Speaking Sound Doctrine

The Work Of The Church

VIII. Carnal Influences In The Church

A.      An Earthly View Of The Church

A worldly mindset about things pertaining to the church is the fundamental concept that moves the church today away from the spiritual work God has ordained for it.  Carnal mindedness centers on physical things: the needs of the flesh and concerns of the here-and-now.  Meeting the needs of the flesh is certainly necessary in life, but an emphasis in fulfilling the requirements of the flesh to the neglect of our spiritual needs is unrighteousness before God (2 Corinthians 10:2, 3; Galatians 5:13-17; 6:8; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:18; 2 Peter 2:18; 1 John 2:16).

1.          Modern-day Sadducism

The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews that did not believe in spirits, angels, or the resurrection (Acts 23:8).  Since the gospel message proclaims a risen Savior, the Sadducees were, not surprisingly, responsible for much of the persecution in the early church (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17, 18).  Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Sadducees still finds its way into the early church, as Paul frequently admonishes those Christians who deny the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

The results of Sadducism today are the teachings and practices in religious organizations that focus on helping men attain success in this physical life without regard to the spirit or a view toward the resurrection.  For example, most denominational outreach programs involve feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding victims, financial advice, or entertainment with little or no gospel preaching or exhortation to repentance.  Those carnal concerns are certainly good works, but if these things are the mission, the church has little in reality to offer a dying world lost in sin.

1 Corinthians 15:19  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

2.          Carnal mindedness

Our study has earlier shown that the only carnal work God reveals in scripture appointed for the collective church is to meet the essential physical needs of destitute faithful Christians.  Other than this, the work of the church is not carnal; it is spiritual: teaching the gospel and serving God in worship.  However, when carnal mindedness permeates the body, all kinds of other activities begin to be engaged for which the church has no scriptural authority.  Let us be reminded of admonitions from scripture against carnality:

John 18:36  Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."

Romans 8:5-14  For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God….

1 Corinthians 2:12-15  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

2 Corinthians 10:3-7 (NAU)  For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. 7 You are looking at things as they are outwardly….  (2 Corinthians 1:12)

Attention to the needs of the flesh has its proper place, but beyond the relief of needy saints, God has appointed these concerns not to the church as a body but to the individuals.  Let us look now at some ways that carnal influences come into the Lord's church today.

B.       Understanding Fellowship

The term "fellowship" appears in our English New Testament translations primarily from the Greek word KOINONIA, described as follows:

         KOINONIA {koy-nohn-ee'-ah} [noun form] "1) fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse 1a) the share which one has in anything, participation 1b) intercourse, fellowship, intimacy 1b1) the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office) 1c) a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship" (JHT).

Though this noun is usually translated as "fellowship" in our English Bibles, it also appears as "contribution" (NKJ Romans 15:26), "communion" (NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:16), "partnership" (NAU 2 Corinthians 6:14), and "sharing" (NKJ Philemon 1:6).

The verb form of this word, KOINONEO, gives us further insight and is described as follows:

         KOINONEO {koy-no-neh'-o} [verb form] "1) to come into communion or fellowship with, to become a sharer, be made a partner 2) to enter into fellowship, join one's self to an associate, make one's self a sharer or partner" (JHT).

This verb is rarely translated as "fellowship" (ASV Philippians 4:15).  Typical word usage includes "distribute" (NKJ Romans 12:13), "partake" (NKJ 1 Peter 4:13), "share" (NKJ Galatians 6:6), and "participate" (NAU 2 John 1:11).

Observe again that the definition includes "the share which one has in anything."  We understand that this centers upon a sharing, but the particular applications are diverse, as it can involve literally anything.  Therefore, the meaning is ambiguous without reference to some specific shared aspect of relationship or activity.  For examples: fellow workers share a common goal (Philemon 1:1), fellow citizens share a common country (Ephesians 2:19), fellow prisoners share a common fate (Colossians 4:10), fellow heirs share a common promise (Ephesians 3:6), and fellow soldiers share a common enemy (Philemon 1:2).  In the Greek writings of the Septuagint, KOINONIA describes those sharing their lives in marriage (3 Maccabees 4:6) and the sharing of words (Wisdom 18:8).  All these express fellowship in one form or another.

The term "fellowship" appropriately describes all kinds of sharing in anything: spiritual or carnal.  In spiritual fellowship, fellow Christians share a common body, a common Spirit, a common hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God, and Father (Ephesians 4:4-6).  In assembled worship, we pray, sing, teach, give, and take the Lord's Supper together.  In carnal fellowship, we might share our food, supplies, services, or time together in social and recreational activities.

The task before us now is to determine in what realms scripture authorizes fellowship within the church as a corporate body compared to authorized fellowship among Christians as individuals.  Remember that the term "fellowship" is ambiguous without reference to some specific aspect.  It is meaningless to simply claim that the church as a body is authorized to "have fellowship" without some specific application in view.  Furthermore, just because people have fellowship in one thing does not necessarily mean they automatically have fellowship in something else.  For example, people who are fellow soldiers are not necessarily also fellow citizens; perhaps they are only allies from different countries.  Likewise, just because the church as a body has fellowship in spiritual things does not necessarily infer that it also has fellowship in carnal things.  Furthermore, just because Christian individuals have fellowship in one thing does not necessarily mean that the church as a corporate body also has fellowship in that thing.

