Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 27, 1958
NUMBER 30, PAGE 8-9b

"Is" And "Is Not"

Ralph D. Gentry, Pensacola, Florida

Try as I may, I'm unable to see other than a contradiction in the words given as a title of this article. It is clear that I'll need some "expert help" to see its harmony (?). I know I'm expected to either ignore this contradiction or else learn to live with it, if I "line up" with the institutional brethren.

After hearing, recording, and reading the Woods-Cogdill debate (GA edition), I'm moved to write this article in the hope of either helping others or receiving the same for myself.

As nearly as I can learn, a summary of Brother Woods' entire affirmation in favor of churches building and maintaining orphan homes is as follows: Child-care is not the work of the church . . . The church is not its own benevolent society . . . The home is God's child-care institution .... God never gave this work to the churches. Hence, he says, I do not advocate giving the work of the church to another organization.

Yet, in order to justify financial aid from churches, he insists that churches have a responsibility toward the needy and it is the work of churches to support the work these orphan homes are doing. That is, it is the obligation of churches to do this benevolence. Else why solicit, yea, demand, church support?

Now either it is or it is not. He can't have both. Yet, both he must have to fasten another organization to the church to do that which is and is not its work. In short, he is saying, the work of the church is not the work of the church, or again, the church cannot do what it has been charged to do.

I've always believed and taught that ability plus opportunity equals responsibility; that no responsibility inhered where these two elements were absent. Per Woods' argument, the church could have no responsibility toward caring for orphans if the orphan homes did not exist. Thus, during New Testament days the church had no such obligation and James 1:27 or Gal. 6:10 did not teach (teaches now what it taught then) church responsibility to orphans, per Brother Woods. If the "homes" did not exist (without which the church couldn't have operated in the field of child-care) the church did not care for orphans according to Brother Woods. And no scripture could have taught the church to so do. Brother Woods might counter that the private home existed through which the early church took care of the actual child-care. Even so, the same exists now. Remember, Woods maintains the church as the church must build and maintain benevolent societies to discharge its responsibility in benevolence, not merely to utilize existing facilities provided by said societies.

Inhered in the command to provide or care for orphans are matters essential to said care. Hence, the work of the church in this respect is a matter of inference. The actual provisions come under the head of expediency. However, involved in the realm of this care shall be nothing violating the proper sphere of expediency. There can be no expediency when that which is used adds to or subtracts from the thing commanded or which violates any principle contained in the command. Establishment of another organization (benevolent society) cannot be classed as an essential in carrying out the command given for the church to perform; It is rather an addition to the command, consequently, is not to be considered as an expedient. Expedients must first be lawful, (I Cor. 6:12.) Exponents of the institutional homes must first prove it is lawful for the church to build (create with the word of God) another organization than the church. This is a matter of assumption on their part, hence, arguments along lines of expediency in justification for the benevolent society. It is assumed that such societies are necessary therefore asserted that they are lawful. The assumption is not well founded but is based on the concept that otherwise the elders would be over two institutions in providing child-care. When the church provides such care, its elders do not become elders over another institution but rather they are and continue to be elders over a work or provision. Is there no distinction between a home and some of its work? Do elders control my home because my house and other provisions are made to which they bear oversight?

Why can not institutional homes be built and supported by individuals like other human institutions, such as colleges, hospitals, or publishing houses? Let them control and operate as they deem best and are privileged by God in the field of human endeavor. Why not then permit, not require, the churches to utilize their services and so discharge their responsibility in the field of benevolence respecting those definitely the charge of the church as such? These questions were asked by me of Brother Woods several months prior to the debate in Birmingham. He admitted in the presence of three other brethren that such would be entirely scriptural. I'm happy to know there is a way of doing benevolence which all agree to be scriptural and about which there need be no dispute. As for me and my house, we shall pursue that course.

You say this is a fatal admission on my part that the church needs the services of other institutions to perform its duty? Suppose it is, it is not admission of nor justification for building an organization to provide such services. In utilizing the services of institutions the church is discharging its own work under its own elders without either creating another organization or taking the oversight of another institution. You say this justifies using the services of a Missionary Society also? I would be opposed to paying for service rendered in orphan homes if set up under the same arrangement as the Missionary Society.

If one suggests that placing an orphan in a home is objectionable in that it surrenders control to another than the church providing the support, I answer, the same is done when support is given a preacher in another congregation. The preacher is under the direct oversight of the church of which he is a member, that is, where he labors. (I Pet. 5:2.) The sending church is discharging its responsibility in the field of evangelism and chooses to send aid pending reports of work being done. The principle is the same respecting the oversight of the providing church. One is in the field of evangelism and the other in benevolence.

If it is the work of the church to build the benevolent society with which it (the church) is to do its (the church's) work, said society must be under the direct control of the church. Or does one dare to assert the church may build something over which it can exercise no control either in its initial or final arrangement? Woods would have us believe the church controls (builds) its parts but not the sum total, contrary to his own argument of total constituents. It seems to me that if the church builds the benevolent society, it is controlling the elements necessary for construction. At what point does control cease? If it isn't the work of the church to provide child-care, the church is building institutions to do a work belonging to another. If this be acceptable, there's hardly an end to that which may be created by the church in the general interest of humanity.

How one can believe that the church cannot do under its elders what God has charged the church (and if he has charged the church to do it, it is under or through its elders. God permits no insubordination against constituted authority), to do is beyond my perception. Yet the gist of Brother Woods' argument is: It is the work of the church, hence, send the money. And, it is not the work of the church, hence, the need to build institutional homes to do that which "is" and "is not".

I just want to know — Is it or is it not?