The New Testament Church: Its Mission
Either the Lord has assigned his church a mission or he has not. If he has not, then we may engage the church in any activity that is not immoral. If he has, that mission is set forth in the New Testament in language that every responsible person can understand. Furthermore, whatever the church does in discharging that mission must be limited to what the New Testament says that mission is. If there is one thing the Christians in this generation need to learn above everything else, it is this: God's ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8). If you are growing impatient with the restrictions the Lord put on the church and think its mission should be extended, let me introduce you to some other nice people who thought like that.
Uzzah put forth his hand to steady the Ark of the Covenant and God killed him (II Sam. 6 and I Chron. 13). What he did might seem trivial to us, and no doubt would be applauded by the "broad-minded" among us. But God had said for the sons of Kohath to carry the ark and for all others to march 2,000 cubits behind. Uzzah was not a Kohathite. He had no right to touch the ark. God did not think his act was trivial. It was presumptuous.
Korah thought Moses and Aaron had too much authority and he was going to remedy that by making priests of the common people. After all, were not all the people holy? But the earth swallowed Korah with his two fellow-conspirators, Dathan and Abiram; fire from above destroyed the 250 followers and a plague killed 14,700 others who "demonstrated" against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16).
King Saul thought the exigency of the hour should permit him to offer a burnt offering at Gilgal. Samuel was late and people were growing restless. So Saul "forced" himself and offered the offering and lost his kingdom (I Sam. 13). The circumstances of the occasion did not change God's law. It was not the king's business to offer burnt offerings.
Uzziah, another king, tried to assume the duty of a priest and burn incense. He was stricken with leprosy unto the day of his death (II Chron. 26).
Be sure that God is just as jealous of his church as he was of the Ark of the Covenant and other sacred things of Judaism. The church was bought with the blood of Christ; it is the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy; it is the bride of Christ; it is the temple of God. And believe me, I do not envy the man who degrades its mission by hanging onto it every kind of institutional rag he can find, or trying to turn it into a glorified country club, U. S. O. or Red Cross.
Everything that might be classified as a good work is not a work of the church. Fishing, golfing and hunting are splendid forms of recreation and recreation is needful, but it is not the business of the church to buy golf clubs, coon dogs and fishing tackle. Teaching young girls how to make beds and pies and pretty clothes is a good work, but it is not the work of the church. God is also the author of the home. It is necessary to build jails and reform schools, but this is the work of the state, not the church. Perhaps I should not even mention this. Don't be surprised if some eager-beaver preacher sells some "wide awake" elders the idea of sponsoring air conditioned fur-lined jail houses.
They could call it "operation criminal comfort." It would have to have some kind of breezy, eye-catching name for advertising purposes.
The Church and the Individual
We are told that since the church is made up of Christians, that what the Christian does the church does; that if it is scriptural for the individual it is scriptural for the church. This is not true. As a citizen of the state of Ohio I may lawfully make a contribution to a political party or a candidate. The state may not. It is unconstitutional.
The church also has a constitution, the New Testament. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to "labor working with their hands that they might have to give to him that needeth" (Eph. 4: 28). This might include operating a bank or sawmill or drilling wildcat oil wells and buying and selling leases. May the church operate such things scripturally? If so, what scripture permits it? Until recent years we taught that the only source of income for the church is the Lord's Day contribution (I Cor. 16:1-2). Some still believe this because we have found no Bible authority for any other method. Remember how we scored the Christian Church for their pie suppers? That is "penny-ante" stuff for us now. The individual Christian may do many things which the church as such may not do.
I can almost see a smirk on the faces of some of my old friends at my use of the words "church as such," but I am "fixin" to wipe that smirk off now with a quote from an "ex"-champion of truth. Here is what brother B. C. Goodpasture had to say about "the church as such" back in 1944.
The local paper in a certain town had reported that the Church of Christ soft ball team had "taken a shellacking" from another "church league team" Goodpasture commented thusly: "If this church had been defending the truth against the 'points' of Calvinism instead of playing a church league (whatever that is) softball game it would not likely have been 'shellacked.' Is 'church league' ball playing an item on this church's program? What about the equipment of the players and their expenses? Are they taken care of in the church budget? Has the church as such (careful brother Goodpasture L. B.) 'gone in' for athletics?"
"We have read in the new testament that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth ( I Tim. 3: 15 ); that the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel in the regions where it had not been heard; and that certain gentile churches sent relief to the poor saints in Jerusalem; but we do not recall an example of a congregation as such (what do you suppose he means by that?L. B.) playing in or out of a 'church league' game. Imagine such reports as these from the first century: 'The Church of God at Corinth shellacked in Isthmian game'; 'the devotees of Venus too much for Christian', 'Charioteers of Zeus plaster Church of Christ in fierce chariot race at Antioch;' 'Local Pharisees whitewash the sect of the Nazarenes in Roman league game."' (I cannot imagine it in the 20th century either brother Goodpasture.L. B.).
