By Dudley RossSpears
In most all of the discussions in the last several years over the divisive question of institutionalism has been the subject of the work of the local church. While the question of authority is the basic reason for all of our divisions in the church today, the work of the church has become a vehicle for expressing different attitudes toward Bible authority.
The work of the church to many in the church today consists of “any good work” without qualification. This includes the relief of humanity in general, improving the ghetto conditions, trying to eliminate illiteracy and a multitude of other humanitarian endeavors. Kitchens in church buildings indicate that many think that the work of the local church can be expedited by the culinary arts. Some congregations have gone into the cultural fields with flower shows, reading clubs, art clubs and the like. I know of one congregation that has a modified “lonely hearts club.”
In the study of what is the work of the local church it is always necessary to know what the Lord has revealed about the subject. Has the Lord revealed anything about His local churches and their work? If not, then we have nothing to study. If so, we must always operate within those things He has revealed. (Read 2 John 9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Acts 15:24). God’s mind and His eternal purpose are manifested even to the high order of “principalities and powers in heavenly places” through the church. (Eph. 3:10).
By definition, the local church is the saved people who meet together and work together in a specific place to do the work God has assigned the church. The local church is the place where worship of God’s people collectively is to be offered. The local church is a body of the saved who agree to work together under qualified elders whom they select and who pool their resources in order to finance their common objectives. Basically the local church is a cooperative of the saved who are dedicated to doing God’s work in the way God has appointed.
To further study this, let us look at some definitions given by scholars to the word church. Edward D. Morris wrote, Kuriakos: The term Church, (German kirche: Scotch, kirk, and the Teutonic and Scandinavian languages generally) is derived from the Greek word, huriakos,… a derivative from kurios. It came, however, to be employed at an early date to designate the religious organization inhabiting such a building, and engaging statedly in such joint devotions; and this is the use and meaning here to be retained.”
Again, he discusses Ekklesia. “The term applied in classic Greek to any assembly of persons called out, or called together, for any specific purpose (Acts 19:32,39), this term came early to designate a religious or a Christian assembly, and such an assembly, not as convened on a single occasion, but rather as in some way organized and having permanent existence.”
On the word Sunagoga, Morris says. “The same transition appears in the parallel word, sunagoga, often employed in the Septuagint like ekklesia, to describe not merely the place of assembling, but a company of persons brought together for religious purposes, thus gradually coming to indicate a permanent religious congregation.” These quotations are from his book, Ecclesiology, Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1890. pages 13-14.
The definition given earlier is here defended. The local church is God’s order. Paul wrote to Titus telling him he had been left in Crete to “set in order things wanting and ordain elders in every city.” (Titus 1:5). When a thing is set in order, it is organized. It becomes a “set” or if you please. While Paul seems to be telling Titus that things needed repair in Crete, still the inevitable conclusion that the church is a set order is irresistible.
To the church in Colossae. Paul wrote of his joy in beholding their “order”, (Col. 2:5). This is a word that signifies a definite organization. Vine says, ” – – is used in Luke 1: 8 of the fixed succession of priests; of due order, in contrast to confusion, in the gatherings of a local church, 1 Cor. 14:40: of the general condition of such, Col. 2:5 (some give it a military significance here).” Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III, p. 145.
The local church is to be under the oversight of elders. (Read Titus 1: 5; Acts 14: 23; 1 Peter 5:2-3). These verses show that each church in each city is to have elders appointed who are charged with the duty of overseeing all functions of that church. Their oversight is limited to that congregation only and they have no authority to oversee any part of the work, worship or members of any other congregation.
The local church is to finance its own work and make up those finances by the members contributing regularly into a common treasury. (Read Acts 2:44; 4:34-35; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 1 Cor. 9: 7). These verses teach that on the Lord’s Day, evidently during worship, each member is to give as he or she has been prospered, cheerfully and with liberality, that the work may be financed. They agree to pool their resources.
