Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 5, 1958

The Christian And The Church

Robert F. Turner, San Antonio, Texas

Nearly twenty years ago, (May 26, 1939) the late Bro. R. L. Whiteside wrote for the Gospel Advocate:

"There is too much institutionalism these days. The idea that everything must be done in the name of the church has made the church a sort of institution instead of a body of Christian workers and worshippers; such notions have about robbed the members of individual activity. It would puzzle a wise man to know where the idea originated that everything must be done through the church."

Strange words? A new doctrine? Not at all. "Rob" Whiteside knew the New Testament as few men have known it, and was well aware that all true Christians are members of the called-out body of Christ, the church. He was intimately acquainted with Eph. 3:21, "Unto Him be glory in the church — " but — having no pet brotherhood project to defend, he was not blinded to the many other passages of scripture which recognizes the distinction in individual and congregational responsibilities. He knew that the word "church" when used with reference to the universal body of Christ, should not be confused with "church" in its local sense, the only functional organization of God's people that exists by divine authority. He knew, as all Bible students today should know, that God has assigned unto the congregation certain responsibilities, commonly called "the work of the church." The individual Christian has many responsibilities, right and good within themselves, which are in no wise the "work of the church." Until the recent advent of the Social Gospel "whole-man concept" among us, with the current defense of brotherhood welfare agencies, it would have been difficult to have found a reputable preacher who would deny this.

The individual Christian does many things "in the Name of Christ" — by the authority of Christ, or "as unto the Lord," that are not a part of his congregational activities. Note Col. 3:17, and the verses that follow:

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

"Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. "Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

"Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:17-24)

Here, family relationships are carried out, "in the Lord;" and the social and economic relationships of the servant (slave) to the master, is to be done "as to the Lord." Clearly, the principles of Christian conduct affect these relations, which are not themselves peculiarly Christian. Members of the universal body of Christ glorify God in performance of obligations which were never given to the functional organization of Christ's body, the congregation.

Since this distinction in individual and congregational responsibilities is so vital to the solution of present-day issue, let us go a step further. There are many duties and activities of the individual Christian which are the result of his relation to this life, (domestic, economic, civic, etc.) which are clearly distinct from the lawful functions of the congregation.

In Thess. 4:11-f. the Christian is commanded:

.... study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing." (Compare 2 Thess. 3:10f.) Again, in Eph. 4:28:

"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."

The individual Christian is to work, both to support himself and to have to give to him that needeth. He enters the business world; and buys, and sells, and gets gain. This is his legitimate and divinely sanctioned means of meeting his physical needs. But the congregation is told to obtain the bounty she is to give to the needy through free-will contributions from her members. (1 Cor. 16:1-2) The congregation is not authorized to contract and barter for her support. Surely the distinction here is clear to all.

In 1 Cor 11:22 we read:

"What! have ye not houses to eat and drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not"

This passage, while dealing with the abuse the Corinthians made of the Lord's Supper, also shows the sin of mixing with the functions of the church that which was lawful in the home Previous verses indicate that the Corinthians, before taking the Lord's Supper, were eating a common meal This is not a divinely authorized function of the congregation, nor is it expedient in the accomplishment of her distinctive purpose. The church was established, exists, and operates with special emphasis upon the eternal rather than the temporal things Not only is the church limited to certain fields of operation, but in at least one of her "works" there are some restrictions. Significantly, what the church can not do. From 1 Tim. 5:3-4 we read:

"Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, (A.R.V., "grandchildren") let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God."

"Honour" widows means "support" them, provide for their physical needs. This same word is used in verse 17, with reference to the support of the elders. In verse 18, Paul cites two scriptures to clarify and add strength to his statement. Here we have a passage dealing with the responsibility of the church in benevolence. The congregation has certain duties and obligations relative to the support of the widows; — but this same text places certain limitations upon this benevolence of the church, and shows a clear distinction in the responsibilities of the individual member, and of the congregation.

1 Tim. 5:5, 7, 9-10, gives specific qualifications that must be met by the widow before she is to be received into the number of those permanently supported by the congregation. She must be desolate, one who trusts in God, prayerful, at least 60 years old, having but one husband, of good report, having properly reared children, hospitable, benevolent, having diligently followed every good work. Now you can read these passages for yourself; — and when you have carefully studied the passages, answer these simple questions:

(1) Did The Holy Spirit Place Upon The Congregation The Responsibility Of Permanently Supporting And Caring For Every Widow In The World? (2) Does The Congregation's Responsibility Include Widows Who Are Not Christians?

(3) DOES IT INCLUDE ALL WIDOWS WHO ARE CHRISTIANS? Note again 1 Tim. 5:9, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, — " etc. All the emotional raging in the world can not remove this portion of the Word of God. No faithful Christian will try it.

Now, to our point relative to the difference in the individual Christian's responsibility and that of the local church; read 1 Tim. 5:16:

"If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed."

The individual is specifically given certain obligations which, in the same verse, the congregation is specifically forbidden to take. How much plainer could the inspired writer have stated it?

Today the church of the Lord is strongly threatened by encroachments of the Social Gospel. Brethren are subjected to highly emotional appeals on behalf of underprivileged children, widows and orphans of the world; and our young people who need the advantages of a fresh-air camp in the mountains. Institutionalism abounds, strangling the initiative of the divinely authorized congregation, and drawing us closer and closer to a national or even international church organization. "Meanwhile, back at the ranch — " the average Christian realizes little of what is taking place. He knows the congregation is the only divinely authorized organization of the church, but his respect for big-name preachers, and his easy-going desire for peace — on the majority side — makes him accept their soothing assurance that all is well. The benevolent societies keep him heavily supplied with their propaganda sheets, and he is made to believe that if he questions the supnort of such institutions from the church's treasury he just doesn't love little children.

THE FACT THAT THE SCRIPTURES MAKE A DISTINCTION IN THE RESPONSTBILITTES OF THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN AND THAT OF THE CONGRECATON IS IGNORED. The intitutions ignore this easily proven fact for obvious reasons — they want their hands in the church treasury. And perhaps the average Christian ignores this fact — even subconsciously — because he does not want to face his individual responsibilities. He has an aged parent or grandparent who needs institutional care, and he wants the church to pay the bill. He is too busy (?) to provide for the social needs of his children, and he wants the church to do this. He finds that the church can grow — in numbers — through the use of the banquet hall; and he finds less embarrassment here before his denominational neighbors, than in the scriptural process of preaching unto them the truths of God.

Whatever may be our reasons — consciously or subconsciously — we are greatly endangering the purity of the church when we ignore any Bible principle. Let us accept our responsibilities as individual Christians, and, in the words of Bro. C. R. Nichol, "let the church be the church."