Can money be used from the church treasury to do good for non-Christians?




The following is taken from a list of questions sent to me by my request. The author is from a more liberally-minded group who is preparing lessons on the issues that separate some churches of Christ. He was interested in the other side's point of view and I was interested how he would approach his position.

Do you believe that there are any situations in which money from the church treasury can be used to "do good" to non-saints?  If so, what?

 (I'm wondering about the old illustration of using the church phone to call an ambulance for someone hit by a car.  This position seems logically consistent with the view that money in the church treasury can never be used to assist non-saints. However, it also seems callous and utterly lacking in compassion.  I understand this was debated years ago, but I wonder if current-day NI [non-institutional] brethren would take that hard a line.   I'm asking if there are exceptions to an absolute application of the saints only rule, and how you reason about those exceptions if they exist. )

Before answering the question, let me take a moment to analyze the question. It is of the same form used to justify lying. "Are there not times when you would tell a lie to spare someone's feelings?" In other words, I am being asked if I am consistent in my application of right and wrong. Of course, the implication is that if I admit to being personally inconsistent, the questioner feels justified in his own decisions in different situations. The fault is that it does not address the issue of right or wrong. Instead we focus on the boundaries and mankind's frailty. Because brother X smokes, brother Y sees nothing wrong if he takes a drink or two socially. Brother Z then feels justified to use drugs recreationally because it is no worse than what brother Y is doing. And the real problem is that we left searching for truth and instead are seeking to justify what we already want to do.

The difficulty the author of the question faces is finding biblical justification for using church funds for non-Christians. The example he gives appeals to compassion, but it does not address his question. The use of a phone for a local call does not increase the cost of having a phone in the building. Hence, the use of the phone in an emergency does not address whether church funds can be used to aid non-Christians.

Consider a story from the Old Testament: "Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, "Why are you alone, and no one is with you?" So David said to Ahimelech the priest, "The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, 'Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.' And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. "Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found." And the priest answered David and said, "There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women." Then David answered the priest, and said to him, "Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was sanctified in the vessel this day." So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away." (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Though David was a man after God's heart, he did sin as men often do. In this example, David lied about being on a mission from the king. The truth was that he was running for his life from the king. Yet, the question that has been debated for ages is whether Ahimelech sinned by allowing David and his men to eat the bread from the table of showbread.

God was very clear that the bread removed from the table of showbread was to be eaten by the priests. "And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute" (Leviticus 24:5-9).

Yet, Jesus used this same example to ask a question about the Sabbath. "At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? ... But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless." (Matthew 12:1-4, 7). The Pharisees were quick to condemn the disciples, but Jesus called them guiltless. The reason is simple, they had not broken any law. The Old Law clearly allowed plucking grain when hungry. "When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain" (Deuteronomy 23:25). Hence, the Pharisees were guilty of trying to use one of God's law (do no work on the Sabbath) against another of God's laws. What Jesus stated was that because God allowed eating grain when hungry, God's definition of "work" was narrower than the one they were trying to apply.

So what did David's example have to do with the matter? David was revered by the Jews. They found ways to excuse the fact that David clearly violated the law of God by eating the bread from the table of showbread. However, when faced with people they thought were violating the law (incorrectly), they were unable to extend the same mercy that they gave to David who did violate the law.

You see, I don't know of any congregation that isn't willing to help truly needy non-Christians. When faced with a need, brethren will individually dip into their own pockets and collect funds to help the destitute. It doesn't cross our minds to take the Lord's money to fulfill our personal responsibility. When money is contributed to the Lord, it is spent in accordance to the directions of the Lord. When there is a need that doesn't fall under the category of a church's responsibility but it is an individual's responsibility, then we as individuals do what is needful and right for our fellow man. "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9-10).

Finally, I would like to address the idea of good. I couldn't help noticing that you put "do good" in quotes. I assume that this is because the good being advocated is good from man's point of view, but not necessarily defined as good in the Bible. If such is the case, you will recall that Paul said, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17). If the Scriptures equip a man for every good work, then nothing that is good cannot be found within the Bible. If it cannot be shown from the Bible to be a good work, then it is not truly good. Do not forget Paul's warning: "And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). Actions must be justified independent of the perceived good that might result from those actions. David, seeking food for himself and his men, was good and proper, but the means David chose to accomplish this was unlawful. When we use the Lord's money, it is needful for us to insure that we choosing lawful actions and not justifying our course because we like the outcome.

See also:

Is there any spiritual work that an individual Christian may do that the church may not?
If you can have fellowship with people who differ in one area, why can't you have fellowship with those who have kitchens and fellowship halls?

Keys to Understanding: "Unproductive Arguments": Emotional Arguments
Keys to Understanding: "Reasoning Without Truth": The end does not justify the means


March 15, 2005