Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 19, 1958

"Care Of Needy Widows"

E. L. Flannery Bedford, Ohio

There appeared an article under the above heading in the April 24 issue of the Gospel Advocate, by Brother Mack Craig. There were many fine things stressed in the article, but being interwoven with what we believe to be error, demands that the article be reviewed.

The Scripture being considered was I Timothy 5:3-16. But the author did not give it an exegetical treatment, but set forth statements and teachings not mentioned in the passage being studied. This passage does not mention permanent benevolent agencies through which the churches may do their work of caring for the needy. An analysis of I Timothy 5:3-16 would stress: (1) personal responsibility in caring for widowed relatives, (2) a rebuke to him who will not care for his own, (3) describes and restricts the widows to be enrolled by the church for their care, (4) cites reasons why younger widows are to be refused enrollment for church care, and, (5) demands that the church be not burdened with responsibilities of this nature belonging to individual Christians.

In his first paragraph the author stated that Jesus "indicated a continuing opportunity of service when he said, 'For ye have the poor always with you' " (Mark 14:7). The gist of this seems to be that since the problem of the poor is a permanent one we should wisely form permanent arrangements, agencies, to cope with it. As there will always be orphans, widows, and poor, with needs to be filled, let us build and maintain permanent institutions to deal with these problems. You follow his implication! But did Christ mean to teach in Mark 14:7 we should make permanent benevolent arrangements? A study of the passage will reveal Jesus was commending a woman who had "wrought a good work" on him in annointing him with the expensive ointment, and was rebuking the disciples who felt she had wasted it. They said she should have sold the ointment (above 300 shillings) and have given the money to the poor. Then Christ replied, "For ye have the poor always with you", and reminded them, "and whensoever ye will ye can do them good". It is evident this passage was not given to instruct us to build permanent benevolent institutions, but to remind the disciples, who would have denied the woman her right to use her possessions in worship of Christ, that they could still do good to the poor "whensoever ye will." This woman had done a "good work" on her own. Each disciple could perform a good work, and for the poor if he so chose, whenever he so desired — anytime! Even with the poor all about, the woman's "good work" promoted by her devotion was proper and appreciated by the Lord. Certainly attention needs to be given to the poor, but the stress in this passage is commendation of the woman's action: "Let her alone: why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me." (Mark 14:6) We cannot see a continuing benevolent agency endorsement here.

Brother Craig calls to our attention the Jews who violated the command to honor father and mother by "claiming to spend for the worship of God the money which ought to have been used in their parents' support" (Matt. 15:1-9). It is true these Jews were not facing up to their personal responsibility. They were not condemned for "worshipping" or giving to religious purposes. Wecannot neglect one area of responsibility to do something else that appeals to us. Surely the author did not mean to imply that worship is less important than benevolence. It simply stresses that children must "honor" (respect, and support, if need be, their parents. Modern day equivilent would be Christians, even preachers, giving liberally to the church while permitting their parents to go to places of care supported by others. Barnes comments on this passage, (Matt. 15:1-9), that the Jewish teachers said that it was "more important for a man to dedicate his property to God than to provide for the wants of his parent."

In the second paragraph of his article Brother Craig states: "the church is therefore bound by the apostle to provide for the needs of those widows who have no one else to support them." This statement is in error. It contradicts the very passage he was discussing, I Timothy 5:3-16. Brother Craig himself later in his article points out the qualifying characteristics of the "widow indeed" to be enrolled for church support. He said, "Those who were to be counted eligible to 'be enrolled as a widow' — that is, to be put on the list of those supported by the church — were described as follows . ." He then gave the qualifications given in I Timothy 5:9-10. By citing the characteristics that made a widow eligible for church support is indicative of his error in saying that the church is bound by the apostle "to provide for the needs of those widows who have no one else to support them." The apostle restricted to widows of certain characteristics church support.

In paragraph three the writer states the truth that elders may exercise their judgment as to how to do this benevolent work in the church; that no specific plan has been given by which such good works are to be done. But here is where some have "jumped the track"! Elders may use their judgement in how to heat the building, but they cannot put the church into the fuel business. They can use their judgement in how to teach, as no specific plan has been provided. But the organization to do this teaching has been specified, and that is the church. It need not and should not work through any other organization to accomplish all its God-given work. The how is not specified; the what (church) is. The apostolic church did all its work — preaching, edifying, caring for "the poor saints" — without the need of working through any other organization. They had poor folks, widows, orphans, aged, but the complete record, the New Testament, makes no mention of institutional benevolent organizations. The apostles in the great commission were charged to teach the baptized believers to observe all things whatsoever he commanded, but no record of these matters that seem so vitally important to some brethren today — the permanent benevolent homes.

Paragraphs Four And Five Are Very Good, Stressing Individual Duties.

