The All-Sufficiency of the Church in Edification
With our last article we completed a series of three lessons on the all-sufficiency of the church in evangelism. We pass from the study of evangelism to that of edification, another function of the church. In a previous lesson on the all-sufficient mission of the church, we learned that the church is to function only in the realms of edification, evangelism, and benevolence. After perhaps three or four articles on edification, we will proceed to discuss the mission of the church three or four articles proceed to discuss the in benevolence.
In these articles on edification, we are affirming that the congregation has responsibility in the sphere of edification, and that it is completely adequate (all-sufficient) for the discharge of that responsibility. The word "edify" means "to build up, strengthen, more firmly establish, instruct, improve." It is not God's purpose for newborn babes in His family to be spiritual runts. He has commanded that each one experience healthy growth. We will now notice some scriptures that indicate that God is not pleased for His children to remain static. Afterward we will see what arrangement God made for the edification of disciples, and thereafter, we notice that these provisions of God were sufficient.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear" (Eph. 4:29). "So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another" (Rom. 14:19). "Let each one ot us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying" (Rom. 15:2). These passages are sufficient to show that God is not pleased unless we are growing. In order to obey these scriptures, we must be edified (that is, built up, strengthened, instructed, more firmly established, improved). When proper growth is not experienced, a rebuke is in order. In Heb. 5:11-14, the apostle Paul severely rebukes certain Hebrew brethren. Sufficient time had elapsed since their conversion that they should have grown enough to be able to teach. Instead, they yet needed someone to teach them the simplest things about the gospel. They were old enough to be on the strong diet for full grown men, but they were not yet able to, bear it. They were old enough in years that they ought to have been able to eat meat. Yet milk was all they could bear. God was not satisfied with their progress. If God was not pleased with the Hebrew Christian's lack of growth, is there any reason to think He will be any more favorably disposed. toward those among us whose spiritual growth has been negligible? Yet among us are hundreds, yea thousands, who by reason of years ought to be teachers, but who are unable to bear solid food. Without doubt, all such invoke God's displeasure.
While lack of growth was evident in New Testament times, and in our own time at least as much, is this spiritual dwarfness caused by God's failure to provide for our edification? Not at all. Let us make note of some of the provisions that God has made for our edification.
1. We have responsibility to instruct one another. "And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all" (1 Tim. 5:14). "Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do" (1 Thess. 5: 11). We are to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Each person has responsibility in this task. "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith. . . " (Jude 20). God therefore shouldered each of us with the burden of watching out for the other. Each man also, is to be concerned about his own spiritual well-being. But God appointed as many other guardians of one's spiritual health as there are members of the body. If all of us function as we should, we too will be built up in the most holy faith.
2. The Lord makes us to increase. "Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you: and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love toward one another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you; to the end that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints" (1 Thess. 3:11-13). This passage declares that the Lord makes us to increase. If edification is within the power of the Lord, He has provided for it. Certainly, an omniscient Lord could provide for our edification.
3. Apostolic authority was. given for our edification. "For though I should glory somewhat abundantly concerning our authority (which the Lord gave for building, you up, and not casting you down), I shall not be put to shame" (2 Cor. 10:8). One of the purposes of apostolic authority was edification. Some 22 books of the New Testament are given for the special purpose of edification. The other five books edify us incidentally, but they had more specifically the purpose of producing faith and giving the plan of salvation. Peter says the "word" will enable one to "grow thereby unto salvation" (I Pet. 2:1, 2). So when we proved in a preceding article that the Bible is an all sufficient book, that it is adequate to every divine appointment, we also thereby proved' that God's edifying provisions are sufficient. For all that which came by apostolic authority (i. e., the New Testament) was for our edification. But their apostles with their authority were set in the church (1 Cor. 12:28).
4. Consequently, the body (the church) is for our edification. One thing required of the body is that it assemble. These assemblies are to contain material of such a nature as to edify those present. Paul says, "Let all things be done unto edifying" (I Cor. 14:26). The song service is to "teach and admonish one another." Properly partaking of the Lord's Supper is to prevent one from becoming weak and sickly. So it too is to build one up. In these assemblies the Word is to be declared in such a way as to exhort and to build one up (Acts 2:42; Heb. 3:13; 10:25). Furthermore, God appointed overseers of the congregation. Their work is to see that the flock is fed what it needs (Acts 20:28). They "watch in behalf of your souls" (Heb. 13:17). All of these provisions of the body are for the specific purpose of edifying those of us who comprise the church.
