Church vs Individual Responsibility
Why is this Topic So Important? by Dave Brown
Circumcision in Acts 15 and Acts 16 by Dave Brown
Recreational Activities by Bryan Gibson
Church Supported Schools by Bryan Gibson
Does God Have a Youth Program? by Bryan Gibson
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Why is this Topic So Important?
by Dave Brown
Please give it some thought. God is not the author of confusion; He has given certain responsibilities to His church, and other responsibilities to individuals. Do we expect the church to provide all Christians with a living wage and to totally take care of our children? Of course not. The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the responsibilities of the individual and those of the church. This page has four articles on it that address common problems within those churches today which, for whatever reason, wish to blur these responsibilities. Evidence of this is the often heard statement: “Whatever the individual is authorized to do, the church is authorized to do.” Please just take this to its extreme applications and if you will see its absurdity.
Clearly there have to be limits on what the church is authorized to do. If this is not spelled out in the New Testament, then endless opinions (one just as good as the next) will be expressed, and the churches will be in a constant uproar (which many are because of this). The church is authorized to do the work that has been given to it in the New Testament; for a summary of this work, click here. Also, an important related article deals with all of God’s commands that are given within human relationship; for that click here.
Consider the following example that clearly shows the recognition of the difference between church and individual responsibility; First Timothy 5:16 “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.” There might be a temptation for families to throw all of the responsibility to take care of their indigent relatives upon the church. Indeed, the church does have the responsibility to take care of Christians who are “widows indeed,” i.e., who have no other source for their care. But clearly the individual Christian’s responsibility is to take care of those of his/her own family and not to burden the church.
Having established the fact that there is a clear difference between church and individual responsibility, the articles on this page have been written to illustrate how these distinctions should be made. They do not cover all possibilities, but they provide sufficient examples from which the underlying principles can be learned and applied. The following gives a brief description of the articles:
- Circumcision in Acts 15 and Acts 16 – An Example of Individual Christian Responsibility. This article further demonstrates the distinction that our Lord wants us to have with regard to church and individual responsibility, and the many negative ramifications of imposing a personal individual decision upon the entire church.
- Recreational Activities – these activities can bring about great good when performed consistently with the moral and doctrinal teachings of Jesus. This article shows the real problems that are created by imposing their support and participation upon the entire church.
- Church Supported Schools – many who understand that recreational activities cannot be a part of the work of the church have a problem in applying the same principles to educational activities, especially when a subset of these activities involve Bible study. Teaching is indeed the responsibility of Christians collectively (Matthew 28:20), and that is not at all the question. The question arises as to whether a separate institution can be set up, independently of any given local church, to accomplish it.
- Does God Have a Youth Program? This question is often in the form of “does your church have a youth program?” and it is asked by those who are vitally interested in their children becoming Christians. Their concern is good. However, it is important that the local church’s youth program is totally consistent with God’s youth program, since the answer to the title question is: absolutely yes, but that responsibility has not been assigned to His church.
Circumcision in Acts 15 and Acts 16 – An Example of Individual Christian Responsibility
by Dave Brown
The issue of circumcision was one of the most divisive in the first century church. We read of the conversion of the first Gentiles in Acts 10. In Acts 13 and 14, we read of the church at Antioch sending Paul and Barnabas out to take the gospel to much of the Gentile world. They returned to Antioch at the end of Acts 14, only to be confronted with some Jewish Christians who came from Judaea claiming that circumcision was essential to salvation. Acts 15:1 states: “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
Exactly what their motive was we cannot know for sure, but many such doctrinal disputes are often caused by a lust for power, and perhaps these Jews wanted to keep some control over the church by forcing the Gentiles to keep the Law of Moses. Clearly, from Acts 15:5, they were pressing for, not just circumcision, but to enforce keeping the entire Law of Moses. This would have been devastating to the Gentile evangelical effort, and thus we can understand why Paul and Barnabas had a major disagreement with them.
We might pose the question: what was the position of the apostles with regard to circumcision? What did the Holy Spirit reveal to them? Like many other issues as the first century church was organized, a direct edict from the Holy Spirit should put this issue to rest for once and for all.
By the time we get to Acts 15, however, it is clear that the Jewish converts were practicing circumcision and the Gentile converts were not. Clearly the Jews who came from Judaea (the home of all of the apostles except Paul) were practicing circumcision. If not, how would they be able to suggest imposing it on the Gentiles? But it is also just as clear that the Gentiles were not practicing it – none of the Gentiles that Paul baptized were compelled to be circumcised, as evidenced by Acts 15:1-3. It is clear that circumcision was not a tenet revealed to the apostles. God had not commanded it one way or the other for Christians. It was not wrong for the Jews to practice it, nor was it wrong for the Gentiles to abstain from it.
