|vol 4 no 19||August 22, 1999|
We continue today with the second installment of a three part series on the true function of the church. This material is taken from a tract written several years ago by John Clark.
It might be well at this point to note in what sense we mean to use the term "church" as we discuss function. The word "church" is used in the New Testament in a universal (Matt 16:18) and a local (1 Cor 1:2) sense. To put it another way, we can use the term to refer al all the redeemed or the saved that gather in a local assembly. In this article, as we discuss the function of the church, we use it in the latter sense, for the only functional organization of the church in the New Testament is that of the local church (Acts 14:23; Phil 1:1). Therefore, we are discussing here what is the mission, function, or work of the local church.
The New Testament reveals three areas of work that churches engaged in with evident divine approval. Having considered these three you have a total picture of the work of a local church. Anything beyond this is a departure from the diving order.
Evangelism. The church is to preach the gospel. This is "sounding out the word of the Lord" (1 Thess 1:8). The Book of Philippians tells of a local church's support of a preacher as he preached among them and far beyond (Phil 1:5; 4:15,16).
Edification. Churches are given the responsibility of edifying or strengthening themselves. We read of the "perfecting of the saints" (Eph 4:12). Paul writes of "the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:16).
Benevolence. The church is to supply the needs of it worthy indigent -- "poor saints" (Rom 15:26). This is called "ministering to the saints" (2 Cor 9:1). We have examples in Acts of a church caring for its own (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32-35; 6:1-4). We find churches sending aid to those churches that were not able to care for their own needy (Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:25-27; 1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8 and 9). There is no evidence of a program of general benevolence i.e. among non-Christians. In fact there are restrictions placed on the use of a church treasury among the saints! Paul teaches us this in 1 Tim 5.
Twenty-five years (now over fifty years) ago a voice of concern was raised about what was going on among churches of Christ by one who was one of the best known and most respected preachers of the day. The late N.B. Hardeman made the following statement about departure from the divinely prescribed function of the church.
"Again, I say to you, with caution and thought, that it is not the work of the church to furnish entertainment for the members. And yet many churches have drifted into such effort. They enlarge their basements, put in all kinds of gymnastic apparatus, and make every sort of an appeal to the young people of the congregation. I have never read anything in the Bible that indicated to me that such was a part of the work of the church. I am wholly ignorant of any scripture that even points in that direction . . . Many brethren have looked upon our young people's meetings with some degree of suspicion. If we are not careful, we may have an organization not at all different from others which we now condemn. Really, brethren, I have failed to find anywhere in the Bible where there is a difference made in the teaching on church work between a young fellow and an old fellow. Just where is that passage which intimates that the church should be divided according to years? Brethren Srygley and Tant thought that such distinctions evidenced our drifting away. To say the least of such, there is a danger. I submit to you preachers that we should be exceedingly careful lest in our enthusiasm to make a big show, we turn apart from the straight and narrow path and have within our midst something that the Lord does not want." -- (Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. V, Pages 50,53)
The noted H. Leo Boles wrote "The mission of the church is not to furnish entertainment" --( Sermon Out lines, outline 27, In the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary).
"Building recreation rooms and providing and supervising recreational activities at the expense of the church is a departure from the simple gospel plan as revealed in the New Testament . ." -- (1951, Page 229)
In 1948 B.C. Goodpasture wrote the following in an editorial: "For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission.
Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not 'come down on the plains of Ono' to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and recreation it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hear was cut." -- (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1948)