Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 27, 1950
NUMBER 50, PAGE 4-5b

The Church, Local -- Its Responsibilities And Limitations

John T. Overbey, Austin, Texas

I take it that everybody knows that the word "church" as applied to that blood-bought, spirit-filled institution in the New Testament is used in two senses, viz., universal and local. In its universal sense it includes all of God's children everywhere; while in its local sense it includes all of God's children in any given locality. (See Matt. 16: 18 and I Cor. 1:2) Furthermore, everybody knows that the Church in a universal sense HAS NO ORGANIZATION—only in a local sense does it have any organization. Now, in our excitement to preach the gospel to "the whole creation," we have overlooked some things in regard to the responsibilities and limitations of the local church. For that reason I am making some observations.

Our Lord has very carefully outlined the procedure for worldwide evangelism in Acts 1:8: " ...and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Our trouble seems to be that we have the "cart before the horse"—we begin with the "uttermost part of the earth" and try to get back to "Jerusalem." I suggest that we stop and begin the procedure as the Lord has outlined. This procedure will never usurp the autonomy of the local congregation, but will within one generation evangelize the whole world! I know it will, because it did during the first century. (Col 1:23).

When the Jerusalem church became evangelistic as a result of the persecution which followed the death of Stephen, we find that Phillip "went down to the city of Samaria" ( Acts 8:5); others were "scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea" (Acts 8:1); Ananias was at Damascus (Acts 9:10) ; Peter was at Joppa (Acts 9 and 10); some "traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch. (Acts 11:19) The careful reader will note that all this was done under the oversight of the elders at Jerusalem.

In Acts 11:27, 28 we find a record of Agabus, one of the prophets who came down to Antioch from Jerusalem, told of a great famine over all the world. As a result the brethren at Antioch determined to send relief to the brethren at Jerusalem and in Judea. This they sent "to the elders (at Jerusalem) by the hand of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts 11:30).

Now, let's notice some things: (1) Here is a clear cut case of one congregation co-operating with another in the alleviation of suffering, (2) The supplies were sent to the elders of the church in Jerusalem to alleviate the suffering in that locality, NOT THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY! (3) We are not told of their setting up any organization within the church for the purpose of distributing these supplies. Seems that the elders of that local congregation were able to take care of the situation.

In Acts 13 we see where the apostle Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the church at Antioch under the direction of the Holy Spirit to do some evangelistic work in "foreign countries." I guess you would say that the church in Antioch "sponsored" them, for we read in Acts 14 where they came back to Antioch and when they had gathered "the church together, they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. (Acts 14:27).

There are three such evangelistic efforts as the one just described. Now, let's see if we can find where various congregations co-operated in such efforts. In Philippians 4:15-18 we have a very clear statement from the pen of the apostle Paul "And ye yourselves also know, ye Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need. Not that I seek for the gift; but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account. But I have all things, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God."

Now note: (1) This is a clear cut case of the Church at Philippi having fellowship in the preaching of the Gospel (2) Their fellowship was sent direct to the apostle Paul by the hands of Epaphroditus. The twentieth century way is to send the money to the "sponsoring" church and they in turn send it to the "missionary." In other words, the "sponsoring" church serves as a clearing-house for funds for the "missionary." Sorta looks like a Missionary Society to me!

Of course, the Lord's way of doing things is a little slower than man's way, but after all, it is the Lord's work we are trying to do, so I think we are obligated to do it His way! Maybe it is high time we were slowing down a little to get our bearings. In our desire to keep up with the denominations we are about to take on some of their paraphernalia!

Lest anyone should get the idea that I am opposed to world-wide evangelism, let me say that I am quite to the contrary—I believe that people will go to hell just as quickly for their failure to do this as they will for their failure to do any other work that is commanded by our Lord. If every local congregation will assume its responsibility, the whole world can be evangelized, yea, it will be done! Let's be very careful in our efforts to preach the gospel to the whole creation that we do it the Lord's way. THE LORD HAS NEVER REQUIRED A LOCAL CONGREGATION TO DO MORE THAN IT IS CAPABLE OF DOING ANY MORE THAN HE HAS REQUIRED AN INDIVIDUAL TO DO MORE THAN HE IS CAPABLE OF DOING. Yes, the various local congregations can cooperate—let each one assume its responsibility and that is all the co-operation that is needed.