So, what was the problem? The problem was that the Jews that came down from Judea were trying to bind something that God had not bound. It was not wrong for them, as individuals, to practice it, and the New Testament never condemns its practice. But the condemnation of those who would bind it is clear, e.g., see Galatians 5:1-6. To impose something on the entire church that God had not bound puts one in the place of God, and that is clearly sinful.
As if to add an exclamation to this point, after the debate of Acts 15 clearly concludes that Gentiles were not going to be compelled to be circumcised, we have the following event recorded in the very next chapter (Acts 16:1-3) “Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.”
Paul’s reason for having Timothy circumcised had nothing to do with it being right or wrong per se. It was strictly a matter of expediency so that the issue would not be a deterrent to the conversion of the Jews where Paul and Timothy were going to preach. Again, this illustrates that this is an individual, not a church, issue. It was not to be made a church issue one way or the other. The Holy Spirit was silent with regard to it being required of Gentiles or forbade to Jews, and thus, they were free to practice it either way. However, they were absolutely forbidden to bind it one way or the other on the church, as we can see in Galatians 5.
Please see the broader principle being illustrated here. Namely, the difference between individual responsibility and church responsibility? Paul felt the responsibility as an individual, as did Timothy, to practice circumcision in order to expedite the work. However, if this were imposed upon the entire church, one way or the other, it would have been sinful.
There are many such things as this in which we do not have a “thus saith the Lord” where individuals are free to use their judgment, but they are not at liberty to impose (or bind) this judgment upon the church. When we take practices that cannot be substantiated by clear scriptural evidences and impose them upon the church, we are guilty of legislating where God has not. Even if these practices are perfectly innocent when practiced by individuals. This principle is also elaborated in detail in Romans 14.
by Bryan Gibson
A local church should not be burdened with responsibilities that belong to the individual and the family (1 Timothy 5:16). Unfortunately, many churches have not learned this principle, or have chosen to ignore it. Churches have burdened themselves with responsibilities that belong to the individual Christian, or in some cases, to other organizations. In this article, we want to show that churches should not be burdened with planning, supporting, providing, or paying for the recreation and entertainment of its members.
Many churches, including many churches of Christ, have built facilities designed to provide recreation and entertainment for their members. Gymnasiums, family life centers, outdoor basketball courts—these are just a few examples. In addition, churches will often sponsor an athletic team in the various “church leagues” around. For entertainment, some churches show Andy Griffith reruns during their services; others show major sporting events (e. g. the Super Bowl). Let’s look at some reasons why local churches should not be burdened with such activities.
First and foremost, there is no authority from Jesus Christ for the church to engage in these things.
Here’s what I did in my study of this issue. I looked up all the passages in the New Testament that mention a church assembling or gathering together, just to see exactly what they did when they assembled. There was not a word about recreational activities. Then I looked up all the passages that relate to how churches spent their money. None was spent on recreation and entertainment. Finally, I looked up all the passages that discussed in any way the work of the church. Again, not the slightest hint of any recreational activities whatsoever.
Someone might argue though, “The reason we don’t see churches involved in these things in the New Testament is that there simply were not many opportunities back then. They just were not as recreation-minded and entertainment-minded as people are today. Our culture is just different today.” This argument is not valid even if its premises were true. But they are not. There are a few things those making this argument ought to know about first century Roman society.
“Not only was the official Roman working day a short one by modern standards, but there were comparatively few working days in the year, except for slaves, who in any case were not allowed to attend public entertainments as spectators. In the reign of Claudius (41-54), 199 days in the year were designated public holidays, 90 of which shows were offered at public expense.” (Illustrated History of the Roman Empire, via the Internet).
Referring to Grecian athletic contests of the first century, Easton’s Bible Dictionary says this: “These were very numerous. The Olympic, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games were esteemed as of great national importance, and the victors at any of these games of wrestling, racing, etc., were esteemed as the noblest and the happiest of mortals.”
Herod the Great certainly wanted people who were under his rule to be entertained: “Herod the Great built a theater and amphitheater in the neighborhood of the city, and instituted in the name of Caesar games which included Roman as well as Hellenic sports, celebrated every 5 years. There was also a hippodrome or racecourse for horses and chariots, bearing considerable resemblance to the Roman circus” (ISBE).
Don’t you think the first century churches could have drawn more people if they had sponsored some of these events or contests? Don’t you think they could have saved themselves from some of the persecution they endured? This leads to the next point…
Churches in the New Testament never used anything other than the gospel to draw people to the Lord, even when people were asking for something else.
Note, for example, Paul’s attitude: “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Paul could have produced both—the signs and the impressive wisdom—but he refused to do so. If Paul refused to offer signs and wisdom as incentives, what would have been his reaction to gymnasiums, ball teams, Andy Griffith re-runs, etc.?
