The Mission of the Church
The title of this article was the subject of a lesson taught by Randy Harris on May 13, 1990, at the Woodmont Hills church of Christ in Nashville. Since some of the division in the Lord's church has been brought about by departures from the truth on this subject, I thought that the positions taken in that lesson are worthy of our consideration.
The brother's lesson had three major points: (1) It is caring, loving service with no strings attached. (2) Proclaim the holiness and perfection of God. (3) Constantly reminding ourselves that every human aspiration and accomplishment falls short of the divine perfection and is not finally worthy of human trust. Direct reference was made to only three Bible passages - Romans 8 (no verses cited), Leviticus 19:1-14, and Philippians 2:5-8. Listed in the next paragraph are quotes taken from the tape of that lesson.
"The identity of the church is determined primarily by Jesus Christ, its head . . . . What the church is about is living out in its corporate life what Jesus was about in living out his individual life. So our primary point of reference is not the early church but Jesus himself . . . Jesus, when he healed the masses, didn't check them out to see if they were worthy, didn't check their lifestyle. They were hurt so he helped them . . . That's what we do . . . That is how the church justifies all the do-good programs it engages in - counseling, day care, literacy programs, food and housing, drug and alcohol dependency programs . . . The church is free to do those by the divine love that doesn't keep score . . . The church has to be a do-good agency but it will never be human as long as it sees all of its activities as an expression of the relentless love of God which transcends all human goodness . . . The church as an organization is concerned about the handicap's rights . . . Social welfare is one of the concerns of the church. We have a legitimate concern to see that everybody gets a fair day in court . . . When a survey is taken to see what organization cares for people, it isn't the church, it's the Salvation Army ! We have to broaden our agenda."
Even after all we have gone through in the past 35 years, it is still difficult to imagine a brother in Christ being so taken in by the social gospel that he would give the Salvation Army more credit for caring for people than the Lord's church. The Woodmont Hills church could give every person in the world a million dollars, but without obedience to the gospel of Christ they would all go to hell.
I wonder what our brother would say if be were preaching on the worship of the church instead of its mission? Would he say that he church can have instrumental music because "the church is free to do those by the divine love that doesn't keep score"? Would he say that the church can put coke and hamburger on the Lord's Table "as long as it sees all of its activities as an expression of the relentless love of God"? How would our brother justify the Lord's Supper on the first day of every week? Remember that his point of reference is not the early church but Jesus himself. It so happens that the only passage that puts the Lord's Supper in the assembly on the first day is Acts 20:7 and that is a record of what the early church did! We know when to observe the Lord's Supper and how often by an approved example. You see, the reason he doesn't want to take the early church as an example of its mission is because he knows that the church of the first century was not involved in the social gospel. The church back in those days was not a modern Salvation Army.
It may be a truism but it is a fact that history repeats itself. In 1849, brethren organized the first missionary society and then in 1859 the instrument was first introduced into the worship of the Lord's church. In 1906, the U.S. government recognized that a division had occurred - the Christian Church had been formed. But you know, the division was not really caused by the missionary society and instrumental music. These were but symptoms of the real disease a lack of respect for divine authority! Those of us past middle age have seen the Lord's people divided again with three issues in the forefront - the mission of the church, institutionalism and the autonomy of the local church. But, as was true over 100 years ago, these were not the real cause of the division - the real culprit was attitude toward authority.
We would certainly agree that "Jesus is our point of reference." He has "all authority in heaven and in earth" and "every soul that will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people" (Matt. 28:18; Acts 3:22-23). Jesus' authority is expressed in the New Testament (Heb. 9:15). If a person does not abide within the teaching of Jesus, he forfeits the fellowship of God (2 Jn. 9-11). If a man preaches any other gospel he stands accursed (Gal. 1:6-12).
All who have obeyed the gospel from the heart are privileged to be a part of the "true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man" (Heb. 8:1-5). But in that very context the inspired apostle made the point clear that the tabernacle Moses "pitched" had to be made according to the pattern God gave. The "true tabernacle" can only be the true one if God's pattern (the New Testament) is followed.
Our brother spoke in his lesson of "the theology of the 21st century church." His problem is, he got his "theology" from denominationalism and not from God's word. He is far afield when he wants the Lord's church to outstrip the Salvation Army. That organization can be a "do-good agency" because they have no higher authority for their existence than man's wisdom. But what command, approved example or necessary inference from God's word puts the church of the New Testament into day care, secular education, social welfare, drug and alcohol dependency programs and on and on and on? If the love of God is their authority how can they oppose open membership, instrumental music, the altar type of salvation, one man rule, and on and on and on? If the Lord's concern for sick folk is authority for the church being a do-good agency, then we wonder how those who take this position would view "good, sincere people" who are enmeshed in denominationalism? The "one body" of Ephesians 4:4, might just be too rigid for those who want to take a "no strings attached" approached. Is the way that leads to life "strait and narrow" or is it as broad as man's wisdom wants to make it?
What does the New Testament teach about the mission of the church? First of all, the church must preach the gospel to the lost. There is both command and approved example for such. Look at 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; Philippians 1:5; 4:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 11:8. From these we learn that the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth," the church in Thessalonica had "sounded out the word of the Lord," the church at Philippi had "fellowship in the gospel" with Paul and had "sent once and again to his necessities," and Paul had "taken wages of other churches. "
Second, the church must see that saints are edified. Look carefully at Ephesians 4:7-16; Acts 11:22-26; 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4. In these verses we learn that the church is a self-edifying body, that the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch for the expressed purpose of exhorting those newborn babes "that with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord," and that elders have the fearful responsibility of "feeding the flock of God."
Third, it is the responsibility of the local church to provide for needy saints. We ask our readers to take the time to examine these verses closely: Acts 2:41-47; 4:31-37; 6:1-7; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Romans 15:25-28; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 9:1-7. These verses cover different emergencies that arose in the first century. Would any among us argue that only saints were in need during those difficult times? Of course there were hungry non-saints, but do you find the church trying to feed and clothe those who were not Christians? You can take about "the relentless love of God" all you want, but you still cannot, by divine authority, make the church into a modern-day Salvation Army!
Something we need to remember is that God ordained three arrangements for man's benefit. The oldest and the smallest is the home, then civil government and finally the church. Each has its own sphere - its own responsibilities. Our liberal brethren, by espousing the social gospel, are determined that the church take over the responsibilities of the other two. Think about it.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 24, pp. 739-740