In James 1:27 Christians are instructed "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Unfortunately, some have abused this passage in an attempt to justify the church contributing to human benevolent organizations. An even greater problem is the attitude that has resulted from this practice. How many have dropped a dollar in the collection plate thinking "I have visited those in need," when they have failed to fulfill the most basic element of "visiting."
The translation of James's instruction from the original Greek to English has lost its full meaning and force. When you say today "I'm going to visit," you usually mean you are going to see someone and chat awhile. But the Greek word "episkeptomai," translated "visit" in English, means much more. In Greek to "visit" is "to look upon or after, to inspect, examine with the eyes; in order to see how he is, i.e. to visit, go see one: Acts 7:23; 15:36 (Judg. 15:1); the poor and afflicted, Jas. 1:27; the sick, Mt. 25:36, 43 b. Hebraistically, to look upon in order to help or benefit; e.g. to look after, have a care for, provide for" (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 242).
"Visit" in Greek is related to the Greek word "overseer," so to "visit" includes "to look upon, care for, exercise oversight." (W. E. Vine, Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 1213).
There are three elements required by "episkeptomai," "to visit":
First, personal contact -- going to the needy in person.
Second, personal examination -- seeing to their needs.
Third, personal provision -- providing for their needs.
The word "visit" occurs ten times in the New Testament and every use demands the three elements of personal contact, examination and provision. Christ's "visit" was not just to chat awhile or the sending of a representative angel. "The Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace..." "For He has visited and redeemed His people" (Luke 1:78-79, 68). Christ's visit to men was God's personal contact and inspection to oversee our great need for salvation from sin and He personally provided the redemption price to meet that need.
Likewise, Jesus emphasized the individual duty of His followers to personally visit the less fortunate, "for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you visited me" (Matt. 25:35-36).
Thus the command to "visit" the less fortunate is intensely personal and practical for each and every Christian. Greek authority Marvin Vincent writes of "visit" in James 1:27, "James strikes a downright blow here at ministry by proxy, or by mere gifts of money. Pure and undefiled religion demands personal contact with the world's sorrow: to visit the afflicted, and to visit them in their affliction." (Vincent's Word Studies, Vol. 1, p. 736).
Those churches which send money to human benevolent organizations cannot find support for their error in James 1:27, by the very definition of "visit." James is clearly instructing individual Christians to assist those in need -- he is teaching pure religion is individual and personal, not institutional and impersonal. Those who give money to the church, for the church to give to a human benevolent organization, are twice removed from truly "visiting" the fatherless and widows in their affliction! Where is the personal going? Where is the personal oversight? Where is the personal assistance? You cannot visit the sick and needy by putting money into a collection plate.