The Work of the Church

I recently read a billboard advertising a local church.  Of all the things they might have mentioned this is what the sign said: “Where will you find a church that… 1) Welcomes homosexual couples, 2) Invites questions, 3) Acknowledges many paths to God, and 4) Seeks social justice…” The name and address of a local congregation offering these “opportunities” was provided at the bottom of the billboard.

For some, like myself, this kind of activity in a “Christian” congregation is unsettling; for others, it’s a sign of progress and a breath of fresh air.  I like a congregation that invites questions, but a church that legitimizes homosexuality and accepts many paths to God I’m afraid is wandering away from the Word of God.  The Bible leaves no doubt about God’s feeling towards homosexuality (Romans 1:16-32), and the notion of many true paths to God is simply foreign to the Scriptures (John 14:6).  However, the idea of seeking social justice is cause for consideration.  At least on the surface, it doesn’t sound so bad.  What could be bad about a church fighting for justice?  The Church is here to help people in whatever way it can, right?             

 A church that seeks social justice may not sound so bad on the surface, but there is a reason we find social activism in the same church that welcomes homosexuality.  Both stem from the same underlying misconceptions about God, the Bible, and the Church.  It’s the idea that God is whoever you hope he is, that you can find God on any road going anywhere, and that the Church is whatever you want it to be.

The Work of the Church

The question of whether or not a church committed to Christ should be engaged in seeking social justice is best addressed in a larger question: What is the work of the Church?  Most people in America would probably agree that for better or worse religion in world is not what it used to be.  In the Bible, though, there is a standard for the Church, a blueprint for a firm foundation, and an image of an institution that could stand unwavering against all the tests of time, progression, and persecution.  In this God-given design we have a description of not just what the Church is, but also what it does. 

The Church is a spiritual institution with spiritual concerns and therefore the business of the Church is always if not entirely spiritual in nature.  So says the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-5: “Come to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house [the Church], a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Church is a spiritual body composed of spiritual people united by the Holy Spirit serving God who is himself a spirit.  It’s no wonder then that Peter says we are as living stones building up a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices to God.  The Church is a spiritual institution and it makes sense that the work of the Church would also be spiritual nature.  When we go through Bible, setting aside any preconceptions about the nature and work of the Church, this is exactly what we find.  The Church does have a defined purpose.  The Church does have work to do, and those duties are described in the Bible.

Glorify God

The first work of the Church is to glorify God.  This work is mentioned specifically in Ephesians 3:20-21.  The Apostle Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  Many things in the Bible are said to give glory to God.  The creation declares the glory of God (Psalm 19), his salvation testifies to his glory (Psalm 21:5), and here Paul says God is given glory by the Church.  How so?  First Peter 2:9 may be at least one example: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, [why?] that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”  While the rest of the world lingering around in religious indifference and spiritual ignorance the Church does not.  This institution, by its very nature and by the work that it does, magnifies the glory of God.  This is not to say that anything we might do to glorify God is the business of the Church, but everything the Church does should be directed towards accomplishing this goal.  This is big idea, but we can see all the little ways we make it happen – by submission to his will, by accepting his savior, by embracing his Bible, by praising his name and by working to help others do the same. 

Upholding Truth

Very closely related to the idea of giving glory to God is another work of the Church described in 1 Timothy 3:15: “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”  The Church, he explains, is the pillar and ground of the truth, or the pillar and foundation truth, and he must mean something specific by that.  He doesn’t describe it as just another social network, not some theological think-tank, not a public welfare program.  In Paul’s description, the Church is so much more important than that.   The implication is that the Church is the steward of truth on Earth.  The Church is the standard and benchmark of righteousness.  The work of the Church is to maintain truth, to uphold it, to preserve it, and defend it.  Our work is to broadcast and perpetuate truth, and to retain a foundation on which truth can exist and thrive in its purest form.  No matter how far the world wanders from God pursuing pleasures and progression, the work of the Church is to stand strong and always remain the same.  God does not change, the Bible does not change, truth does not change, and therefore the Church should not change.  Church buildings will rise and fall, leaders too will come and go, but morally and doctrinally the Church works to uphold and maintain the same eternal truths. 

Within this work we should also include the evangelistic efforts of the Church.  Like the Church at Jerusalem sponsored Paul and Barnabas to work in the world spreading the word and planting churches, it is the work of the Church today to do the same.

