Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 1, 1959
NUMBER 34, PAGE 1,12b-13

The "How" Is Bound

Robert H. Farish, San Bernardino, California

The idea that the Lord tells men what to do but doesn't tell them how to do it has gained some currency among those who are set for the defense of institutionalism. The word "how" is capable of being understood in more than one way hence is ambiguous. "How" in the sense of method is not revealed but the "how" in the sense of organization is definitely revealed. Honesty and courage demand that the ones who assert that God doesn't tell us how to do what he requires of us should relieve their assertions of ambiguity by defining the sense in which they use "how." That "how" in the sense of organization is definitely revealed is seen in a study of the example of how the Jerusalem church cared for its needy. "How" as to organization is revealed in this example.

A situation wherein some of the needy were being neglected developed in the church in Jerusalem. This situation could have been hurtful in the extreme if it had not been handled properly. The inspired historian relates the case this way: "now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were being neglected in the daily ministrations." (Acts. 6:1.) The rapid growth of the church caused some of the needy to be neglected. This neglect caused murmuring. People resent being neglected and if they aren't exceptionally mature spiritually, they will express their resentment in murmuring. Cases of neglect of the needy arise in our day; it is a problem with which elders have to deal, hence, the example of how the church under the direction of the apostles handled the matter is invaluable for members of the church and especially for those who have the responsibility of pastors of the flock.

The possibility and even the fact of cases of such neglect is frequently cited in current efforts to prove the need of human organizations to do the work which God has assigned to the church. Perhaps these efforts at establishing one's own righteousness and thus failing to submit to the righteousness of God are like the efforts of some of Paul's countrymen, who "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to the righteousness of God". (Rom. 10:3.) Ignorance of God's plan caused some of the Jews to attempt to substitute their own plans; today, ignorance of God's plan is causing some to substitute their own human arrangements for God's plan. The same zeal without knowledge is observable in our day as it was in Paul's day. Zeal for God is not enough; it must be according to knowledge. The only way to avoid the ungodly course of the disobedient Jews of Paul's day is to study the divine pattern and thus learn the Lord's way. With a knowledge of God's righteousness one is in position to submit to the righteousness of God; he can "do Bible things in Bible ways".

The way which the apostles proposed to handle the matter is the Lord's way; it is the best way; it is the only way to handle it with the Lord's approval. In the commission the Lord had commanded the apostles to teach those whom they baptized "to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you". This is among the "all things" which the Lord commanded and the apostles taught the church. It is passing strange to see some striving for some of the things of the commission while manifesting indifference and even opposition toward other things. The express apostolic statement and approved apostolic example in this case in Acts 6 is the way that is "infallibly safe."

Here is the Holy Spirit's description of "how" the church is to care for its needy: "And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said, it is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:2-4.) This is "how" it was done.

That this authorizes the appointment of deacons and defines their work is evident from the fact that the word which is translated 'deacon' is used here in its verb form ta express their service and is also used in 1 Tim. 3:10-13 to express the duty of deacons. The special duty for which they were appointed was "to serve tables" or "minister to tables". The peculiar responsibility of deacons is the care of the needy of the congregation. They are charged with the responsibility of seeing that no member of the church suffers need. When deacons faithfully perform their duty, many occasions of murmuring are prevented. If elders of the churches had always seen to it that deacons were trained for their work and had then seen to it that the deacons performed their duty, there would not exist situations which could be used as an excuse for some one, with more zeal than knowledge, to attempt to set aside God's order in favor of some human arrangement. Too often elders have forsaken the "word of God" and have turned to serving tables. Elders can no more perform their work of "tending the flock of God which is among" them, while being distracted with all the details of caring for the needy, than could the apostles perform their work of ministry of the word and serve tables as well. Let every congregation look out from among themselves, men of good report, "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" and appoint them over the matter of seeing that the needy of the congregation both old and young are not neglected. This is the Lord's way for his church to function in its work of caring for the needy; it worked then and it will work now.

