God's Pattern for Edification
As previously noted in this short series about Bible Patterns, we must follow scripture in establishing authority for our religious practices. Paul wrote, "In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility" (Titus 2:7).
There are three areas of work, commissioned by God for the church. The church is to preach the gospel to the lost in the world (evangelism), to engage in works of physical and material charity toward needy saints (benevolence), and to encourage and build up those of the household of faith (edification).
As with all things, we must let the scriptures define for us the work of edification, and the extent of that work, as authorized by God for the church. The Bible is clear on this matter, and we can be sure of our standing before God by adhering to the Bible pattern in the work we do in building up the body of Christ.
First, the terms edification, edify and edifying are defined by Vine as denoting "(a) the act of building... this is used only figuratively in the N.T., in the sense of edification, the promotion of spiritual growth (lit., the things of building up)." (Vol. 2, page 17-18). In the context of spiritual gifts, Paul wrote, "...Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification" (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Though the concept of edification (or, building one another up), can have many facets, we need to understand what the apostles meant when they called Christians to edify one another. In other words, terms such as church, fellowship, gospel, etc., were common terms that had special meanings for God's people. Not all assemblies are the "church", not all sharing is Christian "fellowship", not all good news is the "Gospel", and likewise, not all building up is "Edification" as defined by God.
In recognition of the spiritual nature of the "building up" which is to be done, the apostle Paul wrote:
You will notice that such offices as apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher were commissioned by God to accomplish the spiritual growth of His people. Such stand in stark contrast to those who seek to "edify" by departing from God's pattern. Not mentioned in that list are: social directors, chefs, recreation directors, etc. The reason is simple. While people indeed can be encouraged and benefited by such social activities, the work of edification, as defined by God in His holy scriptures, is of a higher, spiritual order.
It is interesting to note that the work of edification is inextricably linked to communication with God. Whether it be by prayer, where we communicate with God; or through singing, preaching and teaching (apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher), where God through His word communicates with us; scriptural edification is a spiritual matter, not a social one. If you want to be "built up", you need to meet with those of like precious faith in worship to God, not on the softball diamond. Note: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 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" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Some churches have built kitchens and halls for common meals, claiming that their authority falls under the work of edification. Others have gone further, building gymnasiums, game rooms, and even bowling alleys with money taken from the Lord's treasury, all under the guise of edification. Where will it end? I suppose that some churches may one day follow the example of Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, and build a theme park, complete with roller coasters and a midway, all in the name of edification. Some may say, "Well, it does encourage me to be engaging in recreation in the presence of fellow Christians!" Maybe so, but this "encouragement" falls far short of the biblical definition of edification.
More to the point, there is no pattern for gaining such spiritual growth through recreational or social means. When works defined as "edifying" are related in scripture, they invariably are spiritual works. We are edified through worship to God, prayer, singing, the preaching of the gospel of Christ. As we are admonished to, "...see that you make all things according to the pattern..." (cf. Hebrews 8:5), such silence precludes our participating in such social activities as the church.
Do you want to follow God's pattern for benevolence? Then put off the trappings of the social gospel, and return to the pure efforts of edification as revealed in the Bible pattern, so that "the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).