Saints Only Benevolence and the Treasury
By the fourth century, the Catholic Church came into being. The marriage of Christianity and Constantine I, emperor of the Roman Empire (self proclaimed Bishop of Bishops), centralized power and religious domination for the Catholic Church. Any teachings or people in opposition to this body were persecuted, mocked, and destroyed – right or wrong. Protestants who looked to the Bible for authority in their lives were given pejorative names such as Lollard, Puritan, Dunkard, Anabaptist. One of the problems with the giving of names is that good people are frequently mischaracterized and maligned for things they don’t believe. Liberal, conservative, legalist, anti, non-institutional – these derisive modern monikers also immediately create a mental picture and attitude toward those labeled without first coming to know what they believe. Consider that congregational bodies are each at different levels of growth trying to earnestly follow the scriptures. They are working toward the same unity of the Faith. Should they be mocked and ridiculed for being at different levels of growth? Does this accomplish any purpose of Christ?
The above being said, this article will be about congregations and “saints only benevolence”. Frequently, this issue is assigned to a labeled group and thus, a great number of other attributes are assigned quite often wrongly. It has been my experience after over 40 years with the Church of our Lord that “saints only benevolence” is in fact practiced under practically all types of labeled Christian congregations and it will be addressed here as a stand-alone issue not to be associated with any particular group.
“Saints only benevolence” is a bit of a misnomer and honestly often a disingenuous statement made to harm Christian character and is ugliness at its core toward our brothers and sisters who have been washed by the blood of Christ. To date, I have never known any Christian or preacher who does not believe the Bible commands the followers of Christ to aid those who are non-Christians. The disconnect comes with an earnestly held difference under Biblical authority of a few scriptures and nothing more. Yet in an era when congregations, aging and shrinking, are regularly failing to evangelize, not dressing modestly, forsaking the assembly, trying to draw with means other than the gospel, and are introducing a wide range of unauthorized innovations into the worship, condemnation and the breaking of fellowship is occurring over “saints only benevolence”. Let us approach this issue as the Bereans did the words of Paul considering them carefully and desiring to obey the words of God.
Let it be clear as we begin, it has been requested of me that I present a “scriptural, fair, balanced, and kind overview” of this doctrine rather than approach it as an advocate or opponent of it. So what is presented below is what those who are “accused” of teaching “saints only benevolence” actually teach. It is not hearsay, guessing, or putting words into others mouths. Rather what is written below has been reviewed by those teaching it and seen as a proper representation of their understanding of scripture. May we all find wisdom in asking others what they believe before making assumption.
Let us begin… “Saints only Benevolence” is an issue that is congregational, not individual. It is completely tied to the congregation’s treasury at large. Most parties will agree that the purpose of the Church is edification, evangelism, and benevolence. At the core of the issue, one finds the question: “Is the use of congregational treasury funds limited or unlimited”. The answer is that it is limited (I Timothy 5). Specifically, in regard to widows, some are not allowed continual assistance from the congregation unless they are widows indeed and do not have families to care for them. By necessary inference, it can be seen also that there is a necessity for diligence by any congregation to consider the request or need for assistance and whether or not the one requesting has other means to assist them. Additionally, widows who are younger and may leave the faith (outside of the church) are not allowed to be assisted. Note: Most all would agree they can be assisted by the benevolence of individual Christians.
Giving, as a collective practice of the Church, is acknowledged by all (Philippians 4:14-16, 2 Corinthians 11:7-8, I Corinthians 16:1-2). It is the wording of the Corinthians passage that comes largely into play for this examination. A specific collection was being gathered for the saints, none other are mentioned. Romans 15:25-26 also declares this specific collection was for only the saints (with worry about non-saints of Judea interfering in vs. 31).
It would be wise to ask if there are other passages in relation to the aforementioned specific contribution which implicitly or explicitly authorize giving to non-saints thru a congregational treasury versus through the benevolence of individual Christians. Two such passages are 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 and Galatians 6:10. Unfortunately, both sides of the issue claiming authority of the scriptures, come to different conclusions. We will continue with the “Saints only Benevolence” view.
The first part of 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 declares the aforementioned contribution not only would meet the need of saints, but was in abundance. The second part of the passage declares the contribution would cause them to glorify God for not only their subjection to the Gospel but also for their bountiful or single minded (haplotēs) fellowship (koinōnia) with them (the saints of Jerusalem) and all (all those saints of Macedonia and Achaia also giving). From this last sentence, it is argued that the KJV translation “liberal distribution” is properly rendered “single minded fellowship”. Additionally, there is no word “men” in the original text. The idea that a contribution is being distributed to saints and non saints is rejected from the text by “saints only benevolence” advocates and done so by relying upon what the scripture says. Further bolstering this argument, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:1, 12, it is pointed out, contextually point to saints not non-saints.
Galatians 6:10 steps away from the specific contribution mentioned thus far. It is a separate passage said to promote giving to non-Christians. Recall, neither side of the benevolence issue denies the need for giving to Christian and non-Christian. Typically, the argument in Galatians hinges upon whether the passage is speaking of individual or congregation action. It is not argued that the book is written to Churches, as many of the New Testament epistles are. However, it is not honest to declare the book was written in regard to only collective congregational actions and does not address individual Christian actions. The specific context of the chapter needs to be examined as should be in any case. In chapter 6, it can be seen:
Verse 1 – “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one”
Verse 2 – “Bear ye one another’s burdens”
Verse 3 – “if a man think himself”
Verse 4 – “let every man prove his own work”
Verse 5 – “every man shall bear his own”
Verse 6 – “Let him that is taught”
Verse 7 – “whatsoever a man soweth”
Verse 8 – “he that soweth to his flesh”
Verse 9 – “let us not be weary in well doing”
Verse 10 – “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all”
Whether or not one agrees that verse 10 is a command to the churches regarding individual behavior, it is asserted the majority address individual actions. Additionally, the issues are spiritual ones, not financial / physical. Scripture isn’t stretched nor is there a following of manmade tradition to come to this conclusion. If you believe in “saints only benevolence”, this passage would not provide clear evidence that the congregational treasury can be used for anyone outside the Church. In fact, the treasury isn’t even in this context. Thus, why change your stance on the treasury at this point, especially, when the Christian wants to do all things by the authority of God?
Why would God not want giving to non-saints from the collective treasury? Scripture has been mentioned in regard to a future forward look at young widows or those with family. Should the church be burdened with those out of the faith or with other worldly means? The fact is that the church is limited in its use of the treasury. If it helps anyone and everyone, then how will that impact the preacher or many preachers who it could assist in sharing the gospel and not living hand-to-mouth. How would it impact the ability to aid an elder worthy of double honor? If congregations simply helped every needy saint within their walls, the treasuries would likely always be empty. Is that what God designed? God is a God of common sense and compassion. He instructs His people to care for the world, but in limited scope. These funds must be handled wisely.
“Saints only Benevolence” beliefs are based on scriptural reasoning and motive. Those holding these beliefs encourage Christians to give of themselves to the world. They don’t hate orphans or widows. They want to serve God and do so under full faith. Belittling, condemning, or withholding fellowship from these brethren will certainly not help anyone see the scriptures another way. It may be argued that the withholding of fellowship is one sided, but brothers, that is not accurate. If you reach out in a Christian manner, you will oft be received in the same.