Speaking Sound Doctrine

The Work Of The Church

III.    The Individual And The Church

The points to follow will become pivotal as we progress further into our study.  These basic principles must be understood fully, as they will become the logical foundation of many conclusions. 

A.      Distinction Between An Individual And The Collective Body

We intuitively understand the difference between individual action and collective action on a secular, everyday basis.  Let's return to the illustration of making cupcakes.  If someone makes and sells cupcakes and their next door neighbor does the same thing, the action is coincidental, not cooperative.  Nothing that one does affects the other.  However, if they decide to pool their resources, share their recipes, and distribute duties between them, this becomes something clearly different.  To work together, they will need to establish some rules and guidelines, or else confusion and conflict will result.  Likewise, the same is true for individual and collective action among Christians regarding spiritual things.

Note that authority given to Christians as individuals does not necessarily apply to the church as a collective body.  Though some may scoff at the idea of such a distinction, the Bible clearly indicates a difference between action of the corporate body and that of individual Christians.  For instance, this distinction is evident in the instructions concerning the care of needy widows:

1 Timothy 5:16  If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.

B.       Collective Action As A Church And Not As A Church

As briefly mentioned previously, a distinction must be noted for gatherings and group functions not for divinely appointed activities.  To illustrate, when all the members of a local body assemble together for some purpose other than what scripture reveals is the work of the church, it is not a church assembly in a spiritual sense, and it is not collectively church action, even though the assembly might be made up of exactly the same group of people.  The local body still exists along with the elders and deacons who might be appointed, but the secular gathering is coincidentally not a coming together "as a church."

1 Corinthians 11:18  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.

Note that Paul would not have made such a distinction unless it were possible for them to come together not as a church.  For example, our study will eventually show that baseball is not a work of the church.  Therefore, if all the members of a local church go to a baseball game together, it is not a church function; it is not a "church outing."

The same is true if just several of the members of a local church work together on a certain project.  For example, if some of the members decide to work together on clearing hiking trails in a local municipal park, this does not become the work of the church.  For a scriptural example, consider Paul working together with Aquila and Priscilla making tents (Acts 18:3).  Here is cooperative action of Christians, but it is not activity of the church.  Tentmaking has nothing to do with the work of the church.

In addition, even when several Christians act jointly for spiritual purposes, it is also not necessarily the church functioning as a body.  For example, an individual may personally invite a small group into his home to sing hymns, for prayer, or for Bible study (Acts 10:3-8).  This is not corporate church action, and the elders would have no right to make any judgmental ruling over those activities.

As this study continues, we will observe in scripture whether actions involve individuals or the church as a corporate body.  It is actually not difficult to see the distinction.  However, keep in mind that not every case where a group of Christians act together is it necessarily the church as a body acting corporately.

C.       Duties Of Individual Christians

Being a Christian is more than being a part of the collective body or assembling for worship; it is a way of life 24 hours a day.  It governs every aspect and relationship in life.

1 Peter 1:13-16  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."

1.          Areas of responsibility

Here are some areas of instruction from the scriptures that govern our lives as individuals:

         The Community (Social Relationships): 1 Peter 2:12, Colossians 4:5

         Business (Economic Relationships): Colossians 3:22-4:1, Ephesians 6:5-9

         The Home (Family Relationships): Ephesians 5:22-6:4

         Government (Civil Relationships): Romans 13:1-8

         The Church in General (Spiritual Relationships): Hebrews 12:28; 2 Peter 3:11

Some duties of the individual Christian are not authorized to be performed by the collective church.  While it is the duty of the church to teach that Christian individuals are to do these things, the scriptures nowhere indicate that it is the church's duty to perform them as a corporate body.  The following are some duties of individual Christians, exclusively:

         Make a living: 1 Timothy 5:8, 16.  The church is not an economic business institution.

         Raise your children: Ephesians 6:4.  The church is not a day-care center.

         Love your spouse: Ephesians 5:25.  The church is not a family crisis clinic.

         Serve your country: 1 Peter 2:13.  The church has no political agenda.

         Serve your fellow man: Galatians 6:6-10.  The church is not a general benevolent society.

         Visit orphans: James 1:27.  The church is not an orphanage.

         Show hospitality: 1 Peter 4:9, 10.  The church is not a social club.