But paragraph six contains the old error that what a church can do the individual can do; and what an individual can do the church can do, because when a Christian does an act it is in reality the church doing it. In his third sentence in this paragraph Brother Craig says, "In fact, the church is performing this service when those children and grandchildren who are members of the church care for their parents." This flatly contradicts his first sentence in the paragraph, "No Christian can leave for the local congregation the responsibility which is given him." His second sentence is strong, too, saying, "Paul here makes it plain that when he requires the church to provide for widows he does not relieve individual members of their duty." The last sentence in his whole article reads, "The church was not to be burdened for those who could receive help from their own families." Let us see what he has stated here: (1) church responsibility to care for certain widows does not mean excusing from personal responsibility, (True!) (2) the church should not relieve individuals of their personal responsibilities in this matter; (True!) (3) the church should not be burdened for widow's care when they have families that could provide this help; (True!) But then, he states that when children or grandchildren accept and fulfill their individual responsibility in this matter which is not a local church responsibility, that nonetheless, it is "the church performing this service." Frankly, this seems to me an absurd conclusion. It would be as sensible to say that since a Christian is a citizen in our national government, that when that individual helps his widowed relative that it is, "in fact, the government performing this service." This indicates an improper understanding of what the church is; what the various relationships of the Christian are here on earth — church member, family member, nation member, community member, and industrial (economic) member. While these relationships are complementary they are also distinctive.

Most all of the content of paragraphs seven through ten we would commend. It underscores the need of doing our duty and living a life that will honor Christ.

But, in paragraph eleven we run into another prevalent error; that the basic purpose of benevolent work is, not to relieve the need, but to create a favorable atmosphere for teaching the gospel. Brother Craig states it like this: "The Lord had a twofold purpose in requiring the church to care for the poor." (Note: the passage under consideration deals with Christian widows, not the poor as a general class, E.L.F.) "It is obvious that he was interested in the well-being of those in distress, and wished to provide help for them. A more basic purpose, however, lay in the fact that relieving the poor would give glory to God in providing an opportunity to teach his will." (Emphasis mine, ELF) The passage Brother Craig is considering here deals with Christian widows who had no relatives to care for them (I Tim. 5:9-10). It teaches us to enroll widows who were already fine, devout, fruitful Christians. How could it be the "basic purpose" to provide a teaching opportunity of God's will in this instance? No, the basic purpose was not that; it was to help them because they were desolate and in dire need. The Grecian Jewish widows, (Acts 6:1-6) who at first were neglected in the daily ministration, were cared for after correction was made. The basic reason for correcting this neglect was, not to provide a better opportunity to teach them (the record nowhere so indicates). The basic reason was to provide their need for daily food! The apostles continued preaching while others were selected to "wait tables." But if the basic reason for such work is to provide better teaching opportunity the apostles should have swapped places with the deacons. The apostles, however, never used benevolence to introduce the gospel to people. Benevolence is the fruit of Christianity, not the seed, not the means of propagation. When churches in New Testament days made a contribution as a church (church action) it was always for "the poor saints" (Rom. 15:2526; I Cm-. 16:1-3; II Cor. 8:4-12).

Paragraph twelve is a continuation of the writer's erroneous assumptions begun in the previous one. In paragraph thirteen Brother Craig lists the items of illegibility of a widow to be enrolled by the church, and does a very good job we believe. He listed that she must be at least sixty years old; having been the wife of one man; well reported for good works, etc. But if his statement were true (that the basic purpose the Lord had in mind for benevolent work was to provide an opportunity to teach God's will) then why limit this improved opportunity to teach widows over sixty? Why try to create a good opportunity to teach only a widow who had been the wife of one man? Wouldn't the other types of widows need to be taught God's will even more urgently than the faithful Christian widow? Brother Craig's whole "basic purpose" argument is assumption, and is refuted himself by his own eligibility list given in paragraphs thirteen and fourteen, in which he clearly and scripturally describes the fine, devout Christian widow, already having "her hope set on God." (I Timothy 5:5).

We pass over paragraphs 15-18, commending them, noting just one item. His last sentence reads, "The church was not to be burdened for those who could receive help from their own families." The next to his last sentence says, "If a Christian woman had widows in her family, she was expected to care for them." Certainly these two sentences show that an individual Christian ("any woman that believeth," I Tim. 5:16) in performing this service is NOT the church performing it, as Brother Craig stated in paragraph six. In fact, she as an individual Christian is performing this service so the church will "not be burdened" with doing it. She is fulfilling her "family membership" responsibility.

The article we have reviewed could never have been writen by an analytical, exegetical study of I Timothy 5:3-16. The introducing of unsubstantiated assertions and assumptions connected with clear, forthright teaching, left the article contradictory in content and confusing as to what it does teach as to the care of widows. Therefore, we felt impelled to review it. We do not personally know Brother Craig, and will presume therefore that he is a sincere Christian gentleman. It has been the content of the article that we have attacked, not the author of it.