Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 4, 1957

Preaching: A Critical Study (VI.)

Roy E. Cogdill, Lufkin, Texas

Proposition VI — What then is the work of the church?

On page 19 of the paper under review, our brother raises this question, and then gives it this answer:

"First, the prayers and praise of the saints, worshipping in communion and harmony, are pleasing to God, therefore he established such a body as the church. Secondarily, and finally, the church is designed and intended as a fold of safety for the Christian against the trials and temptations of the world. It is in the church that we are to love one another from a pure heart fervently, to bear one another's burdens, teach and admonish one another and restore the fallen. In short, the church is the place where the saved help keep each other saved until the end of the way."

This is the sum total of our friends conception of the church and its work. He even puts "finally" to it and thus by his own pronouncement eliminates any other work for the church. Yet he offers no proof of his contention that the work of the church is to be limited to this at all. He is too accustomed to accepting and expecting others to accept his "dictum." He needs more humility of heart and less confidence in his own wisdom and learning. He quotes in the paragraph with the above a passage from Ephesians 4 but leaves out the connection entirely and that very connection — the setting of his own quotation — would forever destroy his contention that the church is limited in its work to worshipping God and protecting the souls of the saved. Let us look at the passage from which he quotes, just a few verses before the 15 and 16 which he selected:

"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." v. 11-12.

Here we have a divine arrangement for a divine purpose. Our brother would not question this applying to the church, the body of Christ, yet he completely ignores this divine statement concerning the mission and work of the church and gives one of his own making. The Holy Spirit in this passage sets forth the work of the church and it consists of three divine purposes:

1. The perfecting of the saints. This is the work which the paper under review assigns as the only mission of the church.

2. The work of ministry. Here is suggested or set forth the work of caring for its own as in I Timothy 5: in the case of widows indeed.

3. The edifying (building up) of the body of Christ. What is this mission of the Church? It refers simply to the planting of other congregations through the preaching of the gospel and thus extending the borders of the body of Christ. The word here for edifying or building up is the word "oikeodomeo" which is defined by the lexicographers as to "build from the foundation up." It is the same word that Jesus used when he said "I will build my church." Matt. 16:18. He did not mean — edify in the sense of confirm or embellish — he meant to establish, bring into existence — cause to exist — build from the foundation up.

— Thus we can readily see that the work of the Lord's church consists of (1) strengthening and encouraging the saints through admonition, teaching, by worship, and our love and care one for another; (2) ministering to the needs of the saints and supplying them; (3) extending the borders of the Kingdom of God through the propagation of his word — sowing the seed of the kingdom that the kingdom of God might be planted throughout the world. Our friend either did not know such a passage was in the Bible or he chose to completely ignore it in the same paragraph from which he quoted.

He gives a good bit of time and space to the effort to exalt the work of an elder in the Lord's Church and what he says in connection with the work of an elder we have no desire to dispute. However, the same reasoning that he has given throughout his paper in an effort to do away with the work of an evangelist will also apply to the work of an elder. There is not a single argument that he makes with reference to an "evangelist" that cannot and will not apply to the "elder" as well. There are many who so contend, that is, who contend that elders were for the church only in its infancy and that the office and work of an elder — has not continued in God's plan until today. They offer exactly the same ground for their contention that our friend employs. Their arguments run about like this:

1. Elders were a part of the divine arrangement until revelation was completed — while it was being given the church needed divine guidance but now that it has been completed we are able to read and understand it for ourselves and be guided by the word of God.

2. These men as elders were appointed by inspired men and therefore their office was an adjunct to the work of inspiration and belonged to it and ceased when it ceased.

3. They were made elders by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and of course the Holy Spirit is not making elders or bishops in such direct manner today.

4. They were miraculously endowed men that belonged to the age of miracles. (James 5:14-15.)

5. They were ordained to last only "till" miracles ceased. (Eph. 4:13.)

These are the arguments offered for the cessation of the work of an evangelist. They prove too much for him to tell us in the closing pages of his paper that he believes in elders. I would like to insist that he can't for the same reason that he gives for refusing to believe in the work of evangelists.

On page 23 of his paper our friend seeks to criticize and discredit a lesson taught in my book, "The New Testament Church." The lesson is No. X, Part II. Under Point 1. Matthew 20:1-16 — The church compared to householder who goes out to hire laborers into the vineyard — He remarks, "The householder — Christ. The vineyard — the Kingdom, the Church." Here again he shows how carelessly he reaches his conclusions. Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder." The paper says that what Jesus meant is, "The kingdom of heaven is like Christ." It is the householder that represents the church or kingdom in the parable, Jesus said so. Jesus is right and the paper is wrong. Christ is not the householder, the church is the householder. The mission of that householder was to go out into the market place to hire laborers to come and serve. The vineyard represents simply the service of the Lord — doing his will — but our brother doesn't believe that the church should go out into the market place to hire laborers so he just changes the picture to suit his theory. He should believe it like the Lord said it.