Jesus faced the same kind of problem during His ministry on earth. His words, His teaching, were not enough for some people. But Jesus made it clear that He wanted people to follow Him because He was the bread of life, and because He had the words of eternal life (read John 6, especially vv. 26-27, 66-69). This bread of life is what the church must offer to people today. It may not be what many want (John 6:66), but it is certainly what they need. The gospel is still God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16). Churches need to stop offering other incentives.
One other reason: Local churches were simply not designed by God to provide recreation and entertainment; they were designed by God to help fulfill His greatest desire: for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4); and for all men to “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
In other words, local churches were designed to be spiritual training centers, not social clubs, or recreation centers. You can see this taught in several ways in the New Testament. First, you can see it in the worship of New Testament churches. Everything they did in worship was designed for their spiritual edification (1 Corinthians 14:26). You can also see it in the way they spent their money, the bulk of it being spent to support the preaching of the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15-16). And you can see it in the work God gave them to do (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Does recreation and entertainment have its place? Of course, it does (see 1 Timothy 4:8). The New Testament describes some occasions when people were obviously entertained. But again, it is not the church’s responsibility to provide these things. It is up to each family to provide their own recreation and entertainment, and of course, it is great when we can include others in our plans. It is good for Christians to do these kinds of things together, but we do not have to burden the church with it. Some may be thinking that we won’t be able to keep our young people unless we offer these kinds of programs. Can we not provide these opportunities without burdening the church, without draining its resources? Our young people need to learn that the church is not designed to provide these opportunities; it is designed to equip them spiritually. If entertainment converts them, they will serve and worship it, not Christ.
Church Supported Schools
by Bryan Gibson
An important principle is taught in 1 Timothy 5:16: do not burden the local church with responsibilities that belong to the individual and the family. Clearly, many churches have not learned this principle, or have chosen to ignore it. Churches have burdened themselves with responsibilities that the Lord never assigned to the church, responsibilities that instead belong to the individual Christian, or in some cases, to other organizations. And because they have burdened themselves with these other works, they have neglected the work that God has assigned to them. The bottom line is this: many churches have resorted to giving people what they want instead of what they really need.
In this article we want to focus on one particular problem area. We want to show that churches should not be burdened with establishing or supporting schools. Let’s look at some reasons why churches should not be burdened with this responsibility.
First and foremost, there is no authority for churches establishing schools of secular education, or for sending money to support them. Look throughout the New Testament and you won’t find any churches involved in the secular education of children. In fact, the only mention of a school is found in Acts 19:9—“the school of Tyrannus.” By reading the context, you can see that Paul simply took advantage of this meeting place to preach the gospel.
Children did receive some secular education during the first century, during the time the New Testament was written. Holman’s Bible Dictionary has this note about the education of Jewish children: “The elementary school system among the Jews developed in connection with the synagogue. Even before the days of Jesus, schools for the young were located in practically every important Jewish community. The teacher was generally the synagogue ‘attendant.’ An assistant was provided is there were more than twenty-five students. The primary aim of education at the synagogue school was religious. The Old Testament was the subject matter for this instruction. Reading, writing, and arithmetic were also taught. Memorization, drill and review were used as approaches to teaching.”
Now, if God had wanted churches to become involved in this process, don’t you think there would be at least some mention of it in the New Testament? But we cannot find where a church was ever commanded to do so. We cannot find an example of a church involved in this. And there is nothing that even implies that churches should become involved in the secular education of children. Again, there is no authority from God for churches to either establish these schools, or to send money to support them.
Let’s look at a second reason. Local churches were intended by God to be spiritual training centers, not educational centers. These churches were clearly instructed by God to limit their subject matter to one thing: that given by the word of God. In 1 Corinthians 4:17 Paul said that that he taught the same thing in every church. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 shows what he taught and what he did not teach. He did not teach them the wisdom of this world, just the wisdom of God. Acts 18:11 tells of Paul’s stay in the city of Corinth. He stayed there a year and a half, teaching the word of God among them. As long as Paul stayed there, wouldn’t this have been a good opportunity to establish a school, to get the church there involved in the education of their children? But of course, there is nothing said about that. Read carefully Ephesians 4:11-16. This passage gives a clear picture of the goals God has in mind for each local church, and the provisions He has made to help us accomplish these goals. The goals are all spiritual, and they are accomplished by doing one thing: “speaking the truth in love” (v. 15). All of this is harmony with the description given of the church in 1 Timothy 3:15: “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Let’s switch gears for just a minute. Some churches concede that they should not be involved in the secular education of children, so what they do instead is send money to “Bible schools” or to the Bible department of other schools. There are several problems with this, too. Again, first and foremost, there is no authority for this. We cannot find any examples of churches sending money to another institution to do the work God assigned to them.
