Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 6, 1951
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1,3b

The Orphan Home Problem

E. Patton, Russellville, Alabama It is generally known that objections have been offered by many to orphan homes that are controlled and directed by an institutional board—i.e., a group of brethren chosen from various congregations and acting independently of all congregations. Since the idea has been circulated that those who oppose the "institutional" orphan homes are opposed to providing for homeless, helpless children, it seems that something should be said or done to dispel this false charge, and to draw attention to the real issue.

I have never been, nor am I now opposed to providing for those who are in need. I am not, and never have been opposed to a home for orphan children. The only objection I have urged against present tendencies has to do with organization—the method for doing the work, and not the work itself. All efforts to prejudice the minds of people by implying that objectors to institutional orphan homes are opposed to ministering to the needs of helpless children are base and unworthy, and wholly unbecoming to a Christian. I am glad for little children whose fathers are gamblers and thieves to have clothing, food, and the necessities of life; but does that mean I must endorse the father's method of raising money to supply their needs? And does my objection to the father's method of providing for his family mean that I am opposed to his children having food and clothing? Only a simpleton would so argue. Yet, because some have objected to a method being used today in caring for orphan children, the charge has gone forth that they are opposed to providing for the little ones. It gets discouraging.

The New Testament Plan

In order to make clear exactly what are the objections to an "institutional board" method of caring for orphan children, it will be necessary to call attention to how the Lord's church did its work in the days of the apostles. We are particularly concerned with the organizational characteristics of the Lord's church.

Webster defines organization as "The executive structure of a business." God's organization, therefore, concerns his method or system for executing the "business" of the church. God is glorified in the church when the church successfully executes or carries out the business he has given to the church. "Unto Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ through all ages, world without end."

(Eph. 3:21) The term "church; is used in two senses in the New Testament. It is used in the universal sense, embracing all the saved. (I Tim. 3:15; Eph. 1:23) In this sense the family of God, the Kingdom, and the body are identical; and in the universal sense the church has no organization. It cannot act in any organic way at all in this sense. The term "church"' is used in the local sense and has reference to the "called out," or saved in any locality. (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 16:16; Acts 13:1) The local church or congregation is characterized by an organization—an established order in every church. "And when they had ordained them elders in every church . . . " (Acts 14:23); "For this cause left, I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." (Titus 1:5) Each local congregation, therefore, was an independent, self-governing unit; there was no machinery of any kind tying congregations together in their work.

Just what organization characterized the local church or congregation? First, there was a plurality of elders or bishops in each congregation. (Acts 14:23; 20:17) It was their duty to "feed the flock," "rule well," and exercise a general oversight of the congregation. Second, there was also a plurality of deacons. (Phil. 1:1) These men were under the elders and were "servants" or helpers in doing the work of the church. Other Christians were "members" of the church (Rom. 12:4, 5), and also were subject to the elders. This is the organization (executive structure) of the church; by this organization alone the Lord's business is to be done.

The Divine Pattern

In apostolic days, the Lord's work was done through the local congregations. Preaching the gospel and charity are both works of the church—works which were engaged in by churches of the Lord described for us in the New Testament. Is there a divine pattern by which these churches did these things? If there is none, there can be no violation of a pattern. If there is no order, there can be no disorder. If there is no pattern for doing mission work, no one can argue against a missionary society. If there is no pattern for doing charity work, then no one can argue against a Ladies Aid Society, a Board of Benevolence, or other arrangement that might be devised. If brethren may substitute human plans for the divine pattern either in mission work or in charity work, what is to deter them from doing the same in the realm of worship?

What is the divine pattern? The Jerusalem church engaged in missionary work. They preached the gospel daily in that city. (Acts 2:42, 46) They also preached the word elsewhere. "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John." (Acts 8:14) When Christ was preached in Antioch, "tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he would go as far as Antioch." (Acts 11:19-22)

The Jerusalem church also engaged in benevolent work. In Acts 6 we learn how neglected widows were cared for by the Jerusalem church. There was no organization behind either the preaching or the benevolence of this congregation, other than the organization of the congregation itself.


Can there be any cooperation between congregations in doing this work? There can be; and there was cooperation between congregations in the days of the apostles. There was never, however, any kind of cooperation that involved any kind of organic connection between and among the churches, or that provided for all of them to act jointly through some outside organization. The divine pattern was as follows:

Antioch . . . sent relief . . . to the elders . . . for saints in Judea. (Acts 11:27-30)

Galatia and Corinth . . . urged to send relief . . . by approved messenger . . . to Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1-3)

Philippi . . . "sent once and again" . . . to Paul . . . in Thessalonica. (Phil. 4:14)

Other churches . . . "I robbed" ... Paul ... in Corinth. (I Cor. 11:7)

It is clear then that the pattern was for each congregation to supervise the preaching of the gospel in its own community and to send out men to other places. More than one congregation could contribute to a preacher on the field. Philippi and other congregations sent to Paul's necessities in Thessalonica and Corinth. These congregations cooperated with one another and with Paul—but they did not form a corporation, a missionary society, nor even a "cooperation." In the case of relief work, the pattern was to send the relief to the community where the relief was needed—sending it to the elders. (More next week).


Willis G. Jernigan, 424 West Second St., Spur, Texas, Aug. 20: "The Fruitvale meeting resulted in five baptisms and two restorations. The Sand Flat meeting closed Sunday night with all available space inside the building occupied and some standing in the church yard. This effort resulted in one baptism and two restorations. The Lord willing I shall begin with the church at Edgewood, Texas, for an eight day effort on September 13. The work in Spur moves forward in a very fine way."