Statement of Belief
The Scriptures teach that the church is to give benevolence to any needy saint:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
And also to provide for evangelism:
And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need (Philippians 4:15-16).
It is also the responsibility of the individual Christian to help saints in need:
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 (1 Timothy 5:16).
But the duty of assisting any others in need falls upon the individual Christian:
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
The Scriptures do not teach that the church may fund evangelism through the use of an extra-church organization or for a group of churches to fund evangelism through one church alone.
Sections on this Page
- The Individual and the Church
- Church Benevolence to Non-Saints
- The Missionary Society
- The Sponsoring Church Arrangement
The Individual and the Church
When discussing the responsibilities of the church and the individual in regards to benevolence, there often seems to be confusion regarding the relationship of the individual and the church. Many feel that since the church is made up of individual Christians, whatever the individual is commanded to do is something the church is allowed to do. Does Scripture show this to be true?
While it is certainly true that the church is the collective of individual Christians with Christ at its head (Colossians 2:18), we see that the roles of individual and collective are differentiated in 1 Timothy 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.
The individual first has the responsibility, and only when there are no individuals to assist, then the church is to step in and care for widows. If the church had the same responsibility as the individual, this distinction in 1 Timothy would not be necessary.
Furthermore, we have the example of the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-40:
“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.’
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’
And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.'”
As we can see, the sheep collectively represent the church, yet the judgment is based on how each person as an individual helped those in need.
The church exists for the assistance of its members, spiritually, physically, and emotionally (Hebrews 10:25, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Yet, as we have seen from the above in Matthew 25:31-46, the saints are saved not by virtue of the church with whom they assemble, but because they have been found righteous in the eyes of the Lord. We work as a collective to assist each other in this walk, but in the end, the judgment shall be made on an individual basis, as seen clearly from Romans 14:10:
But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? Or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God.
Therefore, as we have seen, the individual has more responsibility than the collective church, for the individual can act in one of three ways:
- Individual as an individual [i.e. evangelizing (Matthew 28:18), being an example (Matthew 5:13-16)]
- Individual as part of the collective church [i.e. Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)]
- Individual as either an individual or as a part of the collective church [i.e. singing (Colossians 3:16/James 5:13), praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17)]
All of these acts, done in accordance with the Scriptures, will lead to the building up of the individuals and the Body of Christ. When we blur or destroy the lines that God has made, we place ourselves in danger of apostasy (2 John 1:9).
Church Benevolence to Non-Saints
Many groups and denominations teach that the church is authorized to use part of its treasury to assist non-saints in some way, either through direct subsidy or through some institution established for this purpose. Do the Scriptures teach that the church is allowed to assist non-saints through benevolence? Let us examine the Scriptures.
Many arguments are made using the Scriptures to justify the use of the funds of the Lord’s treasury to assist non-saints. Let us examine these now.
Argument: 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 shows that the church gave to more than just saints.
Answer: The passage in question:
For the ministration of this service not only filleth up the measure of the wants of the saints, but aboundeth also through many thanksgivings unto God; seeing that through the proving of you by this ministration they glorify God for the obedience of your confession unto the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution unto them and unto all; while they themselves also, with supplication on your behalf, long after you by reason of the exceeding grace of God in you.
This passage does say that the church gave to “them and to all,” but who is contained in the “all?” We know from verse 14 that “they” (referring back to the phrase “to them and to all”) were “pray[ing] on [their] behalf.” Who prays but the believers? Therefore, it is certain from this passage that Paul is referring to the giving to the saints, and to the saints alone.
Argument: We are to do good to “all men” in Galatians 6:10. The letter to the Galatians is written to the churches of Galatia, therefore, the church is to do good to “all men.”
Answer: The text in question:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith.
When considering this verse, we must examine the context of the letter to the Galatians, especially around the sixth chapter. Throughout the sixth chapter, Paul makes reference to individuals, that they should bear one another’s burdens (verse 2), each bearing his or her own burden (verses 3-5), that the individual should teach the things of Christ (verse 6), that one will reap what he sows (verses 7-8). Therefore, as we can see, the individual Christian is the focus of this portion of the Galatian letter; it stands to reason that verse 10 thus also refers to the work of the individual, and not the work of the church.
Argument: James 1:27 shows that we are to help orphans and widows; why can’t we as a church?
Answer: The text:
Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
James is very specific in this passage as to whom the burden of visiting the orphans and widows falls upon: “oneself.” Since these two principles consist of “pure and undefiled religion,” and one is qualified as to be done as “oneself” and the other shows no qualification, it is clear that James intends this pure and undefiled religion to be practiced by the individual.
