If a church loses its focus, then nearly anything can be imagined as the work of the church. Some churches are extremely busy. They have this activity and that activity. They have numerous programs and works that they do. Their calendars are overflowing with meetings, events, socials and the like. Any perceived good that can be done is made the work of the church, without Bible authority – while the real legitimate work gets lost in all the busy activity. Some operate under the philosophy that if they can keep the members excited about some project or activity – whatever it is, then something wonderful has been accomplished and the church therein is carrying out its function.
What is not the work of the church:
1. It is not the work of the church to direct the affairs of civil government or to become a political entity.
As citizens, we might be interested in roads being built, economic policies, trade regulations, immigration policies, health care issues, foreign policies, and the like. But, this is not the work of the church.
At times moral issues and political issues intersect (example: abortion, alcoholic beverage sales, creation – evolution controversy, gambling, homosexuality, etc.). The church should set forth the truth about these matters. But, the church should never go into the politics business.
A word of caution; Even as individuals we should be cautious in the area of politics. Some so push their political party allegiance and talk so so openly and forcefully about politics that they risk alienating half the population from themselves – and thus close doors to Bible studies.
2. It is not the work of the church to run schools of secular education.
Individual Christians might get together to open and operate a school. Consider the following scenario. A group of educators, all Christians, fed up with some things being taught in the public school system decide to open and operate a private school where a secular-progressive agenda is not being promoted, but Biblical morality. Such is wonderful. There is no problem with this.
However, it is not the work of the church to finance, open or operate a school of secular education. To those who object we ask for Biblical authority.
3. It is not the work of the church to provide for the entertainment, recreational and social life of its members.
Clearly, individual Christians can have, and should have such contact, one with another (Mark 6:31-32; Luke 14:12-14; 15:22-25; Acts 2:46; 16:15; 1 Peter 4:9). There is no problem with this, providing the activity is morally acceptable.
However, it is not the work of the church to provide such. It is not the function of the eldership to plan an outing of golf, or a hunting trip. It is not the proper use of the Lord’s money to take from the contributions, money for the youth to go watch a movie or go bowling. Individuals can do these things – individuals may financially contribute to such; But this is not the work of the church.
4. It is not the work of the church to manage a home.
In times past, some brethren have suggested that orphan’s homes should be under the oversight of an eldership. Thomas B. Warren wrote upon this subject saying, “In both the home and the church there is an oversight – subjection relationship. In the church elders are in oversight (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-2), and this is the only institution over which elders are to function as elders. There is also an oversight – subjection relationship in the home: parents (natural or legal) are in oversight of the children. Ephesians 6:1 orders children to obey parents, and it doesn’t matter whether the parents are natural or legal (cf. ‘guardian,’ Galatians 4:1, 2). Jesus was subject to his ‘parents’ (Luke 2:41, 51); one of those parents was natural and one was legal. In Ephesians 5:22, 23, a clear distinction between the home and the church is set forth. A man may be both an elder and a father (natural or legal)… he is an elder in the church and a father in the home. He is neither ‘an elder in the home’ nor a ‘father in the church’” (Orphan Homes are Scriptural, Gospel Advocate, August 17, 1961). Guy Woods compared churches that would assume the role of the home with church that would assume the role of the government. He said, “It is just as sinful for the church to attempt to assume… the function of the home, as it is for the church to seek … the function of the state.” (Question and Answers, Volume 1, p. 308).
5. It is not the work of the church to go into the money-making or money-saving business.
The church is not authorized, for example, to generate purchase property and rent it out in order to generate a profit. It is wrong for a church to get a loan for a family on a house (so that they will have a place to stay); let them make the payments; but in the end the property belongs to the church – increasing their assets. It is wrong for churches to loan money out in order to generate profit.
Also, it is worth noting that the church isn’t in the money saving business. James W. Boyd has written, “Some church hold huge savings accounts, drawing interests and hoarding funds, while people all over the world are dying lost without the gospel. Good stewardship of funds is one thing. Greedy and grasping brethren who just hold on to money with the work languishes is something else. I would fear to be an elder of a church presiding over large savings while the Gospel is not being preached.” (S.T.O.P., November 1997).
6. It is not the work of the church to simply build buildings, cathedrals, and the like.
It is absolutely correct to say that we need a place to meet. This I don’t deny.
Once more I ask you to consider James Boyd’s words, “For too long many have depended upon glamorous buildings to be the attraction of the church. Disproportionate amounts of money have been spent building and maintaining elaborate buildings. But the church grew more rapidly, physically and spiritually, when our buildings were more on the other side of the tracks.’” (S.T.O.P., November 1997).
7. The church is not simply to make people feel good and draw big crowds.
It is possible to fill a building up, make everyone feel good and still help save no one. Sad it is, but true.
Jesus, nor His disciples tickled the ear (John 6:66-67; Matt. 15:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). Nothing that is profitable should be kept back (Acts 20:20, 26).
What is the purpose of the church?
The church has but one ultimate purpose. This purpose is to glorify God. Ephesians 3:21 reads, “unto Him be glory in the church…” 1 Peter 4:11 adds, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified…” This is our purpose.
How does the church glorify, upon this earth, the great Jehovah? The answer is that we do this by fulfilling certain areas of responsibility given to us.
What is the work of the church:
1. Evangelism: The term simply refers to the proclamation of the good news. The early church financially supported, and was encouraged to do so, the preaching of the gospel (Phil. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:14; 2 Cor. 11:8; Romans 15:24; [cf. 3 John 7-8; Titus 3:13; Acts 21:5]). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Just as Jesus came ” to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), Even so, we have a responsibility to be about the same business.
2. Edification: The term has reference to building up, strengthening, fortifying. As a church, we are to be helping one another on toward heaven. Concerning our assemblies the Scriptures teach “Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Corinthians 14:26). We are to “provoke (one another) unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Comfort yourselves together and edify one another.”
It is worth pointing out that edification is connected with preaching (Acts 14:22; 16:4-5; 16:32; 20:32; 1 Cor. 14:3-5) and example (1 cor. 10:23); It is not justification for bowling allies financed by the church and the like.
3. Benevolence: The term refers to what is commonly called charity today. The church is to (according to its ability) help those in need. It especially has this duty toward those of the household of faith (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 5:3-4, 16) but also unto others (2 Cor. 9:13 cf. Gal. 6:10). (Note: for a study of the “saints only” position see article “Saints Only Benevolence” by B.H. which appeared in the bulletin Jan. 23, 2005).
4. Worship: This point is somewhat distinct from the other three. The previous three were works which glorify God, but are primarily done toward others. This is a work primarily done toward God, though there is a benefit to others (cf. Col. 3:16)
Our worship is to be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). To worship in spirit means that we worship Him sincerely, pouring out our being unto Him (Josh. 24:14 cf. John 4:24). To worship Him in truth means that we do so based upon His word (John 4:24 cf. John 17:17). God has specified five distinct acts of worship for the church: (1) Lord’s Supper – Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7; (2) Giving – 1 Cor. 16:1-2; (3) Singing – Ephesians 5:19; Col. 3:16; (4) Prayer – Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:14-16; (5) Preaching – Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:27-31.
Let us never lose sight of why the church exists and what it is to be doing.
Note: I am deeply indebted to James Boyd’s article, “Things the church is not to Do” which appeared in the November 1997 Seek The Old Paths for many of my thoughts.