Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 28, 1956
NUMBER 9, PAGE 10-11

A Sound Church Program

Leslie Diestelkamp, Brookfield, Illinois

The subject assigned me could be stated either as, "The Program For A Sound Church" or "A Sound Program For the Church." In each case it would mean the same thing. The sound church will have a sound program and a sound program would not fit in anything but a sound church. Or to say it in reverse, an unsound program would make a church unsound.

By "sound," of course I mean whole, entire, pure, true. By "program" I shall mean work. The program of the church, to me, at least, consists of what the church does. So a sound program will be one that is entirely scriptural. A sound program will include all that New Testament authorizes and it will likewise exclude all that is not thus authorized. This little speech, then, shall be a plea for "revealed religion." We shall urge the necessity of doing all that God authorizes and of leaving all else undone.

To "speak where the Bible speaks and to be silent where the Bible is silent" should be our plea, and to "Do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names" should still be our goal. The exact words of such a plea are not contained in the Bible, but the exact principle expressed by these words is certainly a Bible principle. Brethren everywhere generally apply these old and good mottoes when discussing church organization, church membership, worship, etc., but we must also adhere to the same principles regarding church work.

It Must Be Lawful

A sound church program, then, must be a lawful program. That which we do must be included in the "oracles of 'God." (1 Peter 4:11.) If it is good, then it is revealed to us in the New Testament, for Paul said that the scriptures furnish us unto every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17.)

Peter also said that we have been furnished with all that pertains unto life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3.) Let the program of the church consist of that which is scripturally revealed. Let us learn "not to go beyond what is written." (1 Cor. 4:6, R.V.) Only by thus "abiding in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9) can we be sure that our activities are authorized by the God of heaven and fully pleasing to him.

When the question of church activity arises, it is always necessary to apply the God-given principle of "proving what is acceptable unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:10), rather than merely acknowledging opinions of men or of our conscience. It matters little what we prefer, what may seem right to us or what we think will please God, but it is all-important that we "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21.) Let anything that would be made a part of the program of the church be proved acceptable by precept or example in the New Testament, and let all else be rejected by God's people.

Two Responsibilities

With these principles in mind, it is not hard to see that the church just has two responsibilities in this world, and every activity of the church must contribute to one or both of them to be acceptable. The church has been made responsible for the teaching of truth to both sinner and saint, and for the relief of poor saints. Even in each of these cases responsibility is limited by ability or emergency. Because the task of teaching truth is so great, the church will never need to be tempted to engage in unauthorized activity. We need only see the true necessity of lost souls for the gospel of Christ, and then suit the program of the church to enable the church to meet this need to the best of its ability, and we will be so busy that we will not be tempted to engage in unauthorized programs.

A sound church program, then, will consist of teaching truth and ministering to the needy. For these things we find authority in the words of inspiration. Luke says "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers." (Acts 2:42.) We have the example of the church in Philippi supporting gospel preaching (Phil. 1:5; 4:14, 15, 16), and we also remember the example of the Antioch church as it used Paul and Barnabas for preaching the word both at home and abroad. The Jerusalem church sent out preachers on various occasions, to Samaria and Antioch, at least and the church in Ephesus certainly used the services of a gospel preacher in that city, both for converting sinners and edifying saints. In the matter of benevolence we find examples of Antioch sending to the relief of needy saints in Judea. (Acts 11:29), and we find many other churches cooperating by each sending to the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1-3.)


Perhaps at this time it might be well to mention some activities that are not authorized and therefore do not belong in the program of the church. The church is not responsible for the cultural edification of our children, nor for their social or recreational activities. In other words, the church is not authorized to teach mathematics, science, literature, etc., nor is it licensed by revelation to provide gymnasiums, social halls, etc. To engage in such activities is to go beyond "revealed religion." To attach such programs to the work of the church is to fail to abide in the teaching of Christ for his body. Christ has not revealed to us just what we may do in our homes (except that it must be that which is right in itself and does not cast a reflection upon the church) but he has revealed what he wants his church to do and be. He does not claim to give us his word for every social activity pertaining to our home lives, but he does fully reveal every spiritual activity for his church.

