The Ancient Faith
SUPPORTING UNBELIEVERS OUT OF THE TREASURY
Question: Is it scriptural to help those who are not Christians out of the church treasury? Does Mt. 10:8 support such an idea?
Matthew 10:8 reads “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” This verse has nothing to do with giving money to anybody. The teaching here is simply that the Apostles should pass on the benefits of the power they had received from Jesus to others. The power to perform miracles had come from the Lord. They were not to charge, in any way, for what they did. As H. Leo Boles remarks, “They had freely received and they were to give freely; they were to sell no miracles, not to sell the gospel; no bribe could be taken for healing any one.” This verse in no way teaches that the church today can take funds out of its treasury to help non-Christians. To so teach, is to misapply it.
But, are there other passages that teach we can use the money in the church treasury to help people who are not members of the church? If there are, this writer is unaware of them. In fact everything that is said on the subject in the Bible is directly opposed to such an idea.
THE CHURCH PROVIDES FOR ITS OWN, THE NEEDY SAINTS
The Scriptures teach that the church is to provide for its own, the needy saints (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32; 6:1-3; 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2Cor.8:8; 2Cor. 9:1,12,13). We find an example of this practice in Jerusalem, where none of the saints lacked (Acts 2:44 and 4:32).
However, in Acts 3, the beggar at the gate beautiful, asked alms of Peter and John. Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none…” The church had funds, but Peter did not refer him to the church. Peter did not say, “Let me talk to the brethren about this matter. I’ll see if I can get you some help.” Nor did he say, “This is a good opportunity for the church to make a name for itself in the community.” Wonder why? Because the church had no responsibility in the matter.
The obligation of the church is to save the world through the preaching of the gospel, not by contributing to their financial needs. Notice the following scriptures that prove this point:
Romans 15: 25-31 “But now, I say, I go unto Jerusalem, ministering unto the saints. For it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem. Yea, it hath been their good pleasure; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister unto them in carnal things… Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that are disobedient in Judaea, and that my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.”
Please note the following points in these verses: the church relieved saints– “ministering to the saints,” “contribution for the poor among the saints,” “my ministration which I have for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” Saints are specified. No mention is made of non-Christians being the responsibility of the church. Why? Obviously the task would be impossible. The governments of the world cannot even feed all the hungry people in the world. How on earth do you think the church could undertake such a task? How would we pick and choose among the needy of our communities and decide which ones to help and which ones not to help?
Our obligation is limited to the those in the church who are in need. What happens when a church has more needy saints than it can relieve? In the verse mentioned above other congregations sent funds to the Jerusalem church to enable it to relieve its own destitute saints. Such is a pattern for us today. If a congregation has more needy saints than it can care for, then other churches may send to that church to assist them in caring for those in need.
THE CHURCH DID NOT DO BENEVOLENCE TO MAKE CHRISTIANS
Another important point that we need to consider in the above verses is that benevolence is the fruit of Christianity, it is not for the purpose of producing it. Because the Gentiles had been partakers of the Jews spiritual things, they should minister to the Jews in carnal things, (i.e. they should help them in their need). The Gentile churches did not do benevolence to make Christians. The benevolence was extended to those who were Christians. The gospel, not benevolent work, is Gods power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The argument that the church will look good in the community, if it helps someone in need, places the emphasis where the Bible does not place it. We are not trying to convert people by helping them out of the church treasury. We are trying to convert them by preaching the gospel to them.
Look carefully at I Corinthians 16:1-2 “Now concerning the collection for the saints The collection was for the saints. This verse should settle the issue once and for all. The Bible specifies for “whom” the collection would be used. “The saints.” Specific authority excludes. There are no non-believers in I Cor. 16:1-4. Note also that the same order had been given to other churches “I gave order to the churches of Galatia. .”
The benevolent funds of the church are to be raised by the saints contributing into a collective treasury on the first day of the week. To collect the money on a Tuesday night gathering of the church would be in violation of the command. The money was to be used for the “saints.” To use it for non-saints is to violate the pattern. Question: If we may use church funds to help non-saints, may we also gather those funds every night during a gospel meeting? If not, why not? One other thought needs to be added. As individual Christians, we may, and should help those in need about us. Such benevolence is and always has been characteristic of God’s people. However, to teach that the church may or should relieve the needy of the world is without scriptural foundation.
[This was originally published in the OPA September 1, 1998]