The Individual and the Church

By Ralph Edmunson

“Since individual Christians make up the church, what is the difference between people supporting orphan homes individually and supporting them collectively?” This is a question which has been asked frequently in the last few years. We believe that a proper understanding of this principle would go a long way toward healing the breach in the brotherhood.

There are several passages of scripture that definitely demonstrate that there is a difference between the actions of Christians as individuals and the same acts done by the church collectively.

Matt. 18:15-17: “And if thy brother sin against thee go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican.” When one individual sins against another individual, two members of the church are involved, but, it is not the church acting. Later, other witnesses are called and then there are three or four members of the church in on-the action. Still, the church is not involved, even though they are all members of the church. But if the individual members cannot work the problem out, they are to “take it to the church.”

1 Tim. 5:16: “if any woman that believeth hath widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” From this it is evident that when an “individual Christian” woman relieves her own needy relatives, it is not the church doing it; she is acting as an “individual Christian.” Likewise, when, according to verse 8, a Christian husband and father provides for his own family, this is not the church acting. In each case they are the same individuals who make up the church, yet they are acting, not as the church, but as individuals. There is certainly a place for the church collectively to act, for verse 16 refers to the church “reliev(ing) them that are widows indeed.” This certainly restricts the benevolent work of the church to special cases; but the individual Christian is not so restricted.

1 Cor. 12:14: “For the body is not one member, but many.” Again, here is definite evidence that there is a difference between the actions of Christians considered individually and collectively.

Acts 5:3-4: “Why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?” Notice that Peter makes two assertions and one implication concerning “individual” possessions: First, Before the land was sold, it still belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Ananias. Second, After the land was sold, the money they received for it was still theirs. Third, Peter implies that after Ananias and Sapphira had laid the money at the apostles’ feet, it no longer belonged to them. It now was a part of the “pile of money” that they and other “individual Christians” had been contributing for the aid of the needy Christians.

As far as can be deduced from the inspired record in Acts, there was nothing compulsory about donating all of one’s material possessions to the church. Ananias was condemned, not because he withheld some of the price, but, because he lied about it.

The “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37) affords an excellent example of what we are talking about. Here was a man who needed help now; so the Samaritan gave him assistance as an individual.

Examples are abundant from the material realm which illustrate this difference between individual action and group action. For instance, let us ask the question a little differently: “Since individual citizens make up the United States, what is the difference between Americans’ supporting a private horse show individually and supporting it collectively (that is using federal tax money)? We can easily understand this principle in politics: the principle is the same in religion.

Truth Magazine XIX: 46, p. 732
October 2, 1975