A Positive Program

The law of Christ for his church and its program, is a positive law. He does not list every activity we cannot engage in as his people, but he does reveal the things we can do. By his positive word, he not only authorizes certain things, but also forbids all else. It is so easy for us to apply this principle in church worship. We recognize that we are authorized to engage in five acts of worship, — five ways in which we express our worship to God. This authority, we so easily conclude, limits us to these five things — singing, praying, giving, communing and study or teaching. We couldn't think of playing an instrument, counting beads, eating bitter herbs, taxing the members or making the sermon an entertainment instead of an edifying effort. If we can see the application of these principles of soundness as it applies to worship, can we not see their equal force with regard to work.

To pursue this thought further, we must conclude that a church is not a sound one, and does not have a sound program just because it is unusually busy. Daily and nightly activity in the church building or by the assembly does not make it a sound program. Every assembly must be an authorized one and every use of any facility must be such as is licensed by revelation.

It Must Be An Aggressive Program

Likewise, it is not a sound church program just because it does not include that which is wrong. Avoiding that which is unauthorized is only part of what is included in soundness. Actually a truly sound program will include all that is authorized, limited only by our abilities. In other words, a truly sound program will be an aggressive program. It will involve the church in every means of teaching that is expedient and possible. Bible classes, vacation Bible schools, gospel meetings, training classes, etc., will be used whenever and wherever the church can do so. Such a program will mean that the church must not only provide study classes, etc., but it must train teachers, song leaders and preachers.

In far too many places it seems the church is content in the assurance that it is not departing from the faith. As long as it cannot be accused of being "digressive" it is satisfied. But to be true to its mission in the world, the church must use all of its members, money and facilities in the most active and aggressive program possible and expedient. We must demonstrate our love for the Lord; not just declare it. We must pursue righteousness; not just purpose to possess it. We must oppose evil; not just avoid it. We must do good; not just favor it! A prayer meeting in behalf of world-wide evangelism would be altogether appropriate in a sound church program, but unless it is backed up with action on the part of the praying church it will fall far short of that which it included in soundness. (But it is so much easier to pacify our conscience by praying for "the missionaries" and by sending them a few paltry dollars, then it is to be true to our God by pressing ourselves and our all into the work he left for us to do.)

It Must Be Only Local

A sound church program is a local matter. There is no authorized action for the "church universal." It is impossible for the church to remain a truly non-denominational body with a scriptural government, and still function on a larger level than that of the local church. The only scriptural arrangement in church government confines it to a local church. There is no precept or example for organization within a church, that is: organizations made up of parts of the congregation, nor is there precept or example for organizations beyond the local church, that is: organizations of two or more churches. Thus God has authorized congregational action, and all programs of the church should be geared to function within this authority. There is no action that may be scripturally assigned to the church that cannot be accomplished by a completely independent action of each local church. Sometimes, even while maintaining complete autonomy, congregations may scripturally cooperate by each, independently supporting, promoting or working the same endeavor. Again, when the specific responsibility of a local church is greater than its ability, other churches may scripturally assist it with its program of work without violating the independence of either. Infringement of autonomy exists when one church either assumes or is given responsibility that is not hers by right. One church cannot scripturally do the work of another church or of the churches. A sound church program will not in any way infringe upon the rights, responsibility or authority of another church. Likewise, a sound church program will not relinquish rights, responsibility or authority of one church to another.

It Must Be Expedient

A truly sound church program is not only lawful, but it must also be expedient. Some things are lawful but not wise under various circumstances. We are to be "not slothful in business." (Rom. 12:11.) A sound program is not just the customary one, nor the sensational one, but it is a practical one — one that will work. A sound program doesn't just fill time schedules and keep us busy, but it is fruitful — it gets results. Again we say a sound program includes all that God has authorized, limited only by our ability, and is pursued in view of fruitfulness and wisdom.

The program of the church should challenge the elders, the deacons, the teachers or preachers and every member to not only give our very best in the service of Christ, but also to grow in ability to do more and live better. A sound program will lead each Christian to deeper spirituality, and it will effectively promote the teaching of the lost. If the churches everywhere would develop such a program, we would not convert the world in our generation, for Christ has not promised that we will ever do that, but we could certainly preach the gospel to the world, which is the first responsibility of God's people. A sound church is not such because of size or wealth, but only because of a converted membership, a scriptural name and worship and a sound program of work.