Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 16, 1953
NUMBER 49, PAGE 1,11

The Church And The Community

Glenn L. Wallace, Abilene, Texas

There are two extremes that are held by members of the Church on the relationship of the Church to the community. One group says that the Church, being a spiritual institution, belongs to God and that there can be no connection between the Christian and the world. These people insist that a Christian is a temporary traveler here with a task that should be completely severed from the "powers that be" and all community life. Another view held by some Christians is that the Church is a service organization; a vessel of community action; that Christians are members of a semi-religious order and that a "chamber of commerce" attitude should prevail in all that is done. The latter view would urge that such things as major disasters, political pressure, racial betterment, scout work, polio drives, and any and all community projects should be made the heart of the Church at work and even supported from the budget of the congregation. These people often insist that the "voice of the Church" should be heard in public affairs all the way from the local precinct to the White House.

The truth is between the two extremes. The Church does have a definite relationship to sustain to the community and yet there is a line that should be drawn between the mission of the Church and the service rendered by members to the community life.

The Mission Of The Church

If we are to know the true relationship of the Church to the community, we must understand the mission as outlined in the New Testament. This plan will show that the Church is divine in origin, (Matt. 16:18) and was purchased with Christ's blood. (Acts 20:28) This blood-bought institution has a definite mission and all the machinery necessary to carry it out is provided by command or example.

The Church organization consists of elders and deacons. (Phil. 1:1-2) This is the only class of officers in the Church and the authority of the elders extends only to the local congregation in which they are selected to serve. The evangelist is not an officer, and he along with any other members employed to work is under the oversight of those who secure his services.

Three major works make up the program of the Church. First, each congregation should seek to keep the local membership edified, strong and loyal. Second, the Church should reach out to other communities and lands where the gospel is unknown with a program of evangelization. Third, the distressed should be given help and provisions, especially those who are of the "household of faith." There is an obligation to provide help to those outside of the Church but the restrictions upon such a work are clearly evident in the New Testament plan. The Church has neither the numbers (it will never be in the majority) nor the machinery for world-wide relief work. The Church should attempt only that which she can do and supervise.

We can see how this mission was carried out by looking at a few examples in the New Testament plan. When a famine arose in apostolic times, money was raised by Christians and sent to Christians to be administered by the elders, the only class of supervisors that the Church can recognize. (Acts 11:30) Elders today have the right and privilege to call upon sister congregations to assist them in a work of providing for the needy but no "board of trustees" or any other unscriptural body has a New Testament right to call upon the Church for aid in any kind of program. This would prevent a congregation from building its program to include any community, civic, national, educational or charitable organizations, whether they are administered by people of the world or of the Church. A congregation may purchase the service and supplies of a human institution but the purchase of such service and the support of the institution are not parallel.

The task of evangelizing the world is a great one but it is not too great for God's people. The Church at Antioch was the base of operation of two evangelists according to Luke's record. (Acts 13) The work of these men began and ended with a report to this congregation. All work of evangelization, both local and foreign, should originate and end under the oversight of a local Church. When a Church is planted, it should become a Church and not a "mission," then this relationship between the two churches will cease to exist.

The church cannot allocate the work of evangelization to any community and world-wide organization. In our anxiety to carry out this mission let us maintain the proper relationship to the worldly institutions among which we work.

James teaches that orphan children should be cared for by Christians. (James 1:27) This work cannot be handed to benevolent organizations that have no connection with the elders of a local congregation. The Church cannot have any organic connections with worldly institutions who claim to do what the Church is commanded to do. Our relationship to such orders is very clear.

The Christian And Community

"The voice of the church should be heard in community affairs" says one. "We should make ourselves an effective agency for community service" is advocated by a few Christians. One preacher was heard to exclaim: "Our government cannot overlook one million votes." Is this the course the Church should take? To make our influence felt should we organize and select a spokesman to be our "ambassador" at Washington? Should we have paid lobbyists in congress to safeguard the plans of the "Church of Christ"?

