The Mission and Work of the Church – Edification

Last week we discussed the work of the church that deals with reaching out to those who have never been saved. This is the work of evangelism. However, the church has an equal responsibility to minister to the saved. There are those among the saved who may be tempted to leave the church and return to the world (2 Peter 2:20-22). There is also the need to engage each member in introspection so as to not let Satan have an advantage over us (2 Corinthians 2:11). The church also has a need to produce additional men who will be able to lead in the office of eldership and to preach the gospel as evangelists and teachers (2 Timothy 2:2). There is also a certain amount of special instruction that needs to be given to the young, both men and women (Titus 2:1-10). I am sure that there are more things that go on in the area of edification within the congregation and this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Suffice it to say that this is sufficient information to conclude that a local congregation must have a program of edification.
Perhaps the most obvious program of edification within the local congregation is the support of a local preacher. A large part of the preacher’s responsibilities have to do with edifying the local congregation (Ephesians 4:12). If the preacher teaches Bible class and delivers regular addresses to the local congregation, he provides the bulk of spiritual instruction to the local church. This is not to say that the local preacher is the ONLY source of edification within the local congregation. The bible teaches that there are many sources (Ephesians 4:12). However, the local minister has heightened responsibilities in this regard as Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-5). It is incumbent upon the local preacher, therefore, to make sure his teaching is of sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
The eldership has a role in edification as well. Their role is one of ensuring that the congregation is fed with the proper diet of spiritual matters (Acts 20:28). They are to oversee the local congregation and its activities (1 Peter 5:1-4). Again, the bulk of this edification is going to come from the decision regarding the local preacher and their working with him to ensure that the congregation has a proper diet of spiritual nourishment. Elders should also consider the work of teaching Bible classes and even preaching from the pulpit from time to time. One of their qualifications is that they be “apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Within this qualification we find the need both to be able to evangelize and to edify.
Deacons have specific roles in edification. There may be a deacon who has the responsibility of looking after the activities of the congregation. There may be another deacon who looks after education depending upon the size of the congregation. Whatever the assignment of the deacon is, there is the inherent responsibility of edification of the congregation within that assignment. We find that the first deacons (Acts 6:1-7) were largely involved in this role and as a result of the great work that they did, the church was edified and grew.
Perhaps the most often overlooked role of edification, however, comes from the individual members. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Each individual member has the responsibility to encourage those who are around him or her. This can be done through many different ways. We can visit the sick or those in the nursing homes. We can prepare cards or flowers. We have monthly fellowships and potlucks in which we can participate. We can call one another on the phone and just make sure that everything is OK. When we sing hymns one to another we are edifying each other (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). There is no shortage of work that can be done in this area and each individual member has the responsibility to work in this area of edification.
When all do their part in the work of edification within the local congregation, we get the beautiful picture of peace and harmony within the church (Ephesians 4:16). Edification has a purpose-the building up of the body of Christ. When the body is edified, then more souls will be saved. Edification affects evangelism in this regard-that when the members are strong, more of the lost will be brought to Christ. This in turn also has an edifying effect upon the faithful. Let us strive to do our part in edifying the local body of Christ.

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The Mission and Work of the Church – Introduction

God, in His wisdom, saw fit from eternity to establish the church. Ephesians 3:10 and 11 reads, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This organization of men and women (which God through Christ established) is not merely a social association or fraternity. It is much more than simply that. The church is God’s continuing plan for man’s salvation. It is the place of the saved on earth. It is the hand through which God propagates his message upon the earth today. This means that the church has a peculiar work to do. God has charged the church with this work and only the church with this work. We, as the church, have a responsibility to ensure that this work gets done.