The work assigned to each local church is the same and the degree of responsibility in each local church is based on the same principle, viz. ability and opportunity determine responsibility. There is to be equality in this respect among all congregations. Paul writes the Corinthians and says, “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the case of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality.” (2 Cor. 8: 12, 13. NASB).
The work of the local church consists of three things. The first is evangelism, or causing the gospel to be preached. (Read 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Thess. 1:7,8; Phil. 2:14-10; 4:13-17). These verses all show that it is the local church that is given the responsibility of seeing that the gospel is preached. Churches either sent preachers (Acts 1: 22) or they sent directly to a preacher (Read 1 Tim. 4: 13- 17) and in this way caused the gospel to be preached.
The second work of the local church is benevolence or providing physical necessities to those who are poor. Read Acts 6: 1-4; 1 Tim. 5: 16). Churches of Christ in the first century provided for the needs of their own members when those members were in need. The work of benevolence is limited by its very nature.
A third and last work of the church is edification, or strengthening the members of the church. (Read Acts 9:31; Rom. 14:19). This is accomplished by employing teachers, both men and women, to teach the word to members of the church. Paul told the “aged women” to teach the younger women matters that are included in “sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1-5). Elders are to “feed the flock” with the sincere milk of the word. (Acts 20:28). By this the church grows stronger. Edification is the way members of the church are encouraged and exhorted to do more personal work for the Lord.
In a complete survey of the New Testament there is a conspicuous absence of any information about social or political work being done by churches of Christ. There is no indication that they ever engaged in recreational activities such as parties, banquets and games. Can you imagine James or John endorsing one of the political candidates of their day? Paul never encouraged young Timothy or Silas or any other man of God to lead marches or demonstrations against civil injustices.
The work of the local church is different than the work that is given every individual Christian. It is different in its nature. The individual has duties that are civic and domestic but the local church does not. An individual Christian has social obligations that the local church does not. We, as individual Christian parents, are to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but it is not the local church’s duty to do so.
The work of the local church differs front individual work in finances. The only authorized way of getting money into the treasury of the church is the contribution of the members of the church on the Lord’s Day. (1 Cor. 10: 1-4). There is no authority for local churches to have car washes, cake sales or hold profit-making businesses. But there is nothing wrong in an individual working in a car wash, bakery or holding a profit making business “to be able to give to him that needeth.” (Eph. 4:28).
The work of the local church differs front individual work because there are specific statements of inspiration showing such to be true. “If any man or woman that believeth (is this not individual Christian believer here? DRS) have widows let them relieve them and let not the church (Does this not have to be the local church here? DRS) be charged . . .” (1 Tim. 5: 16). Paul clearly shows the difference in this passage between individual Christian duties and in congregational work.
The local church is limited in organization to operating in and through the framework God has given. There is no authority in the Bible for any other organization than the local church through which this work is to be done. No Missionary Society, Benevolent Society (Orphanage under a board of directors) or College has the right to do the work God gave the Church and no right to expect one cent out of the local church treasury. No separate organization can scriptural become an agent for the execution of local church work.
The local church work cannot be done by one congregation trying to work through another. The sponsoring church practice is an offender in this case. A sponsoring church acts as agent for all the contributing “interested” churches. This destroys the equality and independence of all congregations in this cooperative. When one church becomes the “agent” for other churches, the agent must be subject to the principal. When a sponsoring church depends on contributing churches for money and contributing churches depend on a sponsoring church to spend the money, the independence of all these churches involved is destroyed. If not, why not?
An old preacher once wrote in the Gospel Advocate, “Brethren, the word of God is still the seed of the kingdom. If we want this cooperation of churches and organizations, let us then plant the seed and be satisfied with the crop that comes tip. Those are excellent sentiments to follow today. Doing so will bring is back to the local church doing the work that God wants done, nothing more or less.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 19, pp. 11-13
March 15, 1973