is not to the church providing a place to live for any person for whom it is responsible; the objection is to the church making contributions to a board of directors who then determine who shall be helped, where they shall be helped, when they shall be helped, how they shall be helped, etc. As already mentioned, the question that causes the controversy is not how the job shall be done, but rather who shall do the job. All but those who do not want to see can also distinguish the difference between the church owning a house, which it provides as a part of the support (wages) for its preacher, and the giving of funds to a board of directors to spend and control in doing any work for which the church may be responsible.
B. The conclusion is inevitable. The pattern of the scriptures is very simple. The church may help Christians who are in need (contribute what is necessary to provide those needs), and the church may contribute to another church that is in need. There is no authority for the church to make contributions to any organization other than another needy church.
VII. Can one church perform its work through another church in such arrangements as the Herald of Truth, the “Lubbock plan of mission work,” Orphan Homes under the “sponsorship” of an eldership, etc.?A. Again our answer must come from the pattern set forth in the scriptures.
B. Some preliminary observations.
1. All churches are equally responsible for preaching the gospel to the whole world–to the extent of their ability they are responsible, and to no greater extent.
2. All churches are equally responsible for helping the world’s needy–they are responsible for helping their own needy saints to the extent of their ability, and may be helped by other churches to help their own needy saints if they cannot help themselves. They may in turn help a church in another place if that church cannot supply the help necessary for its own members. In every instance where help is needed in another place all churches sustain equal responsibility to the church where the help is needed–to the extent of their ability and no farther.
3. All of the arrangements noted in this question are efforts to make one church primarily responsible for a work that is far beyond its ability. These works are assumed. Any church and every church have as much responsibility to preach the gospel over radio and TV to the world, as does Highland in Abilene. Any church and every church have as much responsibility to send evangelists into the field to preach, as does Broadway in Lubbock. Any church and every church has as much responsibility to care for needy people of the world as does Cleveland Avenue in Wichita, and we have noted that the responsibility is only to saints from the church treasury. Every church could thus assume the identical works these churches have assumed and make the identical plea for help they make! These churches beg and receive money from hundreds and hundreds of other churches and then engage in a dollar swapping campaign among themselves. Highland sends money to Broadway and Broadway turns around and sends it right back, etc.
4. These are all plans that concentrate and centralize control and money in the hands of one eldership.
C. The pattern of the scripture is very simple.
1. The church sent directly to the work that was being accomplished in every instance, and not through some other church.
a. Help was sent to the preacher as he labored from place to place in preaching the word.
(1). Philippians 4:15-16.
(2). 2 Corinthians 11:8.
b. Help was sent to the church (elders) where the need existed when one church provided help for another church to care for its needy.
(1). Acts 11:27-30.
(2). 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1 9:15; and Rom. 15:25-33.
2. The church never sent to another church, which “sponsored” a much greater work than they could do, and thus received funds from other churches that operated through the “sponsoring” church. The pattern is for one church to send to all places where it desires to help. The pattern is for all churches to send directly to the church that is in need of assistance. It was Antioch to the elders in Judea. The churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia (including Corinth) sent to the church in Jerusalem where help was needed. Churches sent directly to Paul in the field. Read again the passages immediately above.
3. There was never any plan of centralized control whereby one church collected funds from many churches to send on to another church or to an evangelist in the field–the “Lubbock plan.” There was never any plan whereby a church assumed responsibility for some great work of preaching the gospel to a whole nation, province, etc., which was impossible without the help of many other churches, and thus required the collection of funds from other churches in order to do this work all under the centralized control and oversight of one church–The Herald of Truth. There was never any plan of collecting the needy people of the world (or the churches) into one place under the oversight of an eldership and then pleading for many churches to send funds so this one group of elders could do the work of many churches for them –Orphans home under Cleveland Avenue elders.
D. If many churches can do some of their work through another church why can they not do all of their work through another church? If many churches can do some of their work through another church why cannot all churches do some of their work through one church? If all churches could do some of their work through one church why could not all churches do all of their work through one church? What passage or principle would limit this if we open the door a crack to permit part of it? Would it be right for all churches to do all radio and TV preaching through Highland in Abilene? Would it be right for all churches to do all “mission work” through Broadway in Lubbock? Would it be right for all churches to help the needy through the Cleveland Avenue church in Wichita? Could we do all of these different things through just one of these churches? Which one?
E. Conclusion — These arrangements are not only not according to the scriptures; they are not even sensible and reasonable when one really examines them.
VIII. These controversial arrangements are productive of much strife and division.
A. In the southern part of the nation sharp lines of fellowship have been, and are being, drawn over these arrangements. The situation is very much parallel to the controversy over the mechanical instruments of music in the worship and the missionary societies of prior generations. Where these arrangements are presented and advocated division and strife are almost sure to follow. The one who is conscientiously opposed to them is not able to work in such plans, and if they are insisted upon, will be forced out of the fellowship of those who practice them.
B. The state of Wisconsin was once relatively free from any real problem concerning these issues. That is no longer true. It is being made a test of fellowship now in this state, and to an ever-increasing degree as time goes by.
C. This writer has never met a man who was willing to affirm that these things must be practiced by a church in order for it to be everything the Lord would require of that church. It is rather insisted that these things are expediencies and privileges that we have. (It ought to be obvious that we have no expediencies and privileges in any religious matter until there is first authority established for them.) Let us suppose they were expediencies–thus in the realm of judgment. Are they worth dividing the Lord’s church for them? Many, many of my brethren will spend eternity in hell because of hatred, bitterness, and animosity toward other brethren, and much of this has been caused because of the bitter strife about these so-called expediencies. It is my firm conviction that the Bible teaches that any man who would deliberately sever the unity of the body of Christ over that which is to him a matter of expediency or judgment will never stand in the presence of God in eternity. Read carefully Rom. 14:1-23 and 1 Cor. 8:1-13. The one who bids Godspeed to such practices and teaching is partaker with the evil (2 John 9-11). Insistence upon promoting, that which is manifestly not necessary, and which causes division and strife is assuredly not the Spirit of Christ operating within us. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”. (Romans 8:9 )
IX. In conclusion we express an earnest and fervent prayer that brethren may yet be made to realize the horror that is being wrought daily in the church because of these controversies, and thus give them up before it is entirely too late. If this is not the will of God we pray for strength and courage; for a firm stand for that which is right and cannot be wrong. May we ever realize that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy auld good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
Truth Magazine VI: 6, pp.10-13