Secondly, Ephesians 4:11-16 tells how God gave “gifts” to the church to make sure it was fully equipped to train people in the word of God. Are we not showing a lack of faith in God’s provisions when we give that work over to someone else? Are we not showing a lack of faith in the sufficiency of the church to get that accomplished?
Thirdly, if we send money to some “Bible school” or to some Bible department, the elders of the church would no longer have oversight of the teaching being done (1 Peter 5:2). We could potentially be giving financial support to those teaching error, and since they are generally teaching that more churches should support their cause, they are by definition teaching error.
Let’s get back to the point we made in the beginning. Churches should not be burdened with the responsibility of establishing or supporting schools. So who should? Each individual family. It is up to each family to decide how to best educate their children. It is my responsibility to make sure my children are educated, not the church’s.
The work of each local church is determined, not by what is popular, not by what will get us the biggest numbers, not by what people are calling for, not by what we think is good and right, but by what the Lord says.
Editor’s note: this article is to no way imply that there is anything wrong with public or private schools or colleges in general. Further, groups of Christians as individuals have every right to engage in this or any other respectable business enterprise that brings good to mankind in general (Titus 3:14). They may even enter these endeavors with people who are not Christians, provided that they are not influenced by them to do evil. This article is talking about the collective action of local churches, and what may be bound upon members of a local church. When a local church puts a college in its budget it binds every member of that local church to support that college. This is what is not authorized by New Testament command, example or implication.
Does God Have a Youth Program?
by Bryan Gibson
“What kind of youth programs do you have?” That’s a common question asked by many when looking for a church to attend. So what kind of youth programs should we have? What should a church offer its youth?
Gospel preaching. No, the gospel is not too outdated for today’s youth. It is as relevant today as when it was first preached by the apostles. It contains the words of eternal life (John 6:68); telling young and old alike how they can be saved (Acts 11:14). It is, as Romans 1:16 says, “the power of God to salvation.” Consider the question posed in Psalms 119:9: “How can a young man cleanse his way?” The answer: “By living according to Your word.” Young people cannot live according to God’s word unless they first hear it. They need to hear gospel preaching, and they need to hear it regularly. Just think of how much trouble they would stay out of if they listened to, understood and obeyed God’s word.
Bible classes. The Bible tells us about a church in Antioch, where many were involved in teaching God’s word (Acts 13:1; 15:35). What a great example for us today! It is indeed a blessing when a local church has enough teachers to offer classes for different age groups. Young people can greatly benefit from classes like this, where the truth is taught on “their level.” It does, however, need to be Bible study—not an art class, not a social hour, not a time to discuss “more relevant issues.” You would be amazed at how many Bible stories even two and three year olds can learn.
Worship services, patterned after those in the New Testament—where edification (1 Corinthians 14:26), not entertainment, is the goal; where the activities are spiritual, not carnal. Many churches have gone to the “contemporary style” services, where just about anything goes. Yes, our young people may enjoy this; it may capture their attention, but it will not feed their souls. They need worship services where their minds are directed to the Lord, to His will, to what He has done for them, and what they need to do in return. God knows what they need, if we will just follow His plan. Look in the New Testament, look at what those local churches did, and then just follow their example. That’s God’s way, and we simply cannot improve upon that.
Godly or righteous examples. The Bible is filled with them, and they will learn them as they listen to preaching and participate in Bible studies. They especially need to hear about Jesus, the one perfect example. But they also need examples from those with whom they come in direct contact. They need folks around them who can say with Paul, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). They need patterns or examples to follow (Philippians 3:17), people who are “living sermons.”
Christians who will look out for their soul. God has certainly seen to this need, with the provision that elders be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), men whose responsibility is to watch for the souls of every member—including the young (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28-31). The burden, however, should not fall completely on the elders. Young people need to be surrounded by those who “sincerely care” for the welfare of their soul (Philippians 2:20). Churches that designate one man as the “youth minister” have missed the point. Scripturally speaking, every Christian is a minister or servant (Philippians 2:3-4), and so our young people (and everyone else) should have plenty of people to minister to them. Basically, a local church should provide a family atmosphere, where we all look out for one another.
Let’s not cheat our young people. What they need more than anything else is the bread of life. This will not only sustain them in this life, but it will also give them eternal life (John 6:35, 58).
Editor’s note. This is not to imply that good, wholesome entertainment is not only necessary but also a good thing for our young people. We know of no Christians who do not enjoy these things with their young people, often on an organized basis. The question is: is it the responsibility of the local church to organize these activities, or is it the responsibility of the families involved? We hope that this article as well as the others in this general topic, have answered that question.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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