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The Difference Between Individuals and the Church

by Greg Gwin

In a recent discussion of church benevolence, the point was made that the church has a limited benevolent role (only to needy saints), while individual Christians can and should help all who are legitimately in need (Galatians 6:10). Someone offered this rebuttal:

“Why maintain a division in the church over money when the money is God’s before it is given on the first day of the week, and is still God’s when it is not given? . . . If there is nothing that is not God’s then His money is still feeding the poor either through the elders hand or through individuals. It is God’s money, God’s people, doing God’s work.”

What we see here is a classic case of failing to recognize the difference between individual Christians and the church as a collective body. Notice these passages which make this clear distinction:

1. The individual is not the church: "For the body is not one member, but many" (I Corinthians 12:14).

2. The individual is charged when the church is not: "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (I Timothy 5:16).

3. The individual has responsibility that the church does not: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone ... if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more ... and if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church ...” (Matthew 18:15-17).

4. The individual’s money is distinct from the church’s’: "But a certain man named Ananias ... sold a possession, and kept back part of the price ... and brought a certain part, and laid it, at the apostles' feet. But Peter said ... , Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost … Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" (Acts 5:1-4).