The Fork in the Road: I Can’t Find the Words

BrotherhoodNews.com recently issued this report —

MERIDIAN, Miss. (BNc) — The Northside congregation hosted a Bible debate on church benevolence Jan. 21-22.

Thursday night Patrick Donahue of Huntsville, Ala., affirmed that, “The Bible does not authorize use of the church treasury for social meals.” John T. Polk II of Dover, Tenn., denied.

On Friday night Brother Polk affirmed, “The scriptures teach that in benevolence, a local church of Christ may relieve saints and non-saints from its treasury.” Tommy Thrasher of Decatur, Ala., denied.

I can’t find the words to adequately describe how very repugnant this is to me … debating whether the body of Christ can act like Jesus. And you wonder why some congregations feel compelled to drop “Church of Christ” from their name.

This is what the Regulative Principle and our peculiar understanding of “authority” does to us. You’d think that the direct command “Love your neighbor” would be sufficient authority to, you know, love your neighbor.

Excuse me while I go be sick at my stomach.

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36 Responses

  1. Jay,
    The report states that two people present at the debate believe that a congregation should not spend its funds on relief. Two people. The report also states that those two people were publicly opposed by two other people. The report does not state how many other people opposed the two “non relief’ers.”
    Do you personally know of a congregation that will not give relief money?
    I don’t.
    So two people disagree, so what?

  2. Dwayne, the fact that a church is even hosting a debate on the issue is the “so what”. Don’t they have better things to do.. like reaching those who need to hear about Jesus? Or actually feeding the hungry (any hungry people -saints or non-saints as they so quaintly called them…) instead of debating about whether it’s authorised.

    I wonder if the Bible actually authorises debates…

  3. Jay

    You never know what to expect when you visit a Church of Christ for the first time, so you very quietly set back and observe. The format of worship is very close to being the same but the differences are unique to each congregation. These differences are not what you would even call doctrinal, ie, the table in the back or the bread consists of crackers or baked pie dough.

    Each congregation has a distinct personality in regard to how they treat visitors or how they do or don’t do evangelism. In some the preacher is not friendly, while in others he and his wife great everyone at the front door before sand after services. The elder contrast is also very diverse as to mixing with the congregation. The staffs also are different. Some work with the congregation while others run the congregation.

    I could go on and on.

    The model of moral law is to love all men and treat them equally.

    The congregations should act as Jesus would want them to act. You can tell very quickly if a congregation is on fire. They demonstrate it by the way they treat each other and the visitor. The same for preachers, staff and elders.

    Bob

  4. Amen Jay!! Brethren have no problem buying buildings, riding lawn mowers, air conditioning etc. but feed a hungry person from the church treasury and you are on your way to Hell!! Now, I know I’m just an ignorant One Cup brother but I think the Lord would rather I feed the hungry than put money in a treasury so we could buy new carpeting for the building.

  5. We learned long time ago that to give to causes or individuals that the church wouldn’t, we withheld part of the money we could of given to the treasury and used that for needy causes we could give to individually.

    Some frowned upon this as they wanted all to come to the church treasury.

    Doing that was considered scriptually OK by most.

  6. Here, brethren are seeked out and relief is given to brethren only from the treasury.

  7. We should help our brethren before we help non believers, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t help non believers. We should look to God for his blessings so that we can help all. Our desire should be to let God bless all through our deeds….and money.

    Dumb question…..are the individuals (cited above) who argue that we should not use funds from the church treasury to help non believers associated with the Florida School of Preaching? The names look like names I have seen on advertisements for lectureships for that school. I have always wondered if this was the kind of thinking the school promoted.

  8. Odd coincidence. My wife and I were just talking this morning about how baffling it is that anyone with the book of Proverbs at their disposal could possibly think that benevolent ministry like this is “unauthorized”…if anything reading the Proverbs dealing with meeting such needs paired with a reading of James’s epistle would convict us we don’t do nearly enough.

