The Work of the Church
The emphasis placed on the "church" in the New Testament is suggested by the numerous occurrences of and references to the church (115 occurrences). The English word church is from the Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is a compound word consisting of ek, out of, and klesis, a calling. Ekklesia is used secularly to simply suggest an assembly (Acts 19: 39). The introduction of "church" in the New Testament is found in Matthew 16: 18. Here Jesus promised to build his church. The church would be predicated on Jesus' deity, death, and resurrection (Matt. 16: 13-19, I Cor. 10: 4; Rom. 1: 4). Jesus' church is not a sect, denomination, or glorified social institution. W. E. Vine comments thus on ekklesia:
"It has two applications to companies of Christians, (a) to the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, "I will build My Church," Matt. 16:18, and which is further described as "the Church which is His Body," Eph. 1:22; 5:23, (b) in the singular number (e.g., Matt. 18:17, RV marg., "congregation"), to a company consisting of professed believers, e.g., Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:5, and in the plural, with reference to churches in a district" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
The church universal, the whole company of the redeemed throughout, has no organization and work assigned to it. The believers in geographic locations band together and form local churches. Therefore, we read of the church at Corinth, Ephesus, and Laodicea (I Cor. 1: 2; Rev. 2: 1; Rev. 3: 14, cp. Rev. 2 and 3). These local churches when fully formed or organized had "bishops and deacons" (Phili. 1: 1). Bishops and deacons had specific qualifications to meet (I Tim. 3; Tit. 1). A multiplicity of elders or bishops oversaw the local church (Acts 14: 23, the preacher/pastoral system is not taught in the New Testament). The local church has God assigned work. Let us now focus on the work and function of the local church.
Edification of the saved. It is obvious to the casual student of the scriptures that the local church occupied a place of chief importance to the First Century Christians. A number of specific duties and commandments can only be executed within the context of the local church. For instance, "laying by in store" (treasury), and "coming together to break bread" (Lord's Supper) all involve the local church (Col. 3: 16; I Cor. 16: 1, 2; Acts 20: 7). Hence, Christians are warned "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together " (Heb. 10: 25). To forsake has serious attendant and resultant consequences (vs. 26 ff.). It is in regards to the local church that Paul penned the following: "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4: 16).
It is in the local church climate that each member often contributes to the up building or edification of others (reciprocal action, cp. Eph. 5: 19). The edification is mutual in that each is edified through the reciprocal singing, admonition, provoking to good works, Bible study, etc. The local preacher, when present, greatly contributes to the up building of the saints (1 Thes. 3: 2, see addendum). The local elders watch for the safety and up building of the local saints concerning whom they shepherd (Heb. 13: 7, 17).
The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Truth is essential both to the initial act of becoming and continuing as a Christian (Jn. 8: 32; Col. 1: 5-10). Hear Paul, "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3: 15). The local church engaged in the dissemination of the truth to a lost and benighted world. Paul commended the church at Thessalonica because they "sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad..." ( I Thes. 1: 8). The work of teaching the gospel was not just done distributively (individually, Acts 8: 4), but collectively. The local church in Antioch of Syria "sent away" Paul and his company in the three preaching trips that accomplished much in the initial spread of the gospel to the world (Acts 13: 3). The local church is a pillar and ground of the truth in that it serves as a foundation for truth. One commentator offers the following succinct comments regarding I Timothy 3: 15:
"'But if I tarry.' In that case he wrote that Timothy might understand how to act. 'Behave thyself in the house of God.' Conduct thyself in the management of the church. 'Which is the church of the living God.' The house of God is not the temple of Diana, which stood there at Ephesus. 'The pillar and ground of the truth.' The church is the pillar and support of the truth because it preaches it to the world, preserves it, and transmits it from generation to generation" (The People's New Testament, by B. W. Johnson).
While not a regular and constant work of the local church, benevolence is seen. Over a span of about twenty years, we observe three instances of benevolence that obviously involve the local church (treasury, Acts 4: 32-37; 11: 28-30; I Cor. 16: 1, 2, 2 Cor. 8: 1ff.). There were certain criteria that had to be met before the church became involved. For instance, family members who were Christians had prior responsibility to requite their parents and/or grandparents (I Tim. 5: 4). Until these family members exercised their prior duties, the local church, as such, was not to be involved (I Tim. 5: 16). Also, we only read of church benevolence (treasury) in the case of needy saints (not the world, cp. Acts 11: 27-30). As mentioned, this church benevolence differs from edification and teaching the lost the truth (constant endeavors) in that church benevolence is only exercised when there is a need and when all the prerequisites are present.
Other than the work of edification, teaching the lost, and benevolence, as qualified, the local church has no work or function assigned to it. We must respect the silence of the scriptures (Heb. 7: 14).
Beloved, as you consider the work of denominational churches, you observe a myriad of functions concerning which the New Testament knows nothing. Ecumenical unity, politics, secular education, feeding and clothing the masses, entertainment, and baby sitting (day cares) have become common works of denominational churches. Many churches are now requiring their preachers to process degrees in public relations and business. Churches have now become big business as they often engage in real estate, wineries, and other financial enterprises. Some "churches of Christ" have also become dissatisfied with the work God assigned to the local church. They have become fascinated with institutionalism. Hospitals, missionary societies of all types, and many foreign activities now characterize some churches of Christ.
The church Jesus built can be identified and seen today in the work it does and does not do. A church that fails to do the God assigned work or that introduces unauthorized work is not submitting to the headship of Christ (Eph. 1: 22, 23). (For further study, you are encouraged to read, "An Exchange on Kitchens in the Church Building." This Internet exchange exhibits and contrasts the social and spiritual concept some have of the work of the local church. Augmented material regarding the work of the church would be, "The Guardian of Truth Foundation and Florida College".)
Addendum: The teaching that an evangelist is one who only works with the lost or those not Christians and that it is a sin for a preacher to edify the local church is patently false. Paul solemnly charged Timothy with the responsibility of preaching the word to the church at Ephesus (2 Tim. 4: 1, 2). We know these were Christians to whom Timothy had the charge to preach because of the language, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine " (vs. 3). It is in this precise setting that Paul told Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist " (vs. 5). Hence, the work of an evangelist can and does involve preaching to the church. The continuity of the doctrinal and moral purity of the local church at Ephesus was why Timothy was in Ephesus (I Tim. 1: 3). For additional reading, see "The Church Jesus Built," "The Local Church and its Autonomy," "Unbroken Link of the Church," and "The Society System" (click on to visit each article and use your browser return)."