What Is The Work of The Church?

We have been discussing the church found in the New Testament. With so many different religions in our society it overwhelms us to try and find the one true church spoken of in the Bible. As we have been noting, one way to determine a true local church that we should identify with is to consider various attributes about it that will set it apart from churches that are false. We have note several things including the name it identifies itself with, how it is organized, how one becomes a part of the true church, and how they worship God. In this article we will note one final attribute: The mission of a local congregation.

As with many of the above attributes this one too is misunderstood by many in the religious world. A study of the Bible will quickly reveal that it is NOT the work of the church to engage in recreational activities, social work, secular education, general benevolence, nor is it to engage in business. Also, the church is not a political organization. Lest we be misunderstood, all of these things are good within themselves and they should be a part of the Christian's life as an individual, but there is simply no scriptural authority for the church to engage in such activities. Many, if not most, churches engage in some or all of these. And in the process, the true mission of the church has been clouded or even replaced in some instances. If a congregation wants to be pleasing to God and participate in such activities I simply ask, where is the authority for such?

Since the church is not to engage in such things, what then is the mission of the church? First, she has a responsibility in the area of evangelism. Evangelism is taking the gospel of Christ to the lost. In the scriptures we find the church supporting this work. Acts records the gospel as it spread from Jerusalem to the point of Paul being in Rome, imprisoned for preaching the gospel. The church in Jerusalem is the primary focus of chapters 2 - 7. We read of its beginning with 3000 souls on Pentecost (2:41). A short time later we read of the number of men who believed was 5000 (4:4), and from that point we read that they continued to grow (5:14). How did this happen? By the apostles preaching and the church participating in this mission. Later on we read of Paul on his "missionary journeys" during which he established churches. Some of the churches he established supported him in his efforts to preach the gospel. Consider Philippians 4:15-16, "Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities." Paul commended them for their efforts to support him as he preached. Note also how he says they shared with him in this work. Consider verse 17 where he continues, "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." Of the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, (1Thes 1:8), "For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything." Speaking to Timothy of his responsibilities while at Ephesus, he told him, "but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:15). Observe that Paul says the church is the pillar (support) and ground (foundation) of the truth. Both of these would involve teaching the gospel to the lost. It is with this in mind that churches support a local preacher, and when the ability exists, other preachers in other locations. This is a work of the church.

Another work of the church is to edify its members. The word edify means to build up. Once one becomes a Christian, he needs to continue to grow (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18). When we are working together as a church we will also grow as individuals. Ephesians 4:16 says of the body, "from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." Consider also these passages: 1 Corinthians 14:18-19, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue." And verse 26, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." Also, 1Thessalonians 5:11which was written to a church, "Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing." How is this to be done? Through the teaching of God's word, and worshipping God. Consider Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." It is under this category that many of the unscriptural practices mentioned above are justified. But again we note that the edification of the church is of a spiritual nature. It is designed to make us better Christians. Then when we become better Christians, we will of necessity prefer one another and associate with one another in many ways, even as individuals. Consider Romans 12:10, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another…"

Congregations also have authority to engage in limited benevolence. A study of the book of Acts as well as numerous other passages teach that a church is authorized to take care of its own. But as with everything else there is a pattern. First, they are only authorized to take care of needy brethren. Every example points to this (Acts 4:32-44, 6:1-6, 11:27-30, Romans 15:25-26; 2 Corinthians 8-9; etc.). Second, this help is of a temporary nature. The above passages refer to one time helps being sent to Jerusalem on one occasion and various churches in Judea on another occasion. Third, the work is done with churches maintaining their autonomy and independence. NEVER is the money sent to a sponsoring church or organization. Fourth, it is to be done only when all other possible means have been exhausted. 1 Timothy 5:8-16 gives an example of a "qualified widow". Verse 16 says plainly, "If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows." This passage within itself shows that the benevolent work of the church is limited. Again, as with the work of edification, these passages are used to justify the general benevolence that so many churches engage in, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, orphan's homes, etc. Again we state that these works are noble and need to be given consideration, but not by churches, but by individuals and other programs that are in effect. If we remove the emotional appeal and conduct a rational study of God's word, we will find that authority for such works is not there.

Finally, the church worships God. In previous articles, we have noted that various acts of worship require the church to be assembled. Giving is to be done on the first day of the week, "When you come together" (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The Lord's supper is taken at the same time (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34). We are to sing together and to one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), and we are to pray and study God's word. Regularly a congregation of Christ will assemble for the purpose of glorifying God in worship. In the process of this service, brethren will be properly edified, and perhaps the lost will be introduced to the gospel.

This is the only mission we find for the church of the New Testament. What about the church where you attend? What is their mission? Is there authority for it in the Bible? If not, then it is NOT the church of Christ. Do you have any questions? If so, we invite you to ask them. And come check us out!





Copyright 2003 [Rose Avenue Church of Christ]. All rights reserved