Perhaps the clearest passage in the New Testament on the mission of the church is Eph. 4:11-16. Let us make notice of this passage as it pertains to edification. Paul states "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints God's purpose in appointing these inspired men to their position was for the perfecting of the saints. This declares that God wants His saints perfected, and that He thought He was arranging for their perfection. But these were set in the church. Therefore this divinely given perfecting power is in the church. Whether or not one thinks the church to be an all sufficient organization in edification depends or, just one thing: i. e., what does he think of God and His work? If he believes God to be the Almighty (All-Mighty) One, he will accept the fact that all this power was brought into use in providing for the perfecting of the saints.
The passage further declares that God wants us no longer to be "children, tossed to and fro" by every false doctrine, but He wants us to become "full-grown men" and to "grow up in all things unto him." In order that this might be accomplished, in addition to the provisions He made for us through inspiration, God made us to be a body. This body is to function in behalf of all its members. Since the body consists of the members, then as all the members function in their body relationship, the body functions. Each member has a function to perform. Evolutionists claim that our natural body has "vestigial" organs. These are organs (so they claim) that now have no specific use, but that were very useful in a previous state. Of course this is not true. Every organ in our body has a function, or God would not have put it there. God expends no unnecessary effort. Many may not now know the function of every organ of his body, but they can rest assured that it does have a function. In like manner the spiritual body has no vestigial organs. Paul says the body is "fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth." Paul further comments on this point in Col. 2:19, "and not looking fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God." Paul's argument in 1 Cor. 12:12-27 is that there are no members of which the body has no need. Each has his own specific function to discharge in the operation of the body.
Now let us look at Eph. 5:16 once more. Paul declares "from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, make the increase,of the body unto the building up of itself in love." The body builds up itself, Paul here plainly declares. This may sound paradoxical and unbelievable according to the wisdom of man, but according to the wisdom of God, it is exactly as He would have it to be. How does the body build up itself? "Through that which every joint supplieth." So we state that the body of Christ is a self-edifying body. What institution did God establish for the edification of the saints? He established the body of Christ. As we declared when speaking of the sufficiency of the church in evangelism, so we can here repeat: If God did not succeed in establishing an all-sufficient church, He failed in His greatest work! What Christian can believe that He so miserably failed?
Just as New Testament churches were active and successful in evangelism and benevolence, so were they also in edification. Paul commends the Thessalonians, stating that their faith to Godward had gone forth and was known throughout the world, so that they had become an example to all that believe (I Thess. 1:7, 8). In 2 Thess. 1:3, he states that their faith had grown exceedingly. He is confident that He who began a good work in the Philippians will perfect it until the day of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Every New Testament Christian who died with a well-founded hope of heaven testifies to the sufficiency of the church in edification. For those who are not edified cannot have a well-founded hope of heaven. The church in the New Testament did not attempt to avoid its God-given responsibility in edification. Neither can the church today avert this obligation. It cannot delegate its duty to another congregation or to another institution. It must edify itself! It cannot discharge this duty by proxy. This duty to edify itself embraces the preaching of the gospel to itself. The world must be taught, and the church must be taught. The world needs the gospel preached to it, and the church needs the gospel preached to it (Romans 1:15).
God expects and demands growth of every member of the body. He amply provided for that growth. New Testament churches served in a way that many Christians lived, grew, and served so as to have the right to expect heaven as a reward. If the church is all-sufficient in edification, then no other organization is needed for the discharge of this part of the mission of the church. The congregation is God's only organizational provision for the edification of the saints. As has long been said: There is no organization larger than a local congregation; there is no organization smaller than the local congregation; there is no organization other than a local congregation for the discharge of the mission of the church in evangelism, edification or benevolence.
In articles to follow on this subject, we want to investigate the additional organizations men have devised to edify the church. Some of these are inside the framework of the congregation; some of these are outside congregational boundaries. In either place they are wrong because the imply the insufficiency of the all sufficient church in edification.
Truth Magazine, V:5; pp. 17-20