Published in Spanish as a booklet under the title "La Iglesia y su Obra." It can also be read in Spanish under the section "Libritos." (The material in this booklet was presented in a series of three sermons in 1963. It was published in English under the title "Questions and Issues of the Day... in the Light of the Scriptures.")
Within the church today there are differences of opinion concerning such matters as the proper methods of caring for orphans, congregational cooperation, the use of the church treasury and similar matters. In recent months several different people have asked me concerning the scripture's teaching on these matters. Since others may also be concerned and since I feel a responsibility to be ready at all times to state my convictions and the reasons for those convictions, I want to set forth what I believe the Bible teaches concerning these questions.
First of all, I should like to make it very plain that I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. It is our authority, our only authority, in all matters that pertain to religion. As the apostle Paul said, "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3.16-17). It is my conviction that in all matters that pertain to religious faith and practice we must speak where the scriptures speak and be silent where they are silent.
In this connection it is imperative that we point out that the scriptures teach God's will to man in three different ways. First, there is direct command, which we find demonstrated in such passages as Acts 2.38, which reads, "And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Similarly, Acts 22.16 contains a direct command, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the his name." These are direct commandments, forthright declarations of the Lord's will.
In the second place, there is approved apostolic example. Demonstrating this avenue of instruction, I would refer to Acts 20.7, in which the inspired writer Luke says, "And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them...." In Acts 16.37, we find another example. The apostle Paul had been put in prison at Philippi publicly. When given opportunity to regain his freedom, he demanded that it also be a public occasion. The account says, "But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men that are Romans, and have cast us into prison; and do they now cast us out privily? nay, verily; but let them come themselves and bring us out." This is an apostolic example of using one's rights as a citizen for the advantage of the Cause of Christ. These and similar passages suggest to us what is pleasing in God's sight through the avenue of approved apostolic example.
In the third place, there is necessary inference. Notice that I do not say merely inference, but necessary inference. Hebrews 10.25 will serve as an example. The scripture says, "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh." This passage established the Christian's obligation to attend public worship. The necessary inference is that Christians must have a place in which to worship. The command to meet for worship authorizes the provision of a place in which to worship. This is a necessary inference. I might broaden the statement to say that every teaching of our Lord authorizes whatever is necessary to the carrying out of the teaching. It is most interesting to notice that the New Testament nowhere mentions the erection of a church building. There is no indication that during the lifetime of the apostles any congregation owned a building of its own. However, the command to meet for worship authorizes the building, buying, borrowing, or renting of a suitable place. This is a principle doubted by no one.
It should be further pointed out as general background for our study that God sometimes uses generic terms in giving his instructions while at other times he uses specific terms. Matthew 28.19-20 will serve to demonstrate both types of terms. "Go" is a generic term, allowing the preacher to determine the means by which he does the going. It is equally scriptural to walk, go by boat, ride in a car, or fly in a plane. "Make disciples" also is generic. This passage does not specify whether the efforts to cause one to become a disciple of Christ should be written or oral, whether they should be before a large audience or in private discussion, or whether they should be in face-to-face conversation or by means of radio or television. It is a general term leaving to the preacher of the gospel the selection of some suitable method.
A step further in the text, however, brings us to the word "baptizing" which is not generic but specific. In the Greek language it can only mean immerse, dip, or plunge. Hence, the person doing the baptizing does not have the freedom to determine whether to sprinkle, pour, or immerse. It is specified by the Lord in the word baptizing.
It is just at this point that I wish to point out that in many instances the Lord does not specify the means or methods of carrying out his commands. After giving the general command, he leaves the selection of the specific steps to the elders of the local congregation. This is obviously true in such matters as the hour of worship on the Lord's day, the location of the meeting house, the number of elders or deacons to be selected, and many other such matters. It is wrong and hurtful for anyone to require specifics when the Lord has not done so. Just as it is wrong to loose when the Lord has bound, It is wrong to bind when the Lord has not done so.
Finally, in this introductory discussion it is well to point out that there are many matters on which the Lord has not given a specific statement. When someone calls for book, chapter and verse concerning some specific matter, when the Lord has not given a specific statement, he is using an unfair approach. This can be seen most readily if we call for book, chapter and verse for meeting houses, song leaders, evangelistic meetings, benches, song books, mid-week prayer meeting services, and the like. These are all matters that are fully scriptural, even though no one can find book, chapter and verse specifying any one of them. These are matters that have been left to the discretion of the elders of the congregation under generic rather than specific commandments. It is true, however, that all matters of faith and practice must have authorization in the scriptures either by direct command, approved apostolic example, or necessary inference.
Brother John D. Cox of Florence, Alabama, contributed an excellent article that fits well into this portion of our study:
"Down through the years, those who have set themselves to oppose certain methods and details pertaining to various phases of the work and worship of the church, that fall within the realm of human judgment, have been asking the same question, 'Where can you find it in the pattern?' It is amazing how little some who press this question upon others seem to recognize their own glaring inconsistency. They cry for an example in the pattern for one thing while they accept several things which fall in the same class. A look at the following list will show that what we are saying is true:1. Those who oppose teaching the Bible in classes ask, "Where in the New Testament pattern do you find that a church ever divided the different ages into groups and taught them in classes?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
2. Those who oppose individual cups in the communion ask: "Where is the example in the New Testament of a church using individual cups in serving the Lord's Supper?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
3. Those who oppose the use of literature in teaching the Bible ask: "Where can you read in the New Testament about a church ever using such literature in teaching the word of God?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
4. Those who oppose located preachers ask: "Where is the example of a New Testament church hiring a preacher, agreeing to pay him a fixed salary, furnish him a house to live in, etc.?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
5. Those who oppose the church supporting orphans who live in a home set up by several Christians ask: "Where in the pattern do you find churches supporting such a home?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
6. And recently, some even started going so far as to ask, "Where is the pattern in the New Testament for the church taking care of orphans?" (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
7. As an effort to help those who ask the above questions to see their inconsistency, we are asking the following:a. Where is the "pattern" in the New Testament for an individual taking an orphan into his home to live? (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
b. Where in the pattern of the New Testament church do you find an example of any church ever paying a preacher or making any use of money that was "laid by" "upon the first day of the week" except to send it away from home to help the poor? (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
c. Where in the New Testament do you find an example of a church building, owning, and maintaining a meeting house? (We must answer, "Nowhere.")
