The Work of the Church
Beckley, West Virginia
God designed the church (Eph. 3:16-11), established it on earth (Matt. 16:18), and gave it a work to do. This work is a divine work because the church is a divine institution. This work is the greatest work because the church is the greatest institution. This work is a glorious work because the church is a glorious institution.
The parable of the vineyard depicts the church as a working institution. Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyards" (Matt. 20:1). A vineyard is a place of work and the church, being likened unto it, shows that it, too, is a place of work.
The work assigned the church is three-fold: (1) evangelism, (2) edification, and (3) benevolence. We will be referring to the work of the local church as we proceed to address ourselves to the work of the church in particular. There is a work that the church in the distributive sense (all individual Christians) is to do that runs parallel to the work of the local church, but we are not concerned in this article with that specific matter. Let us notice the work given to the local congregation in the order stated above.
Work of Evangelism
Mankind is lost sin (Rom. 3:23). The gospel is the only power to save (Rom. 1:16). Consequently, God wants the gospel preached (Mk. 16:15; 1 Cor. 1:21), and has given the obligation to the church.
The church's marching orders to evangelize are given in Matt. 28:19; Mk- 16:15. Jesus said to go preach the gospel to every creature. In the parable of the sower, Jesus showed that the church is the sowing agency (Matt. 13:3-9). The church is to hold forth the words of life (Phil. 2:16).
First century churches sent preachers out into the world to preach the gospel. The church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas. "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers. . . . As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas -and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:1-3).
Paul reminded the Thessalonian church how they had sounded out the gospel. "For from you sounded out the words of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything" (1 Thess. 1:8).
While Paul preached at Corinth, his financial support was supplied by churches of Macedonia. He took wages of other churches to do a service at Corinth (2 Cor. 11: 8). Congregations in Macedonia helped spread the gospel through Paul.
The church at Philippi assisted Paul financially in preaching the gospel. "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thesslonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity" (Phil. 4:15-16).
Friends, churches of the first century were missionary minded. In a period of about 30 years, the whole world had an opportunity to hear the gospel (Col. 1:23). Twentieth century churches need to exemplify their interest in the lost and put forth every effort to take the gospel to the world.
Work of Edification
In addition to evangelizing the world, the church is to develop its own spiritual strength by edification (Eph. 4:16). In God's divine arrangement, he set offices in the church for the equipping or perfecting of the saints.
Referring to offices or functions in the church, Paul said that the Lord "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12).
The apostles and prophets revealed the truth (Eph. 3:5), the evangelists are to proclaim the truth (2 Tim. 4:2) and the pastors (elders) are to see to it that the truth is taught in the church (Acts 20:28-31). By faithful teaching of the truth the saints will be perfected to do the work of the ministry (service) and the building up (evangelizing) of the body of Christ.
Members of the church are to be mature, coming to the "unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:13-14). It is the business of the church to ground and stabilize itself to prevent false doctrine from leading it astray (Col. 2:6-7).
Paul instructed the Corinthians that "forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church" (1 Cor. 14:12). In verse 26 of this same chapter, Paul stated that when the Corinthians came together to exercise spiritual gifts, "Let all things be done unto edifying."
May each church be committed to developing itself to the extent that its members can teach others (Heb. 5:12), have love, knowledge and discernment (Phil. 1:9), growing faith and an abounding love toward each other (2 Thess. 1:3) and can resist the Devil in all of his devices (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5: 9; 2 Cor. 2:11).
Work of Benevolence
Along with evangelism and edification is the work of benevolence. This work is limited, however, in its scope as the Scriptures plainly teach. Some have a misconception that church benevolence should be general, helping all humanity. But this would be an impossible task, exhausting all of its supplies with no resources left to do any other work God gave the chruch to perform.
God even limits the saints whom the church may help. Listen to Paul: "If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed" (1 Tim. 5:16). God says we are to take care of our own, and not burden the church, so that the church can relieve those saints who have no one to care for them. If we do not provide for our own, we are worse than an infidel (1 Tim. 5:8).
The church at Jersulem relieved the needs of its destitute members who remained in Jerusalem after their conversion to the Lord (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). The needs of widows were supplied by the liberality of the saints (Acts 6:1-6). When a great dearth came throughout the world and affected the saints in Judea, the church at Antioch sent relief unto the brethren in Judea, sending it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).
At another time, when the saints of the Jerusalem church became destitute and in want, churches in Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia sent money to alleviate the need at Jerusalem. We read, "For it pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26). "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye . . . And when I come whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem" (1 Cor. 16:1,3).
We can clearly see that when a need arose among the people of God, the church rallied to their aid. Brethren were concerned for one another and they demonstrated their love by giving to help their physical wants. May we reflect the same interest for each other.
Brethren, the foregoing things constitute the work of the church. Let us be satisfied with the mission that God gave the church and not prostitute its work into unauthorized activities.
Things Not the Church's Work
When the church ventures into unauthorized areas, it is treading on ground that is without divine sanction. None of the following things is a work of the church, although some churches have become involved in them.
(1) Social reform. The church is not a "social institution." The gospel it preaches is not a "social gospel." Although the gospel will bring about social reform, it does so by changing the inner man as to his thinking and conduct. The first century church did not initiate a campaign of social reform and equality.
Paul said, ". . . as the Lord hath called everyone, so let him walk. . . Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather" (1 Cor. 7:17, 20-21). Christianity was to make a better man out of a person, regardless of his social position. Any inequities would eventually be eradicated by changing man's heart.
(2) Recreational activities. For the church to be involved in recreation for the young or old is foreign to the purpose for which the church was established.
(3) Business ventures. The church is not in the money making business. Money for the church is to be raised by the members giving as prospered upon the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). There are no scriptural provisions for the church to be competing with the business world in merchandising, farming, manufacturing or any other form of economic endeavor.
(4) Secular education. The church is to teach the Bible, not secular subjects, such as math, English, science, literature, etc. The church is not to be in the secular school business. For the church to operate secular schools, such as kindergartens, is a perversion of the church's energies and resources. Brethren need to get the church out of the secular school business, both in participation and in contributions from the treasury.
(5) Domestic relations. Though the Word of God is to be preached in dealing with all problems, the church is not a center for counseling on marital problems, mental and emotional disturbances, economical hardships, parent-child problems, etc. If preachers are bent on being counselors, let them qualify with the State, set up their private office, and keep the work of domestic relations out of the church. This is not the function of the church, and neither is counseling in these areas the work of a gospel preacher.
In conclusion, let's respect the divine pattern for the work of the church that is revealed in the Bible, and let's energetically get involved in the work God has assigned the church to do. Doing nothing is no better than doing the wrong thing. While we point out the danger of unlawful works the church might get into, let's not be guilty of the sin of do-nothing. (Some of the points borrowed from Walking By Faith by Roy Cogdill.) (Searching the Scriptures, Aug. 1978, pp. 162-63)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, pp. 390-391