Limited, or Unlimited Church Benevolence?
David D. Bonner
About ten years ago when I lived in Portland, Oregon I phoned the state headquarters of the March of Dimes for the state of Oregon, located in Portland. I asked the purpose of the March of Dimes and was told the purpose of the March of Dimes is to fight 1) polio, 2) birth defects, and 3) arthritis. I then asked another question, about heart disease, to find out if the March of Dimes organization would help fight heart disease. I was told, NO. I then asked if the March of Dimes would feed a starving orphan. I was told, NO. The person with whom I was talking told me that ONLY the three things mentioned above are SPECIFIED in the charter of the March of Dimes and if they use ANY of their money for anything not specified in their charter, they would be misappropriating the money. The person told me that there are other organizations for other good works.
NOBODY expects the March of Dimes to do anything other than the three things specified in its charter. No one gets mad when the Heart Fund doesn’t fight cancer or when the Cancer Fund doesn’t fight heart disease. And, nobody calls such organizations “DO NOTHINGS” when they don’t care for orphan children, either. Why? Because all people know the purpose of such funds.
But, you just let the church be the church and do the work of the church and some are greatly offended. You just name any “GOOD WORK” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 — not the kind the Bible furnishes the church unto but the kind some people want the church to do anyway) that the church is not engaged in and some will think that the church just isn’t doing anything and is a bunch of DO NOTHINGS or even ANTI. Why? Because people don’t look at the church as a SPIRITUAL INSTITUTION which has the primary obligation to fight SIN but rather as a social club and perhaps a community service organization to serve all the fancies of anyone and everyone in the community — be they SOCIAL, RECREATIONAL, EDUCATIONAL, PHYSICAL, OR ANY OTHER. When, and only when, people begin to look at the church for what it is will they ever understand why the Lord’s church doesn’t do everything they would like to see done.
What is the Church?
The church primarily is a SPIRITUAL INSTITUTION with a spiritual work to perform. The church is the manifold wisdom of God, or the institution in which God’s manifold wisdom is known (Ephesians 3:11). If you want to see the wisdom of men, look at their organizations, works, etc. If you want to see the wisdom of God, look at His church.
The Work of the Church
1. Sounding out the Word of the Lord in every place is the work of the church (1 Thessalonians 1:8). This is preaching the gospel.
2. Worship is the work of the church (John 4:24; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 14:15). This is edification (building up). All agree on these two.
What is the Work of the Church in Benevolence?
Does the church operate in the field of LIMITED BENEVOLENCE (just care for certain ones) or does the church operate in the field of UNLIMITED BENEVOLENCE (care for all the world’s needy)?
If the church is to care for all the need in the world then….
1. It has an impossible task for Jesus said, “Ye have the poor always with you….” (Matthew 26:11).
2. What does 1 Timothy 5:16 teach? “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relive them, and let not the church be charged…” Does this not teach that there are some who need to be ““relieved” whom the church is not to relieve? Yes.
If the church is limited in the ones it feeds, what are the BIBLE LIMITS?
1. There are nine scriptures on the subject of the church caring for the needy. The chart below gives these nine Scriptures — please study them.
2. Study the chart carefully to see what was the practice of the apostolic church. Is this the practice of the church of which you are a member?
3. Is it any worse to pervert the WORK of the church than the worship? Or the worship than the work? Some would have great CONCERN if a piano were added to the worship yet go along with many UNSCRIPTURAL ADDITIONS to the WORK. Why?
You can plainly see from the chart below, that all the Scriptures in the Bible on the subject of CHURCH BENEVOLENCE have the church caring for SAINTS. If the church ever relieved any who were not SAINTS (Christians), the Bible is silent on it. When we argue that it is wrong to have a piano in worship, we argue based on the silence of the Scriptures. We claim that the only kind of music God authorized is VOCAL and instrumental music stands condemned for a lack of authority. The same is true with GENERAL BENEVOLENCE. The bible authorizes the church to care for SAINTS. There just isn’t any authority for the church to care for others. The church operates in the field of limited benevolence. That benevolence is limited to those saints in each church who have no other source of relief.
What Happens to Others Who Need Help
Who Aren’t Objects of Relief From the Church?
1. What happens to colleges that need money?
2. What happens to hospitals, social clubs, schools, cancer funds, etc. that need money?
3. What happens to political parties that need money?
Friends, only when people start thinking of the church as a SPIRITUAL INSTITUTION can they realize that the church isn’t supposed to do anything in the world that may need to be done. The INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN can do anything that is good as an individual. He can donate to the cancer fund. But the church can’t. He can help anyone. But the church can’t.
One of the reasons for trouble among brethren today is in the fact that many are taking things such as recreation, secular education, physical betterment, general benevolence, and a host of other things that are clearly works individuals can do an are charging the church with such. The Bible teaches that the church should NOT BE CHARGED (1 Timothy 5:16) with certain things. We have Bible Scriptures for the church to relieve needy saints and to send to needy churches so they can care for their own needy saints (see chart on previous page for the Scriptures) but where in all the Bible did any church send to an UN-NEEDY CHURCH? We need to ensure that we are practicing Bible church autonomy and ensuring that we can prove all that we do with book, chapter and verse, while respecting the silence of God.