Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 19, 1957

"Its Own Orphans"

J. Lee Hines, Dallas, Texas

This is the heading of an "editorial" by Reuel Lemmons, in Firm Foundation August 6th issue (1957). My friend Reuel, as a rule is rather logical in his reasoning, but somehow, he missed the boat when he undertook to sail through the troubled waters of INSTITUTIONALISM as per this article. Listen to him:

"We have seen considerable writing and heard considerable talk about a church caring for, or having responsibility toward only "its own orphans." Perhaps this is a good time to ask the question, "how does a congregation determine which are 'its own orphans,' and which orphans are none of its responsibility?"

Then after Reuel wrote the above, he said: "This would logically have to be determined before a congregation set itself to care for "its own orphans," much less ask the help of other congregations "when the burden of its own needy is too great for it to discharge." Then he desires to know how this can be "determined" and "By what rules." Reuel thinks some "solid progress has been made toward resolving some of these recently arisen issues." Reuel thinks also that if the Bible gives specific rules by which a congregation can determine which are "its own orphans" we should be able to find them." Then my friend asks seven questions relative to "orphans" and wants them answered, and with a flip of the pen seems to think he has the sailing ticket stamped. I am taking his seven questions, using as a basis James 1: 27 and 1 Tim. 5:1-16, and substituting "widow" for "orphan" and submitting an unanswerable answer thereto.

1. "Since the elders can oversee only the local congregation over which they are elders, must a widow be a member of the church, and also a member of that particular congregation in order to be one of "its own widows?"

2. "Does the church have any benevolent responsibility to any non-member of the church and if so, which one?"

3. "Would a woman, left a widow by a member of the congregation be classed as one of "its own widows?"

4. "Would a woman, left a widow next door to one of the members of the congregation, and to whom the attention of the church had been called by this member, but who was not a Christian, be eligible for help from the congregation as one of "its own widows?" Would it be the responsibility of the congregation to administer the charity of the church to this widow?"

5. "Would a woman left a widow on the other side of town, and geographically closer to a sister congregation, but to whom the attention of the church had been called by one of its own members, be "one of its own widows?"

6. "If an 'outsider' were to call the attention of the congregation to a destitute widow, would the church have any responsibility to consider that widow as 'its own widow'?"

7. "Since 'the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,' and has no diocesan, or parishional boundaries, how do the elders of a congregation determine which widows are 'its own widows'?"

"After we have decided just which widows are 'its own widows' then it might be much easier to determine just how many of them a congregation would have to have before other congregations (who can, admittedly by all come to its aid when it gets more than it can care for alone), can come to its aid and send a contribution to help it carry on its work of caring for 'its own widows'."

"We sometimes feel that if the love of God has not been sufficient to consider every mother's daughter 'His own widow,' we would have died lost. If Jesus Christ has been as exclusive in the administration of his charity as some of us, even the strictest of us would have died lost. What could be more anti-Christian in principle than the idea that the church has responsibility only to a select few widows which it calls 'its own widows,' and that outside this limited sphere it has no responsibility whatever to any other."

James 1:27 reads: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." "Fatherless" is from the Greek word, "orphanos" and means, "Bereft (of a father, of parents)" — Thayer p. 454. "Reft of father" Liddell — Scott, p. 1054. As 1 Tim. 5:1-16 clearly shows that the church is to care for only widows who are members of the church; so James 1:27 shows that the church is to care for only those orphans who are bereft of a Christian parent. The church was not to be "burdened" with any "widows" except those who are "widows in deed" as per 1 Tim. 5:1-16. Therefore we must conclude that the church is not to be "burdened" with any orphans, except those left orphan by the passing of a Christian "parent." The scripture is perfectly clear with reference to caring for the "poor saints" and even these are to be limited 1. Thes 3:10. When brethren throw open the flood-gate, to admit all under the guise of charity; they thrust upon the church an impossible task, and subscribe to the HEAD OF THE CHURCH the role of a "hard Master." So brethren here is our answer: Let the FELLOWSHIP, COMMUNITY, CHURCH, under Christ care for "its own" as provided for in the New Testament.