    There’s no Leviticus 2.0 in the NT for a reason.

  9. Jay,

    I share in your sickness over this issue.

    Please don’t lump all churches of Christ with the small percentage extreme who hold such views. There will be fringe to any issue. Although not good, that is human nature.

  10. Dwayne,

    No one holds a debate for the sake of two people. The fact that the debate was considered worth having and evidently well attended — the report says members from 3 states were present — demonstrates that this abominable doctrine continues to be taught in significant numbers.

  11. Those opposing church’s doing benevolence are Patrick Donahue, North Huntsville church of Christ http://98.131.169.180/DebateList.htm

    and Tommy Thrasher, Decatur, AL http://www.watchmanmag.com/0102/010208.htm

    I’m not familiar with FSOP, but I see no connection in a Google search.

  12. Rich,

    I don’t lump all Churches of Christ into that category. I’m an elder of a Church of Christ and we certainly don’t think that way.

    But many outside the Churches don’t make that distinction, and when some of our congregations act this shamefully, it in fact reflects on us all. And this is one reason that, in some communities, Churches have felt compelled to drop the name.

  13. Regarding FSOP, i am guessing the poster was meaning to say Florida College which, as I understand, is a two-year COC school that is of the “anti” persuasion.

  14. This is sad situation and another embarrassment for the church. And as much as normal churches are embracing a more ecumenical and denominational thinking wearing the name church of Christ will always bring them down a little shame. It maybe time to break free of the name of the church.

  15. Jay

    What do think about dropping the church name?

  16. I dug through some old monthly magazines and found a December 2009 and a December 2008 issue of Gospel Advocate (yes I try to be fair and read from the full spectrum) and there was an advertisement for Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, Florida in both issues. I read through the speaker names listed and did not find the names you listed above…so…many apologies if I offended anyone associated with the school.

    Incidentally, the topic of the January 2010 lectureship was “Do you understand expediency?”

  17. By the way, here is the web address for Florida School of Preaching……….http://www.fsop.net

    The site says it was established after Florida College was lost to the “anti” brethren.

  18. Jay
    Hope your feeling better.
    I was unsure what the “regulative principal” you spoke off meant so I did a little research and I hope my source “Wikipedia” is reliable.
    It says “The substance of the doctrine regarding worship is that only those elements that are instituted or appointed by command, precept or example in or by good and necessary consequence from the Bible are permissible in worship, or in other words, that God institutes in the Scriptures everything he requires for worship in the Church and that everything else is prohibited. The term “regulative principle”—only in use since the twentieth century—is less frequently broadened to apply to other areas such as church government (Thornwell, 1841-2), but in this sense it becomes synonymous with the principle of sola scriptura.”

    “The regulative principle is often contrasted with the normative principle of worship which teaches that whatever is not prohibited in Scripture is permitted in worship, as long as it is agreeable to the peace and unity of the Church. In short, there must be agreement with the general practice of the Church and no prohibition in Scripture for whatever is done in worship.”

    “The normative principle of worship is the generally accepted approach to worship practiced by Lutherans, Anglicans, Evangelicals, and Methodists”

    Are there other principles?

    You know, I think I am understanding why some congregations feel compelled to drop “Church of Christ” from their name.

  19. Mark,

    It’s a local decision. For example, were I planting a church in Boston, I certainly would drop the name, because of the negative associations with Boston Movement churches in the area.

    I was a member of church in Birmingham that hired a “personal worker” — this was quite a while ago — to do evangelism in the neighborhood. Invariably, when he hold the neighbors he was with a Church of Christ, they refused all further conversation.

    You see, decades before, in a highly publicized situation, another Church had refused to help the unbaptized orphaned son of a couple killed in a car wreck. The couple had two sons, one baptized and one not. They helped the baptized son only because of the teaching recently debated in Mississippi.

    For literally decades, that story had been remembered and stained the reputation of Churches in that community.

