The Work of the Lord's Church
by Dave Brown
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Adapted from Bryan Gibson’s “Back to the Beginning”
Bryan Gibson’s article “Back to the Beginning” triggered the thought that it would be good if we had a summary article on the work of the church. We are talking about the Lord’s church, the one that Jesus said he would build upon the foundation of the truth exemplified by Peter’s confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (recorded in Matthew 16:18). Since the Lord’s church belongs to the Jesus, and since he is the head of that church (Eph. 5:23), the collective work of these blood-purchased people is not a matter of opinion. We are not free to do just anything we want to when it comes to those activities that are bound on the members of a local congregation.
New Testament churches were taught to follow the same doctrine—the apostles’ doctrine that was identical to the doctrine of Christ. So whatever they did in terms of organization, work, and worship, they were taught to do so, and their instruction came from the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 14:37; 16:1-2; Colossians 4:16; Acts 2:42; 20:26-27; Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Some people think that their church belongs to them and they can do whatever the leadership or the majority wants. If it belonged to them, they could. But it belongs to Jesus, and we see no latitude in the practice of the churches of the first century. In those cases where they took it upon themselves to go beyond what was taught, it was sharply condemned (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:18-34).
New Testament churches were sternly warned against following any other doctrine than that of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:8, 19, 22-23; Revelation 2:14-15). How can a church claim to be “of Christ” if it does not follow the doctrine of Christ? There is absolutely no reason that this doctrine should change over time; recall: “...If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).
When we talk about the work of the church, we are talking about the work that God has given to all local churches. A review of the New Testament should convince you that the universal church that consisted of all Christians from all times (Hebrews 12:22-23) was never organized or assigned a work. On the other hand, the Great Commission was given to all Christians:
Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came to them and spoke unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
When Christians organize themselves locally to work together to accomplish this work, they glorify God in their collective activity. We see where the New Testament authorizes the following works of the church: (1) evangelism , (2) edification, (3) worship, (4) giving, and the oversight of the use of the contributed funds, and (5) benevolence to needy Christians. Let us consider each of these briefly.
Evangelism. Jesus commanded the apostles to teach all future converts to “observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” And since the Great Commission was one of the things he just commanded them, they were to teach it to others who would teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2), and ultimately we would be taught and we have the responsibility to teach the same things. And we know it applies to the church as well since we see that the primary work of the church was that of preaching the gospel to convert as many people as possible throughout the book of Acts. So churches required to engage in this work to the extent that our abilities will allow. The churches are also authorized to pay preachers (1 Cor. 9:6-11; Phil. 4:15-16), and to support the logistical needs of all scriptural evangelistic efforts.
Edification. This is the work of building up the body of Christ (the church). Ephesians 4:11-12 says: “And he gave some (to be) apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: …” And in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, the apostle Paul gave them this charge: “I charge (thee) in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
Worship. In a sense the collective worship of the church might be considered a work. Organizing and making provisions for the singing, prayers, Lord’s Supper, preaching and the collection and overseeing the use of funds contributed – all of this takes effort. These efforts are not to fall on just one person who “does the religion” for everyone else. It should be distributed to all of the members, and particular duties will fall upon the elders and deacons. New Testament churches had regular worship assemblies conducted according to the instructions of the Lord (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 14:40).
Giving and Properly Using the Funds Collected. New Testament churches raised money for their work by the voluntary contributions of their members (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; 11:8). No other method was used, and they never solicited the support of those outside the church. The work of the church is to facilitate the giving, which was commanded to be done as we have prospered on the first day of each week (1 Cor. 16:2). Local churches are also responsible for making sure that these funds are expended strictly according to those works that the Lord has authorized the church to do. While judgment is required in any allocation of resources to a variety of tasks, Christians do not have complete freedom to do anything that they want, even if all that they want is scriptural. The ultimate goal is the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15), and we must all do our very best to assure that all of our activities and resources are being expended in the best possible way to this end. Those who are younger and less mature should yield to those who have more experience in any given area requiring decisions, while at the same time “… each counting other better than himself …” (Phil. 2:3).
Benevolence. The churches were instructed to take care of the needy who were among them. In all cases where benevolence to the needy is mentioned as a church work, it is specified that this was “to the saints.” See Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-37; 11:27-30; Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8 and 9). As you see reading these various examples, some of these efforts involving sending aid from one local church to another, or from one local church to several other churches. Certainly this is authorized. However, we see no ongoing central organization overseeing this. It was the responsibility of the local churches to appoint men who would assure that the funds were being allocated and used properly (2 Cor. 8:18-21).
The work assigned to these New Testament churches was distinguished from the work assigned to individuals within the church (1 Timothy 5:16). The argument, “anything the individual can do, the church can do,” is completely opposed to the teaching in the New Testament. Of course, there are some overlaps in responsibilities, such as in the support for the preaching of the gospel (Philippians 4:15; Galatians 6:6), but this still doesn’t mean that the church can involve itself in the many moral worldly pursuits that individuals are free to engage in (e.g., earning a living to support one’s family). How do we know what God expects the church to do? This is quite clear from the pattern in the New Testament, and we need to follow it as closely as we possibly can.
Another example of this is the distinction that was made between what should be done “at home” and what should be done “in church,” or in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 34; 14:34-35). The condemnation of those who would twist the Lord’s commands to meet their worldly desires is quite harsh (1 Cor 11:30): “For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.” It is not at all difficult to learn what they did when they came together in the assembly, and then be content with that. To do otherwise would be to go beyond the word of the Lord, and we are specifically forbidden to do that (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9; Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:6-9).
So to summarize: the work of the local churches were limited to those activities authorized (see articles on authority), namely:
(1) Evangelism as given by the Great Commission – without regard to race, nationality or economic status – taking the gospel to all who will listen; saving the lost;
(2) Edification – keeping the saved from falling away, and building them up so that they glorify God more perfectly;
(3) Worship according to the acts of worship authorized in the New Testament;
(4) Giving – the collection and use of funds in a scriptural way; and
(5) Benevolence to needy saints both locally and in special cases where there were needs in other areas.
Why would anyone want to drag into the church anything except what God has given us to do? As indicated above, there are many other things, such as recreational activities, that are lawful for Christians to engage in, but not within the context of the Lord’s church. They are properly done within the many other relationships that Christians enjoy (e.g., families, friends, social organizations, schools, etc.). God’s laws on our conduct in relationships of this life other than that of the church are described in more detail in God’s Laws Within Relationships.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
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