Under Point 2, Romans 10:11-15 — The Church the sending agency, our friend remarks: "Grossly misinterpreted, This scripture is easily understood. Brother Cogdill must (emphasis his) know better." This is a sample of the supreme confidence that our writer has in himself. Brother Cogdill is subject to error all right and could be guilty of "gross misinterpretation" but it isn't very becoming of our friend to assume that it is so and that he is capable of so completely judging such a matter. Where is the gross misinterpretation? He failed to point it out. We are not willing to take his word about it. In the preceding part of this review we have given a complete exegesis of this passage and we are willing to stand upon it. Our brother shows that he understands nothing about it. The church is not the authority that sends for that authority is the Lord's. Men go because it is the will of God. But the Church is the agency which the Lord has ordained to send. If it isn't, then the churches of the New Testament were wrong for they sent. Witness the incidents pointed out in the discussion of this passage in the preceding pages: Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. Acts 11:22. Philippi sent Epaphroditus. Phil. 2:25-30, 4:18. Titus was sent out by the brethren. II Cor. 8:4-6, 16-20. Also Antioch acting by instruction of the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas. Acts 13:1-3. The churches of the New Testament did a good bit of sending according to the record. A little more humility might help our friend to see this.

Under Point 3, Matthew 13:3-9 — The church the sowing agency, his remarks are: "The sower — Christ. Matthew 13:37, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man." Can Brother Cogdill read?" Here again is an example of utter egotism and a glaring example also of how carelessly he reads. He has gone to the explanation of the parable of the tares and from the explanation Jesus gave for the parable of the tares he selects a statement and applies it to the parable of the sower. Verses 3-9 of chapter 13 of Matthew set forth the parable of the sower. The verse selected by our friend to explain away the point — verse 37 — is a part of the explanation of the tares. If we wished to be trite we could say, "Can't our friend read?" Surely he needs to read a great deal more carefully than he has and at the risk of being offensive I want to say that a little humility wouldn't hurt him in his study of the word of God, as well as his attitude toward others.

Point 4 of the lesson states, "I Timothy 3:14-15 — The Church the pillar and ground of the truth." His remark is: "A verbatim quotation. Brother Cogdill couldn't miss here. But in what sense is this meant?" He is gracious in giving me a lot of credit here for being willing to rely upon a "verbatim quotation" and in his effort to discredit the truth of this verbatim quotation he raises the question, "In what sense is this meant?", and then fails to offer any application or explanation of it. The reason is obvious. He does not believe the passage. The whole point of the contention which he has made in this paper has been to destroy the idea that there is any responsibility on the church to support the truth and spread it abroad. This "verbatim quotation" is incompatible with his theory for if he be right, then the church is in no sense the "pillar and ground of the truth" and what Paul said doesn't mean anything for it isn't so. Our brother says that the Church no more has the truth than Kress and Co.

Point 5, "Ephesians 3:10 — Wisdom of God to be made known through Church. Remarks: To whom. Context makes clear. See I Peter 1:12." Here he dodges the point at issue. It is not a matter of to whom but through whom. The passage declares that the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church. But he seeks to imply, though the argument is not fully stated, that this passage in Ephesians 3 teaches that the wisdom of God is to be made known through the Church unto the "angels" and this is the reason for the reference to I Peter 1:12 — "which things angels desire to look into." It is difficult to see what he thinks he has established here. It is his idea that through the "gospel preached by the Holy Spirit" in human agency here on this earth the angels learn of the wisdom of God? That seems to be the application he would make of Peter's statement. But according to his own contention the Church is not the sending agency and therefore never did have anything to do with the preaching of the Gospel or any responsibility for it Preachers — including apostles, prophets, and evangelists — were all sent out by the Lord and the Holy Spirit and not by the Church even in the New Testament day according to our friend, and thus the wisdom of God was made known but this isn't the responsibility of the Church. Peter in the passage cited was discussing the fact that it was the purpose and plan of God, made known through the prophets of the Old Testament period, to offer salvation through faith by the preaching of the Gospel. These prophets when they prophesied of "the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow them" wanted to know when these things would be fulfilled and to them it was revealed that the things thus prophesied would not be fulfilled in their day but would be fulfilled when the gospel was preached by the Holy Spirit. Angels desired to look into God's plan and arrangement. That this has been demonstrated to all by the unfolding of God's plan is certainly so but this does not in any way explain away the fact that it is through the agency of the Church that God's wisdom is made known. That is the fact that makes impossible the position taken by our friend and he cannot get rid of it for here is another "verbatim quotation." Would he affirm that God's wisdom has been made known only to the angels? Surely he can see how ridiculous that would be. Surely, again, he would not put God in the position of using a human agency — made up of human beings — here on this earth to reveal His wisdom to the angels in heaven but not to men here upon earth. How unreasonable and disjointed can one's thinking and reasoning become?

