Self Edification (No. 1)
Paul's letter to the Ephesians can well be called the "church epistle," and should be studied with this recollection in mind. The fourth chapter is the "unity chapter." To save space, I ask you to begin with verse eight and continue reading through verse sixteen, in your Bible. Give special attention to verse sixteen, the central thought of this study, "the edifying of itself in love."
Since the church is made up only of intelligent and responsible creatures of God, and is the very dwelling place of God himself, Eph. 2:22, it is perfectly and adequately equipped to build up, develop, and strengthen itself for spiritual service without the need of independent sources in it or out of it. It possesses those native resources and spiritual qualities in their order and system by divine wisdom to make each member as perfect as he can be made for spiritual service to God. So the church is not a pool of water that is fed by springs from without, but is the spring itself, providing its own supply from within.
In our passage above, Paul declares that when Christ ascended on high, he gave gifts onto men, and gave some to be apostles and prophets. These were in the foundation of the church, Eph. 2:20, and their work was completed when "that which is perfect had come," 1 Cor. 13:10, James 1 :25. They had no successors. The very nature of their work in introducing and perpetuating the will of God in the absence of written revelation, was to benefit all the churches. It was a general, or universal work. In them, the work of God in providing the church with an adequate source of spiritual supply was completed and perfected.
But there was man's work to be performed which is not always perfect. The Lord also gave others to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The very mention of pastors definitely localizes the function of the church in its work of self -edification. Pastors were by divine appointment placed over a charge "allotted to them," I Pet. 5:3. Their charge is the church where they were appointed. When they seek to function beyond this limit, they are covering more ground than the charge allotted to them.
Elders, or pastors, are a part of the flock which God appointed them to oversee, and to that extent, the church, in their function, is "edifying itself." Elders must meet superior standards in order to perform the scriptural work of "feeding the flock" that God has required of them. Elders are shepherds, and Jesus describes the work of a shepherd in John 10. He is more specific in Luke 15 in the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd left ninety nine sheep to find one that was lost. A local church is never so large that the loss of a single "sheep" should cease to be of greatest concern to the "shepherds." If they follow Jesus' teaching, they will go far out of their way at considerable personal sacrifice to find him. But is it being done? Do elders reallv care and watch for the flock? I know of a good growing church in which barely over half the members attend Bible study classes on Sunday morning. Is that typical? I know it isn't "good" and there is room for "growing." Since elders are the shepherds of the flock, is it unreasonable to say that their work calls for periodic visits among the "sheep" for purposes of instruction, admonition, and encouragement? When so many "sheep" move into new fields and cannot be persuaded to be faithful, has their "faithfulness" been taken for granted by the "shepherds" back home who neglected their spiritual needs? There is growing concern that worldliness in the church is increasing and becoming more general. Are the shepherds watching? Yes, it's a problem, but neglected problems become greater.
When we consider the usual concern of elders over their obligations to the Lord and to their flock, there can be no doubt that the greatest cause of their neglect is lack of time. This being true, it is not easy to understand how elders of a local church can be brought to the place in their attitude toward their official responsibilities, where they are anxious to promote a general, universal work for all the churches, even to the extent of travelling extensively in the interest of such projects, and neglect obvious demands of the flock that is "among them." Whether a flock numbers one hundred or two thousand, the shepherds should see that every single sheep is provided with the attention and aid he needs to rise to the level of his ability in spiritual service and growth, and not one is allowed to progress toward unfaithfulness without proper steps taken to bring him back into the way of righteousness. This requires plans, effort, and time, and elders who fulfill their divinely ordained function in these matters will not be in a position to act for many churches elsewhere.
As a secular business becomes larger, its management must increase in strength and efficiency to keep pace with the growing opportunities for still new business, and this is usually the trend. But in the church, the reverse is true. As the church grows in numbers, the percentage of spirituality and number of active, faithful members becomes smaller and smaller. As the church becomes larger, the liability of worldliness, lukewarmness, and indifference to personal responsibility becomes greater. Is this unavoidable? Can we think that as the church grows and more and more souls are saved, that we must necessarily expect a decline in spirituality, and become reconciled to a problem with no solution? God forbid!
As the church grows, spirituality and holiness ought to increase and abound to the glory of God. Any "growth" at the sacrifice of these virtues is not growth at all. It is merely "showing off!" But the true growth that will please and honor God can be had if we place the responsibility where it belongs, and the emphasis on the right things. The obvious, initial responsibility is with the elders, for this is the very reason the Lord wanted elders in every church - to provide oversight, leadership, and example.
This work of generating and maintaining spiritual life and activitv from within, is greater than elders can personally perform. There are others God holds responsible, and we will discuss them in our next article.
Truth Magazine II:5, pp. 8-19