Vol.XIV No.XII Pg.5
February 1978

Its Relation To Church Independence

Robert F. Turner

Now, what are the basic needs of a local church? What must it have for "self- maintenance;" in the absence of which it is "in want," or having more, it has an "abundance"? Suppose I reply that I do not know — that I can not specify such limitations? Would this change the fact that such basic needs must exist? As surely as "want" and "abundance" exist (2 Cor. 8:14), so must a level of "sufficiency." It is an indisputable characteristic of all independently functioning units.

If you believe a local church is an independent functional unit —- that one church alone can, without assistance of any kind from any other local church, do all that God requires of it — then you believe it can have a sufficiency, and function acceptably according to its ability. It is my firm conviction that this is exactly what God intended every local church to do. I am further convinced that He authorized no organizational structure for the church other than this.

But, did not a plurality of churches send assistance to the Jerusalem saints? They certainly did, and its reception (in the first instance) by the "elders" (Acts 11:30) justifies the conclusion that it could be sent to a local church as a unit. It is clearly shown, however, that assistance was being sent to "needy" saints, or to those in a condition of "want" (Rom. 15:25-f.; 2 Cor. 8:14). That sent was called "alms" (Acts 24:17). The recipient (viewing the church as a whole) had less than a "sufficiency," and had therefore become dependent. This condition was not expected to be permanent (2 Cor. 8:14). When their "want" was supplied, they would again have a sufficiency, and again be independent as respects supplies. In fact, future abundance was anticipated, so that they could help others.

Could not a very poor church send alms to others? Yes indeed (2 Cor. 8: 2-f.; Mk. 12:44), but this only shows their liberality, and does not alter the principle I am discussing. Paul did not expect such (2 Cor. 8: 3,5). Can a church be in spiritual want? Well, can it have "spiritual" sufficiency? This can be a semantic "trap" asked to avoid applications. Alms are given only when they are needed to gain or restore self-sufficiency. Is a meeting place a "need" that could be supplied by others? In most cases I believe a church can supply its own place of meeting; and I fear many appeals are made on the basis of "want" as a verb (i.e., desire) rather than a condition of want (noun). It is conceivable (to me) that a meeting place might be a genuine need. But if you are following my thinking here, you realize that I am asking all to agree to the principle involved, viz., that scriptures authorize supplying only a church that lacks self-sufficiency — that has become dependent due to its condition of "want." If we agreed on this principle, even though we might differ in judgment as to the need, we would be acting in accord.

Advocates of the sponsoring church arrangement ignore this principle, so essential to congregational independence. They apply "alms" scriptures as if they concerned the pooling of supplies in the hands of a rich church.