What works may churches of Christ scripturally do? We have before demonstrated that the local church has work to perform as a unit under the oversight of its bishops. It can only do the work scripturally authorized. This to a large degree involves the congregation working through the local treasury.
Preaching The Gospel
Congregations were taught by inspired men to have a part in preaching the gospel by supplying the physical needs of ministers of the gospel whether at home or away. The Corinthians were instructed concerning the right of those who preached the gospel among them to live by the gospel. They were also instructed concerning their responsibility to support them (1 Cor.9:6-16). Apparently Paul instructed all the churches concerning this responsibility (2 Cor.12:13). Though Paul had not used this power at Corinth, he established its rightfulness as an acceptable practice. It appears the Corinthians had enjoyed the services of local preachers and had paid for the service (1 Cor.9:12). Both Timothy and Titus worked among them (1 Cor.4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor.12:18).
Other churches used local preachers also. Timothy did local work at Ephesus (1 Tim.1:3). Titus worked among the churches of Crete (Tit.1:5). Tychicus was sent to Ephesus to relieve Timothy (2 Tim.4:12) and Artemas apparently relieved Titus on Crete (Tit.3:12). Some evidence indicates Philip lived and worked in Cesarea for about 25 years (Acts 8:40; 21:8). All these men were authorized to receive support from the churches they served (1 Cor.9:6-16). The local congregation, then, may work to support a local preacher or preachers who work among them as evangelists.
At least two congregations with God's approval sent men to labor in other fields. Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem "that he should go as far as Antioch" (Acts 11:22), and Barnabas and Paul were sent by the church at Antioch on their first missionary journey. It is not stated that these churches gave material assistance to these men but the following paragraph will show that such policy was acceptable.
The principle that says "they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" (1 Cor.9:14) provides scriptural authority for the support of gospel preachers in foreign fields. The apostle Paul received wages from other churches while establishing the church in Corinth (2 Cor.11:8). The church at Philippi sent to Paul's needs time and again (Phil.4:15-17). The assistance supplied was sent directly to Paul and not through some board of directors, society or other congregation. In this way the congregations worked through the assistance sent. The congregation under the oversight of its local officers remained in complete control of their own work.
Local churches may teach the gospel at home and away in other ways too. The commands to teach and preach generically authorize the use of such methods as expedite the commands. The use of radio, TV, newspapers, bulletins, magazines, tracts, correspondence courses, and Bible class literature provide means by which churches work through their money at work. Bible classes, gospel meetings, lecture programs, debates, open forums, etc., are efforts of the local church to do its work of preaching the gospel. When congregations use these expedients, they do nothing more than preach the gospel as authorized.
Local churches are authorized to preach the gospel. This responsibility must be fulfilled by each church according to their ability and opportunity. Expedient methods and arrangements may be used by the church to fulfill this responsibility so long as said methods and arrangements do not constitute practices contrary and in addition to God's ordained work. Congregations may not fulfill their duty in preaching the gospel by making donations to "sponsoring churches" or institutions developed to do the work God authorized the congregations to do. Such arrangements are without divine authority, rob the churches of their ability and opportunities to work, steal from their autonomy, reduce them to nothing more than contributing entities, and destroy their desire and initiative to work. Let each congregation recognize their ability and opportunities and seek to discharge their duty under the oversight of the local organization. In this way each congregation can do its work of preaching the gospel in a divinely approved way.
Edifying Its Members
The elders of the local church are charged with the responsibility of feeding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet.5:2). The local membership is charged with submitting to their oversight (1 Thess.5:12-13; Heb.13:17). In this way "the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph.4:16).
Much edification within the local church takes place by individual members doing their duty toward each other (Heb.10:24-25). However, the local body has a responsibility toward itself in an organized way. Part of this edification takes place when the church comes together in the assembly for worship (1 Cor.14:26).
Other methods of strengthening and building up the local membership may also be used by the congregation. Bible classes, special classes for special studies, edification meetings, week-end meetings, debates, tracts, subscriptions to various publications, etc., may be used by the local church to edify its members. All of these are expedient means of accomplishing a required work (edification) and must not be considered as a substitute to the edification required in the assembly worship. The work of edification is a local need and responsibility and may be fulfilled by the local organization in any way that does not overstep the bounds of scriptural authority.
