Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 23, 1954

"What The Individual Does The Church Does"

James P. Needham, Haynesville, Louisiana

The title of this article is an expression which is rapidly becoming proverbial with many church members. I have been a member of the church for years, and I never heard of such a ridiculous idea in my life until recently. It's the brain child of some in the church who are "set for the defense" of institutionalism. And speaking of proverbs, there is one which seems to fit in pretty well right here, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Every falsehood has its defense mechanisms; if it doesn't, one will be "invented" when the "necessity" presents itself! An example or two should be enough to convince seekers of the fallacy of such reasoning as is portrayed in the above caption.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15-17, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

Even a glance at this passage reveals that a clear-cut distinction is made between individual action and church action. I want, however, to admit for the sake of argument, that "What the individual does the church does" is Bible teaching, and in the light of such an admission, study this passage.

If "whatever the individual does the church does" is true, I would like to know how it would be possible for an offended brother to tell his brother his fault, then later tell it to the church? I guess this individual's going to the offended brother means that the church went, then afterward this individual (the church) told the church what the church had done!!

If this idea be true, here is what this passage would look like: when one brother offended another brother, that would be the church offending the church, and when the brother went to the brother whom he had offended that would be the church going to the church. The text says, "if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother!' That would mean that if he heard the church, the church had gained the church! But they were told what to do if "he neglect to hear thee." "Take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established." This would mean, in the light of the idea expressed in the title of this article that the church is to bring the church to the church "that every word may be established."

If he neglected to hear two or three brethren in the second step of the action, the one trying to rectify the offense is commanded to take it to the church. This would mean that the church is taking the church before the church! If he refuses to correct the matter then, he is to be treated as "an heathen man, and a publican." So that would mean that the church is treating the church as "an heathen man, and a publican" which would be contrary to the teaching of the Bible on unity. The church would be withdrawing from the church! What a monstrosity that would be!

Another passage which needs to be considered is Ephesians 6:4, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Thayer defines the word "nurture" (Gr. Paideia) in this passage as, "1. The whole education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment) Eph. 6:4" etc.

If "whatever the individual does the church does," or if "the church can do anything the individual can do" this passage will really put the church in business! It will put the church into the business of "cultivating mind and morals," and into the business of punishing our children for us! The first is Catholicism, the last Judaism! Who thinks "the whole education of children" is the responsibility of the church of God?

Brethren, this absurd idea emanates from the same idea that developed the sponsoring church idea and other "brotherhood" projects. It is the idea of transferring attention from the small to the great, from the local congregation to the sponsoring church, and from the individual to the church. Like Communism, one loses sight of the individual; like Catholicism, the other loses sight of the local congregation!

If "whatever the individual does the church does" be true, I wonder who will be responsible for the wrong the individual does? Will the church bear the guilt if the action of the individual be wrong? We need to get away from the idea that God is going to judge us according to what the church has done. My Bible teaches that each one of us must stand before God in judgment. In the parable of the talents Jesus said the master gave out eight talents: to one servant five, to another two, and to another one. When the master returned he could have said, "Now fellows, I gave you eight talents, how many do you have for me in return?" They could have answered, "fifteen." Who will say that such would not be a good business proposition? The Lord didn't do it that way though, did he? It was an individual matter. It will be the same with us. Let's keep our thinking caps on!