Edification and Encouragement    

God does not need the Church, or at least not in the same sense that people need the Church.  Hebrews 10:24-25 explains how this happens. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  The Church is designed by God to meet our spiritual need and this work is especially apparent in the assembly.  The assembly should be a body insulated from sin, a place of motivation, consolation, edification, and encouragement.  The congregation in Rome is praised for doing this very thing.  Romans 15:14: “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”

Formal Discipline

Formal discipline is also a responsibility given to the Church.  Matthew 18 is one place that the Bible addresses how to deal with a brother or sister living in sin.  The issue is first dealt with individually, then with a few witnesses, and finally, if the problem lingers, it becomes an issue to be judged by the congregation.  Matthew 18:17: “…But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Only the Church can render this kind of verdict.  It is the work of the church and the responsibility of the Church proceed with formal discipline when appropriate.

Benevolent Work

The last work of the Church described in the bible is best placed under the umbrella of benevolent work.  I say “benevolent work” as though this is an open-ended idea in the Bible, but in fact it’s not at all.  One work of the church is to be benevolent but to do so within a certain framework.  Faithful congregations described in the Bible were very engaged in collecting and giving of their financial means.  First Corinthians 16:1-2 describes these activities.  “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” Why do we find this kind of command in the Bible concerning the Church?  At the time of Paul’s writing there were people in the Church who had financial needs and it was important that at all times that congregations had money set aside to address those needs.  This collection came from the saints and was for the saints.  It was from the Church and for the Church.  Under this umbrella there are numerous specific examples of churches using church funds to support church activities and help needy saints.  In 1 Timothy 5 the Church funds were used to help widows in the Church and support the work of elders and evangelist.  In 2 Corinthians 9 we see the Corinthians and the Macedonians ministering financial need to the Church in Jerusalem.  In Romans 15:26 the saints in Achaia are doing the same.  And in every other example of benevolent work by the Church the same pattern is followed. 

The Work of the Church is Not…

It’s important to know what the work of the Church is, but it’s equally important understand what the work of the Church is not.  The Bible emphasizes the importance of leaving worldly concerns behind us when we choose to live for the Lord.  This seems to be the point of the Lord’s remark in Luke 9:60 when he said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  It’s the same principle that’s behind Christ’s statement in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  In the bigger picture of eternity, there are some things that matter and many things that do not and many things that just aren’t the concern of the Church. 

We’ve described what the Bible says is the business of the Church, but you will find many churches in the world busy with other things than these.  Many churches, like the one that motivated the writing of this article, are openly engaged in political activism, or what they called seeking social justice.  It’s one thing when an individual uses his or her write to vote, but it’s another when a church makes official political statements and openly endorses political candidates.  It’s no more appropriate for a church to support a political candidate than it is for a church to support a baseball team.  Education also makes this list of common but inappropriate church activities.  The work of the Church is spiritual education, not secular education.  All the best intentions can’t justify or legitimize a church sponsored school or college.  Even the idea of having a church sponsored college is an oxymoron.  The Church is spiritual in nature and secular education fundamentally is not.  A church sponsored school is no better of an idea than a government sponsored church.  They are different institutions with fundamentally different goals.   

 

Along the same line is church sponsored healthcare, church sponsored childcare and orphanages.  Don’t forget, just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the Church as a congregation to support it.  Things we do as individuals don’t equate to things we might do collectively as the body of Christ.  The Church is not concerned with sports, recreation, or entertainment.  I just got a flier from a church advertising a face-melting laser show, free-style dancing, and music featuring the Tran Siberian Orchestra.  Churches now have their own coffee shops, bowling alleys, bookstores, and theme parks.  Fellowship is good, but when entertainment overshadows the edification at a church is it really a church or just a social organization?

The Church should provide financial support to its members, but the Church is not a welfare program and it’s not a bank.  Many churches are establishing their own financial institutions and most churches engage in benevolent work outside of the church.  On this subject it’s sometimes good to question the appropriateness of church sponsored mission trips.  Are they okay?  Well, it depends on the sponsor and it depends on the mission.  It might make us feel good to put a roof over someone’s head and put food in their stomach, but is it the work of the Church if we’re not saving souls?  Remember what Jesus said to the crowd in John 6:26: “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.”

Churches in the world are changing.  Christianity is changing.  Congregations are doing things they’ve never done before.  Is it good?  Bad?  How far is too far?  You know my feelings, but what do you think? 

Thank you for your interest in the Church and in the Word of God.  I look forward to your comments and questions.  God bless.

avatar About Tad
I am a member of the Riverside Road Church of Christ in Ozark, MO, where I share the responsibility of teaching and preaching with several other men. In my secular work, I am a professor at Cox College in Springfield, MO, in the department of radiologic sciences and imaging.

