The Church -- The Work Is Is To Do

Almost instantly, the word church forms a picture in our minds of things we associate with religion. To some, church is a place of worship. To others it is a place for social contacts. Church is, to borrow from an old song, “Different things to different people.” But what it is to the Lord? What work should it do and what is its primary function?

The church Jesus built is spiritual from beginning to end. It is a “spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Whatever the church is to do, must be done in harmony with the basic concept that the church is God’s spiritual abode. The use of the term “house” is not intended to mean a house for God’s people, but a house in which the Almighty is pleased to dwell. This naturally demands a figurative understanding, because God does not “dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). But He does dwell within the church, the spiritual house Jesus built. Paul wrote of the church, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whiole building being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).

The work involved in spiritual sacrifices is spreading the saving message of the gospel of Christ. The church exists for that purpose. It is unimaginable to conceive of the church Jesus built and think of any other mission it is to accomplish. The collective worship is not a work to be done by the church. Worship is a response to God which is motivated by love and fear. The church Jesus built puts nothing before the prosecution of spreading gospel truth to the whole world. The great commission demands it. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

There is nothing one finds elswhere in the words of the Master indicating any other comparable mission. The work of benevolence is part of what Christ intended His church to practice. But benevolence, providing for those who are poor, deprived, uneducated, homeless, and jobless, is not the primary role Christ intended His church to play here on earth. This may sound somewhat legalistic and harsh, but it is biblical fact. In each case where the church Jesus built engaged in any kind of charitable act, the record is clear: it always provided for those who were members of the church. Nothing in the Bible ever indicates that the church was to go into all the world and remove poverty, hunger, ignorance, and things of that fall into that category.

Notice the first case of charity the early church practiced. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). The believers shared their possessions for only one purpose; to provide what any of their number lacked. This could never be construed as a general distribution among all those who either lived in Jerusalem, or were visiting there, on that day. In the next chapter Luke reports an incident that sheds light on this point. “And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple, who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms” (Acts 3:2-3). Here is a specific incident in which one who was not a member of the church appealed for benevolent help. Peter replied, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (verse 6). Peter had “silver and gold” that was commonly held by all the believers at his disposal. This was being “laid at the apostles feet” for distribution to those among the believers who had need (Acts 4:35). But Peter refused to pass that along to a non-member. Why? Simply because benevolent work in the church Jesus built is limited to those who are among the believers.

This limitation is consistent through the New Testament. One may wonder why. There is really only one reason that is acceptable to those who are determined to remain within the confined limits of Christ’s authority. We dare not act, nor cause the church Jesus built to act, in realms of activity Jesus Christ has not authorized. The test of whether one respects His authority or not is easy to take. Those who are content to do only what He authorizes pass the test. Those who take liberties in the areas where Jesus has not spoken fail. Do you remember these words? “Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?’ Andthen will I profess to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity’.” (Matt. 7:21-23). The term “iniquity” means lawless, a disregard for authority. Every one must weigh their deep concerns for the welfare of humanity against their respect for His authority.

In one dared to rationalize, one might conclude that reason why there is no general obligation to go into the whole world to do charitable works has at least two possibilities. First, the Lord never intended to attract people to Himself or to His people through physical means. We remember the incident John records in chapter six of his gospel record. Jesus fed the multitudes with only five barley loaves and two small fishes. After, He spoke to them of spiritual matters. Verse 66 reads, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” Jesus knew that many of them followed Him, “not because” they had “seen the signs, but because” they “ate of the loaves and were filled” (verse 26). He immediately cautioned, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures unto everlasting life...” (verse 17).

Second, Jesus never intended for His church to focus attention on itself. The breadlines, the handouts, the so-called “missions” in poverty stricken areas are part of Americana, but not of Christianity. Charitable works are sponsored by a religious organization with the underlying wish to attract members by dispersing out welfare. There is a conspicuous absence of this in history of Christ’s church. Where would you find the counterpart of the church kitchen in the New Testament church? Such a thing is simply not there.. Where, in the Bible, would one find the counterpart of the modern concept of a “mission” on “Skid Row” where the poor are fed, clothed, and offered temporary shelter? Where in the New Testament does one find that the early church practiced that kind of benevolence? It is absent from what we have been divinely given through revelation of the mind of God.

Russell E. Ritchey, author of a book called “Denominationalism,” wrote of the way in which American denominationalists institutionalized and secularized religion in America. I believe this book has been used in several colleges and universities as a text book on denominationalism in America. Read this comment. “As reformers they turned, when persuasion failed, to political means, in order that good social habits of temperance and Sabbath observance might be maintained. As propagandists they sought the extension of democratic institutions -- if necessary by recoruse to militgary force -- in order that all the world might share in the blessings of the kingdom of God on earth.” (Denominationalism, Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn., page 246). It is the turning away from the simplicity of being a spiritual house, offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ that has forged the very spirit and nature of modern day denominationalism. And, the produce is an institutionalized, secularized religious order.

Deviation away from the simple manner in which Christ’s people in the first century executed the work He gave them to do has resulted in a complete restructuring of religion throughout the world. The only sensible remedy is to return to those primitive days in our focus and thrust. To work as He ordered His first disciples to work, to offer up the same sacrifices they offered to the Father through Him, should be our one and only goal as a religious force. The reason why churches have concentrated on political, social, and charitable endeavors appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the basic purpose Jesus had in mind for His church on earth. That purpose was the spreading of the good news of salvation to every accountable person on earth.  He also intended His people to worship as a natural response of love to the Father, expressed in collective worship. Also. And, secondary to this was the natural response of love for brethren in taking care of whatever physical needs they may have had.

Is that the purpose for which the church of which you are a member exists? If not, there should be a re-examination and alteration done. If the church of which we are members is Christ’s church, what right do any of us have to change the purpose and mission which He assigned it?

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