We have been spending our time getting to know the Lord’s church. We have spent much time talking about denominationalism and the lack of scriptural authority for such a structure. There are some important points that I want to keep before our minds as we move into a new issue concerning the Lord’s body. When we read “church,” we must think of people who have been called out of the world and are in fellowship with Christ. The church is not an institution, denomination, or made up of local churches. The church consists of people. Therefore the church of Christ is all the saved individuals from time past to now from all over the world. The church includes the dead and alive in Christ. Passages like Matthew 16:18 and Hebrews 12:22-24 bear this point. We also need to remember that local churches in the New Testament were autonomous, worked independently of other local churches, and made decisions only for itself. Now we will consider the work of the church, first in regards to evangelism.
Discover Authority the Authority of God
As we have always stated, and so we will here again, before we can do anything in the local church, we need to find authority of God before we can perform the action. This is a fundamental principle in the scriptures. 1 John 3:4 says, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Sin is defined for us as acting without law. When we choose to do something without the authority of God, we have committed sin. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” We cannot claim to do things in the name of God and act without authority. We may think that we are doing something for God, but if the act has not been authorized, it is lawlessness and is not the will of the Father. Jesus said in Mark 7:6, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” We may say that we are serving God, but our heart is far from God and our worship is vain when we lay aside the law and authority of Christ.
There are three ways that we discover authority in the scriptures. We find authority through direct command, necessary inference, and approved examples. Direct commands are clear, direct expressions of God’s will. An example of this would be “Do not commit adultery” found in James 2:11. A necessary inference means the person is to come to an obvious conclusion based upon the information given by God. An example of necessary inference is found in Acts 10. Peter sees a vision in which he is commanded to kill and eat unclean animals. This was done three times in the vision. Peter made the necessary inference from this vision that he was to speak to Cornelius, a Gentile. God never told Peter to go to Cornelius directly, but it was the message of the vision that Peter was to understand. Example is simple enough to understand. If we see in the scriptures that the New Testament Christians performed a certain action, then within those boundaries, we are also permitted to perform those actions. In Acts 20:7 we see the first century Christians in Troas partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Therefore, we have authority to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week.
Work of a Local Church in Evangelism
Individuals (Acts 8:4)
We first need authority to preach to the lost. This authority, of course, is not difficult to find whatsoever. In fact, evangelism is to be one of our primary works as a Christian. Disciples were commanded in Mark 16:15 to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” We also see an example of this in Acts 8:4, during the persecution of Christians, “therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Individuals must be active in evangelism.
Local churches (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
Not only do we have authority as individuals to evangelize the lost, we also have the authority for the local church to evangelize the lost. We see this clearly in 1 Thessalonians 1:8. In this passage Paul commends the Thessalonians for their work and says, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” The church in Thessalonica was doing sounding forth the word of God in every place. Because of these actions, Paul did not have to speak anymore about the subject. The church in Thessalonica was doing the job that Christ had given it.
I believe that it is important to recognize that the authority given to the individual does not mean that this is the authority given for a local church. Also, the constraints placed upon a local church does not necessarily mean those same constraints are placed upon the individual. What we find is that authority is broader for the individual than it is for a local church in regards to evangelism. In Acts 5:4 this principle is applied by Peter to Ananias and Sapphira. While the money was in their control, they could do with it as they pleased. Ananias and Sapphira did not have to give it all to the church in Jerusalem, but lied and said they did. Here we see a distinction between the money of individual Christians and the money of a local church. This distinction is absolutely critical to our understanding of this subject. Failing to see this distinction causes many of the problems and errors that we see around us today. The issue that we are focusing upon is the use of the treasury of the local church in evangelism. What the individual can spend his or her money on in evangelism is not necessarily authority for what a local church can spend on evangelism. I will illustrate this point later in the lesson. But before we can do that, we must see what the scriptures give authority for a local church to do.
How Local Churches Spread the Gospel in the Scriptures
Sending out people to teach
In Acts 13:1-2 we see the example of a church meeting in Antioch. The church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul to spread the gospel in other locations. Therefore, a local church has authority to send out workers to teach the gospel in other locations. But this is just one example of many in which we see a local church sending out workers to a different location to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The local church also has authority teachers of the gospel in other areas by a local church treasury. We read in Philippians 4:15 and following that the local church in Philippi was supporting Paul while he preached in Thessalonica. Therefore, the local church today also has this authority. Also, in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 we read that many churches were supporting Paul while he was doing the work in Corinth. Here we see authority for not only one local church, but many local churches to send support to a worker of the gospel.
Supporting local workers
There is also authority in the scriptures for a local church to support workers to teach the gospel in its own geographical location. In 1 Timothy 1:3 we see that Timothy was to remain in Ephesus to do the work. We also see in Titus 1:5 that Titus was to remain in Crete to set things in order and to appoint elders in every city. So we see that there are workers that can remain in a local place and work with a local church. Paul then gave the command in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” Those who work for the gospel have the ability to be supported for the work they are doing.
No church-to-church support for evangelism
What we must make a point of is that we do not find in the scriptures any example or any authority for one church to send money to another church for the work of evangelism. I believe this is noteworthy. For all the examples we have of supporting workers in the gospel, we do not see one church send money to another church to preach the gospel. In fact, it seems that the first century Christians went to great pains to make sure that there was not church to church support. In Philippians 2:25 we read that Philippi had sent a messenger to give the support to Paul. Philippi did not send the money to the local church in Thessalonica, so that the church in Thessalonica could pay him. The same is true in the passage we just read in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9. The support from other churches did not go to the church in Corinth. Instead the support went directly to Paul.
