Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 24, 1959
NUMBER 33, PAGE 8-9a

Work Of Individuals And The Church

Ralph D. Gentry, Dayton, Ohio

That the church is more than a worshipping institution is obvious to all persons acquainted with its nature and mission. The church is charged with the responsibility of edifying its members, the work of benevolence and teaching the lost, (Eph. 4:12). That individual members al e to work out their own salvation is equally clear, (Phil. 2:12). The difficulty arises in determining the answer to this question: Is there any distinction between what the church, as such, is to do and what the individual can or must engage in as an individual or group of individuals not the church; and if so, what are these distinctions and how are they to be learned? Out of the controversy has arisen two ideas as follows: one says, "What the individual does, the church does or can do". Another says, "What the church can't do, the individual can't do". Generally, these practices are defined as being limited to what is considered a Christian work or a work contributing to Christianity such as: benevolent organizations, Bible colleges, youth centers, scout troops, etc. But by what principle, other than purest assumption, do these persons limit aforesaid practices since their entire argument is based on inability to separate the church and the individual Christian? When they learn how such separation in work is recognized in any fashion the answer will suffice for the whole.

While some duties belonging both to the individual and the church overlap, yet a divine distinction between their work is declared in I Tim. 5:4-16; Eph. 6:4. While the church is made up of individuals, one Christian is not the church. Since the individual Christian enters into other relationships of life (government, civic, business, educational, family, etc.) with spiritual obligations in each, his duties can not be parallel with those of the church which is without such a relationship, the relationship having implicated said duties.

We are asked, "How can we know which duties belong to the church and which to the individual since both are to do the work of the Lord?" Loosely defined, many things may be construed as "the work of the Lord". But when a command is directed to the individual, it belongs to him; when directed to the church, it belongs to it. Usually, the context will clearly indicate to whom the command is given. If not, study the same command in other passages and note the contextual force there.

For example, consider the Lord's command to the individual to wash feet, (Jno. 13:14), which was also obeyed after the church was established, (I Tim. 5:10). Was this individual and/or church action? Could the individual have done this "work of the Lord" through the church, as such? NO! The context strictly limits this to individual action.

Again, individuals are commanded to teach the gospel, (Mt. 28:19). Included in the work of the church, as such, is the proclamation of the gospel, (I Tim. 3:15). When individuals support the work of the church, are they not understood as fulfilling in part their duty to teach? Yes! The context would not exclude the individual from doing it through the church also, but why not? Simply because the church is also required the same action.

Now this brings us to a study phase of work for both individuals and the church, the matter of benevolence. Considerable controversy is had over whether Gal. 6:10 and Jas. 1:27 are directed to an individual or a church. The context but definitely points up that the command is individualistic. But does this forbid the individual from performance, at least in part, through the church? No! Why not? Because the church is charged with doing benevolence also. James 1:27 does not exclude the individual doing this benevolence through the church, hence, implies church action also, at least in part. Now to explain what I mean by in part. May one as an individual help a "widow indeed" or must it be done by the church since it is so commanded of the church, (I Tim. 6:16)? May not some of the widows of Jas. 1:27 be "widows indeed"? Yes, if I may as an individual help "widows indeed". Thus, I can obey Jas. 1:27 in part (as respects widows indeed) by and through the church. Now how can I know a command necessitates individual action? The answer: When the context is to the individual in commanding of him that which the church, as such, has not been charged to do and/or is forbidden to do. This duty I can not fulfill through the church. James 1:27 is strictly to the individual with reference to individual action only in that it includes assistance to those (widows who were not widows indeed — all widows in need deserve help but not all widows in need are widows indeed) definitely not the charge of the church. Further, I can discharge my responsibility, at least in part, to such persons as are also a charge of the church by contributing through the church only when such contribution is properly utilized. Otherwise, a link in the chain has been broken and I am left to individual action. And yet, Jas. 1:27 nor any other scripture justifies visiting any widows and orphans by the church building and maintaining a benevolent society. Those who are the responsibility of both the church and individuals, I may visit by church or individual action. Those who are not the charge of the church, I may visit through individual action. Or do some still continue to insist in spite of I Tim. 5:16, that any and all widows and orphans are charges of the church? If so, they are beyond Bible help.

In efforts to sustain the argument that the whole of Jas. 1:27 applies with equal force to both individuals and church action, the matter of paying the preacher is brought in as a parallel and attention is focused on "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things", (Gal. 6:6). The attempt is to show brethren inconsistent who claim the context of: "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men", (Gal. 6:10), is to the individual but will admit that Gal. 6:6 allows preachers to be paid out of the church treasury. What we have said in this article of Jas. 1:27 may apply with equal force here. That is, Gal. 6:6 does not exclude church action but rather permits the individual supporting the preacher through the church treasury because the church as such is charged with said duty, also, (I Cor. 9:7-14).

One author has said: "To try to distinguish between active church work done by individual Christians and by the local congregation is impossible . . . . When members act, it is the church acting!" (WE BE BRETHREN, pages 165,166). He makes no distinction between individual and church action, hence, proves almost everything and disproves almost nothing as a work of the church in organizational function. All colleges, hobby shops, etc. operated by individual Christians would, to him, be the church at work — making the church such a grand composite of human and Divine organizations. Through-out his book the author argues that the church may use other organizations (composed of Christians but not the church) to expedite the work of the church. How is this true, if what the individual does is the church doing it? The author uses the expression church as such but I wonder why and how he can consistently do so? Note: "This 'work of the Lord' should first be done by a relative, in God's plan, and if it is not done by him, the others will have to shoulder the responsibility, but the church treasury is affected, regardless of who does it", (WE BE BRETHREN, page 167). Question: Is it the church doing a work in every case where the treasury is affected by individual action? If so, is not the church shouldering the responsibility already? How could Paul say, "Let not the church be charged"?

Just here a study of what properly constitutes "the Lord's money" is in order. This study is basic to determining how such may be spent. The individual in the act of contributing decides how much is given, to whom it is given and when the transfer is made. Money becomes the Lord's money by reason of such a gift and not until, (2 Cor. 9:7). The purpose of the contribution can only be for financing the church as such (Christians in a collective activity, functioning as a body or local congregation) in doing what Christ the Head has directed Christians as a group to do. It is admitted: "There are many things a local Christian can do, such as choosing HOW AND WHERE (emp. mine, RDG) he will contribute all of his money or whether he will help an orphan or a needy family, that are truly 'outside' the elder's normal oversight", (WE BE BRETHREN, pg. 162). Question: Do elders have oversight of the Lord's money, the treasury? If so, money contributed into the treasury becomes "the Lord's money" in a special sense and for a special purpose not characterized by the individual Christian's money. Let no man say all money is the Lord's money without distinction. There is a difference, else, how can it be said of a non-liberal giver that he has robbed God in the contribution?

Building upon the notion that, "What the individual does, the church does or can do", the superstructure of institutionalism is erected. Some will say that what the individual supports in "the work of the Lord" can be supported by the church but will deny that what the individual does in "the work of the Lord" can be done by the church. In either event, these brethren find it necessary for the church to build and maintain such human societies to do "the work of the Lord". Such a position resolves the church to a mere financing operation for every conceivable human auxiliary. And why would even the treasury be needed, since we're told there's no distinction between the church treasury and the contents of an individual's billfold as respects such use? Again, in consequences, the church as an organization is reduced to a mere worshipping society.