    I’ve not been able to track the story down to confirm it, but distinctly remember being told the same story as a child — preteen, I think — in Sunday school, with the teacher rejecting that teaching and explaining why to an amazed group of kids.

    In such a case, a Church might well wisely choose to drop the name.

    And in many communities, denominational names are perceived as saying the church is only there for members of their denomination. As the Post-modern culture becomes more pervasive, churches will need to do without their denominational names to be evangelistically effective.

    But my own church hasn’t changed its name, and we have a good reputation in our community. Ever situation has to be decided on its own merits.

  20. Jay W,

    The Churches of Christ are perhaps unique in Christendom in expanding the Regulative Principle to all aspects of church life. Historically, as the Wikipedia notes, it’s been limited to worship. We’ve expanded it to church organization, use of the church treasury, etc. And wherever we’ve used it, we’ve divided over how to apply it.

    The Regulative/Normative argument is a false dichotomy, assuming silently that it’s all one or all the other. It’s not.

    Rather, the test is not about authority or silences at all. It about faith, love, and the Spirit. Hence, “love your neighbor” both bans many things and compels many things — and yet exactly what’s commanded and compelled may vary quite a bit from place to place — not always, of course: “Thou shalt not murder” doesn’t depend on geography.

    “Love your neighbor” may mean one thing in the wake of an earthquake in Haiti and quite another in Dallas.

    Just so, in some cases, love tells us to bring our instruments, and may tell us to leave them home in others. And in some cases, instruments may have nothing to do with how well we love.

    (Gal 5:18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

    The Spirit’s fruit and gifts are also authority and prohibition. We cannot act contrary to the fruit of the Spirit, and we should allow the gifts God gives us to be used in his service.

    The scriptures speak in these terms and in great depth.

    (2 Cor 3:17) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

  21. For all you conservative churches of Christ that may be learking here, let me school you just a tad: A strict adherence to the regulative principle would outlaw the collection, because Paul says in 1st Corinthians 16:2 “On the 1st day of the week lay by in store that there be no collections when I come.” Paul already came and got that money. Therefore, what authority do you have to continue a collection that Paul already came and got? Or do you think Paul might be appearing at your church any day now to pick up your collection? Perhaps its time to get rid of the money thing from the churches of Christ. After all, don’t the “unchurched” always say “I don’t come to church because its all about money and making the Pastor rich.” “All they want is my money.” Get rid of the (now unauthorized collection) and remove that stumbling block to the unchurches. Jay, what do you think?

  22. Actually, I think I’m serious. Throwing money into hat so a bunch of spiritual-fat-cats can decide to spend it on a building instead of funding missionaries or benevolence, and so on, isn’t worshiping God. I know someone will appeal to the poor stupid widow who wasted her whole life savings on the Jewish temples that Jesus died to abolish and that came to naught in 70 AD when Rome attacked and the Jews themselves burnt it to the ground. But personally I’ve never bought this story about Jesus praising a widow for committing suicide in order to fund the corrupt temple cult. It always struck me as a clear Catholic interpolation that does nothing but support the Catholic church’s greed “Give us ALL your livelihood like the widow did! God will be pleased!” How inauthentic can you get. All churches should go John McCain style. Campaign finance reform meets treasury finance reform: GET THE MONEY OUT OF RELIGION. It just corrupts the church.

  23. Jay,

    “the report says members from 3 states were present”

    Perhaps people came from three states to ensure that the tiny group arguing against feeding the hungry would know how outnumbered they were. I infer from your comments that if someone in Tuscaloosa wanted to talk against feeding the hungry that you would appear to oppose his thoughts. Perhaps that is why so many people attended this debate.

  24. rey,

    You are exactly right. We solved the problem by finding a guy named Paul to come and make the bank deposit!

    (Sorry. Been a long, hard week. Getting a little punchy.)