The answer to all of the above questions is simply that no examples are required for these things. They fall within the realm of human judgment; on matters where God has legislated or specified, we dare not add to or take from his word (1 Cor. 4.6; Rev. 22.18-19). But, where God has commanded that something be done (such as to teach his word, assemble for worship, eat the Lord's Supper, lay by in store, help widows and orphans) but has not specified the details as to methods and incidentals, no examples are required. Those who seek to bind such matters upon others as matters of faith are as guilty of departing from the faith as those who would treat matters of faith as though they were matters of opinion." (Gospel Defender, Vol. 1, No. 1, Florence, Alabama)
With this general background, we now proceed to examine certain questions and issues which face the church today.
It is quite obvious to any student of the scriptures that there are many descriptions of events and happenings in the New Testament which are not meant to be examples for subsequent ages and certainly are not binding upon Christians in general. As examples of these, I would mention that although every case of eating the Lord's Supper specifically described in the New Testament is a case of its being eaten at night in an upper room, no one understands these incidentals to be binding upon Christians today. Similarly, when Paul preached at Troas, as mentioned in Acts 20, and prolonged his speech until midnight, no one considers this a binding pattern for preachers today. In this same example, no one contends that we must meet on the third floor of some building, with the windows open, and that someone must fall down from the third floor and be taken up dead.
Still another example that all would agree is not to be considered binding is the fact that all the spreading of the gospel described in the New Testament was done in the direction of the west or northwest. We read of no missionaries carrying the gospel east or southeast. However, we understand that there is no special significance in the fact that the church was established at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and that it was most natural for the gospel to be carried westward toward the center of the then civilized world. There is no special significance in the fact that the Holy Spirit chose to highlight the preaching of Peter and of Paul and that they went west. It is of no special significance that we do not know of the preachers involved or the circumstances surrounding the carrying of the gospel toward the east. We can be sure, however, that while we have no such examples the gospel was carried east as well as west.
Finally, by way of illustrating that which is not meant to be binding, I would point out that the travel in preaching the gospel in apostolic times was always on foot or by ship. Surely this is not meant to mean that in our twentieth century we should forego the use of trains, cars, and airplanes. None of these are examples which the Lord means for us to follow. They are incidentals connected with the preaching of the gospel in the first century.
On the other hand, there are certain examples in the New Testament which are meant to be binding on Christians of all time. The determining of when something is a binding example and when it is only an incidental is a major problem. However, this problem can be solved by the simple expedient of looking behind any given example for a basic commandment of God which the example is demonstrating. If the example in question is a clear demonstration of a basic teaching or commandment of the Lord, it is a binding example. By way of illustration, I might mention Paul's mission journeys as inseparably connected with the Lord's commandment in Matt. 28.19-20 to carry the gospel to the whole world. Christians of the twentieth century must be active in carrying the message of Christ into communities where the Lord and his church are not known. This example is binding on us today. Similarly, the example of the church at Antioch sending gifts to the destitute Christians of Judea is also binding because of such commandments as that found in Gal. 6.2, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." When Judean Christians were destitute it was the duty of Syrian Christians to send to their needs. Similarly, today, Christians must be concerned to help other Christians in their infirmities. This, too, is a binding example.
Still another is that found in Acts 20.7 in which the apostle Paul, Luke, and other Christians came together to eat the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. We know that Christians are to eat the Lord's Supper; from this example we know when it is to be done. By reading 1 Cor. 16.2 we learn that the Corinthian Christians were instructed to lay by in store on the first day of the week. Since we also are commanded to give, the example of the Corinthian church doing it on the Lord's day becomes our binding example to do our laying by on that same day. All of these we believe are binding examples upon Christians because of the underlying commandment which each mirrors.
In seeking the scriptural answer to this question, I would begin by pointing out the overall emphasis and teaching of Christianity in the direction of love of the brethren, fellowship, common faith, mutual interests, and similar goals. The very heart of Christianity is love which ties people together rather than separates them. The emphasis of Christianity stands solidly in favor of removing barriers and walls of separation in favor of unity and oneness. Only because of geographical necessity were there separate congregations of the Lord's church. In this contemplation of the basic New Testament emphasis upon brotherhood, fellowship, and unity, it is interesting to note the absence of any evidence that the Jerusalem church, which must have numbered scores of thousands, and the Antioch church, which must have also been large, were divided into numerous independent congregations. Perhaps they were, but there is no indication that they were. Passages like Acts 11.27-30; 13.1; and 15.22, as well as others imply unity rather than separation.
From these general characteristics of Christianity we now turn to specific evidence that congregations of the Lord's church in apostolic times did cooperate with each other. The work of the church can be divided into three categories: (1) benevolence, (2) evangelism and (3) edification. I believe it possible to demonstrate from the scriptures that churches did cooperate with each other in each of these areas.
In the area of benevolence note Acts 11.27-30, which reads, "In these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius. And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt at Judea: which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." In this example we find that the Judean Christians were in want and the Antioch Christians sent to take care of their needs. If this was the responsibility of the Jerusalem church, then it called upon the church at Antioch to help in carrying out its responsibility. If on the other hand, the needy of Judea were the responsibility of Antioch, then Antioch used the Jerusalem church through its elders to distribute the gifts. In any case, we find two congregations cooperating in the matter of caring for the needy of Judea.
In the area of evangelism we find the apostle Paul and his coworker Barnabas sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13.1-3). In both the first and second journeys made by Paul he was sent out by Antioch and eventually reported to Antioch. In the third journey he was again sent out by the church at Antioch though he was not able to return to Antioch by reason of his arrest in Jerusalem. Yet, though the church in Antioch sent him out and undoubtedly contributed to his support, we find other congregations along the way contributing to his support also. In 2 Cor. 11.8-9, we find the apostle Paul writing to the Christians at Corinth where he had formerly worked, "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." In Phil. 4.15-16 we also find, "And ye yourselves also know, ye Phillippians, 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." It is obvious that the apostle Paul received help not only from the church that sent him out but from other congregations along the way. This is cooperation in mission work.
