By Mike Willis
The failure to separate what the congregation, as such, can do and the individual can do in the service of the Lord is the cause of much misunderstanding in the church today. Two modern theories have been advanced with reference to the relationship between the church and the individual: (1) What the Christian individual can do, the church can do. This belief has resulted in church sponsored recreation, church supported human institutions (orphan homes, colleges, old folks homes, unwed mothers homes and others), and church built family centers. (2) What the church cannot do, the Christian individual cannot do. This belief has resulted in opposition to Bible departments in colleges and individually funded publishing operations.
It is the purpose of this article to emphasize that there are many things which the Christian individual must do in his individual relationship in living the Christian life that the church, as such, cannot engage in scripturally.
Christianity Involves Every Relationship Of Our Lives
Some people among us have a mistaken idea of what Christianity is. They have the idea that Christianity is churchianity, that is, that our service to Christ is exclusively tied to what goes on at the church building. However, Christianity is not merely attending the worship services, although it obviously involves this (Heb. 10:25). Christianity is not merely subscribing to a system of doctrine, although correct belief is essential to salvation from sin (Jn. 8:32; Mk. 16:16). Christianity is not simply believing; faith alone is insufficient to save (Jas. 2:24-26; Gal. 5:6). Christianity is not merely being a member of the church, although church membership is essential to salvation (Acts 2:47).
Christianity is total submission to the will of God; it is obedience to the word of God and conformity to the will of God. James wrote that the one who pleases God is the one who hears the word of God and obeys it, not the one who hears the will of God and does nothing about it (Jas. 1:22-27). The obedient children of God must fashion themselves after holiness in every aspect of life (1 Pet. 1:13-16). Consequently, Christianity embraces every relationship which one has in life. To demonstrate this, let us consider some of the relationships which one has in life to see how Christianity affects it:
1. The home. Christianity should make every man a better husband and father, every woman a better wife and mother, and every child a better, more pleasing child. The word of God governs how the husband-wife relationship should function (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Cor. 7:1-5). The Bible governs the parent-child relationship as well (Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20). The man who is a Christian is morally obligated to order his life in reference to the home to be like the revealed word of God commands.
2. Business. The Bible regulates one’s conduct in reference to his business affairs. The Christian laborer must be a good worker, not a lazy sloth (Col. 3:22-4:1); the Christian employer must pay his laborers what they are worth, not withholding what they have earned (Jas. 5:3-4). The business in which a man labors must be honorable (Eph. 4:28 -that which is good). The Christian is morally obligated in the sight of God to provide for his family (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8). Furthermore, the Christian must pay his debts (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:12). No man who refuses to live by what God has revealed in these matters is a faithful Christian.
3. Government. The word of God also regulates one’s conduct with reference to his government. The Christian must submit to the laws of his government (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17; Tit. 3:1), so long as those laws do not conflict with what God’s word requires of him (Acts 5:29). The Christian has an obligation to pay his taxes which are imposed on him by civil government (Rom. 13:6-7). The Christian recognizes the legislation of God in these matters and abides by them.
4. The community. A Christian also has obligations to the community in which he lives. He must conduct himself in such a manner before his neighbors that his life is an example to them which would cause them to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:12; Col. 4:5; Matt. 5:13-16). He has an obligation to help the sick and needy of the world, whether they be Christian or not (Gal. 6:10; Lk. 10:25-37).
5. The church. The Christian also has obligations to the church. He must support the church by his attendance at the worship services (Heb. 10:25), his financial support (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6-7), and by his personal labor in whatever scriptural activities the church may chose to be engaged.
Hence, Christianity involves every relationship in one’s life. Christianity makes a man a better citizen, a better family member, a better business man, and a better member of the community because the word of God regulates more than one’s activities at the services of the local church. Every relationship in one’s life is governed by the word of God.
The Church And The Individual: Distinctive Responsibilities
With reference to the church and the individual, most people recognize that there are distinctive responsibilities given to each in most relationships of life. However, in some areas of activity, some are becoming confused, transferring to the church responsibilities given to the individual. Therefore, let us be careful to distinguish the areas of responsibility of the church and the individual.
1. Business. The individual has a moral obligation to become involved in some kind of gainful occupation in order to provide for his family. Indeed, the man who refuses to provide for his family through some kind of honorable labor stands condemned in the sight of God. However, the church has absolutely no right, there is absolutely no positive divine authority for the church, to be engaged in business for profit. There is no scriptural authority for the church to own and operation businesses designed to make money in order to support the works which it is obligated before God to perform. Hence, the activity of the church and the activity of the individual are distinctive. Sin will have been committed if the church becomes involved in activities given to the individual. It is simply not true that whatever the Christian individual can do the church can do!