  25. I don’t know if a guy named Paul will do. Maybe you need the reincarnation of Paul, or at least someone to come in the spirit and power of Paul.

  26. Mark 12:43-44
    Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

    Your presumption that this verse is catholic interpolation is scary.

    The point Jesus made here has to do with the heart, the VERY ESSENCE of what it means to follow Jesus, giving all.

    The other scary thing about your post is that it shows a complete disregard and distrust for the provision of Father.

    Read the story of Elijah and the widow with her oil. I’m not saying folks can play the game of give money/get money… that is an abomination. But FATHER is a Father and He really does see every act of sacrifice His Children make and He has promised to take care of them. She wasn’t committing suicide. On the contrary, she was doing the only thing that brings real life: entrusting herself to her loving Father.

    Let’s make a heavenly bet (a bet that can only be settled there): I’ll eat 5 feathers from Gabriel’s wings if you can prove that this verse was manufactured. I believe it is as authentic as it gets. 😉 Seriously, you don’t want to make a practice of rewriting scriptures that freak you out. Beg God for understanding. Your interpretation is on the edge of undercutting the basis of SACRIFICIAL giving, both materially and otherwise. Abraham gave all with Isaac and received him back from the dead. Jesus himself saw the widow give. He was ABLE to make sure she was taken care of.

  27. That last post by me was for rey…

  28. Rey,

    We make sure he picks the money up on a Monday, so there are no gatherings on the day he comes.

  29. Dwayne,

    Were I to be challenged to a formal debate on such a topic, I would refuse to participate. Allowing that viewpoint to receive publicity in my community would bring shame to Jesus and his church — not because I disagree, but because it paints the church — and hence Jesus — as unloving.

    It is indeed a distinctly minority view, but the fact people are debating it and extolling the educational value of such a debate shows that there’s a segment among the Churches that has totally lost touch with what we are called to do and be. It’s a form of Scholasticism at its worst (those fine people who debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin) — more interested in the logic than the Lord.

    Finding this interesting rather than repulsive speaks volumes of how very dangerous the Regulative Principle and similar legalistic assumptions are to the state of our hearts.

  30. Pilgrim, I’m not sure Gabriel would like you using his feathers in your bet as if you own them. Nevertheless, I read the story again.

    Mark 12:42-44 “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. (43) And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: (44) For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. Mark 13:1-2 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! (2) And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

    In the context Jesus himself points out the worthlessness of the offering by pointing out that the very temple she was supporting would come to naught. Is this really about how we should be like the woman or how we shouldn’t? Jesus doesn’t actually praise the woman. He just points out that comparatively she gave more. He doesn’t say that giving more is better, for indeed that more makes her even more foolish since this temple is about to be so destroyed that not one stone will be left on another. If anything the story shows that the common model of using the church ‘treasury’ to build bigger and bigger churches is NOT approved of by Jesus. Our money shouldn’t be wasted on supporting temples and big church buildings but on preaching the gospel and benevolence. This widow had it all wrong and her great sacrifice came to naught.

    Secondly, notice how Jesus seeing this woman cast in all her living comes right after the condemnation of the Pharisees in Mark 12:40 ” Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”

    Jesus says the Pharisees devour widows houses. Then he sees a poor widow waste her whole living in supporting the Pharisaic temple and points it out, and points out how the temple will soon be destroyed. So you are right that the verse isn’t a Catholic addition. The problem is simply that we haven’t thrown off the Catholic misinterpretation yet and actually looked at the passage contextually to see the real point. The Catholic misinterpretation that says “give all your money to the church” still prevails, and this verse actually teaches quite the opposite.

  31. Rey,
    That is the strangest interpretation I have ever heard of that passage and I still affirm, you’ve really OVER INTERPRETED to make a point.