Several years ago I listened for two hours on a Sunday afternoon to a discussion on the issue of cooperation and was somewhat surprised to find one of my brethren arguing that, since in each case the congregations of Macedonia sent directly to Paul by their own personal messenger, this is a binding example upon Christians yet. Are we to understand that because the first century had no system of banks, did not yet know the convenience of writing checks, and had no safe dependable method of sending money by mail, we must still send a personal messenger as they did each time we want to send to an evangelist at home or abroad? No one holds this view today. Likewise, the very geography of the Mediterranean area gives evidence of why it was not feasible for the churches in Macedonia to do anything but send their contributions directly to the evangelists. Of course, they should send directly to Paul because they were several times closer to Paul than was the church at Antioch which had sent him out in the beginning.
Are we to understand from this case that it is unscriptural to cooperate with other congregations to the extent of pooling funds and sending them to an evangelist? I think not, in view of the fact that the apostle Paul and several traveling companions went from congregation to congregation in Macedonia and Achaia collecting funds for the destitute Christians of Judea. These funds were undoubtedly pooled and carried by Paul and his companions from many churches to a single work (1 Cor. 16.2-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9).
In the area of edification I believe that there is evidence that the churches enjoyed association and fellowship. It is obvious that evangelists and teachers visited one congregation after another, just as preachers do today in conducting evangelistic meetings. It is also clear that letters were exchanged among churches, for in Col. 4.16 the church at Colossae is advised to exchange letters with the church at Laodicea.
An even more concrete example is that of the relationship which existed between the churches at Antioch and Jerusalem. In Acts 15 we read that the Christians at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas and several others down to Jerusalem to inquire concerning the matter of Gentiles being required to submit to circumcision. While it is true that this is a special case in that the apostles at Jerusalem were to be consulted and did render a decision, it must also be pointed out, in order to be true to the scriptures, that the elders of the Jerusalem church and the Jerusalem church in its entirety did participate in sending the letter and the messengers back to Antioch. Notice Acts 15.22,23 which reads as follows: "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 they wrote thus by them...." Notice that this fellowship in teaching - edification - involved the elders of the Jerusalem church and the "whole church."
It is apparent that the churches of the first century cooperated in the realm of benevolence, evangelism, and edification. So we must cooperate today.
With the same spirit of cooperation, the elders of the Highland church in Abilene, Texas have called upon other congregations to assist them in broadcasting the gospel throughout the nation and even into foreign countries. This has been done on both radio and television. Because of these cooperative efforts the gospel of Christ has been preached on three continents and thousands of souls have been saved. In each case the elders of a congregation - God's own framework of organization - have begun a work and then have invited others to assist them in extending the effectiveness of this work. There has been no coercion; no congregational autonomy has been jeopardized. It is simply cooperation within the framework of God's divine church organization and in the spirit of New Testament cooperation.
There are some works too big for a single, local congregation to do. This was true in the first century when Antioch had to have help in assisting Paul to carry the gospel throughout his missionary circuits. It is true today. For example, the producing of films for television, one of the most effective media for carrying the gospel today, is prohibitive for a single congregation. However, in keeping with the spirit of cooperation and fellowship which we find in the New Testament, it is possible for several congregations to work together and to achieve impressive results.
With a world on fire with sin, it is imperative that all Christians throughout all the world support the efforts of all other faithful Christians in prayer, and in every other way that is in keeping with the scriptures. When we realize that each year sees more unsaved people in the world than the year before, we realize how imperative it is that the church of our day not unnecessarily restrict itself through binding where the Lord has not bound. While we recognize the limitations that God's word places upon the church and upon individual Christians, we do not recognize limitations that have been placed by conscientious but mistaken men, which have had the result of hamstringing the church and limiting the effectiveness of the proclamation of the gospel. If these were matters of indifference, we would gladly defer to the conscience of our sincere but mistaken brethren, but since such yielding would mean that the gospel would be less widely preached with fewer souls saved, we dare not defer to their weaker consciences.
In some circles the view is held that while individual Christians can provide for the needs of non-Christians, it is not scriptural for the church to provide benevolence for any but those who are members of the body of Christ. That this is not the teaching of the New Testament is demonstrated quite clearly, I believe, to those willing to read with an open mind, noticing both the spirit and the letter of New Testament teaching. For example, there is a strong implication in favor of doing good unto all men found in the sermon on the mount, as delivered by our Lord, and as recorded in Matt. 5.46-47, "For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same?"
It also appears that Christ worked his miracles on both the righteous and the unrighteous. There is no indication that he singled out those who were faithful Jews before performing his miracles. Mary Magdalene was a person from whom Christ cast out demons, a fact which indicates within itself that she was hardly a faithful member of the Jewish community at the time. It is quite clear, as recorded in Luke 7, that Christ healed a Roman centurion's servant at the request of this Gentile.
In the tenth chapter of Luke, we read the story of the Good Samaritan, which pictures a young lawyer in conversation with Christ. The young lawyer quoted the Old Testament commandment, "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19.18). He then inquired, "And who is my neighbor?" In answer to this inquiry Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan which described a Jewish priest and Levite passing a beaten man on the road without rendering help, while a foreigner from Samaria rendered the needed help. Christ then pointed out the moral of the story by showing that the Samaritan, though a foreigner, was the true neighbor. If Christ commended a Samaritan for crossing the racial and religious lines of demarcation in this benevolent act, it would seem that the teaching obviously applies in the reverse direction.
Perhaps most convincing of all, however, is an explicit statement concerning this matter by the apostle Paul, as guided by the Holy Spirit, after the church had been established and was functioning in its normal way. Gal. 6.10 says, "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." This would seem to settle it for all time, however, there are those who say that this direct commandment applies only to individual Christians and not to the church. Such an interpretation seems farfetched indeed, when one remembers that the Galatian epistle was written from "Paul, an apostle ... and all the brethren that are with me, unto the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1.1-2). This letter was written to the churches and this fact is emphasized in Gal. 1.11; 3.15; 4.12; 5.13; and 6.1, where the word "brethren" is used. This word would imply a group rather than an individual responsibility.