Assisting Needy Saints
The first congregational activity recorded, apart from the worship of God, was the relief of needy saints within the church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-45). Two factors contributed to the development of this problem within the first church. First, its membership was made up of Jews, many of whom were many miles removed from their homes. When converted, these Christians were detained in Jerusalem for indoctrination which left them without material substance for survival. Other Christians who were more fortunate shared their homes, possessions and wealth to sustain them. Second, the acceptance of this new heresy (?) evidently invited an economic blockade from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These factors created a problem which quickly tested the faith of the new converts.
As the church grew, the problem multiplied and the brethren responded favorably (Acts 4:34-37). Eventually the local church was organized to handle the growing problem (Acts 6:1-6). A famine in 43 A.D. (Acts 11:27-30) complicated the situation. Sustained periods of persecution, sharing and blockades left the saints generally poor. In 58 A.D., when Paul made his journey to Jerusalem following his third missionary journey, he accompanied contributions from the churches of Macedonia, Achaia, Asia and Galatia to Jerusalem to relieve the physical needs of the poor Jerusalem saints (Rom.15:26; 1 Cor.16:1-2; 2 Cor.8 & 9).
In all cases, the local church assumed full responsibility for their own work. The church at Jerusalem organized to do its own work (Acts 6:1-6). The other churches, as the need arose, accepted full responsibility for the work planned and controlled their own work. They were charged with collection (1 Cor.16:1-2; 2 Cor.8:11; 9:5) and delivery of their gifts (Acts 11:30; 1 Cor.16:3-4; 2 Cor.8:18-23) until they reached their destination (Acts 11:30). Such principles are not revealed in Scripture for nought. They establish acceptable precedents that must be applied. For congregations to ignore approved procedures in favor of techniques which surrender the autonomy of the local church is to walk a dangerous path.
Congregations may relieve the physical necessities of saints as they temporarily arise (Acts 6:1-6) and, for those who qualify, the congregation may enroll them for permanent assistance (1 Tim.5:9-16). Each congregation must work within the framework of its own organization and ability. If ability fails, other churches may assist. How congregations fulfill their responsibilities in these areas is not revealed except that, when sending assistance to other churches, it is to be sent directly to the needy church. The sponsoring church and institutional arrangements are out of harmony with these approved precedents for congregational activity.
Disciplining the disorderly is also a congregational work (2 Thess.3:6). The church at Ephesus was commended by the Lord for practicing discipline (Rev.2:1-6) while the churches at Pergamos and Thyratira were condemned for not practicing it (Rev.2:12-29). Sin allowed to persist will destroy a church (1 Cor.5:6).
Disciplining wayward saints first involves the individual Christian in an attempt to restore the lost brother (Matt.18:15-16; Gal.6:1). When circumstances demand it, congregational action is required (Matt.18:17). Those who sin are to be rebuked before all (1 Tim.5:20). The disorderly (2 Thess.3:6), immoral (1 Cor.5:1-5,9-11), factious (Tit.3:10), and false teachers (Rom.16:17-18; 1 Tim.6:3-5; Rev.2:1-6) are to be disciplined. Disciplinary action is to be taken when the church assembles (1 Cor.5:4), and members of the congregation are to uphold and support this action daily that the erring might be saved (1 Cor.5:5,9-11; 2 Thess.3:14-15; 2 Jno.9-11). Many congregations and individual Christians are failing in their duty toward erring brethren for which each shall give account to God (Rev.2:12-29).
Assembling for worship on the first day of the week so the local membership may do together the things commanded to be done together as worship is also a function of the local church (Acts 20:7). Christians are exhorted not to miss this assembling (Heb.10:25) when the whole church comes together (1 Cor.14:23). Each member contributes their part in offering a united voice of praise around God's throne in fulfillment of this commanded function of the local church.
Jesus died on the cross to purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of the good works God ordained and revealed (Tit.2:14; Eph.2:10; 2 Tim.3:16-17). This work is performed in two ways; viz., individually and congregationally. To please God Christians must actively follow every good work, and congregations must likewise fulfill the limited work required. For these works all of us shall stand before God to be judged and rewarded accordingly. Therefore, it should behoove all of us to "serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb.12:28-29).
This article originally appeared in Guardian
of Truth magazine, December 15, 1983.
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, October 20, 1998.