The Work Of The Church
III. The Individual And
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.
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.
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.
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."
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,
The Home (Family Relationships): Ephesians
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
Make a living: 1 Timothy 5:8, 16. The church is not an economic business
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
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….
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
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.
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
Whatever the church does as a collective entity, it is the individuals
that are doing it.
teachers invert this and proclaim that any individual action is therefore
church action. The following premise
Whatever a Christian individual can do, the church as a collective body
can do and vice versa.
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.
Some duties are
assigned to the body as collective action and also to the individual as well:
1 Corinthians 5:4,
2 Timothy 2:2
2 Corinthians 11:8
1 Timothy 5:16
1 John 3:17
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
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.
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
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:
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…
…in the breaking of bread,
and in prayers…
…So continuing daily
with one accord in the temple…
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…
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
it reasonable to make a distinction between individual and corporate action?
every case where people are working toward the same goal, it is cooperative
must be in place for cooperative action to occur?
God authorize individual Christians to do some things He does not authorize the
church as a body to do?
several activities that God ordains for individual Christians that are not
ordained for the church as a body.
several activities that God ordains for the church as a body that are not
ordained for individual Christians.
several activities that God ordains for both the church as a body and
any man preaches in accordance to God's will, what should be the source of his
people act cooperatively, does individual action cease?
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
(BDB) "Revised Whittaker's
Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon," 1906, 1997, Logos Research
(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,
(M-W) The Merriam-Webster American English
Dictionary Online, 2012
Wikipedia: web-based free-content encyclopedia,
Bible translations referenced in this work include:
KJV: King James
Standard Version (1901)
NKJ: New King James
NAU: New American
Standard Bible (1995)
YLT: Young's Literal Translation (1862, 1898)
TNT: Tyndale New
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.