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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