Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 20, 1952

Contribution Versus Purchase

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

It is unbelievable but true, that some brethren make no distinction between a contribution and a purchase. In recent conversations with brethren concerning the present issues among us they have affirmed that there is no difference between making a purchase and making a contribution. They have argued that there is no difference between paying the board and tuition for a poor boy in school and in making a contribution to the school. They state that paying a hospital bill for some poor sufferer is no different from making a donation to the hospital. They think that paying the board of a worthy widow is the same as making a contribution to the home where she boards; or, that paying the board and tuition of an orphan is equivalent to making a contribution to an orphanage. A study of definitions will settle that question with the honest individual. However, some further illustrative material is considered herein to help us get the distinction. An article like this should not be necessary, but there may be others who have been misled by such fallacious argument.

A contribution is a donation or a gift. A purchase is property obtained or service rendered for which payment is made. "For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8) This is described as a gift and no one of those who make the above arguments will say that it is payment, or purchase. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Will those individuals, who argue that there is no difference between giving and buying, say that what God did for us is buying? Not one of them will use the term "buy" or "purchase" for the word "gave" in this passage. A gift is not a purchase.

A business might be helped by our buying from it, because it makes a profit on its sales. But that purchase is not the same as contributing to its common stock. A school might be helped by paying the tuition of a student, but it is not the same as making a contribution to the school. However, according to statements from such schools, the school is harmed rather than helped by such payment of tuition, for the charges for tuition do not meet the expenses. But the contribution is above and without expense. Thus they cannot be the same. When tuition or service of any kind is bought for a poor person the contribution is to the poor person, not to the individual or organization which sells the product or provides the service.

To further illustrate this difference the following case is given. A few years ago the Bible in Braille was purchased from the American Bible Society for a blind girl. The society plainly states that the purchase price does not cover the expense of publishing the edition. The remaining cost is supplied from contributions. The society knows the difference, but some of my brethren cannot see the difference. Which of these brethren would suggest that the church make a contribution to the American Bible Society? Which one would suggest that the logic which rules out a contribution will also make it wrong to purchase the Braille Bible from the society for a blind girl? It is true that the society must receive the purchase money from the blind person himself but they have no way of keeping some other individual or church from giving it to him for that purpose. The same principle is true of the schools, though they have not made it into a fixed rule. They had rather have the contributions than the tuition paid for a student, for the same reason that the society wants contribution rather than purchase price paid for the books; when they get the contribution they can adjust their business to the size of their funds.

Those who can see no difference between contribution and purchase argue that the results are the same for both, when applied to charity or charitable institutions. In some respects the results are the same. My grocer might give me a dollar's worth of food if I gave him a dollar to use as he saw fit, then again, he might think it would work better in some other way than in giving me the groceries. There is no guarantee that the results will be the same. A druggist filled the prescription for a poor woman who had asked the church for help. Would that druggist have given her the medicine had the church made a contribution to his business in general instead of paying for that prescription? It is doubtful. A church had been making monthly contributions to an orphan home. A member of that church was deserted by her husband. She had several small children. She could not provide for them. She wanted to enter them into that orphan home. They refused her, on the grounds that they had no room. The church could, and did, help those children, but not through the orphan home to which it had been contributing. Contribution does not always guarantee results. Brethren (possibly churches also) contributed to Bethany College when it was established. Those brethren intended their contributions to be used to uphold the doctrine of Christ along with other preparation for life. But the school did not remain true to their hope. Today it teaches infidelity and denominationalism, their contributions were turned from the purpose intended to the direct opposite. Had those brethren paid the cost of education for the students who attended at the time, their purpose would have been accomplished, for the school started with the right purpose. The results are not always the same for payment for product or service rendered, and for contribution to a project. History demonstrates this fact, reason demands this conclusion.

Besides all this, the scriptures teach by command and example that we are to contribute to the poor, but they say nothing of giving to some project or organization which has been established for the purpose of benevolent or evangelistic work. This giving was done from person to person when possible, when necessary the distribution was handled by the church. (See Acts 9:36-39; 1 Tim. 6:3-16; James 1:27; Acts 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9). If brethren would cease trying to go beyond the word of God in finding and establishing big things for churches to do to keep up with the world of denominations they would not need to resort to such fallacious arguments as the one discussed in this article. They would not have to obscure the distinction between such words as contribution and purchase. They could be practicing Christianity and charity in the simple but fruitful manner described in the Bible instead of making cause for confusion and discord by pressing their projects upon the churches for contributions. Let the brethren and churches contribute as the Lord has taught. Let us purchase products or services that are needful and right.