What exactly, however, has God charged the church to do? That is a question, the answer to which we find in the scriptures. The church has a single mission–to save souls. This was the mission of her Lord (Luke 19:10) and this is the mission with which the church is charged today (1 Tim.1:15, 16). How the church goes about that mission is threefold. There is within the church the need to exhort and to strengthen the brethren (Hebrews3:13). This is one aspect of the work of the church. We call this edification. There is also the need to preach the gospel to the lost (Acts 16:10). We call this as evangelism. Finally, the church has a special work that covers ministering to both those within and without the church. This work is the work of taking care of those who are in need (Gal.6:10). We call this benevolence. Every other aspect of the work of the church of which we can think will easily fall under these three categories.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” In Acts 2 we first see the message of the kingdom of God and the terms of entrance into the church. In Acts 2:47 we read, “?And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The church was involved from the beginning in the work of evangelism. It was the Lord’s great commission to the apostles which lead to the beginning of the church on Pentecost and it was the continued efforts of the church in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ that lead to her growth and vitalization in the world.

Not only did the early church practice evangelism, but mutual edification. Great persecution came upon the early church in its infant years that threatened the life of the early church, but through edification of one another, the church survived and prospered. One such opportunity occurred after Peter and John had healed a lame man at the beautiful gate. Luke writes concerning their arrival back among the church in Acts 3:24 “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.” Verse 29 of that chapter says that they prayed, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” Such great encouragement among the church guaranteed their ongoing success.

The early church also had a passion for caring for the poor. We read early on of the great needs which were met by some very generous folk who sold their possessions and lands and laid them at the feet of the apostles in Acts 4:32-37. The church at Antioch also purposed to relieve the poor among the church in Jerusalem by taking a collection from the gentile Christians (Acts 11:29, 30; Romans 15:26). Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to remember the poor (Acts 20:35) and Paul acknowledged that this was something he was always mindful to do (Galatians 2:10). These things he taught everywhere in every church that he established (1 Corinthians 4:17).

Are we ensuring that we are carrying out this threefold work of the church today? The mission that the church has depends upon our faithful execution of this pattern. There is no other organization that has the same mission as that of the church–to save souls. Let us resolve to do so in the authorized ways that God has set before us in the scriptures. By evangelizing, edifying, and practicing benevolence the church can carry on this great work today.

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Is the church of Christ a cult?

It has not been too long ago when I heard a report of someone accusing the church of Christ of being a cult. Now before I even address the question of the church of Christ being a cult, let me first state that the person who made the accusation does not understand the description, “church of Christ.” In fact, any time someone uses the phrase “church of Christ” in such a way demonstrates that he or she really thinks that the church of Christ is a denomination. Such of course is a misrepresentation because the church of Christ is not a denomination. That phrase is merely a description for the people of Christ worshiping at some location. I dare say that the person who made this accusation would call the church that belongs to Jesus, a cult. So I am sure that when the accusation was made, the individual in question assumed that in referring to the “church of Christ” he felt like he was speaking of some denomination. With such in mind, let’s consider the matter further.

When one thinks of a cult, of what does one think? The first thing that pops into my head is a single living charismatic person who controls everything his or her devotees practice. You identify the cult by the name of its leader: David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc. Of course, if having a single charismatic leader in and of itself meant that you are a cult, then almost every denomination that is out there would be a cult. The one man “pastor” system is one of the most common practices among Protestant denominations. Some of these denominational leaders even exercise cult-like power over their members. I heard a story of one who told his members that singles who were part of that congregation had to get the “pastor’s” permission before they could go out for the evening. In sharp contrast to this type of system, churches of Christ do not have a one-man “pastor” rule. In contrast we have a plurality of men referred to as elders (also called shepherds and overseers in the Bible, Acts 20:17, 28) which serve as the leadership for the individual congregation. The preacher within churches of Christ has no authority beyond teaching and preaching God’s word. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.