It should also be pointed out that in the same paragraph in which we find Gal. 6.10 we also find Gal. 6.6, which states, "But let him that is taught in the word (the member of the congregation) communicate unto him that teacheth (the preacher) in all good things." It is universally agreed that it is proper and right for a congregation to pay a preacher from its treasury, rather than requiring that the preacher go about the congregation to receive his salary from individuals. We would point out that if Gal. 6.6 teaches that the preacher's income can come from the church as a whole, than obviously Gal. 6.10 can be discharged by the church as a whole from the same common fund.
IV. What do the scriptures teach concerning care for orphans,widows, and others in need?
Let us begin with the fact that God has ordained three institutions: the home (Gen. 1-3), the state (Rom. 13), and the church (Eph. 3.9ff). Each of these institutions is divinely authorized. In this particular study we are not concerned with government, so we dismiss it from our immediate attention. We are concerned with the church and the home, however, and the relationship between these two God-given institutions. It is agreed by all that the primary responsibility for the support of the home falls upon parents. It is also generally agreed that when a Christian home suffers misfortune, so that it is in need of financial help, the church has a secondary responsibility to that Christian home to provide the support.
As an example, we would simply point to a situation in which a Christian father becomes ill, thus becoming unable to continue as the breadwinner for his family and at the same time requiring the services of his wife because of his illness. Obviously, under such circumstances, if the resources of the family are exhausted, the church would have an obligation to help this home in a financial way. Now, it is just in this context that we believe that the church is obligated to care for widows and fatherless children.
The most direct statement of Christian obligation for the care of broken homes is found in James 1.27, as follows: "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." According to Bagster's Greek-English Lexicon, the Greek word translated "to visit" means "to visit for the purpose of comfort and relief, as in Matt. 25.36,43 and James 1.27." Thayer's Greek Lexicon says, "To look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes; in order to see how he is, that is, to visit, go to see one... the poor and afflicted (James 1.27); the sick (Matt. 25.36,43)." The "fatherless" child mentioned here is simply one "bereft" (the lexicon's word) of parents, whether through death, illness, abandonment, or some other means.
Since the above mentioned lexicons refer to Matthew 25, while commenting on James 1.27, it is appropriate that we should quote from this passage: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25.41-46)
In discharging the obligation mentioned in James 1.27 to care for fatherless children, brethren have generally recognized the fact that this is a generic command, in which the Lord has not specified the means or method of fulfilling the command. If there is a means or method of caring for the orphans spelled out anywhere in the New Testament, it has not been found. In view of this fact, Christians have had to use their own best judgment in carrying out this God-given obligation. To my knowledge there are at least six different ways in which conscientious brethren have discharged this responsibility. They have cared for orphans in (1) private homes without outside help; (2) private homes with other persons helping; (3) private homes with the church helping; (4) houses provided by the church to widows and orphans; (5) orphans' homes under the direction of elders; and (6) orphans' homes under the direction of a group of Christian men.
At this point it should be mentioned, that while it is almost universally agreed that it is better for a child to be taken into a Christian home, supported by that family, and even adopted into that family, this is not always possible. Under some circumstances the private home method of caring for orphans is either not available or not legally possible. For example, sometimes a family of several children is orphaned and no home can be found to take all of the children. Rather than separate them, it seems kinder to place them in a group home. Sometimes children need a home only for a limited time, until their own parents, or parent, can reestablish the original home. In such cases, a group home is again the best answer. There are other instances in which children, because of physical, mental, or personality defects, are unwanted by individual homes. Cross-eyed, crippled, or mentally deficient children are not eagerly sought even by Christian families. In still other cases, because of legal limitations, or court litigation, children must be provided a home, but are not available for private homes. In all of these cases, and others which could be named, some kind of group home must be provided. It would seem that God in his infinite wisdom knew that no one method of caring for orphans would suit all circumstances and all needs, so he wisely left the specifics of caring for orphans to thoughtful Christians down through the centuries. Until God tells us how we must care for orphans, we will have to use our own best judgment. We believe that this is what he intended.
Objection Number One
To this position certain objections have been offered. Some have felt that the orphans' home is exactly parallel to the missionary society, and is therefore wrong. To equate the orphans' home and the missionary society thus sweeping them both aside is a serious mistake. The missionary society is a separate man-made institution which replaces the church in the field of evangelism. It takes over the work of the church and even tends to dominate the church. It is an unnecessary rival to the organization which the Lord established for the carrying on of evangelism. In the work of evangelism there are primarily four responsibilities; the selecting, sending, supervising and supporting of missionaries. In its own organizational framework the church is fully capable of doing all of these acts. It does not need a missionary society to perform these duties for it. For the elders of a congregation, who are fully capable of carrying on this aspect of God's work, to turn it over to a missionary society is indeed wrong and sinful.
On the other hand, when we come into the realm of benevolence and face the responsibility of caring for orphan children, it is not possible for the church in its organizational framework to provide the care that is needed. In every case in which orphans are involved a home must be provided. In the framework of the church itself there are no facilities for feeding, clothing, and providing the other necessities that orphan children must have. God's institution for taking care of children is the home, not the church. The orphans' home, whether it be an individual home taking care of one orphan child or whether it be a larger home taking care of many children, is simply a replacement of an original home that has been destroyed. Remember that God ordained the home as well as the church. Remember that the primary obligation for the support of the home lies in the family, but remember, too, that when the parents are unable to provide for the ongoing of the home, the church then has a responsibility to provide. This is all that is being done when the church supports an orphans' home.
In this contrast between the orphans' home and the missionary society, notice that the home is simply a replacement of the original home that the child had when he came into the world. Notice also that the home is a divine institution, established by God. On the other hand the missionary society is an institution originated by men, is a rival to the church, and is unnecessary. The missionary society has other disadvantages, such as the tendency to dominate and to dictate to churches, moving in the direction of a super-organization linking many congregations together in an organizational framework. For these and other reasons the missionary society is wrong. In contrast, the replacement of a broken home by a second home (an orphans' home) is both necessary and right.
