The Work of the Local Church
As we strive to be New Testament Christians, using the New Testament as our standard and guide, it is important for us to consider what God has established for the work of the local church. As we look around us in the denominational world, we see churches engaging in all kinds of different activities. When we search the Word of God to see what is approved, we see that God intends for the local church to engage in the work of benevolence, evangelism, and edification.
Benevolence. We see in Acts 11:28-30 that when a famine was predicted for Judea, the brethren of Antioch determined to send them relief. A similar need is seen in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9. From this we conclude that it is not only right but important for churches to assist churches in other areas when a need arises. Furthermore, we see particularly in 1 Timothy 5:5-16 that those who were “widows indeed” within a congregation could be supported by that congregation, and from this we conclude that the local church can help physically support their own who are in need. We see no evidence from any of the Scriptures, however, that churches were involved in assisting those outside the flock of God. Helping those who are in need who are without is absolutely the responsibility of the individual Christian (Galatians 6:10, James 1:27), but nowhere has God “so burdened” the church (cf. 1 Timothy 5:16).
Evangelism. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, established that it was right and profitable for him, if he so chose, to receive physical, financial support for the spiritual work he was doing in the Kingdom. Indeed, in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9, Paul says that he “robbed” other churches, particularly in Macedonia, to work with the Corinthians! While we believe that Paul is speaking in a figure, probably with a little sarcasm, in order to establish his point, since the Macedonians freely supported Paul (cf. Philippians 4:15-18); nevertheless, we see that the New Testament establishes that evangelists, for the spiritual work they do, can be supported by the congregation. Likewise, whatever material that is necessary for the promotion of the Gospel may be obtained so that this work may be done (cf. Philippians 4:14-18).
Spiritual Edification. The church was designed by God to assemble– after all, of what value is an assembly that never assembles? (The word “church” in Greek is ekklesia, which means “assembly”). Paul and the Hebrew author explicitly identify one of the main purposes of the assembling of the saints: to encourage one another, to build one another up– to edify (1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:24-25). To assemble requires a place of assembly, and determining such is considered a liberty in the New Testament. The church also is to facilitate the partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:20-34), for which brethren are to purpose to assemble. The assemblies in the New Testament were designed for the spiritual building up of the saints, and we do not see present all kinds of attractions of a physical sort in the least.
Such, then, is what God has established for the church to do. While men will often add to the responsibilities of the church, we can understand from 1 Timothy 5:16 that the church is not to “be burdened” with obligations beyond what is necessary. Let individuals fulfill their responsibilities before the Lord so that the church can focus on its spiritual mission in this darkened world!
Ethan R. Longhenry