The second thing that comes to mind is brainwashing. This is usually done by isolating the cult members from the rest of society, controlling their communications, and feeding them on an exclusive diet of whatever doctrine the cult is propagating. Through this technique an individual can be programmed to believe whatever the cult leadership wants the individual to believe. In contrast, I personally know of no preacher or leader within the churches of Christ who practice such a technique. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite and so we preach. The Bible says that Christians need to be in the world in order to be lights of the world (Matthew 5:14). In my preaching, I encourage our members to participate in community activities such as civic organizations, pancake breakfasts, volunteering at schools, enrolling children in baseball or soccer, or being members of the local community center. Involvement in any wholesome community activity is something which cults discourage their members from doing. We also encourage our membership to question the preacher. Our standard of right from wrong is the Bible and not some individual. If the preacher is not preaching what the Bible says, then he needs to be questioned and challenged. This is not how things work in many denominations. In many places, what the preacher says, goes and if you challenge the preacher then your allegiance is questioned. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.

The third thing that comes to mind is a group of people who claim to be the sole proprietors of certain “mysteries,” which if you want to understand what they are, you must join their group. I would say that the Ku Klux Klan, the Masons, and other “secret” organizations fall into this category. These exercise cult like power among their members and encourage them to believe their “mysteries.” In contrast, the Bible teaches that anyone can come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). This is what I preach and teach and most other gospel preachers I know preach and teach the same thing. There are no “mysteries” that you can only understand only if you attend the church of Christ. In contrast, the Bible teaches that it is a book that can be understood just like any other book can be understood, that it is not hard to understand, and that if we sit down and read it, we can understand exactly the meaning that those who wrote it intended (Ephesians 3:3-5). In fact, the Bible says that the mystery that once existed in the word of God has now been revealed so that all can know God’s saving truth (Romans 16:25-26). The Bible requires you to believe nothing but the truth that is revealed within it and that is what I and most preachers I know, teach. On the other hand, I have heard many a denominational preacher say that the Bible cannot be understood and that in order to interpret it correctly you had to listen to him and him alone. I have heard many speak about the “mysteries” that are within the gospel and heard many say that they only have the key to understanding them. If the church of Christ is a cult based upon this standard, then more so are the denominations.

The bottom line is, there is no valid evidence to prove that the churches of Christ are cults. So what is the motivation for individuals saying that the “church of Christ” is a cult? Their motivation is simply this: they don’t like the church of Christ and they don’t want others to listen to the preaching of the gospel. So, they make up names and doctrines and ascribe them to the church of Christ as “straw-men” in an effort to dissuade as many as possible not to listen to faithful preachers, teachers, elders, and members. Their sole concern is to get you to believe something about churches of Christ that is simply not true. Now judge for yourself; is this the way a Christian behaves, or is this the way a cult member behaves? Christians, true Christians, have nothing to fear from those who are teaching the Bible. However, those who are not teaching the Bible have everything to fear from those who are. I challenge you, dear reader, to examine all the doctrines that all the different “churches” are teaching and compare them to the Bible. You will find that the Bible is always right, and those who are following the Bible are clearly recognizable. You will also find that there are many that have gone astray. If the church of Christ is following the Bible in your community, then become a member. If it is not, then find one of Christ’s churches that are faithfully doing so. In so doing, you will not go wrong, and will never be a member of a cult. You will be a member of the church that the Bible talks about, the church that belongs to Christ, the church of Christ.

Disclaimer: This article does not represent a defense of the International Churches of Christ (ICOC). The author has not been and is not affiliated with that religious group.

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Is It the Holy Spirit or Is It Memorex?

Several years ago before CDs had replaced cassette tapes there was a well known commercial on television. The commercial would show a fine crystal glass and than an opera singer shattering the glass with the intensity of her high and sustained voice. But after the glass was shattered, the camera would pull back and reveal not an opera singer next to the glass, but a tape player with a Memorex tape being played-a man-made fabrication. The famous words were then uttered, “Is it live or is it Memorex?”