Retort: Are you saying that the church cannot practice pure and undefiled religion?
Answer: James 1:27 is not discussing the church in any way, shape, or form. James is making no comment toward the nature of the church or its function. We learn the following from Ephesians 5:27:
That he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
We see that the church is holy and blameless, thus “pure and undefiled…unstained from the world.” The need for “practicing religion” as seen in James 1:27 needs not be a burden placed upon the church, and thus neither is it to be burdened with the assistance of non-saints.
Argument: We give to the church so that the church can give to the poor as an expedient for us to fulfill our commands.
Answer: As discussed in Instrumental Music, an expedient is the way that one fulfills a command. Expedients are surely to be used when a command has been given, i.e. a songbook so that we know what to sing, a car to transport ourselves to assembly and back, and such things, but there is no Scriptural right to have an expedient for a command which has not been made. An expedient in the case of benevolence for a non-saint would be if a Christian financially supported an institution that assists the poor and needy (if that were a profitable way to go about assisting the poor). Involving the church constitutes an addition not sanctioned in the Scriptures.
Distinctions Between Responsibilities
Some, when discussing this issue, wish to cloud the matter under consideration by attempting to discuss orphans in general. The church has the responsibility to help anyone who is a saint no matter what he or she happens to be, a widow, a mother, a father, a child, or an orphan. If they have called upon the name of the Lord and have been added to His church (Acts 22:16), the church is under obligation to help them in any need. The church, however, has no such responsibility to anyone who is a non-saint, be they mothers, fathers, widows, children, or orphans, for this is the responsibility of the individual Christian (as discussed above; James 1:27, Galatians 6:10).
The Ends Justify the Means?
When discussing giving benevolence to non-saints, some will argue that the church can give money to non-saints in order to help convert them. They argue since some of these individuals will convert, what could be wrong with assisting them beforehand?
It is very true that we are to convert any and everyone we can (Matthew 28:18-20), and that the church ought to support evangelism (Philippians 4:15-16), yet does anything go when converting people? Should we do whatever we can to convert people? For instance, if a Christian would go into a bar to spread the Word and he buys a prospective Christian a drink, and the prospect later converts, does this justify the purchase of the alcohol? By no means! We are to lead others to Christ by our example (Matthew 5:7-13); what kind of example do we set when we implicitly approve things which God has not? We must always strive to evangelize and help those in the lost world, but we must not do so at the expense of our own purity and holiness, as evidenced in James 1:27.
Furthermore, to what are we converting people if we use benevolence? Are we converting people to the spiritual Kingdom of God or to a handout? Let us consider the example of John 6 and see that we need to preach the Gospel to convert people to the Gospel, and that we ought not to preach food or benevolence.
The Missionary Society
Many denominations have established what are called “missionary societies,” institutions established to fund the needs of missionaries throughout the world. These missionary societies generally receive funding from individual churches within the denomination or denominations and distribute the funds to the missionaries. Do the Scriptures allow for such a practice?
There is no command or example in the Scriptures of any church or churches giving to a separate institution to support missionaries. It is argued, however, that since evangelists were funded in many different ways in the Scripture, by their own work (Acts 18:3), by the church they are currently working with (2 Corinthians 11:7-10), or by different churches supporting them (Philippians 4:15-17), that God has established a liberty in the way that missionaries may be funded.
It would be possible to justify a group of Christians coming together to pool their resources to fund an evangelist/missionary with the argument given above, yet, as we have seen earlier, the individual and the church are different entities. The difficulty within the Scriptures concerning the establishment of the missionary society is not in how the missionaries are funded but because of the means by which they are funded. A church is required to give up its funds into the hands of a different organization which determines who shall receive the funding in the missionary society system; where is the Scriptural pattern for a liberty in this regard?
The Scriptures teach that each individual congregation of the Lord’s people is an autonomous entity: it is self-governed. Each congregation is to have its own elders shepherding the flock and deacons to serve its needs. We read the following in Acts 20:28 and Titus 1:5:
“Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.”
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge.
It may be noted here that Paul’s words in Acts 20:28 are directed to the elders of the church in Ephesus, and the elders of the church in Ephesus only (Acts 20:17). We have no evidence in the Scriptures that any of these churches were governed by any higher official of any kind.
