The Organization and Work of the Church
Luther G. Roberts
The scriptures furnish us completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet.1: 3; 1 Pet.4: 11). The organization of the church is in local churches, not in the church in the universal sense of the term. Each church is independent of every other one with its own elders and deacons and members (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; I Pet. 5: 1-2). There is no organization larger and none smaller than the local church in the New Testament.
There is no organization of churches found in the New Testament. Elders have jurisdiction only over the flock of which they are members. "Take heed to the flock over which the Holy Spirit made you bishops" (Acts 20:28). "Tend the flock of God which is among you" (I Pet. 5:2).
There is a difference between organization and method. The divine church and human organizations both use methods. Note the following parallel:
Matt.28: 19, Teach. How? Organization-- Local church? (1 Tim. 3:15), or Missionary Society?
I Tim.5: 16, Relieve. How? Organization --Local church? (Acts 6:1-6), or Benevolent Society?
The issue was: Could churches of Christ build and support human institutions known as Missionary Societies through which churches preached the gospel?
The issue today is: Can churches of Christ build and support benevolent societies through which the churches can do their benevolent work? And; Can churches of Christ pool their funds in one local church (a centralized agency) through which to do their work of evangelism? Which shall it be: each church working independently of every other church under its own elders, or the churches pooling their resources in one central agency for that centralized agency to oversee and do the work? (Eph.3: 20-21).
The primary work of the church is spiritual, saving souls from sin (I Tim. 3:14-15; Eph. 3: 8- 11). This obligation rests on no other organized body of people on earth except the local church. Individuals can and should teach and preach the word, but no other organization is revealed in the New Testament to do this work except the local church or congregation (Phil. 1:1; 1:5; 4: 14-18). Congregations may cooperate in preaching the gospel, but each congregation acts concurrently and independently in their work according to the New Testament. "Churches may cooperate but each acts independently." "Each church (is) God's fully equipped organization for preaching the gospel."
"In New Testament no two churches operated under ONE head." The above three statements are quoted from H. Leo Boles, Sermon Outlines, 28).
Churches cooperated in supporting Paul in preaching the gospel in Corinth (2 Cor.11: 8-9). Each church sent directly to Paul as Philippi did (Phil. 4: 15-18). This is the way it should be done today. After stating that Philippi sent to Paul in Thessalonica, Brother Guy N. Woods said, "They also aided him later in Corinth. (2 Cor. 11:9)." He also said, "Here, too, we see the simple manner in which the church in Philippi joined with Paul in the work of preaching the gospel. There was no 'missionary society' in evidence, and none was needed; the brethren simply raised the money and sent it directly to Paul. This is the way it should be done today." (Teacher's Annual Lesson Commentary, 1946, page 341). If all the churches were doing it this way today, 1961, there would be no division over this matter as there is.
No church sent its money through another church to preach the gospel through that church according to the New Testament. No church did its own work through another church, or another body of any kind, in the preaching of the gospel so far as the New Testament reveals. And we should be guided by what is revealed in the New Testament and not by what it does not reveal. The late brother H. Leo Boles stated in his treatise on the Eldership that there was no organization of churches in the New Testament.
The church also edifies or builds itself up in the faith (Eph. 4:11-16). The church, the local church, does this work of edification under its own elders and not by or through an outside organization (larger than the congregation), nor by an organization within the organization but smaller than the congregation. An organized Sunday School organization with its own officers within the congregation is an organization smaller than the congregation and is unauthorized. The church studying the Bible under its own elders in the congregation functioning as an organization, and it is the only organization authorized in the New Testament to do this work of edification of the church (Rom. 12:4-7; I Cor. 12:12-27).
How may the church do the benevolent work it is obligated to do? Should it be done by the congregation or by another organization outside the congregation? Those who believe in the all-sufficiency of the church contend that the church should do its own benevolent work under the God ordained organization, the local church or the congregation. The Jerusalem church took care of her own needy with no outside organization whatsoever (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6). The distribution of the necessities was done by the local church through its members selected to do this work according to Acts 6: 1-6. The distribution was made on the basis of need and it was done by the church, not by some outside organization. On this point brother Woods said, "The church is the only organization authorized to discharge the responsibilities of the Lord's people" (Ibid., page 338).
When churches were unable to do their own work of benevolence, another church sent money (relief) to help them care for their own needy (Acts 11:27-30). This contribution was sent by the disciples at Antioch to brethren in Judaea. It was sent to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. Sent to what elders? Elders where the brethren dwelt, and that was in Judaea. There were churches in Judaea (Gal. 1:22; I Thess. 2:14).
