Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 19, 1956
NUMBER 49, PAGE 1,6b

Misconceptions Of Responsibility

Charles L. Wilson, Alameda, California

With ominous clouds of division growing ever darker on the horizon it is well nigh the time for us to stop momentarily to see that we are truly pursuing the paths of God's righteousness. It seems as though some are so set on splitting asunder the body that the Lord purchased with his own precious blood that they will not consider with unprejudiced minds some of the fundamental truths as set forth in the New Testament. But let us try in this moment of meditation to carefully construct the basis of the dividing wedge.

We all surely agree that infants and those without proper control of their mental faculties are not responsible to the carrying out of the Lord's command to be baptized. (Mark 16:16). The reason that they are not responsible is that they do not have the ability to believe. If we will conscientiously consider the "issues" that are troubling the brotherhood today we can see that ability and responsibility will have a great deal to do with the settlement of many of our problems.

In studying about responsibility and ability we first of all need to determine how they are measured. Ability, both individually and congregationally, is determined by one's financial and spiritual strength. Responsibility is equivalent to (but not to exceed) ability, and is dependent on opportunity.

God expects both individuals and congregations to be responsible only to the amount of their ability. This has ever been God's plan. "But if he is poorer than thy estimation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall value him, according to his ability that vowed shall the priest value him." (Lev. 27:8.) "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee." (Deut. 16:17). Peter, likewise left no doubt in our minds about it as he wrote by inspiration, "If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability that God giveth . . .". (1 Pet. 4:11). How did you say, Peter? ". . . AS OF THE ABILITY ... ".

Admittedly, some do not recognize and fulfill their responsibility according to their ability, but it is still there and they are held accountable in the sight of God. Whenever a congregation is fulfilling its responsibility to the best of its ability, it is then pleasing to God. Before that congregation can assume more responsibility, such as aiding where catastrophic conditions exist, it must increase its ability. Such is done by increasing the contribution or by a more diligent spiritual development. We can see the necessity of this increased ability, for she would be placing herself in such a condition that others would need to send help to her.

The overseers of many congregations are deliberately planning and assuming works today which create greater responsibility on their part than they have the ability to fulfill. After thus planning a work that's greater than their ability, they then become "beggars" from others to increase their own ability to meet ASSUMED responsibilities. Such assumption is stretching (yea, and surpassing) what God expects. Such are the ways of leaches and fungus growths which cannot exist by themselves but have to have the help and strength and aid from others in existing.

Is it unreasonable to think that God doesn't want us to assume a work that surpasses our abilities? Many zealous brethren may feel responsible to contribute $500, weekly to the work of the Lord. However, if their financial ability is only $20 a week we would not think of having them collect from other brethren in order to appease their misconcepted responsibility. When a congregation is called upon to support something or someone she shouldn't need to, it is an illegitimate charge to her. (1 Tim. 5:16).

Likewise, whenever a congregation plans a work and assumes a responsibility that is greater than her own ability, vindication cannot be had by claiming that it is representative of the condition which existed in Jerusalem in the first century. Jerusalem could not assume more of the benevolent responsibility until her ability had been increased. God did not hold her responsible for doing something that she did not have the power to do. The church in Jerusalem couldn't undertake the responsibility of caring for those poor saints among her number without an increase in her ability; and since her members were the ones in distress, she had to have help from outside (other congregations and individuals). It was for this reason that Paul ordered the brethren of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia to give the relief of those poor saints. The funds were sent to the Jerusalem elders that they might have the ability (hence, the responsibility) to minister to this flock among them that was in such dire circumstances.

Jerusalem's responsibility automatically increased to care for the poor there with each additional contribution she received because it increased her ability. As an illustration of this fact, we understand that as one moves his hand from the side of a mirror and toward the front or center of the mirror, the more of his hand that is reflected in the mirror. The same is true of one's responsibility when his ability is increased. The more ability that one has the more God expects of that one. The more responsibility that one has, recognized or not, the more he is held accountable for in the sight of God.

A catastrophe is the responsibility of any or all (individuals or congregations) who are able to give to the relief of that need. Paul made others also responsible to the relinquishing of the condition in Jerusalem accordingly as their ability increased. This can be seen in 1 Corinthians 16:1 — "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye." Paul said, ".... as I have given order do ye." You are responsible according to your ability. Of course we can understand that none will be held accountable for something that they were not able to do.

We are responsible, as was stated previously, only to the extent of our ability and not to exceed that ability, and of course dependent upon opportunity. Why then do brethren have to make unwarranted pleas today for support of some of the man-made projects that, though they claim them to be, are in no way similar to the happenings in Jerusalem? Only if we let the sufficient New Testament furnish us "completely unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17) can we drive away those ideas and doctrines which would divide the body of Christ. Peter said, "We have all things that pertain to life and godliness." Brethren, do we believe God??? We know that we can be saved if we do all things under the auspices of the Word of God. Why take a chance by following the ideas and doctrines of men?