2. The home. God gave the individual some obligations to perform that the church was commanded not to perform. In 1 Timothy 5:1-16, Paul charged the Christians to care for their aged parents stating, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). He then stated that the church was to provide for those who were “widows indeed.” He gave the qualifications which a widow must meet before she can become the permanent responsibility of the church (1 Tim. 5:9-10). Finally, he concluded, “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). Paul plainly stated that there were some responsibilities given to the individual which cannot and must not be placed upon the church. If we learn nothing else from this passage, we learn that the thesis “what the individual can do the church can do” is wrong. Furthermore, we see that the establishment and support of old folks homes supported by the church, in which Christians place their aged parents to be supported from the treasuries of the church, is sinful.
There is a movement among many churches to transfer obligations given to the family to the church. For example, the family has obligations to provide recreation for its children. However, many churches are providing recreational activities for its members (teenagers and adults) through church sponsored recreation. There is no Bible authority for this. The church is sinning when it acts in these matters in exactly the same manner as it would sin if it became involved in businesses to support its programs of work. The responsibility of providing recreation was given to the family, not to the church. In the absence of positive divine authority, the church sins when becoming involved in church sponsored recreation.
Many churches are also becoming involved in supporting colleges. I recognize that God has given me a responsibility to provide for the education of my children. However, God has never given the church the responsibility of providing for the education of the children of its members. For the church to become involved in the support of colleges is sinful. There is no Bible authority authorizing it. It is just as sinful for the church to become involved in the support of colleges as it is for the church to be involved in business for profit.
The work which God has given the individual is different from that which he has given the church. The adage, “Whatever the individual can do, the church can do,” is false. The transferral of parental obligations to the church is a violation of God’s will.
3. The government. Whereas we have already shown that the individual has certain obligations to the government, it is not true that individual obligations to the government can be transferred to the church. Although all Christians have a moral obligation to pay taxes, we could not transfer these obligations to the church, let the church transfer these responsibilities to a human institution, and then send a contribution to that institution each month for the payment of individual taxes.
As a citizen, I have an obligation to do everything which I can to influence my government for good. However, God has nowhere given the church the responsibility to become involved in government and politics. I read of denominations passing resolutions designed to influence the decisions of government, ranging from the war in Viet Nam to the situation in Iran. For the church to become involved in such activities is a violation of God’s word, inasmuch as the church has nowhere been commanded to become involved in politics.
4. The community. We have already demonstrated that a Christian has certain obligations to the community in which he lives. Among the obligations to the community in which I live would be the responsibility to provide for the poor in the community. I am to be a “good Samaritan” in reference to helping the poor and those who are suffering. I am to do good to all men (Gal. 6:10). Furthermore, I have the right to cooperate with other individuals in meeting these needs. If I chose to work with others in forming an orphans home or old folks home, that is certainly within the sphere of things which God allows the individual to do in discharging his responsibilities.
Some are trying to transfer their individual obligations to the local church. Apparently, they consider the church to be some kind of sanctified Salvation Army. We see this manifested in the attempts to involve the church in the support of orphan homes, old folks homes, unwed mothers homes, building of hospitals, mental institutions, and camps for children. Each of these activities are perfectly right when provided for by individuals. However, there is no Bible authority for the church to be involved in general benevolence. God has not given the church the responsibility to provide for the benevolent needs of the entire world.
Consequently, for the church to become involved in supporting orphan homes, old folks homes, unwed mothers home, and hospitals is wrong. There is no Bible authority for it; the church which becomes so involved is presuming to-act without divine authority.
Some have been so mistaken with reference to the church and the individual that they have said, “When the individual acts, the church has acted.” This is simply not true! If a member of the church commits fornication, the church has not committed fornication. If a member of the church becomes involved in gainful employment, the church is not involved in gainful employment. If an individual sends a contribution to some benevolent or educational institution, the church is not involved in sending the contribution.
God has given the church certain responsibilities and he has given the individual certain responsibilities. In no instance does the discharge of one’s individual obligations conflict with his duty to the church. In no instance does the discharge of one’s individual obligations relieve him of his obligations to the church, or vice versa.
For the church to be what God wants it to be, it must disentangle itself from many of its unholy alliances. I am speaking of church sponsored recreation, church support of human institutions (colleges, benevolent organizations of every kind, hospitals, etc.), and whatever other activities it might be involved in for which there is no positive divine authority. These alliances have sapped the church’s finances, weakened its freedom and independent existence, and otherwise hindered the church from doing its God given work. Some churchmen have so compromised the faith that the gospel can scarcely be distinguished from a cultural humanism or social improvement group. It has stemmed from the mistaken idea that whatever the individual can do, the church can do. The premise is false and the conclusions drawn therefrom has been destructive to the purity of the church. It is time for those involved in such activities to repent and beg God’s forgiveness in order that the work which God gave the church can receive our full attention.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 11, pp. 163-165
March 12, 1981