9 thoughts on “The Work of the Church”

  1. @El I’ve been thinking more about what you have to say. I don’t know if you plan to continue, so I want to be sure I offer a response to everything you have said.

    1. Do members of the church need to feed the poor, help the poor, assist the disadvantaged? Yes. Do Christians need to do more? Yes. However, I caution you against making sweeping judgments about what members of the church do in this area given that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing (per the words of Jesus). Contrary to what you said in your first comment, there are members of the church doing things more than just preaching. I’m sorry your experience says otherwise.

    2. Should the church seek to save the souls of children who grow up around the church? Yes. The mission of Jesus was to save souls. Those who believe in Him will be saved. Belief comes through hearing the word of God. The body of Christ is called to preach salvation in Jesus’s name. Any religious body who takes sin and the need for forgiveness seriously will do everything in its power to reach everyone with the gospel message as they understand it, especially those who grow up in their midst. No religious body — whether church of Christ or otherwise — wants to see its young people leave.

    3. Should the church concern itself with young people leaving for other religious denominations? Yes. There is a lot of false teaching and false worship in the world. If we take the truth seriously, we should be concerned about those who leave.

    4. What can the church do to draw in more members? Preach the undiluted gospel of Jesus Christ not only to the unconverted in our midst but also to those outside. Jesus says the gospel is the seed that brings forth fruit, not good works.

  2. As far as having experience in churches of christ and focusing on bad examples. I’ve seen plenty of bad examples; but I’ve seen many more great examples of good people, striving to obey God and doing good for others. I choose to focus on the good. Every group that you will ever be involved in will, most likely, have some bad examples. I’ve worked in jobs where the organization was fantastic, but there were still bad examples. The difference in churches is that Jesus provides forgiveness to the ‘bad examples.’

  3. I remember years ago when the congregation that I was attending was having a discussion on hypocrisy. One of the younger members commented that they had a friend that had left christianity because there were “so many hypocrites at church.” An old brother, with years of experience, made a thought provoking comment. He said, “I’d rather be in a group of hypocrites, that are covered by the forgiveness of Christ, trying to serve God than in hell with a whole bunch of hypocrites.” His point was we are all flawed and need Jesus.

    So are there examples in churches of people that aren’t doing everything correctly? You bet there are. And I am one of them. As for doing for others, like helping the poor and such. There isn’t one Christian in the world that is limited from doing good for others on their own. Why would you need a church to do that?

  4. @El Thanks for following up with your comment. Apparently we know one another and I’m glad you came by the site.

    If I understand you correctly, you think people are not attracted to the church of Christ because brethren do not do enough good works in the community such as feeding the poor. If we visibly engaged in helping poor people, we would see our numbers swell.

    Good works do not save souls. The gospel of Jesus Christ saves souls. Jesus fed more than 5,000 hungry people in John 6. When they came to Him the next day looking for food, Jesus urged them to labor for the food that endures for eternity, the bread of life. Certainly we should feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. Without such works our faith is void as you pointed out in a previous comment. However, if all that concerns us is performing good works for these people, what have we given those souls? They need the bread of life as well. That was the approach of Christ. So, I’m back to the question I asked in my previous comment: how are Christians in error when they preach the good news of Jesus Christ in order to save souls?

    I agree that religious bodies who do good works in the eyes of the community experience numerical growth. However, I’m wondering how Matthew 6:1-5 fits with your perspective: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” It seems to me that Jesus teaches against the course of action you suggest.

    My experience has been similar to Craig’s. I also know there are good brethren practicing exactly what Jesus taught — helping the disadvantaged without fanfare. Those sorts of things go unnoticed because of what Jesus said: “do not let your right hand know what the left is doing.” Perhaps you did not know such things were going on because brethren chose to do it in the way commanded by Christ.

    I do not dispute that Christians need to be more visible in the community. Our visibility needs to be tied with a proclamation of the gospel. Jesus Christ, not good works, saves souls.

    I look forward to continuing the discussion.

  5. I grew up in the Church of Christ and have heard nearly every writer on this website speak in real life many, many times and have been to many congregations. So yes, I am making a blanket statements based on years of experience.

    “Saving people” was primarily focused on preaching salvation to the congregation where nearly all of the members were already “saved” (by CoC definition) except for children. The main focus of the churches seemed to be to “save” their own kids.

    Yes, the churches donated money to things sometimes, but it seemed like nearly all of focus was put on keeping the kids from going somewhere else or saving them. I think you’d see that getting out in the community and actually helping people will cause people to naturally come to your church. People need a sense of purpose.