"Admittedly, under proper circumstances a member of the church might participate in some innocent game; but for the church as such (my, such language brother GoodpastureL. B.) to go in for athletics, is another matter. To say the very least of it, it cheapens the church and imperils its influence to be mentioned either as shellacking or being shellacked, whether in a church league or a non-church league. There is such a thing as taking the name of the Lord in vain. Is there no such thing as perverting the mission and using lightly the name of the church?" (All emphasis and parenthesis in this quotation mine.L. B . )
When brother Goodpasture wrote this twenty-two years ago he spoke the sentiments of nearly every gospel preacher on earth. But, as the Baptist Manual says about voting them into the church, "NOW IT IS DIFFERENT." Why? I would like to ask the erudite editor of "Old Reliable" (?) what was wrong with church support of ball teams 2 2 years ago that is not wrong with it now? Goodpasture now holds meetings for churches that do the very thing that church was doing, and for which he denounced it. And he now tells them what fine churches they are.
Church Support of Schools
The church here in Bedford received a letter recently from a small New England church asking for help on their building to the tune of $3,000. They have about 30 members, 15 of which contribute very little.
Here is a quotation from the letter: "We have sent contributions to our Christian schools, Gander Brook Christian Camp, The Africa Fund, and helped support a Marchale (sic) Keeble meeting here in Boston . . ." In a footnote they name five churches in the Boston area as "underwriters of our loan." This is a $1500 loan they already have.
Twenty years ago a letter like this would have struck fire everywhere it went. The idea of a church of Christ sending money to "Christian schools" and "Christian camps" was very unpopular among us, and for a good reason. It was, and is, very unscriptural. How does it happen that a thing almost universally opposed among churches of Christ 20 years ago is practiced on a large scale now with little or no opposition except among that select group known as "antis?" The answer to that seems obvious. Attitudes towards the truth have changed. It is that simple. College presidents, editors, big churches with money and influence and preachers, both large and small, have evidently decided that they like things better big than Biblical, popular than pure. If called upon to defend their practices, some will assume that old haughty, condescending, sectarian posture of "I'm too busy to fool with the likes of you and your petty demand for scripture." Some others will give you a tract called "Where There Is No Pattern." Still others will just admit that they don't have any scripture, but since we do other things without scripture, like having trustees to sign certain legal papers, using blackboards to teach, and having water fountains and rest rooms in the church, we can support human institutions that do the work of the church, or sponsor and support baseball teams. And you might be surprised at the people who think these are parallel.
What Is the Mission of the Church?
Those who have no axes to grind or kinfolks to please or pride to pamper or jobs to hold can easily find out what is the mission of the church. In Acts 2:44-45; 4:3235; and 6:1-4, we find the Jerusalem church engaged in benevolent work at home, among themselves. In Acts 11:27-30 the church in Antioch sent relief to the brethren in Judea. In Rom. 15:25-27; I Cor. 16:1-3; II Cor. 8 and 9 we find a contribution being raised among the churches of Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem. In I Tim. 5:1-16 Timothy is told that the church is not to support widows who have children or grandchildren to help them. Widows "indeed" are to be honored. If the church is restrained from supporting some widows who are saints, how about those who saddle the church with a program of general benevolence?
The Bible says that the church is the "pillar and support of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15). In I Cor. 9 Paul defends the right of men to be supported by the church while they preach the gospel. In the Philippian letter he rejoices and thanks God for their financial support while he preached the gospel in Macedonia and beyond ( Phil. 1: 5; 4: 15- 16) . In II Cor. 11: 8 Paul again says he received wages from churches while he preached in Corinth.
New Testament churches were charged with the responsibility of self edification. In I Cor. 14 we have a meeting where this is being done. Paul left Titus in Crete to set in order the things wanting (Tit. 1:5). This would require teaching the Christians. When Jesus gave the great commission he told the disciples to "teach . . . baptize . . . and teach the baptized." This was before the church began, but this is how it began: by preaching and baptizing (Mt. 28: 18-20). The mission of the church is briefly given in Eph. 4:12. The "perfecting of the saints" is part of it. This is edification.
So then, briefly, the work of the church is (1) benevolence among saints (2) evangelism and (3) edification. If I am shown New Testament authority for the church "as such" to do more than this, I shall begin to preach and practice it. (Of course I am not discussing the worship here.)
I have been forced sometimes, by the weight of truth, to change or modify my position on certain subjects. I have done this as readily as I change a dirty shirt for a clean one, and with about as little embarrassment. I stand ready to examine any scriptural objection to the position, which I hold on this subject. But I am not moved by emotional appeals or hypothetical situations nor am I frightened by the size of the opposition or the important names that head it.
Somebody told me an icicle is just a big drip that doesn't go anywhere. A big preacher is just an ordinary preacher that did go somewhereaway from home.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 1, pp. 12-15