Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 3, 1956
NUMBER 1, PAGE 16-18,21b

The Church And Its Mission -- Edification

Bryan Vinson, Houston, Texas

The church first existed in the mind of God, and certainly as it therein resided it was associated with, or related to, that which He designs it to accomplish. As a Divine Instrumentality it is so created, ordered and endowed out of respect for that which is to be performed by it. Otherwise the manifest incongruity of the situation as resident in the mind of God would reflect against him to the point of an impeachment of the Divine Wisdom. The idea in the term mission is that of being sent, and this necessarily involves the purpose for which sent. Hence, we employ it in this study as suggestive of the purpose of God as identified with the church, and the execution of its commission in the fulfillment and accomplishment of this purpose. The Great Commission, as commonly referred to, sets forth two magnificent endeavors to be pursued and accomplishments to be wrought. Both activities are confined to the work of teaching, and differ only as to those to be taught out of respect to their peculiar circumstances. The unbeliever is to be taught that which is designed to make him a believer in Christ, a baptized believer; and the baptized believer is to be taught all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. Christ gave the commission to the apostles, and, subsequently, endowed them with the Holy Spirit to the end they might effectually execute this commission.

But, of course, in their own proper person they could not do all that was needed, and, hence, through them God gave gifts by Christ to others so they might be enabled to labor with the apostles in the furtherance of this great mission. When Christ ascended to the right hand of God, and there enthroned, he gave gifts to men. "He gave some (gifts) apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." (Eph. 4:12-13.) Why? For what purpose? In the occasion as herein stated is to be discovered the mission of the church and its competency to accomplish it. The work to be done is of an importance that merited the bestowal of miraculous endowments on those engaged to perform it, and, consequently, is to be esteemed too highly to either be suspended or substituted. These gifts of the Spirit were of a two-fold design: first, to enable them to function without a completed revelation; and, second, to unfold to them a complete and perfected revelation of the Divine Will. Hence, they were necessary only until the completion of revelation with regard to both objectives. Since revelation is now complete there is no need of miraculous powers; and since there is no continuing need for such the Lord does not now bestow them on anyone, inasmuch as the economy of heaven does not engage in the superfluous and wasteful employment of its resources sand powers.

Just as there is in the above passage a distribution of these gifts severally adapted to the offices here mentioned, even so is there a distribution of the functions as peculiarly related to these several offices. The apostles were told that the Spirit would guide them into all truth, and the superior character of their office required the correspondingly superior investment of this office with supernatural power; hence, they received the Holy Spirit in baptismal measure. They had no successors in office; they alone have occupied it, as they alone qualified for it, and alone were endowed to occupy it. They still are apostles inasmuch as their work in that office has not been supplanted nor supplemented, and their decrees and decisions are still of unimpeachable force today. They occupy thrones, and cannot be dethroned by any advocates of apostolic succession. Their work here was preeminently to serve as the earthen vessels of the gospel, and the ambassadors of Christ in enforcing his will on the belligerents of earth, and in reducing to writing this will. The work of evangelists, and pastors and teachers, continue in the lives and actions of each succeeding generation. The apostles function in direct regard to the perfecting of the saints — to the attainment of a perfect man, or church, as pertained to a perfecting of revealed truth. The evangelists were related to the "work of the ministry," which is a continuing task in the absence of supernatural gifts, and in the presence of a perfected revelation. Equally true is this of pastors and teachers with respect to the Work of "edifying the body of Christ." By some it is thought that the work of ministry is identifiable as benevolent enterprises of Christians, but such would not have incurred the necessity of spiritual endowments at any time and under any circumstances. And we must recognize the vital relation of cause and effect in this question. The spiritual gifts were bestowed out of regard for the "work of the ministry" along with the others specified," and, hence, could not refer to material benefactions for this reason. A gift of the spirit can never serve as the cause and material benevolence as the effect wrought by a direct dependence on the cause. There is no homogeneity of cause and effect in such an arrangement. But to the mission of the church as it pertains to the work of edification.

There could not well be imagined anything more vain and fruitless than the conversion of sinners to the gospel to be left uninstructed and undeveloped spiritually, except on the assumption that the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy be true. And since those who know and believe the truth repudiate that doctrine, it is assumed we all recognize the wisdom and necessity of the saints, as new born babes, to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of the truth. This involves, therefore, the work of edifying the body of Christ. To edify is to build up, to strengthen, to bring to a state of maturity. This is accomplished with the body of Christ just as, and to the extent, the individual members of this body are built up in the most holy faith and are led to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they have been called. It is the duty of the local congregation to indoctrinate the members thereof in the teaching of Christ, not only to know but to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded of his followers. The apostle chided the Galatians with the Statement that "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth"? (5;7) They had initially obeyed the gospel, but had been diverted therefrom, and hence had ceased to be obedient thereto. From which we would observe the continuing character of gospel obedience, and the corresponding necessity of continuing instruction and increasing spiritual development. Paul beseeched the Corinthians to receive not the grace of God in vain, thereby implying that such is possible, and in their case, would be true in the event of their continuance in the course of apostasy. Frequent instances are narrated in Acts to the effect Paul and his companions in travel revisited places where formerly the gospel was preached and confirmed the saints and exhorted them that with much tribulation they were to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Is the church as God made it competent to accomplish this aspect of its mission? The creators of the Missionary Society evidently thought the church incapable of competently functioning in evangelizing the world or else they would not have fashioned this instrumentality of their own to accomplish this work. Brethren today, while not entirely disavowing the sufficiency of the church in this work, are, by their arrangements, evidently of the persuasion that the church, as Christ made it and the apostles ordered and fashioned it, is incapable of efficiently functioning to this end.

