My friend Doug Burleson has been engaged in a series of written and oral discussions with Kyle Pope about divisive issues among so-called “institutional” and “non-institutional” brethren, recently published in the October issues of Truth Magazine and Gospel Advocate.1 Doug, with whom I wholeheartedly agree, has done a masterful job addressing these concerns, and it is not my intention to try to “improve” upon the material he has presented. Nevertheless, these men were allowed only limited words and space, and I find it helpful to think through and express my own convictions about these matters.
On Church Benevolence
In defense of his view of saints-only congregational benevolence, Kyle writes, “the record of Scripture is that collective church benevolence (i.e. help provided from the collection taken upon the Lord’s Day) was always given only to Christians…. There is no example of church benevolence to non-Christians—but also in the name for this collection—it is the ‘collection for the saints’ (1 Cor.16:1-2)” (GA 30).
Kyle seems to be reading the biblical text proscriptively (cf. also GA 36), thinking Paul’s allusion to “the collection for the saints” informs his readers that using church funds to help anyone other than Christians is prohibited. Contextually, however, Paul employs this descriptive phrase because the particular collection of funds he has in mind was intended for a special need involving a particular group of saints, viz. impoverished mid-1st-century Judean Christians (see also Rom. 15:25-31; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12). When Paul later directs his readers to pray “for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18), surely he is not implicitly forbidding prayers on behalf of the unsaved. When he commends those who have “love for all the saints” (Col. 1:4; Philem. 5), it does not follow that godly love cannot be extended to anyone else.
If 1 Cor. 16:1-4 establishes the only acceptable usage of the Lord’s day collection, was the giving to stop when this particular need was met? If the weekly contributions continued, were the collected funds only to be used to help impoverished mid-1st-century Judean saints, or in principle could cooperative benevolence be extended to any needy saints, whether foreign or local, thus beyond the original intent and specific wording and application of these verses? Moreover, would usage of the funds also be limited to providing for material needs alone? When Paul goes on to invite the Corinthian church to assist him in his ongoing work (1 Cor. 16:6; 2 Cor. 1:16; cp. Rom. 15:24), where was this support to come from? If the Lord’s day collection was intended for saints-only benevolence, how could funds from the same source be used to assist Paul in ministering to unbelievers (Acts 20:22-24)? It seems there has been a dichotomy created here that is neither demanded nor supported by the biblical text.
If 1 Cor. 16:1-4 is proscriptive, what about needy families where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not (7:13-14)? Must congregational benevolent funds be withheld from destitute brethren to avoid helping non-Christian family members, or can church funds be used to assist these families inclusive of unbelievers? Is a specific example in scripture necessary to make this decision? There is no quandary here if 2 Cor. 9:12-13 is taken at face value, where brethren are commended for their liberal sharing with the saints and with “all.”2 Kyle suggests the “all” is “likely” a reference to saints outside of Jerusalem (GA 36), but he makes an assumption not explicit in the text. Perhaps Paul’s letter to the Galatians provides a better commentary.
The churches of Galatia received the same instructions on giving as the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:1). As charitable provision is both personal and communal (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7-8), so too are the directives of Galatians chap. 6. Restoring the erring is an individual as well as a collective duty (Gal. 6:1; cf. 2 Thess. 3:13-15); burden-bearing is the shared responsibility of “one another” (Gal. 6:2) and oneself (Gal. 6:5); supporting gospel teachers is framed with singular terminology (Gal. 6:6), while cooperative applicability is not discounted (1 Cor. 9:11); the principle of sowing and reaping is worded in individualistic terms (Gal. 6:7-8) but is just as relevant communally (Hos. 8:7; 10:12-13; 2 Cor. 9:5-14). Doing good “to all,” beyond “those of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:9-10), cannot be restricted to an individual exercise that somehow prohibits collectivity. Six first person plurals are clustered together in these two verses, followed by the notation, “I have written to you [plural] …” (v. 11; cf. 1:2). Whether a non-Christian is helped by an individual donation or a pool of individual donations, the end result is the same and Gal. 6:9-10 is in no way compromised.
Kyle says, “If something is authorized, but the exact mechanism to accomplish it is not specified we may consider something an expedient if it helps us accomplish the thing authorized” (GA 31). Charitable kindness “to all” is in fact biblically authorized, serving not only as a Christ-like evangelistic tool but as an expression of godly love.3
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson, “Distinguishing Expedients from Additions: Opening Statements, Church Benevolence, Institutions, Cooperation,” GA 161:10 (Oct. 2019): 28-40; also Truth Magazine 10:63 (Oct. 2019): 22-34.
2 When Paul delivered the “collection for the saints,” there were multiplied thousands of believing and non-believing ethnic Jews in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 21:20). Later Paul reportedly describes the benevolent funds he delivered as “alms and offerings to my nation [éthnos]” (Acts 24:17), employing a descriptive phrase that earlier in the chapter (v. 2) and elsewhere in Luke’s writings (Luke 7:5; 23:2; Acts 10:22) is inclusive of non-Christian Jews.3 Doug expounds upon this last point, citing passages like Matt. 5:45; Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:4; Tit. 2:11; 3:4 (GA 32, 39).
ADDENDUM: Several years ago my wife and I were in Singapore, and the brethren wanted to take us out to eat every night of the week. The first night we were asked if we liked spicy food, to which we answered affirmatively. Each night thereafter we were taken to restaurants that only served spicy food. Apparently our positive response was interpreted proscriptively, assuming we liked only spicy food and therefore didn’t like non-spicy food. An inference was made that was not a necessary inference.
Related Posts: K. L. Moore, “The Sunday Collection,” Moore Perspective (25 March 2015), <Link>.