Some fourteen years later the churches of Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia sent relief to needy saints in Jerusalem. Read these passages carefully: I Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25-31; 2 Cor. 8 and 9. There was no organization except the local church, and the churches did not send through another church. And when the church in Jerusalem received the money, it was used for the relief of the needy saints in Jerusalem. They did not send it on to some other place. The relief was sent directly, not through another organization, not to another organization, nor through another church even. The benevolent work of the church is not to be done through human benevolent societies or organizations any more than the evangelistic work of the church is to be done through some missionary society. The church has no New Testament authority to contribute to any organization through which to do its work (2 John 9). "There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church. It is the only charitable organization that the Lord authorizes or that is needed to do the work the Lord expects his people today to do" (1946-- Guy N. Woods, Ibid., page 340f).
Brother Woods showed in the book Teacher's Annual Lesson Commentary for 1946 that each church sent its funds by its own messenger to the elders of the church, and we quote him, "The order to give, like that to the Galatian churches, was delivered by Paul, but he did not wish to be made custodian of the offering, lest some one should attribute to him unworthy motives in the raising of it: 'And when I arrive whomsoever ye shall appoint, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem: and if it be meet for me to go also, they shall go with me.' Thus each church was directed to name its own messenger to carry the offering to the poor saints in Jerusalem" (Ibid., page 351). Brother Woods was eminently right in this statement and proves it by the quotation of I Cor. 16:3. What the church at Corinth did in this matter the other churches did also, just as the church at Troas partook of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week the other churches did also. Brother Woods also said, with reference to this contribution, "It should be noted that there was no elaborate organization for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the offering." (Ibid., page 338). Of course, this being true, and it is, the contributions were not sent through some centralized agency, elders or otherwise.
However, at a later date, brother Woods felt called upon for some reason to write upon this same matter and strangely enough, he did not write as he did in the above publication. In discussing this same contribution in the Gospel Advocate, November 18, 1954, page 911, he says this: "Even more to the point are the following pertinent facts: (1) Brethren (plural) were selected by the churches (plural) to gather funds for the poor of Jerusalem. (Rom.15: 26; 2 Cor.8: 18-19, 22-23). These brethren were 'chosen of the churches' and are described as 'messengers of the churches."'
Then, brother Woods asked a few questions about this contribution in the same article in the Advocate:
"(1) What did this group of men constitute who wers thus selected?" . . . "(3) Did this group chosen in the foregoing manner constitute an organization? " (Gospel Advocate, Nov. 18, 1954, page 911). These messengers did not constitute an organization according to brother Woods in 1946. He said then: "We point out that the contribution here alluded to was raised wholly without the high pressure organization methods characteristic of today. There was no organization at all; (emphasis mine--LGR) the churches, in their own capacity, raised the funds, and they were gathered by the brethren specially appointed for the purpose" (Annual Lesson Commentary, 1946, page 340). Brother Woods asked another question in the same article in the Advocate in 1954, "It is alleged that when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with these funds that he gave them to the elders to disburse? If yes, where is the proof?" Why, the proof is brother Guy N. Woods of 1946. Here it is: "Concerning this contribution, see I Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8:1, and 9:2). For another such contribution for the poor of Jerusalem, see Acts 11:27-30. It should be noted that there was no elaborate organization for the discharge of these charitable functions. The contributions were sent directly to the elders by the churches who raised the offering. This is the New Testament method of functioning. We should be highly suspicious of any scheme that requires the setting up of an organization independent of the church in order to accomplish it work." (Annual Lesson Commentary, -1946, page 338). So, brother Woods in 1946 answered his questions asked in 1954. (Emphasis in above quotation mine--LGR.)
The church can make whatever provisions necessary to support, care for, its own needy, but there is no scriptural authority for it to organize another organization for this purpose. No church with New Testament sanction can become a brotherhood agency to care for the needy of all or of many churches, for there is no such authority in the New Testament. Why cannot the church do its work through a human organization or through the elders of a local church as a brotherhood agency? There is no command for such in the New Testament; there is no example of such in the New Testament; and there is no necessary inference for it there, just as there is none for instrumental music in worship. As I understand it, members of the churches of Christ claim to be guided by the New Testament in matters of faith and practice.
(The above article was originally printed in "Speaking As The Oracles of God", a new paper edited by Brother Roberts in Oregon.)
Truth Magazine, VI: 1 pp. 22-24