Objection Number Two
In some quarters it is insisted that an individual Christian can contribute to an orphans' home but the church cannot do so out of its treasury. Reference is again made to James 1.27 which lays upon Christians the responsibility of caring for widows and orphans. This passage tells what must be done. By turning to 1 Tim. 5 we can learn who is to do it. The passage in James links widows and orphans together as the responsibility of Christians; the passage in Timothy speaks of widows only, but obviously the principles apply to orphans' as well. Notice the apostle Paul's statements, "Honor widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow hath children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety toward their own family, and to requite their parents: for this is acceptable in the sight of God" (1 Tim. 5.3-4). The principle announced here is that when members of a family are in need of care, other members of the family have the first responsibility to provide that care if they are able to do so.
We continue to read, "But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old..." (1 Tim. 5.8-9). Continuing the previous emphasis upon family responsibility, this passage now indicates that for those who have no families able to care for them it is right for them to be "enrolled as a widow" and it obviously means that the church will now accept responsibility. This is clinched finally in 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." This plainly teaches that widows who have no other source of support are to be the burden of the church. James tells what is to be done; Paul tells who is to do it. It might be added that orphans by the very nature of the case do not have parents who can care for them, so they obviously are to be cared for by the church.
Some of those who object strenuously to the orphans' home on the ground that it is parallel to the missionary society hold the view that it is possible for the individual Christian to support the orphans' home. This appears to be an inconsistency, for if the orphans' home is really like the missionary society even an individual Christian could not support it. In similar fashion some who equate the missionary society and the orphans' home hold the view that it is permissible for a church to buy the services of an orphans' home, by paying for the care of an individual child as one would pay for accommodations at a hotel. This likewise is an inconsistency, for if the orphans' home is like a missionary society it would be wrong for a church to buy the services of the home, just as it is wrong for the church to buy the services of a missionary society. The fact is that the orphans' home and the missionary society have nothing in common.
Objection Number Three
Some have objected to the orphans' home because of the fact that it must be chartered by the state. It is argued that it therefore becomes an institution and it is then concluded that institutionalism is wrong. I would ask, "Is there any home existing today that is not licensed by the state?" It would appear that when a couple take out a marriage license and upon the authority contained in that license marry and establish a home that it also has a certain chartered nature. In similar vein we might point to the fact that in many states the church itself must appoint trustees in order to hold property. We know that trustees are not a part of God's organization for the church as revealed in the New Testament, but if the state in which a church exists requires that some of the elders be appointed as trustees, it is not wrong for them to be so designated. In compliance with the laws of the state the church then names trustees who hold the title to the church property. Does this mean that the church is now some special kind of institution and is therefore wrong? We think not, since the state requires the naming of trustees. In similar fashion when the state requires that a home caring for orphans shall be listed with the state and recognized by the state, it does not materially affect the situation.
Those who object to orphans' homes under the control of a group of Christian men fail to realize that these men are operating merely in the place of the parents of orphaned children. After parents were no longer in a position to care for their children these Christians stepped in and acted in the place of the real parents. Those who direct the orphans' home then call upon others to assist them in providing the care that parents originally provided. It is very much the same situation as one finds in the teaching program of a local congregation. Elders have the obligation to teach, but they are permitted to do it through the instrumentality of evangelists and other teachers. Elders have the care of souls, but they may use others in discharging certain functions of this nature. Similarly, those who direct an orphans' home may employ and use others (instruments) in fulfilling the various works of the home. They may have someone as a nurse, someone else in the kitchen, and so on through the various functions.
In this connection it is interesting to read Eph. 4.28 which says, "Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need." Notice especially the phrase "working with his hands." If I should pass along a certain way and should see a man raking the leaves of his yard with the usual leaf rake, would I be justified in charging that he was not doing that which was scriptural? If I should chide him that he was not "working with his hands" but with a rake, he would undoubtedly think me out of my mind. Although he is "raking with a rake," he is also "working with his hands." Similarly the elders of a congregation are teaching when they employ an evangelist and use others to teach classes. Similarly those who direct an orphans' home are serving as parents when they employ house mothers, cooks, yard men and the like. This is simply the principle of instrumentality, which is generally accepted in other fields by brethren everywhere.
V. What can the individual Christian do with his money that the church cannot do out of its treasury?
The feeling is somewhat widespread in the church today that there are certain things which the individual can do, but which the church cannot do. In determining the Lord's will on this matter, I should like to point out as the first observation that the scriptures contain no commandment, or other instructions, concerning the church treasury. There are, however, indications that at least some of the New Testament churches did have treasuries, or common funds.
Immediately after the church was established we find this condition, "And all that believed were together; and had all things common: and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need" (Acts 2.44-45). The same situation is further reported in these words, "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common ... for neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as anyone had need" (Acts 4.32,34-35). In Acts 5 we find Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit as they presented part of the price of a piece of land to the church. In Acts 6.1 we find that one of the crises in the early church grew out of a failure in distributing daily supplies to remember the widows of the Grecian Jews. From all of these passages it is quite evident that the Jerusalem church had a fund or treasury, from which disbursements were made to those who were in need of daily necessities.
In Acts 11.27-30 we find the prophet Agabus foretelling a famine that would affect the brethren in Judea. The Christians at Antioch were concerned and responded as follows, "And the disciples every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul." It would appear that individual Christians at Antioch pooled their resources sending "it" to help the needy in Judea.
Next we turn to 1 Cor. 16.1-4, where we read, "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. And when I arrive, whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem: and if it be meet for me to go also, they shall go with me." 2 Cor. 8 and 9 shed further light on this situation. The apostle Paul was gathering funds from churches in Macedonia and Achaia, which would then be carried to Judea for the relief of those who were in need.
