Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 19, 1963
NUMBER 49, PAGE 6,12b

The Work Of The Church

George T. Jones

(Editor's note: This excellent article is available in tract form. and has already been widely distributed both by churches and by individuals. It can be ordered from the Gospel Guardian Company, at the following price schedule: single copy, 15; eight copies for $1.00; 100 copies for $10.00.)

The work the church does identifies and distinguishes it. It will come to be known in the world by the work it does. For instance, civic clubs and lodges come to have whatever reputation they possess by the nature of the work they do. Furthermore, the work of the church is mightily involved in its purity. This is true because God's Divine Spirit has revealed to us the work the church is to do. It is a well-known fact that to change the worship God's Spirit has revealed for the church, is to desecrate the church. In like manner to change the work God has revealed for the church to do is to pervert God's revelation.

In the beginning, there are some terms I want to define. The first of these is the "church." The word occurs in the New Testament one hundred and ten times. Eighteen of these are references to the church in the universal sense. An example of this is Matthew 18:18: "Upon this rock I will build my church." Ninety - two times the word church is used in the New Testament to signify the local congregation. An instance of this is I Corinthians 1:2: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth." Now be it understood in the study of the work of the church that it is not the work of the church universal. God did not authorize any machinery by which the church universal could function. The church in the aggregate has no organization. Hence, the work of the church in the New Testament sense pertains to the work of the local church. An example of this is found in Acts 11. A church had been established in Antioch of Syria. While this work was still new, the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas there to preach. Verse 22 reads: "And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: And they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch." In this way did the church at Jerusalem work. The New Testament is completely silent in regard to any kind of operation of the church universal. One will search the scriptures completely in vain for such an arrangement.

Those who conceived the Missionary Society did so with a view to providing machinery for the church in its universal sense to function. Typical of this thinking is the statement of W. K Pendleton, son-in-law of Alexander Campbell, and ardent exponent of the Missionary Society. Pendleton said: "We fear that the large conception of the church universal is too little realized by many Christians of the present day. Their ideas of the church and of the responsibilities and work of the church, circle too much within the limits of the local congregation." This he said by way of advocating the Missionary Society. All that the New Testament says "of the responsibilities and work of the church" circles entirely within the limits of the local congregation!

The other term involved in this study is "work." This simply means that which the Lord authorized the church to do. The Lord gave the church certain work. He did not establish it and leave her to do work of her own devising. He has authorized the work of the church.

Two questions will be involved in this study:

1. What is the work of the church?

2. How is the work to be done?

Work To Be Done By The Church

The church is to engage in the work of self-edification. It is to build up and strengthen the faith of the members. In delivering the commission, according to Matthew, Jesus said: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you." (Matt. 28:20.) This refers to those who have been baptized. When a person is baptized into Christ and thereby is a member of the church, he is not already in heaven or in possession of eternal life. He must persevere in faithfulness. This must be taught to all members of the church. Children of God must be taught to "walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith. (Col. 2:8, 7) As Christians we must "long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation." (I Peter 2:2.) Many members of the body of Christ do not grow except chronologically. (Heb. 5:12-14)

That it is the business of the church to encourage, stimulate and produce such growth admits of no doubt. To the elders of the church at Ephesus Paul said: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood." (Acts. 20:28.) The elders are charged to feed the church! What are they to feed them? In verse 32 of this chapter Paul declared to these same elders: "And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified." The church needs to be built up. The word of God will edify or build up. The elders of the local church are charged to feed the flock the word to build them up. Therefore, it is the work of the church to edify its members.

Second, the church is to preach the gospel to the lost. Someone has said: "It is the work of the church to gather and scatter.... to gather the saved and scatter the word." There are examples in the New Testament of churches engaging in such work. Thessalonica had sounded forth the word in Macedonia, Achaia and elsewhere (1 Thess. 1-8.) Philippi had fellowshipped Paul in preaching the gospel. (Phil. 1:5.) Jerusalem, as we have already seen, sent a gospel preacher to Antioch. (Acts 11:32.)

Indisputably, it is the work of the church to preach the gospel to the unsaved. Every congregation should be engaged in it to the fullest extent of her ability and resources. No church should be willing to do less than all she is able to do in evangelizing.

The church is also to engage in the work of ministering to the poor. That this is one of the God-ordained works of the church is not to be denied. Personally, I have never known any Christian to deny it, preacher or otherwise!

Benevolence Not Primary Work of Church Recently there came to my possession some material in which the author was lamenting the disproportionate amount the churches were spending for evangelism as compared with their expenditure for benevolence. This preacher thought a more complete restoration of primitive Christianity would tend to equalize the expenditure for benevolence with evangelism, but, is this true? The New Testament teaches benevolence was a secondary work, not the primary. In Luke 10:38-42, we read these words: "And a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet, and heard his word, But Martha was cumbered about much serving; and she came up to him and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister did leave me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. But the Lord answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Here was Jesus in the house of these friends, a place to which He delighted to go. One sister sits at His feet receiving His teaching. The other is busily engaged in ministering to His physical wants. The one thus engaged, Martha, comes to Christ to have Him upbraid her sister for sitting and not helping to care for His needs. Instead, Jesus replies to her: "Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: for Mary hath chosen the good part." Instead of rebuking Mary for sitting at His feet, He rebukes Martha. Jesus gives her to understand that to sit at His feet and receive His teaching is a more important consideration than ministering even to our Lord's own physical needs!

Again, In the sixth chapter of Acts there is a record of the church at Jerusalem taking care of its needy. Previously, this has been alluded to by Luke in Acts 4:34, 35. At this time there were some Grecian widows in the church who were being neglected in the daily distribution of these physical supplies. A protest was made to the apostles and they called the disciples together and said: "It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out, therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." (Acts 8:2, 3.) What did the apostles say? Which is more important and which should take precedence in the church, feeding the hungry or preaching the gospel? My dear brethren, the answer of the apostles is: "It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God and serve tables." They charged the disciples to put certain ones over this secondary work and they would continue in the ministry of the word!

Furthermore, it would be foolish for us to assume that cities like Corinth, Philippi, etc., did not have their slums and their poverty-ridden masses in apostolic times. It is inconceivable, for instance, that Corinth with a population of six-hundred thousand people had no poor and indigent people. But Paul and his apostolic co-laborers went into these cities with their rich and with their poor, with their downtrodden and with their elevated. What does the New Testament reveal that these preachers did? They did not establish huge benevolent programs; even to feed and clothe the people so they could preach to them. This did not happen! Instead, they preached to them the gospel of Christ. They told them the way of salvation.

(To be continued)