That the work of caring for its needy members is assigned to the church by God is very evident from this passage. To deny that this work "is by the appointment of God laid upon the church" is to reject the teaching, not only of this passage, but of many others as well. In 1 Tim. 3:8-13 the Holy Spirit has through the apostle Paul given the qualifications of deacons; and in Phil. 1:1, the presence of deacons in the organization of the church is recognized. No one can assign a scriptural reason for the deacons occupying a place in the permanent organization of the church if the work for which they were especially appointed was not to have a permanent place in the work of the church. The care of its needy members is part of the work of every congregation of the Lord's people and the organization which the Lord designed and to which he assigned this work is sufficient. Every attempt to justify human arrangements for doing this work or any work which the Lord has assigned to the church is a reflection on the wisdom of God who designed the church. The church as God gave it shows forth the wisdom of God — "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph. 3:10,11.) That God placed deacons in the church is seen in this account in Acts 6, for this is a thing bound by the apostles and Christ had told the apostles that "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Deacons are in the church by the appointment of heaven; their work is also by the appointment of heaven. When a church is functioning as God ordained, "the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places" can look upon it and see the manifold wisdom of God therein, but not so when men take it upon themselves to provide an organization to do the work which God has assigned to the church. All that the principalities and powers have made known to them in such cases is the wisdom of man.

It will not do to say that the changing times make it necessary to change the organization, for the church as it is revealed in the New Testament is according to the eternal purpose of God. An eternal purpose is not subject to timely changes. No circumstances can arise which make it impossible for the church to fulfill its mission. The unsavory business of figuring out hypothetical cases for the purpose of setting aside God's arrangements should be left to infidels. Those who really love the church and respect the authority of the scriptures will find their time fully taken up in doing the work of God in God's way. Those who because of "vain glory" are set to do their own will and follow their own plans will always be found in another camp from those who are willing to humbly follow the Lord.

"The ministry of the word" had precedence over "serving tables" in the eyes of the apostles. This is not the case with many in our day, for in the thinking of some, benevolence so-called, takes precedence over everything. This sort of thinking has led to a condition wherein the church is regarded as little more than a service organization devoted to the relief of physical suffering, a mere dispenser of "loaves and fishes". It is no marvel that people reflect upon the value of being a member of the church, saying, that "They do not think one has to be a member of- the church in order to be saved." The apostles recognized the problem of the neglect of some of the needy in the church as being a real problem and one that required solution, yet they refused to be stampeded into neglecting the ministry of the word in order to serve tables. Let all preachers and elders and members take note of this fact and never be guilty of emphasizing anything to the neglect of the word. The work of the church is primarily saving souls; this is accomplished by preaching the gospel to the lost and edifying the saints. The gospel is still "the power of God unto salvation" and the only way that the church can fulfill its obligation to God with reference to the world is by faithfully preaching the gospel. The apostles stated that "it is not fit that we should forsake the word of God and serve tables" and by that statement revealed which of the two should have precedence.

The people of Christ's day would have perverted his mission, brought him down from the high, spiritual area in which God had ordained that he function, diverted him from his objective of seeking and saving the lost and put him in the business of filling empty stomachs, had he permitted them to so do. Our Lord's rebuke of this misconception of his mission is found in John 6:26, 27. `Jesus answered them and said, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye seek me not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate the loaves and were filled. Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give you . ..." The misplaced emphasis on temporal things, "the food which perisheth", is causing many to lose sight of the eternal things, and to fail to work for the food "which abideth unto eternal life."

On the other hand, any indifference toward the physical needs of brethren is evidence of lack of love for God. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) How can we assure ourselves that we are working "for the food which abideth unto eternal life" — that we are putting the emphasis upon the spiritual needs and yet are not "shutting up our compassion" from our brother. The only safe course is to follow the divine pattern as revealed in these examples of apostolic action. Observe the apostolic example of how the situation was handled in the Jerusalem church. If the need be of such proportion as to require it, every member should be ready to share the last dollar with his brethren — "for neither was there among them any 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 any one had need." Acts 4:34,35. This tells us how the money was provided and the arrangement of deacons shows us "how" distribution to the individuals needs was handled.

This arrangement did not adversely affect the church in its work of saving souls, for 'the word of God increased" that is, it had more ready acceptance with and influence upon the people — it caused them to "work for the food which abideth unto eternal life." "The number of the disciples multiplied" and even "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."

This is the divine arrangement for the church to take care of its needy; there is no divine arrangement for the church to take care of the needy of the world. The idea that one can be saved without being a member of the church has for its sole authority the fickle, fallible emotions of men. The same is true with the idea that the church "as such" has a responsibility to the physically needy of the world.