In this connection Paul wrote, "I thought it necessary therefore to entreat the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your aforepromised bounty, that the same might be ready as a matter of bounty, and not of extortion. But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly: and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly nor of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9.5-7). In Romans 15.25-26 we find still further confirmation of Paul's collecting funds for Jerusalem, "But now, I say, I go unto Jerusalem ministering unto the saints. For it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem." From all of these passages it is quite obvious that churches had collections of funds, or treasuries, at least for a specific purpose.
The second observation that I should like to make in answering the above question is that the New Testament teaches plainly that Christians are stewards of God's bounty, and must use all funds in a God approved manner. Passages such as Matthew 25.14-30 tell of men receiving talents which they were expected to use for their master and concerning which they were later to give an accounting to him. This and many other passages indicate plainly that man is simply God's steward and that he must someday give account of all the possessions which God has intrusted to his care. 1 Cor 4.2 reads, "Here, moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." This is the central teaching of the New Testament concerning material possessions. Ultimately they all belong to God; man simply uses them for a time while here on earth. His eternal destiny largely depends upon the use to which he has put the material things which he has been given here on earth.
Still another basic observation that must be made in connection with the above question is that the church is the people who are saved. The church is not primarily an organization, but is simply a group of people,who recognize the headship of Christ and are obedient to his commands. The word church comes from the Greek word "ecclesia" which means "the called out." Christians are people who are called out of the world for Christ. On Pentecost, "They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.... And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved" (Acts 2.41-47).
The church is the people and Christians are the church all of the time. At midnight and at dawn, wherever they may be, Christians constitute the Lord's church. Long have faithful gospel preachers proclaimed that Christians must consider themselves a part of the church wherever they are and under whatever conditions they may find themselves. Christians are the church whether at home, or in a place of business, or in the public assembly for worship. This is made very clear in Acts 8.3 which reads, "But Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women, committing them to prison." This passage describes men and women while at home as "the church." There have been mistaken efforts which endeavor to draw a line between Christians when in the public assembly, or functioning as the church, and when these same individuals are in their home or work activities. Such demarcation is not to be found in the scriptures. Christians are Christians everywhere and all the time.
It is true that Christians have certain private, personal responsibilities, such as providing clothes, food, shelter, recreation, and other of the routine necessities of life for their own families. The primary responsibility in such cases rests with the home, but I might add that if some emergency disrupts the normal functioning of the home the church could then provide such things as those named for a family. The church has a secondary responsibility to help those who are in need. Except in cases of emergency, or necessity, however, the provision of such items is the responsibility of the home.
Similarly, Christians have responsibilities to government, to employers, to friends, to community, and to others. This means that the individual Christian can use some of his funds to meet obligations which any of these relationships legitimately place upon him. Because he has a stake in maintaining health he could give to the Heart Fund, for example. These personal, private responsibilities would not be the responsibility of the church as a congregation.
In view of all that has been said above, it is now possible to state what I believe to be a broad general principle. Any "good work" which the individual, as a Christian, is obligated to support financially, the church is equally obligated to support financially. There has been a great deal of talk about what the individual can do in supporting good works and what the church cannot do in supporting the same good works. No such distinction is taught in the scriptures. If it is a good work, which the Lord wants done, the obligation falls equally upon individuals and upon the church, for individuals are the church.
In most if not all of the scriptures cited above, pertaining to the church treasury, the funds were gathered for benevolent purposes only. However, it has been the thinking of brethren through the centuries that since this was a wise way to handle benevolent needs, it is also a scriptural and good method to handle the other needs of the church in the fields of evangelism and edification. This is sound reasoning and has been universally accepted by Christians. It is suggested by approved apostolic example, as mentioned above. Accordingly, on the first day of each week Christians give into a single treasury from which the elders of the congregation then make disbursements for benevolence, evangelism and edification.
It seems strange that some have been so quick to tell us what the treasury can and cannot be used for in view of the fact that the scriptures give no instructions or commandments concerning the treasury. Where is the command, apostolic example, or necessary inference from which one can say that the church treasury can be used for this and this and this, but not for that and that and that? This situation is very much like that of church buildings, which are not mentioned at all in the New Testament. Yet there are some who are quite willing to make dogmatic pronouncements about what can be done and what cannot be done in the church building. In view of the fact that the scriptures do not include instructions about church treasuries, or church buildings, is it not somewhat presumptuous for men to speak so dogmatically about the uses to which each can be put?
A careful reading of the entire New Testament leads us to the conclusion that the treasury of the church can be used for anything that carries out a purpose or function of the church and that is consistent with scripture principles. Now, let us examine this general statement of principle in view of the specific works which the church is to accomplish, namely, benevolence, evangelism and edification.
Benevolence simply means caring for widows, orphans, the elderly, the sick, and others who are in need. Since God does not specify the method, we must use our best judgment in caring for those who are in need. This we have discussed earlier. The church can provide for the sick in a number of ways. A gift of money might be the most appropriate way under some circumstances. The paying of a hospital bill might be the best method at other times. If there were no hospitals or other means of caring for a sick person, the church would then be obligated to establish some method in order to carry out the responsibility that God has given us to care for the sick. Such was the case at Nowhe Mission in South Africa. There were many who were in need of medical care, but no facilities were available. In view of the God-given command to provide for the sick (Matt. 25.31-46) the brethren then arranged to establish a clinic where Christian care could be given to those who were in need of medical attention. Normally, it has been deemed better to do it in the other above mentioned ways, but God's command must be carried out and it authorizes whatever is necessary to the carrying out of the command.
Evangelism includes the preaching of the gospel, both at home and away, by every effective means. The church can, for example, buy radio time, but if there were no available radio facilities, the church could even establish and operate a station of its own. Similarly, the church can buy printed materials from a regular publisher, or have its own materials printed by a printer, or even start its own print shop. It is completely within the jurisdiction of the elders to determine which methods are most suitable for proclaiming the gospel at any given time and place.
Edification means the teaching and nurturing of the members of the church until they are full grown. This requires buildings and equipment, and involves upkeep, heating, cooling,and many other similar matters. It involves the providing of evangelists, secretaries, teachers, and other workers. Even a preacher's home is scriptural, when it is needed. Transportation can be provided, if necessary. This can take many forms. For example, a bus can be rented, or bought depending upon the judgment of the elders. Parking lots can be provided for cars, if necessary to enable Christians to come to worship.
