All people need to see that God has left us a pattern by which we can live our lives. This pattern is found in the Bible. Paul told the Colossians that whatever we do "in or word deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). When we understand that Christ's authority extends to all parts of our life, we will be on our way to living as God wants us to live. In this article, I wish for us to consider the pattern that has been set forth in the Scripture for the work of the church.
First of all, let us understand that the local church has work to do. The Bible teaches that the church has a responsibility to proclaim the Word of God to a lost and dying world (1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:15). The church also has a responsibility to care for needy saints, and widows indeed (Romans 15:26; 1 Timothy 5:16). Lastly, the local church must provide for the edification of the saints (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 12:19).
The patterns we will consider must be followed, or we will stand as reprobates in God's sight.
1. The Pattern For Evangelism: God has a pattern for evangelism, whether at home or abroad. One place this pattern is seen in Philippians 4:11-18. There, Paul says, "Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity." (Philippians 4:14-16). In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul declares that one who preaches the gospel has the right to "live of the gospel." In 1 Corinthians 9, we see God's pattern for supporting those preaching "at home," while in Philippians 4, we see the pattern for supporting the preachers "abroad." In both cases, we see money going directly to the preacher who is preaching the gospel of Christ.
Does this resemble the "modern-day" way of supporting preachers, where different churches "pool" their money and then have it sent to various preachers (such as the Herald of Truth program or One Nation Under God)? Certainly not! Therefore, we need to leave those things out! If we are involved in them, we need to repent and turn away from this while we have the chance. God's pattern for evangelism is for the congregation to send that money directly to the one doing the work. Simple, isn't it? Yet, so effective when we do the Lord's work in the Lord's way, respecting His pattern.
2. The Pattern For Benevolence: The church also has a pattern to follow when it comes to benevolence. The Bible says that the church is to only offer funds to those who are needy saints, or widows indeed (i.e., those widows who are Christians, but without any other family members, being at least 60 years old) (See: Romans 15:26; 1 Timothy 5:1-16).
Many today are confused about this, thinking the work of the church is to feed and clothe the world; or send "relief" to every starving country. It is not the work of the church to be a glorified "hand-out" agency. There are agencies of government, as well as privately-owned works that are doing those things. Let them handle that work and as Paul said, "let not the church be charged." I think men sometimes forget that where there is no relationship, there is no responsibility. What relationship does the Lord's church have with the world? None (2 Corinthians 6:17). In contrast, where there is a relationship, then we have a responsibility. Anyone interested in following the Bible can see the relationship between the local congregation and Christians in need. God saw such and demanded that local congregation help needy saints and widows indeed. God has set down strict rules, and we must be found following them, not flaunting them!
3. The Pattern For Edification: "Edification" simply means, "the promotion of spiritual growth" (Vine's). Edification comes in many forms i.e., our worship to God (John 4:24), Bible studies, and similar things. Paul taught that "all things" are to be done for edifying (1 Corinthians 14:26; 2 Corinthians 12:19). He told the Thessalonians, "edify one another" (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Our problem is that we do not accept this any more. Many churches operate under the notion that we must cater to the "whole man." Thus, "fellowship" (i.e., social) halls are provided to feed the members and satisfy physical hunger. Some open their basement up to provide parties and social activities. (I know of a place that provides coffee and doughnuts between the Bible Class period and the worship time.) Some offer Ball Teams, Gymnasiums, and the like to the community at large. Every year, we find churches going a little farther and a little farther until they do not at all resemble the church that is described in the New Testament.
Friends, the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but the way to a man's soul is not through this means!! I find it more than coincidental that the early church did not see the need for providing for such worldly, carnal things (Romans 14:17). You see, they were too busy preaching the gospel to try these man-made gimmicks.(Acts 3:1-4:4, 5:40-42, 6:7, 8:1-4, Colossians 1:5-6, 23; etc.). Their breaking of bread (meals) was from "house to house," not church building to church building (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 11:22, 34).
It is high time we got back to true edifying of the saints!
4. The Individual And The Church Are Not The Same: It would not be right to leave this subject without discussing the fact that the responsibilities of the individual and the responsibilities of the church are not the same. There are some things an individual can do that the church may not, and there are some things the church can do that the individual may not. While there are some points which overlap, (i.e. being both the responsibility of the church and individual) let us consider a few of the points which apply to the individual, but not to the church, always keeping in mind God's pattern.
When it comes to the local church's support of needy saints, it can only help those who are needy saints, or widows indeed (Romans 15:26; Acts 11:28-30; 1 Timothy 5:16). An individual may help, (and should help) anyone who needs it, though (Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 6:10; James 1:27). We may not understand all the "whys" behind God's reasoning, but that is not our concern (Deuteronomy 29:29). We are to simply follow God's commands, and not throw in our "two cents."
Concerning social activities, it is a great thing for Christians to come together and associate with one another. However, it is not the church's responsibility to practice hospitality, or provide fun, food, and frolic for the Christians, that is each individual's responsibility (Hebrews 13:1-2; 1 Corinthians 11:34; Acts 2:46).
For some who still do not understand that there is a difference between the church and the individual, let me ask a few simple questions:
Similarly, if two or three Christians decided to go into business, or buy property somewhere, etc., is the church doing it? Of course, not! At least, this is what Jesus said. He distinguished between one, two or three, and the church when he talked about a brother that sinned against a brother (Matthew 18:15-18)!
Let us not be fooled into the line of thinking that says, "whatever the Christian can do, the church can do." It is simply not true! It is not a Bible concept.
Let us understand that God has patterns for us to follow today. These patterns are important! They are necessary!
Let us learn and learn well that when God tells us to do something, the getting there is as important as the goal!! Too many forget this, and think that as long as the goal is accomplished, it doesn't matter how we get there. Not so! (Romans 3:8).
When God tells us to do something, we must act according to the pattern that is set forth as closely as Noah followed the pattern for the Ark (Genesis 6:22)!
Friend, will you live according to the pattern, or will you turn away from the pattern God has set forth? This is an important question! By applying the knowledge we have now, we can see why there is only one true church. It is because others claiming to be the Lord's church do not follow His pattern for the work and worship (among other things)!!
Have you been following God's pattern (Matthew 7:13-14)?? By refusing to follow the pattern we can read about in the New Testament, we are refusing God and turning our backs on Heaven (John 14:1-3). Let us remember that we glorify God and Christ when we lovingly follow the pattern that has been laid out for us in the Bible. Think about it!!!