While entertaining the conviction that colleges may well exist and operate as conducted by Christians, when viewed as collective efforts of parents to discharge their parental duties in the proper education of their children, I do not believe they can or should exist as auxiliaries of the church in any sense or to any degree. It is the duty of parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so long as they sustain parental obligations to them it is proper they provide the environment and instruction necessary to the accomplishment of this duty. A college is that which affords an advanced stage of this parental performance of duty. Unfortunately there has developed a widespread conception that the church can and should assume the family and social duties of mankind from the cradle to the grave. Parents have come to think, largely, that the command to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a divine directive to the church, but such isn't true. Bear in mind the Commission is to teach the subjects of the gospel message the truth as it applies to them in leading to their faith and obedience, and, then, as the children of God they are to be taught to observe all things the Lord commands of them. The church, therefore, is God's educational institution; he has no other, and to either impose on the church the exclusive educational duties of other relationships, or divert from it to other institutions that which is peculiarly the obligation of the church is to pervert the will and arrangements of the reign of heaven.

In the passage initially noted, Ephesians 4:12-13, the arrangement of the language certainly relates the edifying of the body of Christ to the offices and functions of the pastors and teachers. In the recognition of this, together with the temporality of the spiritual gifts, is seen the significance of the qualification of "apt to teach" being germane to the office of elder or pastor. While the expression, "pastors and teachers" precludes the idea of all teaching being done exclusively by the elders, it does not relieve them of the necessity of being able to teach, and their active engagement in this work. The responsibility of elders is solely identified with the particular congregation of which they are the overseers. This is true in the overseeing, the watching after and the feeding of the flock among them. Elders who do not know the Word of God can neither teach themselves nor justly appraise the value of that taught by others, and ably discriminate between the truth and the error as taught.

Among the qualifications is the ability and the facility of "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision; whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." Be it observed that this passage doesn't warrant an arbitrary stopping of mouths by an assertion of authority assumed to reside in the office of the bishop, but a stopping of the mouth by virtue of a repudiation of the error as determined and effected through the familiarity with, and application of, sound doctrine. From some prominent quarters today there arises the clamor to have the elders close the pulpits against many preachers, not by refuting by the scriptures the teaching of these preachers but by an arbitrary exercise of their assumed authority. Such appeals are, of course, inviting to those who are imbued with a sense of importance and intoxicated with a feeling of authority and power, in converse ratio to their knowledge of God's Holy Word. Diotrephes wouldn't receive John, the aged and beloved apostle, and even cast out of the church those who would receive the brethren. It is lamentable that today there are those, editors and preachers, who are recommending this attitude and course upon elders of congregations.

In the work of edifying the church, by the church, we see the body of saints as a congregation of disciples, a self-edifying body of people, wholly dependent on the word of God as affording the curriculum and defining and outlining the exercises to be pursued. Anyone who is mature enough to become a Christian should be capable to be instructed in the scriptures themselves, and certainly not be subjected to a system of instruction and material borrowed from alien sources. The children of God cannot be subjected to sectarian diets without it resulting in spiritually enervating effects on them. We are suffering from too many specialists and experts among us today, and are infatuated with so-called modern methods of instruction. We have a number of women specialists among us; and some college lectureships are loaded down with programs designed to afford them a stage for the display of their superior talents, and furnish an avenue for the sale of their wares. The trend and direction of all such is away from the simplicity that is in Christ and a cultivation of a taste for the wisdom of this world rather than for the sincere milk of the word. The second chapter of Titus affords a splendid and enduring distribution of influence, and procedure of instruction, for the children of God of one another.

In the teaching activities of a congregation a fundamental principle should always be respected, and that is that no office was ever made for the officer; that is, no class should be established with the design of gratifying the ambition of a would-be teacher. Just as in the matter of establishing a congregation, it would be an unholy purpose to do so in order to gratify the ambition of someone to be an elder, a deacon, a teacher, or a preacher. The church doesn't exist for these positions, but rather they exist for, and out of regard for, the interest of the church. When the spirit of rivalry and jealousy was noted by Paul, as present in the Corinthian church by reason of the possession and exercise of many and diverse gifts of the Spirit, he appealed to them not to endeavor to excel one another in respect thereto, but to seek to excel with regard to, and as a contribution toward, the high and holy end of edifying the body of Christ. The church is not designed to afford a means, or supply an instrumentality, for the furthering of human ambition, but to secure the salvation both presently and eternally of the souls of those properly influenced and controlled by the teaching of Christ. In becoming the Savior of mankind Christ made himself of no reputation, and taught others that he that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted. The church, in any of its endeavors, and in the accomplishment of its divine purpose, is not to cultivate human pride nor gratify human ambition, but to exhibit the wisdom of God in its noblest employment.