How can the Church be heard in public life? A lobby in congress or "representative members" working in Washington for the Church is a violation of the principle upon which the American government is built. We have recently heard that the Pope of Rome has intervened in behalf of the Rosenbergs who are condemned to die. A church head, speaking for his church, is seeking to pressure the President and change the decision of an American court. He has no right to such action and neither does any other church including the Church that Jesus built.

No man can ever speak for all the churches of Christ. A sermon on "what the Church of Christ teaches" should be titled, "What the Bible Teaches About the Church." It is not possible to know what all the members believe on any question but it is possible to determine what the Bible teaches on all questions. There are many members who wear the name of Christ and worship according to the apostolic pattern, yet they are in error on many points of doctrine. Can any man speak for them or can one among them speak for all the churches?

If a condition should arise locally where the citizenship of this town is called upon to vote on the liquor question, I personally would vote to keep prohibition and I would openly campaign if necessary to keep out the open sale of liquor. I am a prohibitionist but I cannot speak for all the congregation. I have known some good people who do not drink but who feel that a prohibition law is not the way to handle this issue. I would feel free to teach the Bible truth against the evils of liquor but I cannot presume to "vote the congregation" on this or any other issue. The Christian individual has a debt to pay to help to keep the moral standards of the community lifted high, but the Church as an organization cannot enter into the political maneuverings of civic life.

What then is the medium through which a Christian may work to lend his influence for good? The text for this sermon (Rom. 13:1-7) reveals that God has ordered that all society be organized for the purposes of peace and happiness. Individual Christians live in this society and they are taught to support it and direct it toward the proper ends. The individual Christian must pay his taxes and give support to the government in any goals that are within the proper realm of government operation.

A few examples of the actions of individual Christians in the New Testament will help to keep this relationship clarified. The jailor was converted at midnight and the next morning he was a jailor. (Acts 16) He was a Christian and served his community through this medium. We would not say he was a "Church of Christ" jailor, but he was a Christian citizen serving the community in this capacity. Erastus was the treasurer of the city. As an individual he had a right to take such a job and the influence of his Christian teaching should have guided him in the administration of this work. He was not a "Church of Christ" treasurer. We are taught to pray for kings, governors and those in authority. Christians may hold such offices, operate legitimate business houses, work at honorable occupations and in this way, the influence of the Church is being felt in the community life.

A Christian may vote, hold office and campaign for his favorable candidate. He may engage in drives for funds to treat polio, tuberculosis, heart disease and any other worth while civic and community enterprise. A Christian can build a hospital, work for city improvement, serve to relieve transients who are stranded in the city and he can support any task that is detached from some sectarian religion. These projects belong to the state, the community, and not to the Church of the Lord. A Christian as a member of this community has an obligation to support such work. Let the Christian learn to be a good citizen.

The Christian, His Money And The Community

All the money of a Christian does not belong to the Church. He has a great obligation to the Lord's Church and only a prayerful heart and honest purpose can determine the amount that belongs to the Lord. The Christian must support his government with some of his money. (Rom. 13:16) He must support his family and provide for his old age. (1 Tim. 5:4-8) A Christian has the obligation to educate his children and he is entitled to some clean recreation. (1 Tim. 4:8) These things are not the obligation of the Church and an individual Christian is exercising his God given right when he is in contact with the proper community and government organizations that provide such opportunities for these things.

It is sometimes advocated that, "whatever a Christian individual does, the Church can do." This is not true. A Christian may operate a grocery store but a Church should not. A Christian can purchase a ticket to a basketball game but the Church does not purchase the ticket. In this capacity a Christian always acts as a Christian but he is not acting in a Church capacity.

The Church should be the Church and follow her divine mission. The individual Christian should let the leaven of the truth he learns go with him into his daily life.

Matt. 5:13-14, "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thence-forth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid."

Acts 2:47, "praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved."