The Church And The Individual – Reviewed


Foy W. Vinson
Elgin, Illinois

It shall be the purpose of this article to make some observations and comments upon an article appearing elsewhere in this issue written by brother Monroe Hawley on the subject of "The Church and the Individual." Let me suggest therefore that you first read his article before proceeding with this one.

At the outset I should like to say that with many of his statements I heartily concur. It is encouraging to see brethren point out the distinction between the church and the individual and expose the error of that chorus which has been echoed by many for years, that "the church can do anything the individual can." Only eternity will reveal the untold harm which that particular tenet has wrought in the church of our Lord.

About midway through his article Brother Hawley observes "that any responsibility delegated to the individual Christian because he is a Christian may also be carried out collectively, i.e., by the local church" (emp. his). He continues: "This does not include the idea that the church can do anything the individual can. Rather, it states that the local church can do anything the individual is to do because he is a Christian." (emp. his) 1 think our brother is exactly right. It is only in the application of this truth that I differ with him. It is my belief that his application is not as extensive as it ought to be.

He illustrates the distinction he has in mind with the father-child relationship. It is pointed out that "as a father I have the duty to feed and clothe my children. I have this duty because I am a father, not because I am a Christian." Now notice carefully the following as he continues "My being a Christian will help me do a better job, but it does not change the fact that this obligation rests upon me without respect to my religious convictions. Since this responsibility is essentially parental rather than Christian, it is not the place of the church to feed my children." (emp. mine)

In his next paragraph he speaks of the parental responsibility of educating one's children. It is observed that as a Christian parent he is interested in his child having a "Christian education," and hence he would contribute to, such and send him to a "Christian college." But since this is done as a parent, and not as a Christian, the conclusion is that the individual but not the church can support such a school. These illustrations are clear and to the point and should be easily understood.

Next he comes to the subject of general benevolence and cites James 1:27 and Galatians 6:10 as "commands given to Christians because they are Christians." We have noted above commands or instructions given to Christians not because they are Christians but because they are parents such as Eph. 6:4 and I Tim. 5:8. Brother Hawley assumes that these commands instructing us to engage in general benevolence are given to us "because we are Christians" and hence is peculiarly a Christian duty. He offers no proof whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that relieving the needy of the world is no, more my duty because I am a Christian than feeding and educating my children is my duty because I am a Christian! Both duties grow out of a relationship which is not Christian. The duty to my children is parental in nature and the duty to my fellow man is humanitarian in nature. I have an obligation to my fellow man because of a fleshly and not a spiritual relationship. We have a common creator-God. We have a common progenitor-Adam. In this sense the Bible does teach the "brotherhood of man." Now if I can prove the above — i.e. that my responsibility in the realm of general benevolence is essentially humanitarian rather than Christian, then according to brother Hawley's own reasoning it will have been shown that such activity "is not the place of the church."

One means of determining whether a responsibility is essentially or peculiarly Christian or not is to raise the question: "Would this particular responsibility exist if Christ had not come?" Try this test with such responsibilities as preaching the gospel, edifying the saints and helping needy saints in a material way. Immediately you can see that these duties are essentially Christian duties for if Christ had not come there would be no gospel to preach, and no saints to edify or to help materially. But is this true of general benevolence? I believe you can see that it is not. However, for additional proof on this point, I submit to, you the following.

First, the case of the moralist. Moral men from the beginning of time have recognized a responsibility to their fellow men. The modern day moralist who rejects religion and often even the existence of God preaches continually his social gospel of "man's responsibility to man." Under the heading of "Ethics" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Mr. Archibald Alexander says in this connection: "The so-called pagan virtues have their worth for Christian character and are in the line of Christian virtues. Man even in his natural state is constituted for the moral life and is not without some knowledge of right and wrong (Rom. 1:20). The moral attainments of the ancients are not simply 'splendid vices.' Duty may differ in content, but it is of the same kind under every system. Purity is Purity, and benevolence, benevolence, and both are excellences, whether manifested in a heathen or a Christian." (emp. mine) In an effort to explain man's sense of duty to his fellow man (which has manifested itself throughout the history of man) apart from God, Spencer wrote the following: "These feelings of self-love and benevolence are really the products of development. The natural instincts and impulses to social good, though existent in a rudimentary animal form, have been evolved through environment, heredity and social institutions to which man through his long history has been subject." We, of course, reject such an explanation, believing that God Almighty created man with a moral sense of duty. These statements do show however that moral men have always been benevolent and that such conduct and duty is essentially moral or humanitarian and not Christian.

Second, the case of the good Samaritan. In this parable I believe that we are further shown that general benevolence is essentially moral rather than Christian in its nature. The man under consideration, the Samaritan, was not a Christian. Furthermore, as a Samaritan he was not even in covenant relationship with God. Yet, as he came upon this one who was half dead at the side of the road, "he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." (Lk. 10:33, 34) It is obvious that this Samaritan who, has been denominated as "good" felt a moral obligation to this fellow human being who was in destitute circumstance3. What was the object of this parable? Was it to define what a Christian is? Most assuredly not. This parable was defining and describing a neighbor, not a Christian. It had just been stated that one should love "thy neighbor as thy self." The question was raised by the lawyer, "And who is my neighbor?" This parable was given in answer to that question. Now notice Jesus' question in Lk. 10:36: "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves?" He didn't ask which one was Christian unto him, but which was neighbor. If it be objected that this was before the inauguration of Christianity and that there were no Christians at that time, that is precisely the point being made-i.e. that doing good to all men or general benevolence is not peculiarly or essentially Christian since it was an obligation resting upon all men prior to and independent of Christianity. A Christian helps his fellowman in the world essentially as a neighbor, not as a Christian.

Finally, the case of Job. job was a patriarch who evidently lived long before the founding of the nation of Israel. Many regard him as having lived even many generations before Abraham. At any rate here is a man who lived in what we usually call the "Patriarchal Dispensation," a period of time when men generally were only under moral law since no body of positive law existed until the advent of the Mosaical law about 1500 B. C. The only positive law then came as a result of God speaking directly to the individual as, in the case of Adam and Abraham (Gen. 2:16, 17; 12:1; 22:2).

You will recall that, Job was severely afflicted and made to, suffer in numerous ways that his faith might be tried. However, his professed friends regarded his sufferings as a punishment for personal sins and therefore accused him of wrongdoing. One of the specific accusations made against him by Eliphaz the Temanite found in Job 22:7, 9 is as follows: "Thou hast not given water to the weary to drink, and thou hast withholden bread from the hungry.-Thou hast sent widows away empty, and the arms of the fatherless have been broken." Notice that he is accused of sin for not being benevolent to his fellowman. This proves that such is a moral obligation! job defends himself quite eloquently on this point in chapter 31:16-22 when he says: "If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; (For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother's womb;) If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate: Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone." Hence Job, a mere patriarch, who lived as long or longer before the establishment of Christianity as we live since it, and who lived even centuries before the giving of the old law recognized his benevolent responsibilities to the "fatherless and widows in their affliction" and to all destitute and fulfilled them. Surely from these considerations we are made to see that general benevolence is not essentially a religious Christian responsibility.

Therefore, in conclusion, let me again refer you to a statement made by brother Hawley, but this time applied to the area of general benevolence, which I believe describes well my individual responsibility as opposed to church responsibility: "My being a Christian will help me do a better job, but it does not change the fact that this obligation rests upon me without respect to my religious convictions. Since this responsibility is essentially moral or humanitarian rather than Christian, it is not the place of the church to engage in general benevolence." May God help us to realize this and to always make the proper distinction between the individual and the church.

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Author: jfm

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