Many practitioners of religion today remind me of this commercial. Not unlike the commercial, the impression is given that these religious folks are dealing directly with the Holy Spirit in their religion. They speak of how the Holy Spirit moves them to do certain good works. The talk about how the Holy Spirit illuminates their understanding so that they can know God’s word. They may even display certain signs such as speaking in tongues or “falling out” – all attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. However when you “pull the camera back” to see what is really going on we find not the Holy Spirit, but a man-made fabrication. How do we know these alleged practices of the Holy Spirit to be merely man-made fabrications?

First we can know that someone is fabricating if they speak or say something other than what the Bible says. Truth does not contradict itself. So if someone is claiming something to be true when the Bible says it is otherwise you can know it is a man made fabrication. A good example of this is the modern day ‘sign’ of tongues. The Bible nowhere states that a tongue is some kind of unintelligible gibberish. In fact it says the opposite-that tongues were languages that men could understand (cf. Acts 2:4, 8) and were a sign for the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 14:22). They were never intended to be used in the midst of the worship of Christians (14:23). The miracle of the tongue is speaking in a foreign language that one has never studied. To state that the Holy Spirit causes one to speak in unintelligible gibberish and to call that a “tongue” is contradictory to the Bibles teaching and cannot be a product of the Holy Spirit, but rather a man-made fabrication.

Second, it is fascinating to me that two men can both claim “divine illumination” and yet contradict one another. One of these two would be without doubt lying. How could the Holy Spirit illuminate both men? He most certainly could and would not as God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). In fact the Bible teaches that we come to understand the scriptures not through divine illumination, but through a study of the words which the apostles and prophets were inspired to write (cf. Ephesians 3:3-5). To claim that we cannot understand the scriptures without divine illumination is contrary to the writings of the Holy Spirit within the New Testament and hence not a product of the Holy Spirit, but rather a man-made fabrication.

Third, I recently heard a most interesting story regarding the practice of “falling out” where after one is “touched” by a preacher, the individual falls backward as his body somehow comes under the mysterious and alleged control of the Holy Spirit. It seems that a young man wanted to experience this “falling out.” The story goes that he accepted Jesus into his heart (thus he would be saved according to his religion’s teaching) but when he got up and the preacher touched his head, nothing happened. The preacher touched his head harder but still nothing happened. He displayed the same amount of “faith” that all the others displayed so why should he have been overlooked by the Holy Spirit? We know that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) so why would he be passed by? Could it be that those who practice such things are just substituting a man-made fabrication? In fact it must be so. We never read of such a practice in the New Testament. In fact, we read just the opposite. We see that it is BEFORE people were healed that they displayed bodily convulsions and uncontrollability not AFTER. In every case of a healing or exorcism we find the recipient of the miracle calm and reposed and in their right mind (cf. Luke 8:35; Matthew 8:14-16). Such claims of Holy Spirit possession that would cause one to fall back and wallow around on the floor are contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and are thus man-made fabrications.

No matter how good a Memorex tape is, it is still a man-made fabrication. It is obvious that the claims of Holy Spirit involvement in today’s religious world are false and contrary to Biblical teaching. They too are just man-made fabrications. So the next time you see someone “falling out” or hear someone speaking in tongues or claim divine illumination ask yourself, “Is it the Holy Spirit or is it Memorex?”

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I’m Saved, Right?

Are you saved? “Well, of course I am saved.” If this answer flashed immediately into your mind when you saw this question, then you may want to continue to read this. The Bible teaches that there are some people who think they are saved, but in actuality they are not saved. In fact, did you know that Jesus himself said that there were going to be some people who think they are saved, yet will be eternally lost? Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23,

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (NKJV)

So, I ask again, are you saved? Maybe at this point you are thinking about what you did in order to be saved. That is good. What did you do to be saved? How do you know you are saved? Perhaps your answer is like many in the religious world today who say, “Well, I prayed a little prayer to Jesus and told Him that I accepted Him into my heart and that’s how I know I am saved.” In other words, you believed that Jesus was the Son of God. This is good, because faith is necessary in order to be saved. However, is it the ONLY thing that is required on your part for salvation? In fact, Jesus acknowledged in this same scripture that there were some who called him “Lord” yet they were not saved. They believed in Jesus, but they were not saved. Are you one of these people?

