Vol. 5, No. 1
Since You Asked
~ Page 10 ~
Dear Brother Rushmore, Recently in the area I live we were hit hard by some severe storms. Many lost their homes and sadly some lost their lives. In the aftermath an organization called "The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund" came in and left truck loads of food for victims of the storm to be dispersed by local congregations. I had never heard of this organization before but as I understand, it is not under the over sight of any eldership and has a board of directors. The workers are volunteers and they will not release goods to a community unless it is done through the local church. They also receive funds as I understand from buisnesses and other sources outside of the church. My question is this, I know this is a good work but is this a case of the organization doing benevolent work for the church and is this something congregations should be involved in? I would appreciate you comments, I know some see no problem with it and others are very opposed, I just want to do what is right! In Christ, Roy Williams
First, most people outside the churches of Christ and many members of the churches of Christ would wonder why this is a question of concern at all. Anyone not aware of the need for divine authority in religion or whose concept of authority in religion dethrones God and imagines that mankind, through humanly established churches, is his own religious authority, will not understand apprehension attending The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund. However, everyone who appreciates the biblical fact that man must have divine authorization for whatever he does religiously will realize the importance of ascertaining how The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is (1) authorized by Scripture, (2) not authorized by Scripture, or (3) not a topic subject to biblical authority.
The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund has become a highly charged issue and there is no response regarding it that will completely satisfy all interested persons respecting it. However, we will attempt to be no more critical of The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund or any other subject of inquiry than is warranted by what the New Testament reveals about primitive Christianity, and we will attempt to be as decisive regarding The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund or any other area of inquiry as the New Testament demands. Further, in this case or regarding other topics, where the Bible does not teach anything about it definitively, neither will we. Where we find uncertainties, we will offer opinions that are clearly labeled as such.
Second, without doubt, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is doing a good work. Yet, for anyone who does not blindly subscribe to the theory that the ends justifies the means, more than the good accomplished must be considered to ascertain if it is something with which God is pleased, and something in which we may participate with God's favor. Again, we must ascertain how The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund relates to biblical authority, if it falls under the scope of biblical authority at all.
Third, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is not the only para-church organization that is loosely associated with the churches of Christ and which is an independent corporation. Most of these organizations are household words and entities over which we have little or no concern throughout the majority of members and congregations of the churches of Christ. For instance, there are so-called Christian colleges or universities that are incorporated separately from congregations of the churches of Christ, but nevertheless loosely affiliated with the churches of Christ. Likewise, there are homes for the aged, children's homes, mission hospitals, and religious journals or publishing houses, etc.
Most of us understand that colleges that identify with the churches of Christ are the result of individual Christians acting together and wanting their Christian influence to be apparent in the education of their children (or the children of others, too). Most of us understand Gospel journals (and publishers of books) that identify with the churches of Christ are the cooperative efforts of several Christians as they endeavor to edify Christians and non-Christians alike. Most of us understand that children's homes and homes for the aged, etc. may be the work of individual Christians. In these instances, the fact that they may be legally incorporated and separate from congregations of the churches of Christ is not usually a matter of concern. Frankly, organizations that have no particular affiliation with the churches of Christ that otherwise provide a service that one or more congregations of the churches of Christ may utilize in accomplishing some of the church's mission is not usually of any concern to us (e.g., grocery stores, clothing stores, shipping services). Therefore, the fact that The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is incorporated and separate from the churches of Christ, by itself, is not an issue worth debating, unless, for instance, one wants to debate also the biblical propriety of any Gospel journal that is not under the direct auspices of a congregational eldership. Does one Christian have the right to practice Christianity? Can two or more Christians practice Christianity together without the direct involvement of a congregational eldership?
Fourth, I know of more than one biblically conservative congregation among the churches of Christ that actively solicits items from local businesses (whose owners are not members of the church) to complement such things as ladies' days and lectureships. It is my personal opinion, that this is an ill-advised practice since the Lord's church is supposed to support itself with freewill offerings from its members (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:7). Yes, our non-Christian children and non-Christian visitors, etc. do contribute in our assemblies, but still we are not seeking non-Christians to fund us while we do instruct our own members of their obligation to contribute of their means. The apostle Paul refrained from expecting new converts (among the Gentile fields among which he went preaching the Gospel) to support him in his labors for the Lord (2 Corinthians 11:8-10). For similar reasons, it is ill advised to solicit funds from those to whom we are supposed to be taking the Gospel, part of which includes freewill support of the church by its members.
However, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund does not claim to be the church and is incorporated independently from any congregation of the churches of Christ. Hence, the freewill instructions in the Bible that are applicable to congregations of the church do not directly apply to The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund, necessarily. Yet because of its name that publicly affiliates it with the churches of Christ, and because the community will not immediately sense the difference between The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund and congregations of the churches of Christ themselves, when The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund solicits materials or funds from the community it will be perceived by the community that the churches of Christ are soliciting funds from the community. Still, as long as we do not censure congregations that solicit from the community as far as I know, neither should we censure The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund for doing the same (only more successfully). In my opinion, both The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund and congregations of the churches of Christ ought to cease solicitations from the community (i.e., congregations because they ought to rely on freewill contributions from its members and other congregations when necessary, and The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund because it is identified with the churches of Christ).
Fifth, the name of The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is the chief biblically defensible complaint one could argue regarding that organization. Cropping "The Churches of Christ" from its name, leaving, "Disaster Relief Fund." Strictly speaking, the phrase "churches of Christ" refers to congregations of the Lord's church and does not fit any other organization. Yet, we have become accustomed to an equally misfitting combination of words when we refer in general to "Christian" colleges or when the word "Christian" appears as part of the name of the college. Therefore, even as awkward and repulsive to our sensitivities as the name The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund may be, it deserves no more or less attention and rebuke than these other occasions just mentioned.
Sixth, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is not comparable to the missionary society with which the Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ were taken, in part, for which there occurred a division between the churches of Christ and the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ. The Society required congregational membership in the process of which congregations surrendered their autonomy. The Disciples of Christ, now a full-blown denomination, has a central headquarters and treasury, plus it controls and owns the local congregations. The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund does not possess the machinery to compel any congregation to participate against its will and it has not taken control of and from the local congregations in anything.
Seventh, benevolence toward the world is not the exclusive responsibility of the Lord's church or its members. Though some of our misguided brethren would deny it, the churches of Christ have a benevolent responsibility toward the world, after attending to needy brethren and as far as opportunity presents itself (2 Corinthians 9:13; Galatians 6:10). Yet, beyond opportunity after brethren are attended, a lot of need among non-Christians remains that usually we are pleased to see other organizations attend, including the government, which we do not fault. We may even seek, especially respecting government programs, assistance for ourselves. Since the churches of Christ have neither the capacity nor the exclusive responsibility to extend benevolence to the non-Christian world, we cannot fault The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund in this regard as though it were infringing upon the exclusive, benevolent responsibility of the Lord's church.
Eighth, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is not robbing the churches of Christ of their funds to do good works any more than a school of preaching or biblical studies department of a so-called Christian college, neither of which may be overseen by congregational elders, robs the Lord's church in the preparation of men to preach God's Word when individuals or congregations contribute to the education of preachers or the preachers themselves being better armed with God's Word. The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund no more robs the Lord's church of an opportunity to do good works than any organization (grocery store, clothes store, diner, shipping service) that may become involved in the transaction of our benevolence. For instance, taking children into one's home or providing funds or goods to an organized home (incorporated or not, under an eldership or not) are only means of accomplishing the same thing and are not mutually exclusive.
Ninth, The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund could alleviate some of the opposition to it by well-meaning brethren if it would take a few steps, but even then, it would be impossible for it to guarantee to please everyone (truly an impossibility). The single most likely change that would alleviate the most tension respecting The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund would for it to alter its name (see above). Another change that could help reduce antagonism toward it would be to place itself under an ambitious, biblically sound congregational eldership (like several of the larger programs of work in the churches of Christ).
I do not personally know any of the persons associated with The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund and I have no special emotional investment in it to otherwise compel me to promote The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund. In whatever ways it or other concerns deserve criticism, that criticism ought to be truly biblically based, honest, even-handed and based on the same conclusions to which we arrive regarding comparable things (i.e., beams and motes). If The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund is not doing things the way we would do it, then we can offer the brethren behind it suggestions (which they may or may not appreciate) to improve it, or do a better job ourselves in the area of benevolence. It is almost a hollow thudding sound to criticize any good work that is being accomplished when we may not be as zealous for good works as that which we criticize.
In the final analysis, in my opinion, it will be a judgment call by individuals or congregations that decide for themselves to participate or not participate. If your misgivings outweigh your appreciation of The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund, then don't participate in it (giving to or receiving from). If your misgivings do not outweigh your appreciation of The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund, then participate in it as the opportunity affords itself. You can allow yourself to be bullied into a posture for or against The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund (and other matters) or you can decide for yourself despite possible criticism vented toward you.
(The foregoing does not address any tendency, if there is any, unknown to me respecting doctrinal deviations by principals of The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund or any propensity, if any, by The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund to primarily associate in the distribution of materials through doctrinally unsound congregations of the churches of Christ. The foregoing merely addresses the question posed and the usual complaints registered against The Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund.)