In every scripture listed above, the context clearly indicates that the instructions are addressed to individuals specifically, not to the church as a corporate body:

1 Timothy 5:8, 16  But if anyone does not provide for his own,… If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them,…

Ephesians 6:4  And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath,

Ephesians 5:25, 29  Husbands, love your wives,… For no one ever hated his own flesh,

1 Peter 2:13  Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake,..

Galatians 6:1-10  Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. 6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

James 1:23-27  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror….  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it… will be blessed in what he does.  If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue…, this one's religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

1 Peter 4:9, 10  Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another….

2.          Sound reasoning

False teachers will scoff at such reasoning and claim that it is irrational to be so particular about pronouns.  Notwithstanding, a study of hermeneutics will show that our Lord and the apostles make similar interpretive discernments based upon the singular number (Galatians 3:16), subjunctive mood (John 21:23), and present tense (Luke 20:37, 38).  It is likewise reasonable to make distinctions in scripture on the basis of any other linguistic inflectional form, whether of case or gender, as may be applicable.

Proverbs 30:5  Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.

2 Peter 3:16  …as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Some preachers claim that everything the apostle Paul teaches in the epistles that he addresses directly to churches (Corinthians, Galatians, and Thessalonians) is applicable for the function of the church as a collective body.  For example, according to this reasoning, when Paul writes in Galatians 6:10 "let us do good to all," the word "us" supposedly corresponds to "the churches" mentioned in 1:2.  This reasoning is faulty.  Sound hermeneutics requires that we look at the immediate context.  Following back in reverse, the matching antecedent is found in 5:24: "Those who are Christ's," who manifest the fruits of the Spirit.  This is not a reference to the corporate body but each member, individually.  To expound, it is unreasonable to consider a group as having self-control (5:23), except in that each individual demonstrates it on his own.  The context further indicates individual application consistently, as noted earlier.  Moreover, if Paul is here stating that the corporate church has the responsibility to aid all in need, he contradicts himself when he instructs Timothy concerning certain widows to "not let the church be burdened" (1 Timothy 5:16).  As a preacher today can admonish a collective church to live righteously as individuals, so can Paul in his epistles (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).

The church is not a domestic relations organization.  Parenting education, sociology, psychology, finance management, and other such subjects to the extent not taught in the scriptures are not the teaching of the church.  Preachers who specialize, for example, in marriage counseling and would teach more than what the Bible teaches should not think they are doing the work of a gospel preacher. 

1 Peter 4:11  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God….

We will discuss this further when we examine in detail things that are not the work of the church.

D.      Duties Of The Collective Body

Some duties are restricted only to corporate action.  These actions are carried out only when the church functions as a collective body, as when assembled:

         The Lord's Supper: 1 Corinthians 11:20-29

         Contributing to the church treasury: 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2

There is a point of confusion that needs to be avoided.  In anything that people do as corporate activity, the individual element still remains.  For example, when we take the Lord's Supper, we do it in our assembly as a group (Acts 20:7) and we wait for each other (1 Corinthians 11:33).  However, each one individually eats and drinks and examines his own self (1 Corinthians 11:28).  Similarly, we all individually give, but the collection is corporate action.  Likewise, when we sing and pray as a group, each one of us individually also sings and prays.  The fact that the individual action persists in this does not negate the fact that it is distinctively corporate action (Ephesians 4:16). 

Valid premise:  Whatever the church does as a collective entity, it is the individuals that are doing it. 

However, some teachers invert this and proclaim that any individual action is therefore church action.  The following premise results:

False premise:  Whatever a Christian individual can do, the church as a collective body can do and vice versa.

This is illogical.  According to this reasoning, since praying together is church action, then an individual praying privately at home is also church action.  An individual making cupcakes would therefore also be church action.  Not so.  The fallacy resides in neglecting that not all paired statements can be legitimately inverted – only those that are mutually dependent.  For example, whenever you make omelets you have to break eggs, but if you are breaking eggs, you are not necessarily making omelets.  Remember: if a man is caring for his elderly, needy, widowed mother, Paul indicates that it is not the church as such doing it (1 Timothy 5:16).

Those who cannot find scriptural authority for some corporate church action they are desiring to undertake will scoff at this in an attempt to deceive the unsuspecting.  Nevertheless, the soundness and logic of the reasoning presented here are valid.