Perhaps you are asking yourself now, “Well, if I can be a believer, yet not be saved, what must I do to be saved?” This is a very good question to ask. But where do we go to find the answer to this question? Should we go to our teachers at school? Should we go to our family? Should we go to the deacons? Should we go to the pastors? Should we go to the preacher? To all these questions, you must answer, “No.” In fact, in order to find out what one must do to be saved, we must accept ONLY the answer that God gives to this question. Where does God answer this question? He answers it in the Bible.

The book of Acts in the New Testament answers this question several times. The question is specifically stated three times in the book of Acts. We find it stated in Acts 2:37 in the form, “What shall we do?” In Acts 9:11 it is stated by Saul (who would later be known by the name Paul) “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It is also stated by a jailer in Acts 16:30 in the form, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” God considered this question so important that He gave us the answer to the question three times. Each time the answer is the same, though the context in which the answer is given is different.

The first place in which the answer was given, Peter told them the following: “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” (Acts 2:38). The answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” was to repent and be baptized. Isn’t it strange that Peter didn’t tell them to believe? Why would he leave out such a critical piece of the answer? Was it because they already believed? This is, in fact, the case. They heard Peter’s message and were convinced that they had crucified the Son of God; they believed! So what more did they need to do? “Repent and be baptized.”

The second place in which the answer was given, Jesus told Saul the following: “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Did you notice something missing from this answer? Jesus did not say to Saul, “just accept me into your heart and you will be saved.? He told him that someone else would tell Saul what he needed to do. Who was this someone else and what did he tell Saul to do? We find that answer in Acts 22:16. The person was Ananias and he told Saul the following: “And now why are you waiting: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Ananias also left out the part about “accepting Jesus into your heart.” Why? Because Saul already believed. He then said that if Saul wanted to wash away his sins that he needed to be baptized.

The third place in which the answer was given, Paul himself told an unnamed man the following: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). In this answer, the man is told to “believe.” Why would this particular man be told to believe” He was told he needed to believe because he did not already believe. He needed to believe first. Notice that in the same context in verse thirty-three we read the following, “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” Why was there a need to be baptized? Why was there a need to be baptized the same hour of the night? Why was there a need for him and all of his family to be baptized immediately? The answer is that it was necessary for them to be baptized to be saved. Notice what the next verse says in verse thirty-four: “Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” It says that he rejoiced after he was baptized. It also says that the action of being baptized indicated that they had believed. In other words, baptism is part of the expression of belief in God. Without baptism, one cannot really honestly say that one believes God. In other words until we are baptized for the remission of our sins; until we are baptized to wash away our sins; any expression of faith on our part is no different than those folks that Jesus spoke about who merely said, “Lord, Lord.” They “believed,” but they failed to do the will of the Father.

What do you need to do to make sure that you are saved today? Interestingly enough, Paul says that you can be saved in exactly the same way that He was saved. In a letter that Paul wrote to a young preacher named Timothy, he said, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” Paul said that his salvation was a pattern for everyone else. In other words, you can be saved in the same way that Paul was saved and, in fact, this is the way in which we must be saved. We don’t have to guess at how Paul was saved. We have the exact words that were used in his salvation in Acts 22:16. “And now why are you waiting: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Do you believe you were saved before you were baptized? If you do, then you are in the same category as those who cried “Lord, Lord.” Believing that you are saved when you actually are not. Remember, Jesus said that only those who “do the will of the Father” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Do the father’s will today! Don’t just hear the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved,” but act on it. If you believe you were saved before you were baptized, then all you did was get wet. You did not put your faith in God’s word to remove your sins as God said he would remove your sins. Put your faith in God’s word today to save you through being baptized, for the remission of your sins, calling upon his name!

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