By Harry R. Osborne
In recent years, it has been amazing to see the variety of activities in which some churches have been engaged. There are churches offering dental clinics, GED classes, day care centers, political action drives, job placement services, business enterprises, and many other things having nothing to do with the spiritual function God commanded of the church we read about in the New Testament. One church in Tennessee even advertized a series of adult classes including one on wood carving, another on basket making and a third for men only entitled “Fun Facts About Your Prostate.”
A few days ago, I saw an institutional church here in Alvin advertising a class on their sign as follows:
Christian Weight Control
I later found that the class was a weight loss program which held all the promise of turning Jehosaphat into Jehosaslim. Though I have no question that the class is offered with every good intention, I do question what business the church has being involved in “weight control.” Paul did say, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Heb. 12:1), but he clearly had spiritual encumberances rather than flabby middles in mind.
Such programs which concentrate on physical life rather than emphasizing the priority of spiritual life are contrary to the focus given by the Bible instruction:
If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed . . . and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Tim. 4:6-8).
But what does the Bible say about the mission and work of the church? Let’s see.
Bible Teaching on the Church’s Mission
1 Timothy 3:15 says the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Proclaiming that truth upon which it is based ought to be the focus of the action of the church. The New Testament church did not dilute the message inspired of God with programs aimed at trim waistlines.
In 1 Timothy 4, as noted previously, the Bible shows how that spiritual emphasis should be fulfilled. The first five verses instruct the people to identify and combat at-tempts to change the doctrine God gave. The rest of the chapter shows the supremacy of the spiritual matters over the physical. The mission of the church is found in the spiritual realm.
Ephesians 4:11-16 makes the principle even clearer. The ones mentioned in verse 11 (“apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”) were all involved in the revelation and proclamation of the word of God. Their effect was spiritual.
They “perfected the saints” so that the saints might do the “work of ministering” resulting in “the building up of the body of Christ” (v. 12). The word of God caused people to be perfected or made complete spiritually. Then, they went out and served others by teaching God’s word. The result was the spiritual strengthening of the body, the church.
This fact is evident in verses 13-16 as the truth or message of Christ is emphasized as the necessity for the body’s growth. One cannot escape the fact that the church has a spiritual mission. That mission is to preach the truth of God’s word causing people to grow spiritually, not shrink physically.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, a church was rebuked be-cause they abused the spiritual purpose of their gathering together. Instead of worshipping the Lord in eating the Lord’s supper, they made it into a common meal. Such was condemned! The writer said that the proper means for engaging in such social activities was the responsibility of the home, hence, showing a distinction between action provided for by the church collectively and by individuals in the home (1 Cor. 11:22).
When Did It Get “Liberal”?
A few years ago, the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston offered the readers of their bulletin an opportunity to “Come Take A Bite Out Of A World’s Record 300 Foot Hot Dog! ! !” Theevent was promised to have live television coverage and all the trappings of a real social attraction. Some of the less liberal institutional brethren (please excuse the oxymoron) decried such spectacles as an example of “liberalism.” This caused me to wonder when that hot dog became “liberal.” When it was a six-inch hot dog back in their kitchen or so-called “fellowship hall,” the same folks thought it was fine and decried the “antis” who opposed such. Now that the hot dog has grown to 300 feet in length, it has become a sign of “liberalism.” How long did that hot dog have to get before it became “liberal”? One foot? Five feet? Ten feet? One hundred feet? Where was the “liberal” line crossed? Maybe Wayne Jackson, Johnny Ramsey, Alan Highers, or one of the Spiritual Sword crowd can tell us. Do you think they will?
The truth is, it became “liberal” and unscriptural when the church provided for social activities, however small they seemed at the time, which were not authorized in the word of God. At that point, the one engaged in such action was properly described as that which “goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9). Whether it was six inches or 300 feet beyond the teaching is beside the point. The path of disobedience started with the first step. I seriously doubt that the Spiritual Sword crowd would justify the 300 foot hot dog or the “Christian weight control” program necessitated by such hugh appetites for social gospel programs. However, if they trace its lineage, they will find themselves as the fathers of that which they now call “liberalism.”
The Bible approves of individuals being involved in social activities. It also approves of individuals planning and providing for business ventures, recreation, political agendas, educational pursuits, child care, and weight loss programs. But where is the church charged with these matters? We need to let individuals do their work and let churches get back to their spiritual mission.
Christ did not die to purchase gyms, businesses, dental clinics, day care centers, some political agenda, or weight control programs. He died so that a saving message could be preached to people and purchase a people redeemed from sin, the church (Acts 20:28). If a work is not worth the blood of Jesus, the church has no business being involved in it! The Savior’s blood was not shed to rid the physical body of unwanted pounds, but to rid the spiritual man of sin (Rev. 1:5). Spreading that message of truth is the focus of the church which conforms to the pattern found in God’s word.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 20, p. 10-11
October 17, 1996