There is being exemplified by many in the church today a confused state of mind in not being able to discern between entertainment and edification. Christians are new creatures in Christ, and are, therefore re-created or created anew. But this isn't equal to what is contemplated in the expression of "Christian Recreation" and the activities associated with this term.

By this expression as currently employed there is the intended thought of social activities and pleasant pastimes which, in being engaged in, does not violate the principles of morality and religion. Such activities, however, are not Christian in any sense whatever; and, consequently, should not be so described and identified. While altogether proper and desirable are such interests, yet they are wholly to be divorced from, as having no legitimate connection with, the church of Christ in its mission and activity. Some congregations build "fellowship halls" and "recreational centers" as a legitimate part of their operations. There isn't an instance of the use of the word fellowship in the relation between the children of God and their relationship to God and 'Christ that warrants such a use of this word. There isn't anything about Christians eating together that is akin to the fellowship of the saints. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, and to bring such into the church as 'an activity of the church is to be guilty of innovation. There isn't anything edifying insofar as being built up in the most holy faith is concerned by such affairs. By this there is no intention to reflect against the propriety of Christians associating together; on the contrary it is a fine thing, but only so when recognized as completely divorced from the work and activity of the church.

Too often is the appeal made to young folks to identify themselves with a particular congregation on the basis of the attraction held out to them of an abundance of social activity by the church in their behalf. Anyone who is old enough to be a Christian is old enough to be attracted to the teaching of God's word without the tinseled trappings of youthful social and physical recreation. One doesn't need to be a member of the church to secure a satisfaction of these desires and interests. The work of edifying the saints doesn't embody a matrimonial bureau, nor is the church a glorified chaperon for those of a courting age. It is a prostitution of the purpose of the church to bring it down to the status of a handmaid for parents and to function in the role of a baby-sitter. A diversion of its energies and resources to such ends cannot but reflect injuriously on the accomplishment of its. God-given mission in this world to both saint and sinner.

The edifying of the church is not the increase of the body numerically, though this will inevitably be the experience of a congregation which enjoys a development and growth spiritually in the hearts and lives of its members. There is no end to the possible growth of the inner man as there is of the outward man. The latter reaches an apex and from that point begins to perish, whereas the inner man is to be renewed day by day. The Psalmist tells us the man is blessed that "walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." He is likened to a tree planted by the river of waters that bringeth forth its fruit in due season, and its leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. This prosperity is that of faith — faith in God's Word and walking in response to this faith. Among the Hebrew saints there were those who, though by reason of time should have been teachers, were themselves in need of being taught again the first principles of the oracles of God, and were in need of milk rather than strong meat. Consequently, they were unable to discern between good and evil.

Many of the afflictions and disturbances, if not all, which currently beset God's people have been occasioned by this very state of affairs. We have not developed our powers of discernment and are largely in an infantile state spiritually. We have forgotten we were purged of our sins and cannot see afar off — we are shortsighted, a condition of spiritual myopia that makes us blind to the intruding dangers of the hour. The only remedy is an aroused interest in and devotion to the study of the scriptures with an accompanying satisfaction with what they teach. We need elders qualified to not only rule, but even more so, capable of feeding and watching after the souls of the flock among them, and members who will devote the time and effort necessary to learn what is taught in the Bible, not relying exclusively or primarily on someone to teach them. Also, Christians not content with a superficial grasp of the gospel system, but who are striving to comprehend the system of divine truth increasingly, and to secure an appreciation of the principles of God's Philanthropy without being satisfied with a fragmentary and incoherent conception of the Truth. The more one progresses in his knowledge of the truth, the larger will the horizons of truth yet before us appear, and the whetting of our desire to acquire a familiarity with it.

Viewing the church as God's building, established on the imperishable truth of the Sonship and Messiahship of Jesus, having been laid by the apostles and prophets by the proclamation of the gospel, and ourselves as living stones in this building, will inspire us with a sense of the enduring importance of our relation thereto. This importance appreciated by us should lead to the recognition that all we experience ourselves in growing into a holy temple of the Lord, and what we contribute to the growth of others, is the most worthwhile endeavor of our lives. Only this is enduring and assures our everlasting enrichment.' The progress and success which we rightfully aspire to in our social, business and political economies shall be brought to an end; our growth and progress as Christians can never be brought to a fruitless end, except that we grow faint and fail to remain steadfast, firm unto the end. To learn the will of God by the consecrated study of his word is the most immediate and pressing need before the church, with the determination to bring our practice into harmony with that learned as we strive to magnify Christ in our lives here on earth. Let us leave the problems and interests of other realms in their rightful spheres, and be content only with the word of God and its enlightening, directing and consoling influence fully felt in our lives.