Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity

What Is The Church?

Robert C. Welch

"How is the word 'church' used in the New Testament? What does it describe? These questions have recently come in response to an article which dealt with church action in contrast with individual member action. The general concept of religious people is erroneous. They think that the word signifies an organized body of people. The word used in the New Testament does not denote organization at all. Certainly it does not refer to the building or place of assembly. Neither does it denote the worship or service of the people as is implied in the common expression, "Go to church." It specifically denotes the Lord's people, the called out ones, in contrast with men in general or people of the world.

In the New Testament usage it is always a collective noun and as such never signifies one person, just as the word flock cannot be properly applied to one sheep. Some modern theologians in the brotherhood are trying to argue that since the word church denotes Christians, then wherever you find a Christian you find the church, therefore one Christian is the church. Christians are sometimes described in the New Testament as the flock of the Lord (John 10:18). These same theologians would not think of committing the blunder of calling one old sheep a flock. But they can deal loosely with the language when they want to get the church into the business of doing anything and everything that the Christian does. The ram is a part of the flock. He sires a lamb crop each year. But who would be silly enough as to suppose that since he is a part of the flock therefore it would be all right to say that the flock sires a crop of lambs? There is just as little logic in attempting to make every religious or righteous duty of a Christian the duty of the church.

Though the church has the duty to participate in the Lord's supper (I Cor. 11:18-20), there is a specific duty relative to this act of worship which the individual alone must perform, and which the church cannot do; each Christian is to examine himself (I Cor. 11:28). An elder of the church is definitely a part of the church and has a responsibility or duty to perform which the church itself cannot perform; he is to oversee the flock (Acts 20:17, 28; I Pet. 5:2). The church does not oversee; it obeys the overseers (Heb. 13:17). The church has the duty of support or fellowship in preaching the gospel to the lost (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-16). The Christian, who is a part of the church, may perform many services of an honorable nature for his brethren and for men of the world (Ram. 12:17); such as education, alms, healing, protection. Yea, in fact, he is required to "work that which is good toward all men" (Gal. 8:10). But there is no scriptural proof for the church to go into the business of education, medicine, nursing, hospitals, policing or babysitting, or even almsgiving to those of the world.

The called out ones who assemble together are described as the church at 'Corinth, or at such and such a place (I Cor. 1:2). The word still does not signify organization. Those who so assembled are given organization and organized function. The organization is defined in Philippians 1:1. Organized function is to be found in some of the cases cited in the foregoing paragraph. But let it be repeated for emphasis, the word church does not denote organization or organized function. This must be found from other institutions. No institution is given for organization or organized function for all the called out ones or the church universal as it is sometimes called, hence there is no such thing as church universal action.

No instruction is given in the Scriptures for organization or organized function of a number of these churches from various places; hence, no denominational action. This is what makes a denomination. And this is the basic concept behind all the church supported institutions and the sponsoring church co-operative programs engaged in by churches of Christ today. Such a concept is purely from human wisdom, completely devoid of scriptural authority, and in no sense denoted or implied by the scriptural use of the word church.

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