    Ever wonder why you don’t get a lot of new members from outside coming in? Hint: it’s not because you don’t have guitars or fooseball.

  6. El, like you, I am a visitor to this site. I’m not a contributor to its content, unless you count the comment section. I understand your concern about people that meet in building that say “Church of Christ” on the outside. In the last half century plus, I have been in many such buildings and here is what I have found: regular people trying to follow the Scriptures as best they can, attempting to help each other live a more Godly life and in general some fantastic, sometimes flawed people. I won’t lie, I have seem some poor examples, I’ve seen some legalistic and judgmental types but those qualities are the exception rather than the rule. In my travels, I have met with some groups that I can honestly say that I could not meet with on a regular basis but I have met with many more groups that I can’t wait to join in eternity. People are flawed, some regular church attenders are weak and need strengthening and some are misguided and need teaching.

    My experience tells me that your blanket statement about churches of Christ is not fair. I have seen numerous examples of churches of Christ that provide assistance to saints in need and I have seen even more examples of members of these churches that donate time and money to the poor and those in need. The group I now attend regularly encourages its members to give to the local council of churches, Heifer International, Church of Christ disaster relief fund, Samaritan’s Purse and many more. My group is not an isolated example. I’m sorry if you had a bad experience, but it probably isn’t fair to make blanket judgments; if one politician lies that doesn’t mean that all politicians are liars.

    As for baptism being more important than giving money or food to the poor. Of course it is. Peter knew as much on the day of Pentecost when the crowd desired to know what they must do? Peter told them to Repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. But just because baptism (and refraining from sinful behavior) is more important does not negate the requirement for Godly works as it tells us in James “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ”

    Of course, all of this is aside from the great point that our brother was making about the work of the church. We would all do well to heed these Bible truths.

  7. @El Hi El, thanks for your comment. Before I respond to your comment, I do want you to understand the purpose of our site. This is not a site sponsored by the church of Christ. While it is true that the contributors to this site and many of those who leave comments attend churches of Christ throughout the United States, we intend to pursue truth regardless of religious affiliation. We chose this route because the things that take place in many church buildings of all stripes are, quite frankly, indefensible on scriptural grounds. And, let me be clear, that includes some buildings that wear the name “church of Christ.” We want to follow the truth where it leads and discuss it with others. That is our purpose.

    As I understand it, the objection you raise is that Christ talked more about doing good things for other people than He did about salvation. Therefore, if members of the church of Christ say they follow Jesus, they should, as corporate bodies of believers, focus less on preaching in order to “save people” and more on feeding the poor, clothing the poor, etc. That is the gist of your comment from my perspective.

    In light of your views, I’m wondering how you would interpret the following scriptures:

    Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

    John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

    Romans 10:13-15 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

    Jesus came to save that which is lost. The world is lost. The world is saved through belief in His name. And belief in His name comes — in most cases — through a Christian preaching the good news of Jesus. Saving people is precisely what Jesus wants the church to do because it’s what He came to do.

    In light of the above, how are Christians in error when they preach the good news of Jesus Christ in order to save souls?

    I look forward to your response.

  8. My main criticism of the Church of Christ was that they largely ignored the many, many scriptures talking about feeding the poor, helping the poor, etc. I never once saw “the church” do this. Jesus spoke more of helping the poor than he did of baptism. He spoke against the rich far, far more than any scripture against homosexuality or instruments in the church (0). I think there needs to be a bigger focus on the main ideas instead of nitpicky things. After all, wasn’t this what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for?
    The Bible wasn’t designed to be read verse by verse literally. The message of Jesus is so simple. Help others, love others, and follow God. Be a good person. This sounds cheesy and dumb, I know, because I used to think the way you did. But then I woke up and realized that I was missing the whole point. Start doing the things Jesus wanted us to do! This “saving people” thing is not it.

    I agree, the gimmicky “fun” churches are silly and missing the point too, but WHO CARES what they are doing? Half the lessons at the Church of Christ when I was there were about how other churches were doing it wrong… I think it was fueled by this big fear that all the kids were going to leave and go to a “fun” church. Maybe if you started DOING SOMETHING rather than just preaching, people would get some fulfillment. “Faith without works is dead.”

  9. If all you have to do is believe in God to be saved (as many churched preach) then anything is possible. Who needs Jesus, the Apostles, or the Bible? The Holy Spirt is cool though because he lets me do tricks that people will believe and then give me money! The christian world is in a very sad state and satan is winning the battle for many peoples souls. Every time I hear someone talking about the “personal walk with God” that they are experiencing makes me want to cry.

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