    As to your point, the church I’m part of has no building, so salaries, no light bills or insurance bills. We don’t have an A/V budget or 501C3 governmental status. We are a people who love God simply, who publish books that we give away with no “love offerings” accepted. People send us money. We send it back and say, “Give to those around you in need.” So I am in FULL agreement that ALL MONEY should be allocated to the spreading of the Kingdom.

    But MY POINT was that SACRIFICIAL GIVING, even to the point of not knowing where your own next meal is going to come from, is honorable and commended in the sight of God. When Mary anointed Jesus with perfume that was worth a YEAR’S SALARY, Jesus said that TREMENDOUS act of waste would be a testimony to her.

    Mark 14:4
    Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this WASTE of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

    Let’s call today’s annual wages $50K. This woman poured $50K on Jesus whose body (the real Temple) was about to be mangled beyond recognition in a few short days. I’m thinking the church could have really used that in about 2 months (that is how long it was until Pentecost). $50,000 just so Jesus could smell good for his death and burial.

    What Mary and the widow did were from the same heart: LOVE and DEVOTION. Jesus called it “BEAUTIFUL.” Learn to be extravagant and wasteful towards heavenly things. Jesus saw that waste in the heart of the widow and I’m sure He took care of her.

    Could I give my entire paycheck to help saints I know in Haiti who I know haven’t eaten in 3 days? What if me and my own children don’t get to eat for a day or two… we will live and would gladly give money and skip some meals to help Haitian saints. Sacrifice for Jesus’ purposes is real and costly and rewarded.

  32. “But MY POINT was that SACRIFICIAL GIVING, even to the point of not knowing where your own next meal is going to come from, is honorable and commended in the sight of God.”

    God wants you to help the needy, not make yourself one of the needy who have to beg for others help because in your self-righteousness you gave away all your money.

    “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” This is an indication of exactly what I’m saying. He didn’t want the disciples to give all their money to the poor and become poor themselves. He knew the poor would always be around no matter how much money you threw their way. So, instead of giving it all away in one lump sum, and having it end up being wasted, he would rather they ration it over time rationally.

  33. I’m sure glad Jesus didn’t just ration His life. He GAVE ALL. And a student is not above his teacher.

    Rey, on the authority of the Life and Testimony of Jesus, I can safely tell you that if you take such a safe approach to giving, that you will be Spiritually poor.

    2Corinthians 8:1-5   
    And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and THEIR EXTREME POVERTY welled up in RICH GENEROSITY. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and EVEN BEYOND their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

    2Corinthians 9:6
    Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

    That’s ALL I have to say about that.

  34. “I’m sure glad Jesus didn’t just ration His life. He GAVE ALL.”

    I thought we were talking about money?

    “Rey, on the authority of the Life and Testimony of Jesus, I can safely tell you that if you take such a safe approach to giving, that you will be Spiritually poor.”

    Who is able to help more people? Those who give up all their possession and land so that they have no capacity for increase of funds any longer, or those who keep enough possessions and land to run a profitable business and devote the increase to feeding the poor? Clearly the latter. And the failure to recognize this principle has made a lot of people make themselves poor in an attempt to help the poor when they could have helped so many more if they had had an ounce of money sense. Nuff said.

  35. Not enough said actually, because continuing what I said there, in the parable of the talents the guys are supposed to put their money to use to gain more, not give it all away to the poor. Is this not precedent for seeking to maximize input to ourselves in order to grow output to the poor? If the 5 talent man had just given his talents to the poor, then he would have only had 5 talents to give to the poor. But since he doubled his 5 talents to 10, now he had 10 to give to the poor.

  36. Oposition to church funded meals and benevolence from the church’s treasury for non-Christians is standard doctrine in non-institutional Churches of Christ. The NI CoC have at least half as many adherents as the mainline CoC. I’m surprised that no one seem to be aware of these doctrines.

    I worshipped at NI churches for 18 years and for most of that time these dotrines didn’t even seem strange. It was just how the law of silence was applied.

    We still had potlucks and people still contributed to benevolent causes. It just was done on a individual basis.

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