In short, funds from the common treasury of the church can be used for anything that carries out a purpose or function of the church (benevolence, evangelism, or edification) and that is consistent with scripture principles. The primary issue is "Does this proposed expenditure advance the cause of Christ? Is it in keeping with the other principles of the scriptures?" If it is a good work which the Lord wants done, then the church can do it.
The logical beginning place in answering the question is to recognize the God-given obligation for the training of the young. This obligation falls partially upon the home and partially upon the church. Eph. 6.4 says, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." This places the responsibility upon parents in the home. The fact that the church must provide preachers, elders and teachers places the responsibility for training and nurturing the young upon the church. Both of God's institutions have the responsibility to participate in this training program.
There are many possible ways of discharging these responsibilities. For example, families can have Bible study periods in the home. This has been a very meaningful experience for thousands of Christian families, though unfortunately the hustle and bustle of the twentieth century have largely crowded it out of Christian practice. Another method of training the young is in worship periods in the local congregation. Still another is in classes provided by the church. Still another method is through what might be called apprenticeship, where a younger preacher travels with an older preacher and learns from him, as did Timothy, Titus, Luke, and others who followed the apostle Paul.
Still another method of furnishing the teaching that young people need is the Christian school. It is my judgment that this is an especially fine way of providing the religious training that is needed because it involves a totally controlled environment, association with other young Christians during the formative years, and Christian teachers for all subjects. In the twentieth century when all young people must learn a great many facts in order to get along in life, and to earn a livelihood, it is almost imperative that religious instruction find a place in this general training program in which young people are necessarily involved. In Christian schools the religious emphasis is paramount, but students can also get the secular training needed for today's world. Only a relative few would attend religious classes when offered apart from the other necessary training.
It might be well for us to stop at this point and ask the question, "What is the Christian school?" The answer is a simple one. It is a band of faithful Christians who are dedicated to and trained for the task of training young people to be responsible, active Christians, fully equipped to meet the various demands of life and to take significant places of responsibility in the Lord's church. In 1 Cor. 14.40 the apostle Paul wrote, "But let all things be done decently and in order." Under the authority of this principle the Christian school is a decent, orderly way of doing a job that God wants done - the training of our young people. The state requires that such a program of training be chartered (as it requires a license for marriage and the establishment of every home, and as it requires that trustees be named by the church in order to own property).
It is generally agreed among brethren that the church can pay the expenses of both young men and women in Christian schools, when they or their families are unable to provide such expenses. This is merely buying the services of the school. It is important to notice that this use of existing Christian schools presupposes that someone else has given the funds necessary to start and sustain the school. Paying tuition charges does not even pay current operating costs, much less the cost of buildings and other permanent equipment. If Christian schools are needed and can be used by the church to train its young, does this not establish a strong implication that the church might have some responsibility in starting such schools and causing them to be available when young people have need for them? If Christian schools are needed to train leaders for the church, does this not imply that the church needs to help get the schools ready to provide such training?
David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, in establishing the Nashville Bible School in 1891, held this view, for they solicited funds from congregations all over Tennessee and surrounding states. These contributions were the means of starting this Christian school, in which the Bible has been taught to every student every day along with such other subjects as are needed to prepare young Christians for their places in life. This is the time-honored position held by our brethren, though in recent years it has been forgotten by many. I know of no reason to abandon the solid ground of this historic position.
One might well ask the question, "Would it be scriptural for a church to pay for Bible instruction in a Christian school?" The answer might be seen more clearly if we imagine a secular university, perhaps a state college or university, making an offer to the elders of some congregations as follows, "We would like to invite you to furnish a Bible teacher for a class on our campus. We will furnish the class, the classroom, credit for the course, and any other incidentals; your responsibility will be simply to provide a well trained teacher who will teach the Bible with no limitations placed upon him." Would not the elders of any congregation in the land eagerly accept such an opportunity? It would mean an unusually fine opportunity to teach young people the Bible. Surely the church would be glad to pay the teacher's salary and expenses in order for him to use this fine opportunity for the Lord. Incidentally, this reminds us of the situation at Ephesus in which Paul taught daily in the school of Tyrannus. Although we know very little concerning this school, it was undoubtedly a school of philosophy to which the apostle Paul went because it gave him an opportunity to speak to interested hearers concerning the gospel of Christ. Does not the above mentioned illustration suggest that it would be quite acceptable for the church to provide the funds necessary for the teaching of the Bible in a Christian school?
Sometimes it is objected, "I feel that it would be right for the church to contribute to the spiritual training of young people, but the Christian schools also give plays, have ball games, and do other secular things, which I do not believe the church should support." At this point we might well ask, "What does the prospective preacher, or elder, or teacher, or average Christian need in his program of training?" Is his need for spiritual instruction only? The answer would be a resounding no, for the prospective preacher needs to study English; he needs to study speech; he needs to study history; he needs training in physical education so that he can live as long as possible and be in good health while doing so. In short, a student is a whole person and in order to train him spiritually the other elements of his personality must not be neglected.
This might be compared with the situation of the church building. While the church building exists for spiritual purposes, it is quite legitimate to include seats, fountains, rest rooms, heating, cooling, and other quite material matters. In order for the spiritual concerns not to be crowded out, provision must be made for the physical needs of the people. The same is true in training our young people in the school. The Christian school provides not only spiritual instruction, but the other instruction that is needed to make mature Christian leaders who will someday be elders, deacons, teachers, or preachers.
Somewhere in this discussion it ought to be pointed out that wherever Christian schools have trained large numbers of young people, the church has prospered. This is especially obvious in states such as Tennessee and Texas. In New England where we have no Christian schools it was reported a few years ago there were only thirty-seven congregations in an area with a population of thirty-seven million people - one church for each 1,000,000 people. In Nashville, Tennessee, with its 115 churches within a population of approximately 400,000, and where a Christian school has functioned actively for seventy-two years, there is one New Testament church for each 3,478 people. Where Christian men and women have worked diligently to provide the necessary training for young people, the church has been able to call upon trained leadership and has thereby grown in both numbers and spiritual strength. Actually, the church has depended upon these schools for many years to play a major role in the training of preachers, elders, teachers, and others. Is it not right that the church should provide the funds for the training of its own leaders?