E.       Duties Shared By The Body Collectively And Individually

Some duties are assigned to the body as collective action and also to the individual as well:




Withdrawal from unruly:

1 Corinthians 5:4, 5

2 Thessalonians 3:14

Teaching the gospel:

1 Thessalonians 1:8

2 Timothy 2:2

Supporting gospel preachers:

Philippians 4:15-18;
2 Corinthians 11:8

2 Corinthians 11:9;
Galatians 6:6-10

Benevolence of needy Christians:

1 Timothy 5:16

1 John 3:17

Conclusively, the Holy Spirit has set boundaries on the work that has been appointed to the church as a corporate body compared to that of the individual Christian.  Someone may argue that it makes no difference what the church as a body does compared to what individual Christians do.  However, like Nadab and Abihu, acting without authority is rebellion before God, regardless how small we think a thing to be (Leviticus 10:1-3).  This deserves careful consideration.

F.       The Work Of The Collective Church

As we begin to study the work of the church in detail, please keep in mind that our intent is not to investigate the work of a Christian individual but to examine in particular what the Bible reveals to be the work and mission that God has ordained for the church as a collective, corporate, organized body.

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any one passage in scripture that succinctly indicates by a direct proclamation or command that the work of the church is entirely thus and so.  Therefore, to determine what God has ordained to be the work of the church, we must gather the pertinent statements and observe corporate church action in approved examples, drawing the necessary inferences from scripture.  In the book of Acts, we get a good historical view of what the early church was doing as a collective body.  An appropriate place to begin our observations is where the church is first established on the day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:38-47  Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Looking at this one passage, we begin to see what the remainder of our study will show.  The work of the church can be accommodatively presented in three categories:

1.          Teaching the gospel

…And with many other words he testified and exhorted them…

…those who gladly received his word were baptized…

…And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship…

2.          Worship

…in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…

…So continuing daily with one accord in the temple…

3.          Benevolence of needy saints

…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…

Our observations will indicate some practical overlapping of these categories, so we ought not consider these as mutually exclusive activities but only as an expediency for discussion.  We will next consider each of these in greater detail.

Questions And Thoughts For Review: The Individual And The Church

1.      Is it reasonable to make a distinction between individual and corporate action?

2.      In every case where people are working toward the same goal, it is cooperative action?

3.      What must be in place for cooperative action to occur?

4.      Does God authorize individual Christians to do some things He does not authorize the church as a body to do?

5.      Name several activities that God ordains for individual Christians that are not ordained for the church as a body.

6.      Name several activities that God ordains for the church as a body that are not ordained for individual Christians.

7.      Name several activities that God ordains for both the church as a body and individual Christians.

8.      If any man preaches in accordance to God's will, what should be the source of his message?

9.      When people act cooperatively, does individual action cease?

10.  What three categories of corporate church activity are revealed in Acts 2:38-47?


Some material in this study is derived or directly quoted from the following texts, which are suggested for further study and additional information:

         (BDB) "Revised Whittaker's Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon," 1906, 1997, Logos Research Systems, Inc.

         (JHT) "A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament," Joseph Henry Thayer, 1979, Zondervan Publishing House

         "Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament: Based On Semantic Domains," Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, 1989, New York: United Bible Societies

         "Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament,", Timothy and Barbara Friberg, 1994

         (WEV) "Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words," W. E. Vine, 1966, Flemming H. Revell Co.

         "A Manual Grammar Of The Greek New Testament," 1927, 1955, Dana and Mantey, Macmillan Co.

         LXX Septuaginta (LXT) (Old Greek Jewish Scriptures) edited by Alfred Rahlfs, 1935, the German Bible Society

         "New Testament Words," William Barclay, SCM Press Ltd., 1964

         (TBA) "The Bible Almanac," Packer, Tenney, White, Jr., 1980, Thomas Nelson Publishers

         (OED) Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com

         "The Bible in English: Its History and Influence," 2003, David Daniell

         "Walking By Faith," Roy E. Cogdill, 1957, 1967, The Gospel Guardian Company

         "Old Issues Do Not Fade Away – A Study In Centralization Of Churches And Institutionalism," Gene Frost, 1975, 1976, Gospel Anchor

         (M-W) The Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary Online, 2012

         Wikipedia: web-based free-content encyclopedia, 2012


Bible translations referenced in this work include:

KJV:      King James Version (1611)

ASV:     American Standard Version (1901)

NKJ:     New King James Version (1982)

NAU:    New American Standard Bible (1995)

YLT:      Young's Literal Translation (1862, 1898)

TNT:     Tyndale New Testament (1534)

Bible quotations in this work are from the NKJ unless otherwise indicated.  Anglicized equivalents of Greek and Hebrew words appear in all upper case characters with the approximate pronunciation following in braces.



Copyright 2012, Speaking Sound Doctrine