By Roy H. Lanier, Jr.
In the silence of many pulpits, and in the absence of distinctions formerly made about accuracy of doctrine, hasn’t the time come to step back and take a serious look at just where the church is today in modern America? Have some methods and means gradually crept in, some of which may displease the Lord?
Things that have been heretofore accepted, assumed and granted now are being ignored. A gradual loosening of boundaries that former generations were loathe to violate has taken place. Is it just that today, in the modern genius, men have discovered many expedients that are more helpful in getting the Lord’s work done? One might do well to remember a small but important point: To be expedient, something first must be lawful (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). Or could it be that today’s generation of churches has carelessly crossed some vital boundaries?
The church is in the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3: 10,11). The redemption through Jesus Christ, as well as the design of His church, are from eternity.
The design of the church is to accomplish the mission of the Savior. He was to “save the people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), stated as to “seek and save that which is lost” (Matt. 18:11), and to “give his life a ransom” (Matt. 20:28). Because the church is His body (Eph. 1:22,23), to be the “fulness of him that filleth all in all,” the church fulfills the mission of the Lord.
The church is designed to include all necessary functions in doing the mission of Christ. It is His fulness, the “habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22), God’s “husbandry” (1 Cor. 3:9), and the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Surely none will want to argue that God did not design the church properly or fully to accomplish its purpose.
The church, as designed by God, is vital and absolute. It was purchased by the blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28), a distinction accorded no other organization, and He gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:23,25-30). He is coming to claim it and present it back into heaven. No other group, body or organization has such a promise.
Only one such unit exists (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13,20). God’s design and purpose included only one body, one group, one organization to be thus involved in the mission of redemption.
Spread within and without the local church today, a mass of other organizations interwoven within the framework of the church is manifest. It forms an umbrella round about the church, hovering over it. It is the “Para-church,” foreign to the Bible, but well-known to all in the 20th century.
Mission organizations, benevolent groups, medical units and edification-growth businesses are springing up outside the framework of local churches. Their intents and actions are good, even spiritual. Some of them are on an individual basis for all funding, but many are expecting local churches to finance them.
These extra organisms may include all sorts of evangelistic efforts not a part of, nor under the oversight of, any local congregation. It is not unknown for mission teams to be sent into foreign nations with the intent of establishing a local office structure outside the framework of any local congregation that might be established. Finances and planning are handled by this office, not by any Stateside church or church begun on the mission field. Radio stations are built, owned and operated by independent boards, but their finances are funded by local churches. Hospitals, medical clinics, foundations for medical operations, and so on, are now an accepted part of today’s working churches. Some of these are independent businesses, perhaps operated on a non-profit basis, but almost totally dependent upon local congregations for funding. Secular schools, called “Christian schools” and “Christian colleges” are quietly getting back into local church budgets.
Relief funds, set up as independent from any oversight of local churches, have sprung up soliciting local churches for their funding. They participate in many good works, but is this the way the Lord designed His church? Growth and edification corporations are now available to local churches, but churches are being asked to contribute regularly to their expense funds. Private care-home businesses are being organized, with every intent of being funded by churches across the United States.
Some necessary distinctions must be made. First, it is right and proper for individuals to do missions and benevolence outside the framework of any local church. In fact, one is not fulfilling one’s responsibility to Christ without doing such. One who is taught the truth is told to “communicate” (share in this world’s goods) with the one teaching him (Gal. 6:6). One also is charged to care for needy family members personally, that the church “be not charged” (1 Tim. 5:16). Thus, many challenges are open to individuals to accomplish great spiritual ends in the name of Christ on an individual basis.
Second, a distinction must be recognized between the individual’s doing something and the local church’s doing the same actions. A local church may feed a needy family, or a godly couple within the local church might buy the needed groceries, never calling upon the church for any reimbursement. Either way, the Lord can be glorified and the needy loved.
Third, the church can only march at the direction of its Head, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18,19). It must avoid stepping out into the area of human genius and invention to do things that the Lord Jesus has not directed it to do. This was one of the major problems of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day; they added their traditions to the instructions of the law of Moses, thus violating sacred trust (Mk. 7:8,9).
Fourth, the church is charged exclusively with its work: teaching and helping (Eph. 4:11,12). Many would say “evangelism, edification and benevolence,” and this is as good a way to say it as any. The church is charged to teach the lost, continue to teach ones baptized (Matt. 28:18-20), and care for the needy (Acts 6; 11:29,30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4). So far as is known, no other work or activity should be charged to the church.
Finally, a church may pay for services received without funding the business itself. The church may purchase lesson books from a publisher, receiving goods and paying for them. Yet, the church cannot fund the man’s private business by making contributions to the firm itself. That is his private business and not within the instructions of the Lord for His church. A church may hire a plumber for needed work, but it has no right to include in its budget the support of the man’s business. The church has no right to fund some man’s business – spiritual or benevolent in nature though it may be.
Let the church be the church. Do not cloud it with all kinds of extra organizations or clutter it with things foreign to the Lord’s instructions. It has the greatest challenge of all centuries; let it be “about the Father’s business.”
Let individuals continue to climb great peaks of performance of spiritual works. Let men continue to invent ways to help redemption’s cause, let organizations flourish that may help in spiritual ways, and let the individuals pay for such great accomplishments.
Let there be accurate distinctions kept between the instructions of Jesus and the changing methods of men. We do not need organizations formed by men, planned to be funded by churches, that deny the absoluteness of God’s eternal planning for His church. God did not make any mistakes in planning, nor did He leave anything out that should be added by men.
God needs men to take seriously His design and go to work. The plans, designs and provisions are there. Why desire to change, add, devise, reorient or restructure the Lord’s church? God needs the help of men today, but in the way of participation, not addition, to His design.
A “para-church” is not the answer; the Lord’s church is the answer devised from eternity. Why question or change God’s provisions?
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 11, pp. 323-324
June 1, 1989