Point 6, Ephesians 3:21 — God to be glorified in the Church throughout all ages. Remarks: True — but how is this applicable as proof of his subject?" He was unable to dispute again a plain positive declaration of scripture. Paul says in the passage referred to: "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages world without end. Amen." How does that have any application to the subject matter in the lesson under which it is used? That should not be hard to see. God is glorified in the accomplishment of His purposes — by His will being done here on earth — in the salvation of the souls of men and women. That is to take place through the knowledge and acceptance and obedience to the will of the Lord. In the preceding passages of scripture in the lesson it has been established that (1) The kingdom of God has the mission of hiring laborers into His service or vineyard; (2) God uses the church to send forth the Gospel; (3) the seed must be sown and God's sowing agency is the church; (4) the church is the pillar and ground of God's truth; (5) the wisdom of God is to be made known through the church in accordance with God's plan; (6) when the church serves as the agency designed by the God of heaven in doing the work that God wants done, God is glorified in it and this is the only way that God can be glorified by his purposes being accomplished. Could anything be any more evident?

Point 7, Ephesians 4:11-12 — Building up body of Christ mission of Church. Remarks: Numerically? Context makes clear. Evidently the context of this passage made nothing clear to our friend. He didn't even consult the context evidently to learn the mission of the church. We have pointed out in the discussion above that the word for building up here demands, according to all authorities, the idea of establishing, planting, building from the foundation up. It was by the activity of the congregations of the Church of our Lord in the New Testament day that the "Gospel was sounded forth." We have fully discussed this in the preceding pages of this review. Such examples as Philippi, Philippians 1:5-8; Philippians 4:15-16; Thessalonica, I Thessalonians 1:7-8; have been cited and they make evident that though it certainly was possible for the individual who could do so to go forth and teach and preach upon his own responsibility yet it was God's plan for the congregations established to recognize their responsibility to establish, plant others and thus to "build up" — extend the borders of the kingdom of God and that this is the work, mission, and purpose for which the Church was planted upon this earth. Ephesians 4 abundantly approves this and our brother has no more business and right to strike out this mission of the church than he has to nullify the work of the church in edification and ministry which God has ordained.

Following his curt remarks concerning this lesson in my book and the points which he sought with the sweep of his own wisdom and learning to brush aside, he then has this to say, "Since this is a work typical of the traditional viewpoint, why, I should like to ask, is there such obvious struggling to prove a point? If this is true, surely it is not necessary to torture the scriptures in such a way as this, whether consciously or unconsciously. On such vital principles as these, God has surely given us sufficient evidence by which a true conclusion may be reached. But we must first rid our minds of all traditional attitudes." This is the spirit of our friend. We hand his question back to him and ask, "If your contention is true why is it necessary for you to struggle and torture the scriptures as you have done to avoid the plain truth taught in them? I have never witnessed a worse wresting of the scriptures than our friend has engaged in to try to establish his theory. He has taken passages out of context in an effort to avoid the truth. Witness his taking the explanation Jesus gave for one parable (the tares) to explain another parable (the sower). Jesus explained both parables in the same chapter but our friend ignored the explanation of the parable of the sower and went to the explanation of the parable of the tares to get his explanation for the parable of the sower. Is that torturing the scriptures and struggling to establish a point?

More than that, he went to Ephesians 4 to find a passage to set forth his idea of the mission of the Lord's Church — v. 15-16 and utterly ignored the very verses in the same paragraph that actually do set forth the mission of the Lord's Church in the language of the Holy Spirit — verses 11-12. Why? Is that struggling and torturing the scriptures to establish a point? Many other instances of torturing the scriptures could be pointed out, showing our friends guilt of the very things of which he accuses me! But we leave this matter to point out if we may what basically and fundamentally has led our brother into the grievous error into which he has fallen.

(To be concluded next week.)