Some who are agreed that the church can contribute to an orphans' home are not convinced that the church can contribute to a Christian school. It is difficult to see a significant difference so far as principle is concerned. The orphans' home and the Christian school must stand or fall together.
If the churches do not support the schools, ultimately one of two alternatives will result. One very real possibility is that the schools will die. If the church does not support Christian schools, the second alternative is that the schools will eventually turn elsewhere for their support. When they turn to business and industry for any significant portion of their regular support, it becomes inevitable that the Christian purposes for which the schools were established will be forgotten.
As true as the principle that the night follows the day is the principle that those who pay for something ultimately control it and determine its policies. Since business and industry do not have the same concept that we Christians have of training our young people, it follows that if they furnish the support for our schools the purposes will ultimately be different from the purposes we wish. It is my conviction that the schools need to be dependent upon the churches for their financial life blood in order for the schools to remain permanently loyal to the goals and principles which the Bible teaches.
Earlier I pointed out that the treasury of the church can be used for anything that carries out a purpose or function of the church and is consistent with scripture principles. Anything that advances the Cause of Christ and is consistent with scripture principles is approved of God. If it is a good work and God wants it done, then the church can support it out of its treasury. It is in this line of thinking that I urge the elders of the church to contribute to the ongoing of the Christian schools in order that the God-given obligation to train our young people may be discharged. I might also add the observation that if the individual Christian should give to make such schools possible, the church has the same responsibility, for it is a good work and the church is the people.
Of those who object to this position, I would like to ask two questions: First, on the basis of what command, what apostolic example, or what necessary inference is this position wrong? Second, in view of the God-given requirements to nurture our children in the chastening and admonition of the Lord and to provide trained elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, and the like, for leadership in the church, what feasible, workable, effective method can today take the place of Christian schools? Remember, the job must be done, and the obligation to do it authorizes the creation of some decent, orderly plan to do it. Remember, too, that there are not enough preachers to provide even for already existent congregations and certainly not enough missionaries to carry the gospel to the lost of our own land much less the rest of the world. The preacher shortage is more apparent, but the shortages of well trained song leaders, teachers and elders are also very real. We must train more workers rather than fewer workers.
It is not wrong for individual Christians to give, time, effort and money to any cause approved by God. There are situations and circumstances that make individual contributions expedient and even necessary. However, I am a firm believer in letting the elders of the church have the major role in deciding what contributions should be made to which causes. The elders of the church are more mature than the average Christian, they have had more experience and training, and they have more information about the various needs. Through their experience they can better weigh the various calls for help. The ideal would be for Christians, usually if not always, to contribute all that they are capable of contributing to the treasury of the church, allowing the wise, informed, experienced elders to dispense these funds for every good work that advances the Cause of Christ.
It goes without saying that there may be times and situations where it is not possible, or expedient, for the church to contribute to a school or to some other good work. The above paragraphs have been written to show that it is scriptural for such contributions to be made, though it must always remain with the elders to determine when a congregation is in a position to contribute to any good work. All matters pertaining to the spending of the money in the church treasury are to be left to the judgment of the elders. They in turn need to realize that the treasury is not some restricted, limited fund, but that it can be used for the accomplishment of every purpose which God has laid upon his church.
In seeking to give honest, scriptural answers to the above questions I have done so with the kindest of feelings toward those with whom I disagree. It is quite obvious to anyone who is familiar with the sacred scriptures that the Lord has not given specific instructions concerning exactly how some of his commandments are to be carried out. He has left many things in the hands of the elders of his church. In determining means and methods of carrying out the Lord's basic teachings, it is inevitable that there will be differences of opinion as to the best methods to employ. In these areas of judgment and opinion, let us have respect for those with whom we differ, allowing them the same freedom of judgment that we wish for ourselves.
We do not question the sincerity of our conservative brethren who have become "so frightened of Rome that they have run past Jerusalem." We do fervently believe that they have legislated where the Lord has not. In the realm of opinion, they have made laws and have insisted upon making them binding upon their brethren. Where the Lord has not specified the way in which he wishes his commands to be carried out, let us allow our brethren liberty of opinion. Had the Lord wished to specify the details of these activities, he certainly had the ability to do so. The fact that he did not so speak is indicative of the fact that he allowed liberty of opinion to those who would become the qualified leaders of his church down through the ages.
Those who would impose human opinions as matters of faith and fellowship must be resisted. We must not be split into endless factions and parties over matters of judgment. It is sinful and wrong to make matters of opinion matters of faith and conditions of fellowship,just as it is sinful and wrong to treat matters of faith as matters of opinion. We must all stand firm on those things clearly taught in God's word for these are in the realm of faith, but we must all be patient and forebearing in those areas where the Lord has not spelled out detailed plans, in the realms which he has left to our judgment.
Finally, I would like to observe that the unity of God's church is a matter of direct commandment (John 17.20-21). Whenever an issue is allowed to divide the body of Christ that issue must be more significant than the division which it causes. Surely nothing in the realm of opinion is vital enough to cause brethren to destroy the unity of Christ's church, for which he fervently prayed. Matters of faith are of supreme importance, and Christians must be loyal in matters of faith at any price. But no matter of opinion is ever important enough to cause divisions in the church of our Lord. Do we not need to say, as did the pioneers of the Restoration Movement, "In matters of faith, unity; in matters of opinion, liberty; in all things, charity"?
- Batsell Barrett Baxter
(Book No. 0202 in Spanish)
(Scripture quotations are from the American Standard Version, 1901)
(Pasajes bíblicos tomados de la Biblia Reina-Valera Revisada ©1960 Sociedades Bíblicas en América Latina. Copyright renovado 1988 Sociedades Bíblicas Unidas. Utilizado con permiso.)
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