Let us now examine fellowship among individuals and fellowship within the church as observed in scripture.  If we are going to understand in what realms God has ordained fellowship within the church as a corporate body, we must continue to consistently apply the distinction between the collective church and the Christian individual as presented in scripture.

1.          Individual fellowship

Examine the following passages and note that these instructions are given to Christian individuals, not the corporate church:

Romans 12:10-18  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil.  Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Hebrews 13:1-16  Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels…. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:16, the words "distributing" and "share" translate the words "KOINONEO" and " KOINONIA" respectively.  Remarkably, in every case where scripture describes carnal fellowship, other than the benevolence of needy saints and wages provided for gospel preachers, it pertains to individual Christians, not the corporate church.

2.          Church fellowship

Now examine the following passages and note that these pertain to the church as a corporate body.

Acts 2:42  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

1 Corinthians 1:9, 10  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

2 Corinthians 8:4  …imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

Ephesians 3:9, 10  ..and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,

Philippians 1:5  …for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,…

Equally remarkable, in every case where scripture describes fellowship within the church as a collective body, it pertains exclusively to the work of the church as we have outlined: teaching the gospel, assembled worship, and the benevolence of needy saints.  Carnal, secular fellowship is never indicated within the corporate church.

3.          Fellowship of both

Some of what God has ordained for the church He also authorizes for the individual Christian, such as teaching the gospel.  We therefore see in scripture the fellowship of individual Christians in spiritual things as well.

Galatians 2:9  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

The sound Bible student is reminded that simply because individual Christians have fellowship in both religious and secular things, it does not necessarily infer that the church as a corporate body also has fellowship in both things as well.  Such reasoning would be unsound.

C.       Social And Recreational Activity

The most apparent product of carnal mindedness in the Lord's church today is the notion that social gatherings for the purpose of common meals and recreation are God-ordained functions of the church.  There are bodies of the Lord's church today where the elders and deacons expend their efforts on planning such social gatherings as part of their management and service to the church.  Moreover, the Lord's treasury is also often utilized to pay for and provide the food and the venue for these gatherings.

1.          Necessary meals

A point of clarification is needed.  There are cases where the provision of food and the place to eat a common meal is authorized by the church, other than for the benevolence of needy saints.  This is when the eating is coincidental to gathering for the purpose of doing the work of the church.  The human body can only go so long without food, so if the task is time-consuming, the church has a right to act in this regard.  For example, if the elders have gathered for Bible study and are many hours together at the office in a church-owned meeting house, they have the authority to pause and eat a sandwich at their conference table.  They do not need to remove themselves from the church property to eat this meal.  If a group has gathered together for a large physical maintenance or construction project on the meeting house, they likewise have the authority to take the necessary nourishment right there and then.

A similar circumstance of principle appears in scripture.  In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, it is recorded that when Jesus hears of the death of John The Baptizer, He removes himself to a secluded place, but the multitude follows Him there.  Here, in this impromptu gathering, Jesus teaches them.  As the day grows late, the people desperately need food.  Instead of sending them away for food, which would bring His teaching to an end, He feeds them there with a miracle.

Someone might ask how much time in the Lord's work is enough time to validate a church dinner, who will determine the time limit, and on what basis will it be set?  These questions are beside the point, which is all about the purpose of our gathering together as a church in the first place.  When we plan worship assemblies to coordinate with dinner socials and invite guests, drawing them in with the prospect of food and good times, our problem is with carnality, not with determining how to establish some contrived time limit.  Remember that EKKLESIA is a calling out and summoning together for a purpose.  If the purpose is not the Lord's, it is not the Lord's summoning, and it is therefore not the Lord's gathering.  The multitude in Matthew 14 does not come together for the express purpose of taking a social meal together; else, they each might have brought their potluck contribution.  Instead, they gather to hear Jesus teach; the eating is coincidental.  If we will start being more spiritually minded, these issues naturally go away.  More will be discussed regarding matters of coincidence in later sections.

2.          Social and recreational meals

The necessary, coincidental meals previously discussed are altogether different from the so-called church dinner socials conducted today by mainstream churches of Christ, which are typically extensively planned events for the very purpose of socializing.  If such activity is within the realm of the ordained work of the church, we should see in scripture an indication for it, either by a recorded command issued to the church, an approved example within the body, or a necessarily inferred expediency to a work of the church.  To the contrary, there appears a clear admonition against it.  When the Corinthian church apparently perverts the Lord's Supper into a common meal, Paul tells them to eat that kind of meal at home.  The point is that the church is to be concerned with spiritual things, not carnal:

1 Corinthians 11:20-34

22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?  Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you?  In this I will not praise you.

34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.  And the rest I will set in order when I come.

Proponents of social meals in the church today argue that Paul is not condemning social church meals but only condemning perversion of the Lord's Supper.  If this were true, Paul should have addressed the matter differently.  This would have been the perfect occasion for Paul to have instructed them to eat the Lord's Supper in their worship but eat their common meals in their "fellowship hall."  However, this he does not do.  Instead, he makes the generic prohibition, attempting to purge carnal mindedness out of the church, and we ought to be listening.

