News & Notes
Editor: Ed Barnes      ph 865-458-5043     

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vol 4 no 20 August 29, 1999

The True Function of the Church

IN THE PAST TWO ISSUES OF the NEWS & NOTES we have been reprinting an article written several years ago by John Clark. We now conclude with this the third and final installment.

Evidence of Departure

Those who clearly understand the work or function of the church revealed in the New Testament are frequently shocked, often sickened , and always saddened by what they see occurring among the churches of Christ throughout the land. Practices which have nothing whatsoever to do with the true function of the church are being promoted with great enthusiasm. From literally hundreds of quotations, news items, etc. that could be presented, a few have been selected to show the situation that exists.

(At this point in his article, Brother Clark gives several examples of how the church has become involved in recreation, entertainment, secular education and enterprises to deal with social ills. These examples will not be presented here due to lack of space. -- Ed)

Ultra Vires

There is an interesting legal term that has an application to the present crisis among churches of Christ. This is the phrase ultra vires. The powers of a corporation are limited to those expressly given or implied to it by law. If a corporation acts in excess of its express or implied powers it is said to be acting ultra vires -- beyond its powers. Acts ultra vires will furnish grounds for the forfeiture of the charter of a corporation.

When churches of Christ engage in practices which have nothing to do with the clearly prescribed work that is stated in the New Testament - when they act without divine authority -- they are acting ultra vires. They are forfeiting their right to be light-givers to a sin-darkened world. Remember the sobering words of our Lord : "Repent - else I come unto thee quickly and remove thy candlestick out of its place"(Rev 2:5).

Cause and Cure

Why have these things come to pass? What can be done about it? An answer to the former question will go a long way in answering the latter.

Ignorance of God's word and a failure to consistently apply it. Jesus gave us the key to religious error when he declared, "Ye do err not knowing the scriptures" (Matt 22:29). "Where is the scripture?" was once a watchword among us. Centuries before Christ, the prophet Hosea announced "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge" (4:6). "Therefore thy people that doth not understand shall fall" (4:14). Unscriptural practices would have brought immediate opposition years ago. There would have been an outcry heard across the land. Now these things are sanctioned by the silence of leaders a nd supported by a people ignorant of the true function of the church.

One example of this lack of knowledge is the failure to distinguish between the holy and the profane -- the sacred and the secular. The prophet Ezekiel condemned the priests of his day because "they put no difference betwee n the holy and profane" (22:26). The writer of Hebrews condemned those who counted the blood of Christ an "unholy thing" (Heb 10:29). This refers to those who treated sacred things as ordinary things. We have already noted in this article the signifi cance of the word "holy" -- it refers to that which is different, set apart by and for God. Those who happily support church sponsorship of Boy Scout troops, ball teams, etc. need to see that such as no more place in the function of the church than the Lo rd's Supper would have being served at a Scout meeting. As I write this I have before me an article written by a preacher in the Cincinnati area that argues that there is just no distinction in the Bible between the religious and the secular. He so conten ds in order to defend a church's right to run a grammar school and teach secular subjects. With such men and such thinking among us, it is no strange thing that the present situation exists among churches of Christ!

Leading men change and the multitudes follow. The apostle Paul gave this warning: "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29). Though we are exhorted "not to think of men above that which is written" (1 Cor 4:6), prominent preachers and teachers can lead a large portion of the brethren where they want to. It is good to love and appreciate those who preach God's word, but our loyalty must be to the Lord!

The division in the churches that occurred in the last century over a missionary society -- a human organization through which churches preached the gospel - resulted from the influence of prominent men who changed. Without the influence of men like Alexander Campbell, such a human organization probably could not have succeeded. Campbell underwent an evolution in thinking from 1823 ("in their church capacity alone they moved" - Christian Baptist) to 1842 ("a more ample, extensive, and thorough church organization" - Millennial Harbinger). As a result, he convinced many to follow. Division resulted. The kind of thinking that made the missionary society possible soon led to other departures.

There is unquestionable proof that prominent men among us have changed their thinking on what the church can do. Practices which would have been challenged in the past are sanctioned now. We are rushing headlong down the same road that led to disaster in the last century.!

Growth of "Social Gospel" among us. This has conquered many of the major denominations in this country. It now strides with triumphal steps among churches of Christ. The term "Social Gospel," when properly applied, refers to a socio-religious movement that began in Post-Civil War America and reached its high point in the years preceding World War I. Those who fully embraced it were concerned about this life more than eternity. They saw the gospel as that which dealt with the problem of human misery -- hunger, disease, poverty, etc. They saw the church not as a body seeking to reconcile man to God, but as an institution whose task was that of reconciling the conflicting forces of society. Some joined the movement as a result of the Darwinian philosophy, the evolution of man, and the tremendous impact it had on the times. Others cast their lot with the movement because they were caught up in the liberal philosophies resulting from Liberalism's destructive criticism of the scriptures. Some, overemphasizing the social implications of the teachings of Jesus, joined the cause.

There are social implications in the gospel. Changed men are bound to influence change in society, but to change the church from an institution whose primary function is that of meeting man's spiritual needs into an institution devoted to relieving man's physical needs is to pervert the gospel. As churches zealously build hospitals, homes for unwed mothers, and all sorts of institutions to fight poverty, hunger, disease, crime, juvenile delinquency, etc., they have become a part of the this life thinking that has conquered the denominations. Their preachers tell us, so often, that they are not nearly so much concerned about the virgin birth, the death, or the resurrection of Christ as they are the condition of man while here on earth. The great truths of the gospel are no longer meaningful. Take care of man's physical needs! This becomes the all-consuming passion and purpose! Many brethren think that the host of institutions among us that seek to meet man's physical needs indicates a growth of spirituality. I suggest to you it means the opposite! We need to return to a realization that man's greatest need is to save his soul -- that heaven and not this present world is to be our greatest desire!


Just as a poll taken in the first century revealed many confused concepts of Christ (Matt 16:13,14), so a survey of present day thinking reveals a conglomeration of confused concepts of the church. Let us not be interested in "flesh and blood" opinions, but let us seek ever and always to know what the Father has revealed about the blood bought and heaven bound church of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be teaching boldly and plainly what the true function of the church is. Churches need to be functioning! We can maintain the distinctive function of the church if we will give ourselves unreservedly to the task. May the vision of heaven's joys move us to the task!

-- John Clark

(From a tract entitled "The True Function of the Church" written probably in the early '70's)


The joy of tomorrow is rooted in the drudgery of today.

If joy is not rooted in the soil of suffering, it is shallow.

Woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy afternoon.

When fear advances, reason backs away.

Some people are like blisters; they never show up until the work is almost done.

An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.

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