By Mike Willis
In last week’s editorial, I discussed half of the problem of the church and the individual. I attempted to demonstrate from the scriptures that the position that whatever the individual may do, the church may do is false. The other position which some seem to be taking is that whatever the church may not do, the individual may not do. We are seeing expressions of this with reference to colleges which operate Bible departments and foundations such as Cogdill Foundation. Some brethren are opposed to both of these on the basis that they believe that God has given the church the exclusive responsibility of teaching the gospel.
Some of these brethren have opposed church support of colleges on this basis through the years, although the majority of brethren have opposed church support of colleges on a different basis. However, some have reached the conclusion that since the church cannot send a contribution to a college, neither can an individual. Hence, what the church cannot do is what the individual cannot do.
Using the same points of comparison mentioned last week, I want to show that the individual can be engaged in many activities which the church is forbidden to be engaged in. This will demonstrate the error of the thesis “what the church cannot do, the individual cannot do.”
The Individual Can Do Many Things Which The Church Cannot Do
There are many areas of liberty in which an individual may choose to become involved that a church has no God-given authority to become involved. This can be seen in a number of different manners; let us consider a few of them.
1. The community obligations. I have a number of obligations toward my fellow man because I am a member of a community. In addition to my responsibility to conduct myself in a way that glorifies God, I have a responsibility to help as many needy people as I have the opportunity to help (Gal. 6:10; Lk. 10:25-37). These are obligations given to me as an individual, not to the church as a collectivity.
As an individual discharging my God-given obligations. I have every right to work with other individuals in discharging these obligations. I can pool my resources with other individuals to build hospitals, orphan homes, old folks’ homes, unwed mothers’ homes, and any number of other service institutions. T’he scriptures have not legislated regarding the kinds of organizations which can be used in discharging these personal obligations; therefore, I can work with others as I see fit in fulfilling my obligations before God in this realm.
Throughout the controversies over church support of human institutions, brethren have correctly argued that they were not opposed to the existence of colleges or orphan homes; they were opposed to the church support of these institutions. I think they argued correctly.
2. The home. I have a number of God-given obligations with reference to my family. So far as I am able to determine, I have every scriptural right to pool my resources with other families in order to discharge these family obligations. In discharging my obligations to educate my family, I have the liberty to pool my resources with others to provide whatever educational opportunities I choose for my family. In discharging my obligations to provide clean recreation for my children, I have every right to pool my resources with other families to rent the facilities of a camp area and run it in accordance with the moral principles revealed in God’s word, if I so desire.
Although the church cannot become involved in these activities without violating the word of God, individuals have the right to pool their resources in order to discharge their personal, individual responsibilities. The Lord has not legislated how to provide these things for my family.
3. The government. I also have certain responsibilities toward my country, as a citizen in this country. 1 have the liberty of working with other citizens in discharging these responsibilities. Hence, if I want to become a member of some political party which might direct this country in the direction which I think it ought to go, I have the scriptural right to become a member of that party or organization. I can join other concerned citizens to voice my opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, the showing of nudity and profanity on television, abortion on demand, or whatever other political ideas I want to support. Although the church cannot be involved in any of these activities, the individual has a right to function individually and in conjunction with other individuals in discharging his God-given individual responsibilities.
4. Business. God has given to me certain responsibilities in business; I must be engaged in gainful employment to provide for my family. If I choose to pool resources with several other people who need to be engaged in gainful employment to support their families to form some kind of business partnership, I have every right to do so. Although the church cannot be involved in business enterprises, the individual can be involved in such activities. Hence, I can pool resources with other individuals in discharging this personal, individual responsibility.
These areas demonstrate that an individual has the right to do a number of things which the church cannot do. Hence, the thesis, “whatever the church cannot do, the individual cannot do,” is false. No one, to my knowledge, would question anything that I have said to this point. However, the water becomes muddy for some people when we turn to individual responsibilities in reference to the dissemination of God’s word, the teaching of moral obligations, and other matters related to the Scriptures.
My Individual Responsibilities in Religion
Sometimes brethren want to treat my individual responsibilities in religion as if they were unique. Frankly, I can see no difference in discharging my individual responsibility to support my family, to care for the needy non-Christians, to work as a good citizen in the government, to work as an individual member of my family, and in discharging my individual responsibilities to teach God’s word and to meet the benevolent responsibilities which I have toward Christians.
As an individual, I have a moral obligation to disseminate God’s word (Acts 8:4; 2 Tim. 2:2). The obligation which I have in this area is not discharged when the church sends money to support a gospel preacher to some needy area. I have personal, individual responsibilities in teaching God’s word which the church cannot do for me. So far as I am able to determine, I have the right to work with other individuals in discharging these personal, individual responsibilities, even as Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke labored together in discharging their individual responsibilities. Consequently, I see nothing wrong with individuals pooling their resources to publish some kind of paper to spread the word of God as Leslie Diestelkamp, his family, and other interested saints do in publishing Think. Whether they decide to give the paper away or to sell it is their own choice. I see no greater virtue in selling such a paper than in giving it, the comments of some preachers to the contrary notwithstanding.
Furthermore, I see nothing sinful in several individuals pooling their resources to publish good literature designed to teach God’s word. Publishing organizations which print and distribute the Bible and books about the Bible can be created and supported by individuals in discharging their personal responsibilities.
I have every right to join with others in working in moral instruction. If I choose to join a temperance society, the Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other organization designed to teach moral principles, I have violated nothing in God’s word, so far as I am able to determine. I have the right to join with others in the discharge of my personal, individual obligations.
So far as I am able to determine, several of us have every right to pool our resources to conduct a gospel meeting in any area we choose. If several of us pooled our resources to rent a tent, property, seats, and a microphone to conduct a meeting in some area in which no church existed, I do not understand that we would have violated any scripture in so doing. We would not be robbing the church of its glory, doing the work of the church, or anything else which might conflict with our obligations to the local church. We would simply be discharging our individual responsibilities in conjunction with others who were discharging their individual responsibilities. We would not be doing the work of the church in such an arrangement any more than when we pooled our resources to discharge our responsibilities to our families, our governments, our communities, and our businesses.
If several of us decided to pool our resources to assist some aged, needy saint, we would have every right to do so. The fact that we pooled our resources to help this saint would not constitute a violation of any Scripture in spite of the fact that the church might also have a responsibility to this same individual. Whatever several of us did together in discharging our personal responsibilities would have nothing to do with the church’s responsibility toward that individual.
Some brethren among us are taking such a radical position on collectivities that they are making it necessary that all collective action in spiritual matters be discharged through the local congregation. Several Christians cannot pool their resources to assist widow indeed without forming a “sinful” collectivity, according to this position. Such results in a position that says “whatever the church cannot do the individual cannot do,” a premise which I have sought to demonstrate to be false in the article.
If someone knows where God has legislated regarding how I am to discharge my individual responsibilities with reference to caring for needy people and teaching the word of God, I would like for him to show me that legislation. I know of no passage which says that the work of teaching the word of God has been given exclusively to the church. It simply is a false conclusion which some have reached which says that whatever the church cannot do (such as contribute to a college in which the Bible is taught), the individual cannot do.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that a person must contribute to a college with a Bible department in order to be a faithful servant of God. I am not saying that an individual must pool his resources with other individuals to discharge any of his responsibilities, whether we are discussing his responsibilities in business, the home, the government, or the community. He does, however, have this liberty. Inasmuch as it is a liberty, it cannot be forced on others. It must be treated on the basis of Romans 14. With the hope that this sheds more light than heat on the subject of the individual and the church, this material is submitted for your consideration.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 12, pp. 179-181
March 19, 1981