3.          Examples of social meals

The following scriptural example is cited by some as authority for dinner socials in the church, claiming that the fellowship here refers to the social or secular kind:

Acts 2:42  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

There is nothing in this passage that necessarily infers social or recreational activity.  The teaching and prayer are clearly spiritual elements, so based on principles already established regarding carnality, sound reasoning accepts that the breaking of bread and fellowship are also spiritual elements: the Lord's Supper and other assembled worship forms, not a carnal meal.  This harmonizes the greater context, which indicates that they had common meals in their homes, not in church assemblies:

Acts 2:46  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.

In another case we see the church at Troas breaking bread together.

Acts 20:6-11  But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. 7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep.  He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed.

The claim is made from verse 11 that, since they ate together in a church assembly, we have authority for church dinner socials.  We need to recognize the true purpose for the assembly, mentioned in verse 7.  Nothing in this text necessarily infers that the purpose of the gathering and the breaking of bread are for socializing.  Assuming by possible inference that this is a planned social meal presents some problems in harmonizing scripture.  Acts 2 says the brethren shared common meals in their houses, and Paul rebukes the Corinthians twice, ordering them to eat their common meals at home.

There are two other possibilities which do not violate these spiritual principles.  First, this could be an incidental meal arising by necessity from a gathering of many hours, as discussed earlier.  Another possibility is that the breaking of bread in verse 11 is simply the Lord's Supper, for which they had gathered in the first place.  Either way, this is not necessarily an example of a recreational dinner social such as we see in some churches today.

4.          A supposed expediency for evangelism

If a church has their focus not on teaching the gospel but on "winning commitments to Christ" (according to the English definition of "evangelism" discussed previously), they will begin thinking that any means or methods that get people baptized are expediencies for gospel teaching.  This gives rise to the doctrine of the "social gospel:" the idea that food, sports, and entertainment are evangelism tools.  However, food is not an expediency for teaching, because more than teaching is being accomplished.  Expediencies do not add anything to the essential action executed.  When Jesus feeds the 5000, it is not an expediency to His teaching, but it is something else in addition to it.  Besides, remember that the work of the church as described in scripture is not centered upon winning souls to Christ but on preaching the gospel.  Certainly, a church ought to be interested in making converts, but scripture reveals that the only way to do this is by teaching the gospel (Romans 10:13-17).

1 Corinthians 1:17  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….

Even in churches which deny that social and recreational meals are works of the church, there is occasionally a general carnal-mindedness that creeps in.  Even when the church does not pay for the food or the facility, if we accommodatively call our gathering a "church potluck," we unwittingly give a carnal-minded impression to others. 

Romans 14:17  For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:9  Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.  For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

We sometimes hear folks talk about church parties, church picnics, church weddings, church outings, and such like.  If we use the word "church" as an adjective while describing things that have actually nothing to do with the church or its work, it is a clear sign of carnal mindedness.  These things are fundamentally not church functions, and we ought not label them as such.

Unfortunately, many people seek a local church to join on the basis of the good social and family service programs they offer.  They are looking for good ball teams for their children, well managed bowling leagues, entertaining theatrics and drama, book clubs, day care, knitting groups, quilting classes, or business contacts.  Instead, when considering a local congregation, we should be investigating whether the body is standing for truth, refuting false doctrine, spreading the gospel, serving the saints, and following wise elders sound in faith.  God's intention is that the gospel should be enough to draw men into the church (John 12:32, 33; Romans 1:16), not food, fun, and games (John 6:26).

1 Corinthians 2:1-5  And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

2 Peter 1:16  For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Undeniably, gatherings for social and recreational activity can certainly create opportunities for gospel teaching.  However, when Jesus feeds the 5000 or washes the disciples' feet, He does so on an individual basis; it is not a corporate church function.  If an individual or a group wants to have a cook-out and volleyball party and then teach those gathered there for that purpose, they have every right to do so, but we ought not think the food and games have anything to do with teaching or that they are part of the church's work.

Questions And Thoughts For Review: Carnal Influences In The Church

1.      During the time of Christ and the early church, who were the Sadducees, and what were their significant beliefs contrary to doctrine of Christ?

2.      How are Sadducean beliefs manifested in religion today?

3.      Review the scriptures that describe carnal mindedness.  Make a list of the things mentioned as being the causes and results of carnal mindedness.

4.      Explain in your own words the meaning of fellowship as used in scripture.

5.      In what realms do the scriptures indicate fellowship within the church?

6.      In Acts 2:42, the early church is said to be continually devoted to the apostle's fellowship.  In what would have been this fellowship?

7.      Has God ordained the church to be involved in recreational, social, or entertainment activities?

8.      In 1 Corinthians 11, where does Paul instruct those Christians to eat their common meals for satisfying physical hunger?

9.      Is taking a common meal together in a church activity ever lawful?  If so, when?

10.  Is sharing a common meal together an expediency for gospel teaching?  If not, why – what is added, lost, or changed?


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.


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