Therefore, since each individual congregation is an autonomous entity, each congregation is responsible for encouraging and edifying one another and supporting evangelism. There is no pattern or example in the Scriptures of churches combining their efforts into a separate institution to fund evangelism. How can a local church wield any form of control over the funds they send to the society? If their funds go to pay for the support staff of the institution, have they fulfilled the commandment to fund evangelism or have they spent the money improperly? The local congregation evidently has no control over where the money goes, and if asked cannot definitively claim that their funds were spent directly on evangelism nor can they affirm the soundness of those to whom funds were given. Thus, the “missionary society” is an institution without Scriptural foundations, and churches which fund these societies violate the Scriptural pattern of local church autonomy.
The Sponsoring Church Arrangement
There have been some, especially in some congregations of churches of Christ, who do not have missionary societies but instead fund evangelists through a “sponsoring church arrangement,” where one local church supports a missionary in a given place and all other churches who desire to fund that missionary send aid to that church. Is this a pattern established in the Scriptures?
The idea is quite similar to the missionary society, with a local church taking over the responsibility of the society. While this system would have less bureaucracy, there is still no Scriptural support for such an arrangement. The local church would still not be directly funding the evangelist, and the pattern of the autonomy of the local church would again be violated.
It is argued by some that such an arrangement was in place with Paul and the church of Jerusalem in Acts 15:22 and Acts 16:4-5 with the churches of Antioch and Asia Minor. Since the church in Jerusalem gave a message of truth to Paul to proclaim to these churches, it is argued that this is an example of the church in Jerusalem assisting the other churches in evangelism. What do the Scriptures say?
We read the following in Acts 15:22 and Acts 16:4-5:
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren.
And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to keep which had been ordained of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
It is difficult not to notice that the Apostles factor heavily in this episode; but why are the elders in Jerusalem involved? The reason is made clear in Acts 15:1:
And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, “Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
This matter was discussed by not only the Apostles but also the elders of the church in Jerusalem because the source of the conflict came from this area. We know from 2 Corinthians 3:1-2 that the men teaching this error would come with letters of commendation, and since they were at least formerly part of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:5), the elders of that church stood up for the truth of the Gospel because the error originated in their own congregation.
The source of the authority of the message proclaimed by letter through Paul and the others is the approval of the Holy Spirit, understood by the apostles and the elders of the church of Jerusalem. This decision was not proclaimed by the church in Jerusalem to the churches in Asia Minor: the decision was proclaimed through Paul and the others with the approval of the other Apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem by the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Further, no funds or any other form of aid was given on the basis of this matter, nor did all the churches look up to the church in Jerusalem for this decision: the elders of the church in Antioch thought it wise to send Paul and the others to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the Apostles, the men inspired by the Holy Spirit, along with the elders of Jerusalem, the authorities over the congregation from which the source of the conflict arose. There is no hint in these passages of the modern “sponsoring church arrangement.”
The main argument given is that benevolence and evangelism are tied together, and since none disagree that a local church has the authority to send benevolence to another local church to disperse to others, this means that a local church can send funding for evangelism to another local church to disperse to others. What Scripture, however, states definitively that benevolence and evangelism are tied together? There is evidence in the Scriptures to the contrary, seen in Acts 6:1-4:
Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, “It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue stedfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.”
Here we have evidence of benevolence and evangelism separated quite clearly: the Apostles did not find it proper to leave the preaching of the Word of God to assist the brethren at that time. If benevolence and evangelism are tied together, why would the Apostles separate them?
It is further argued that Paul was the beneficiary of a “sponsoring church arrangement” according to Philippians 4:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 11:8-9:
And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need.
I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister unto you; and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.
Paul, in the letter to the Philippians, declares quite plainly in verse 15 that the church in Philippi was the only one supporting him when he left Macedonia! The account in 2 Corinthians is most probably about a similar event, but at this time many churches were supporting him; the Scriptures do not give an account of in what way. “Churches” supporting Paul can be seen in one of two ways:
- Individual churches sent to Paul individual contributions
- Individual churches all gave resources to one church to send to Paul as a collective contribution
The second inference requires much stronger of an implication than the first, and without other sufficient Scriptural support, does not suffice as Scriptural evidence for the claim made. The first inference is simpler, and harmonizes better with the text.
Many other such texts exist, including Romans 15:29 and texts in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and all require the same idea of inference. In the end, the entire “sponsoring church arrangement” rests only on inference, and all of the Scriptures are more easily explained by individual churches contributing directly to evangelists. There remains no Scriptural authority to have a “sponsoring church arrangement,” and such an idea violates the Scriptural principle of the autonomy of the local congregation.
- Longhenry/Jackson Debate on Church Benevolence
- The Church of Christ Federal Trust and Savings Corporation
- The Path of Denominationalism: The Church: The People and the Institution
- The Nature of the Church: Collective Responsibilities
- The Nature of the Church: Practices Overburdening the Church