Facts about the New Testament Church: The Work of the Church
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Dade City, Florida
The church is a distinctive organization with a distinctive function. It has a purpose, a mission or a work to perform. In this writing we will be observing the work of the local church because the local church is the only functional organization of the church revealed in the New Testament. When we use the term "church" reference is to the local church. It will be seen that God has a definite purpose for the church and that this purpose is clearly revealed in the Scriptures.
The work of the church is primarily spiritual in nature, involving the saving of souls. The spiritual nature of the church is demonstrated in a number of passages. The church is "not of this world" (Jn. 18:38). Peter calls the church a "spiritual house" when he said, "ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house . . . (1 Pet. 2:5). In verse 9 he refers to those who make it up as a "holy nation." That the function of the church is spiritual in nature is demonstrated by 1 Tim. 3:15, ". . . the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The word "pillar" denotes a column supporting weight. It comes from the Greek word stulos. The word "ground" comes from hedraioma and denotes a foundation, a mainstay of truth. Further weight is added to this thought when we observe that after describing the church as a "chosen generation, an holy nation, a peculiar people," Peter says that it shows "forth the praises of him who hath called you . . ." (1 Pet. 2:9). To "shew forth" in this text means to declare or make known. Thus the church has a distinctive, spiritual function.
What Is The Work Of The Church?
The work of the church is threefold in nature, involving evangelism, edification and benevolence. Let us look at each of these in the order in which they are listed:
(1) To Preach The Gospel In All The World-It is the function of the church to sound "out the word of the Lord" (1 Thess. 1:8). As seen above, the church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The purpose for preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ" is to "make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God . . . to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:9-10). It is the purpose of the church to propagate and uphold truth. The First Century church saw clearly this mission and performed it well. Hence, Paul could speak of the Philippians' fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now (Phil. 1:5). He could refer to the hope of the Gospel as having been preached to "every creature which is under heaven" (Col. 1:23). Today we are to sound out the word of the Lord beginning at home and then abroad as opportunity presents itself. The church is saved to save others.
(2) To Edify Itself In Love-Speaking of the church, Paul said, "from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:16). Edification is a requisite to growth. Therefore we are to exhort each other and build ourselves up in the most holy faith (Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25).
(3) To Supply The Needs Of Its Own Indigent Members-Benevolence is a work of the church. All passages showing the church's engaging in benevolence limit that work to saints. Brethren and disciples were objects of benevolent work from the treasury of the church (Acts 6:1-3; 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9). All that the New Testament says about benevolence from the treasury of the church constitutes the pattern. The pattern limits the church in its benevolent work to the needs of poor saints. The Deeds of non-saints are fulfilled by individuals who have a broader obligation (Jas. 1:27; Gal. 6:10). The church is limited even in what it can do for saints (1 Tim. 5:3-16).
What The Church Is Not To Do
The church in its function is limited to the areas cited above. By Divine authority, the church cannot operate and function in the area of secular education, entertainment, recreation, politics, secular business and civic functions. In these areas the church is not to be charged. Hence, building hospitals, homes for unwed mothers, schools, old folks homes and orphan homes are not a part of the work God authorized the church to do. The church can utilize any means that is lawful and expedient to carry out its mission, but it cannot, without violating Scripture, operate in these fields. God has placed limitations upon the church and what it can do from its treasury.
How Is The Church To Do Its Work?
Most Christians agree that the Scriptures constitute the pattern for work and worship. The work of the church is to function according to the pattern (Heb. 8:5). God has given the pattern for everything he authorized the church to do. Hence the necessity for following the pattern.
Let us look at the pattern of cooperation among churches. Keep in mind the fact that each congregation is self-governing (1 Pet. 5:14), and each independently operates (Phil. 2:14-16; 1 Thess. 1:7-8). The Philippian church, for example, not only "held forth the word of life," she had fellowship with Paul from the beginning of the Gospel (Phil. 1:5). While Paul was in Thessalonica, Philippi sent once and again to his necessity (Phil. 4:15-18). In this we see the pattern of one church supporting a preacher. In 2 Cor. 11:7-9 we see Paul taking wages of other churches while he preached at Corinth. The pattern here is a plurality of churches sending to the preacher. Notice that it was sent directly. To these thoughts we add the fact that one church can send a preacher to different places (Acts 13:1-3). There is simply no example anywhere of churches working through boards as is the case in the missionary society. Neither did they work through a sponsoring church arrangement such as the Herald of Truth. The pattern in evangelism is sending funds directly to the man in the field. There is to be no organization, human or otherwise, between the supporting church and the preacher.
Now let us look at the pattern in bentvolence. First, in the case of the Jerusalem church we see one church caring for its own (Acts 6:1-3). The pattern also teaches that one church can help another church care for its own (Acts 11:27-30). The new Testament also teaches that a number of congregations can send to one church in need (Rom. 15:25-26; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9). In the cases of churches' helping each other it was done that there might be equality (2 Cor. 8:13-15). In benevolence the funds were always sent to the need. There is no example of even one church's functioning through benevolent societies. If brethren would insist on each church's doing its own work in the way the pattern teaches the strife and division that exists would cease.
May God help us to get more involved in the work of the Lord. We need to follow the Divinely revealed mission, purpose and function of the church. Let brethren cease their departures from the pattern. Remember, when God specifies either by command, example or necessary inference how a thing is to be done, that ends all controversy on the matter. May God help the church to hold to the pattern in its work and mission.
Truth Magazine XX: 32, pp. 507-508