How Much Was CONGREGATIONAL?
How Much Was INDIVIDUAL?
Luther W. Martin
St. James, Missouri
That the contents of the New Testament can be mis-applied, no thinking person will deny. In fact, inspiration itself teaches that STUDY is required on the part of a Christian, in order that he or she will "rightly divide" or "handle aright" the word of truth.
Peter the apostle wrote concerning Paul's letters . . . "in which are some things hard to understand, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16.) Let us always keep in mind that the failure in this instance is NOT the scripture, but the lack of learning and the instability of the one using (or misusing) the scripture.
An Example of Misapplication of God's Word!
The sectarian world has for many years improperly handled the teaching of Christ as is recorded in John, the 15th chapter.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (Verses I & 2.)
By limiting their study to the above two verses, the denominational world attempts to teach that the branches of the vine represent the numerous sectarian religious groups . . . all supposedly attached to Christ and receiving their sustenance from Him. If they would simply read a bit further, they would learn:
"I am the vine, ye (the ones to whom he spoke) are the branches . . . If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered . . ." (Emphasis mine. LWM.)
Thus, no question remains as to the identity of the branches! The branches are INDIVlDUALS, not SECTARIAN RELIGIOUS GROUPS! If we but use similar study and logic in our investigation of the subject of New Testament benevolence, we cannot fail to learn the truth.
The 'Good Samaritan' – A Church or Individual?
Luke 10:30-37 records the example of the actions of the man of Samaria. In this passage we are told how the representatives of the Jewish religion avoided the man who had fallen among thieves. We are also informed as to the actions of the Samaritan said actions being commended by our Saviour. Of course, at this time, the Lord's church had not been established. This benevolent work was that of an individual!
"In prison and Ye Came Unto Me"
Matthew 25 :34-36 relates in part, a scene at the judgment, wherein the sheep and the goats have been separated. The sheep are those who had shown themselves to be charitable or benevolent in the following respects:
"For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: 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."
Your success or failure at the judgment will depend upon YOUR benevolent actions, among other things; not upon the actions of a GROUP! It is MY duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and take the stranger into my home or pay his way elsewhere! I will stand or fall before God as an INDIVIDUAL!!!
The Church in Antioch Aided Jerusalem BRETHREN, During a Famine! Acts 11:27-30.
Churches In Achaia and Macedonia Contributed To The Relief of The Poor SAINTS at Jerusalem! Romans 15:26-33.
Both of the above cases dealt with emergency relief to members of the Lord's family.
PHOEBE (Romans 16:2) was a helper of many!
TABITHA (Acts 9:36-42) was full of good works and alms deeds which SHE did!
James 1:25-27 – Visiting The Fatherless and Widows!
Who is to look into the PERFECT LAW? . . . being not a forgetful hearer? … but a doer of work? Who, we ask, is this admonition directed toward? The INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN is the one under obligation to carry out these instructions!
If any MAN among you seems to be religious, etc. just as MEN are the branches of the true vine (See John 15 :6.), so is the PERSON to visit the fatherless and widows . . . "and keep HIMSELF (oneself) unspotted from the world."
"Let Not The Church Be Burdened" I Tim. 5:5-16.
That the congregations of the Lord, as such, in doing benevolent work, have a definite duty and responsibility, cannot be scripturally denied! However, those to become the burden of the church are strictly limited. Acts 6:1-6 also gives authority for Christian widows to be cared for by the church.
"As We Have Opportunity Let Us Do Good Unto All . . ." Gal. 6:10.
Individual Christians have the duty of taking advantage of every opportunity that comes their way, to do good to ANY person. Especially, are we to be charitable to those of the Lord's church, but the good work of individual Christians is NOT to be limited simply to members of the church. "Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." (Matt. 5:42.)
IF Gal. 6:10, was being directed by Paul to congregations, as such, then a church would be justified in including non-Christians among those being aided by the church. And, to the contrary, if Gal. 6:10, is directed to Christians as individuals, then it is simply in harmony with the other references on benevolence already considered.
Some may have erroneously thought that Gal. 6:10, was dealing with congregational action, due to the fact that the Galatian letter was written to the churches of Galatia. However, any serious reading of the preceding verses, will establish the fact that it is directed toward individual Christian conduct.
Verse 3 – "If a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself."
Verse 4 '- "Let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor."
Verse 5 – "Each man shall bear his own burden."
Verse 6 – "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things."
Verse 7 – "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
Verse 8 – "He that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life."
Verse 9 – "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
Verse 10 – "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."
The foregoing verses show the subject excerpts of each numbered verse preceding Gal. 6:10. That the entire sequence deals with individual responsibility and action cannot be successfully refuted.
"Your Contribution Unto Them and Unto All." — 2 Cor. 9:13.
Here is another reference that some have thought might justify or authorize a congregation to include worldly people for aid from its treasury. But Paul in his letter to the Romans prayed that this ministration might be acceptable to the SAINTS. (Rom. 15:30-32.) The preceding verse in this Corinthian letter states: "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." The many 'thanksgivings' (giving of thanks) are prayers unto God on the part of those who received the assistance . . . prayers of the saints!
Actually, the following verse ( 14th) states that prayers or supplications on the behalf of Corinth would be made by those who had been aided. Thus, the aid went on to those upon praying terms with God; namely, Christians!
Although this is by no means an exhaustive study of the subject, it is hoped that those who read these lines will take it upon themselves to study the subject for themselves, from God's holy world. Without my uttering it, I am sure that those who have read this article, and who have compared it with the teaching of the New Testament, can now at least give a BIBLE ANSWER to the two questions on New Testament benevolence: (1) HOW MUCH WAS CONGREGATIONAL? (2) HOW MUCH WAS INDIVIDUAL?