Now we may say that this is not a distinction, rather this is semantics. But the principle of church autonomy is being upheld in this action. We do not have one local church engaging in the affairs of another local church. While we may say that the end result may be the same, we are preserving the autonomy of each local church and acting within the authority that God has left for us today. Each local church was sufficient to do the work of evangelism in its area. No greater cooperation was performed and nothing greater is found in the scriptures.
Modern Errors Exposed
Missionary society & sponsor church arrangement
In the 1800s, people got together and decided that Christians needed a greater way to spread the gospel to the lost. What some decided to do was create an organization commonly called a missionary society. This organization would be set up to pay preachers, print Bible materials, distribute tracts, and perform other evangelistic works. The missionary society would be funded by local churches from the treasury. In another form, there has been an arrangement where many local churches would send money to one controlling local church, which would then in turn use the money for evangelism. This is the same form as the missionary society except that a new organization is not created. All the work is done by the one controlling local church. The sponsoring church arrangement was most widely seen in the Bible program called the Herald of Truth. One local church accepted money from many local churches to pay for a nationwide radio program. These types of arrangements are still being made today to pay for the high cost of television evangelism.
Problems with these works
We need to see that there are many problems with these works:
No scriptural authority. First, is there any Bible authority for churches to be sending money to another church to do the work of evangelism? The answer is no, as we have pointed out earlier. Nor is there authority for a local church to use its money to create a whole other organization by which to do its work of evangelism. While the ideas may come from good intentions, we simply have no scriptural authority.
Violates church autonomy. Second, these works violate church autonomy. Under the missionary society, the organization deciding Bible materials and payment of preachers is not left to a local church, but falls into the hands of a man-made organization. Under the sponsoring church arrangement, the money is sent to another local church which has now the right to choose how the money will be used. One local church has given up its authority to another.
Organization larger than local church created. Third, in both the case of the missionary society and the sponsoring church arrangement, an organization is created that is greater than the local church. As we taught many weeks ago, we see nothing in the scriptures greater than the local church. There is no headquarters, no convention, and no person able to tell another local church what to do.
Violates God’s authority for elders to only oversee their own work. In 1 Peter 5:2 we read the admonition, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;” Elders are only given charge over the affairs of the congregation in their own area. But under the sponsoring church arrangement, the elders of the controlling church have charge over all the areas which the work is being done. This is a violation of this command.
Identifying the problem
I would like for us to closely consider these two works that were created, the missionary society and the sponsoring church arrangement. Where does the problem lie? It falls in the using of the treasuries of local churches. I want us to note this today, for we will continue to note this in future lessons. The problem is not that churches should not be evangelizing. The problem is in the way the funds of local churches are used.
Consider this with me. Would there have been a problem if a rich man decided to create an organization to help pay the costs of preachers working in other areas? No, an individual can do this. What if individuals sent this rich man money to send to other preachers? As individuals we have the right to give money to people and we do it all the time. The problem is that the missionary society used treasuries of local churches, thus subjugating it to the society. Would there have been a problem if a rich man decided to put on a nationwide radio program to broadcast sermons? No, an individual can do this. What if individuals sent this rich man money so he could keep doing it? As individual we have the right to give money to whom we choose. Again, the problem comes when we use the treasuries of local churches. This is principle that we identified from Acts 5:4.
As individuals we can choose to spend our money on a new car or give it to a preacher. It is our discretion. There is a great distinction between what the local church can do and what the individual can do and we must be aware of this. Can I as an individual rent a golf course, invite all of my buddies to go golfing, and as we are golfing speak to them about the gospel? Yes, I can. Can a local church? No, there is no authority for the use of a local church treasury for that action. Can I have a garage sale and decide to use the money that I get from the sale to give to a preacher in another country? Yes. Can a local church sell lottery tickets and use the money to send to preachers? No, there is no authority for a local church to engage in these things. Can I have a great banquet in my home and invite all my unbelieving friends over and use the opportunity to teach? Of course, and see Matthew doing that very thing in Luke 5:29. Can a local church have a great banquet and invite people to it and use it as an opportunity to teach? No. Why not? No authority for the treasury of the local church to be used in such a way. Now it should be understood that individuals should not go about tricking unbelievers to hear the word of God through social means. We do not find Christians being dishonest with their motives. However, we must use every opportunity that is available to us to mention the word of God to those who are lost. If I am golfing with my unbelieving friend, I have an obligation to use any opportunities that I can to speak to him about his need to come to the Lord.
Friends, this principle is so important and I believe has been so missed to the point that we are squelching evangelistic opportunities. We as individuals and groups of Christians can do things with our own money that are different from what a local church may do. There have been two great fallacies, I believe. One fallacy is that if the individual can do it, the local church can do. That is not found in the scriptures. The other fallacy is that if the local church cannot do it, neither can the individual. But that is not true either, and stands against the scriptures. We have heard so many lessons on what the local church cannot do, that I believe we have forgotten that this means that we as individuals must do the rest. We often have this view in evangelism that the primary entity teaching should be the local church. While the local church must be evangelizing as we have already seen, the primary responsibility falls upon you and me individually. We cannot sit back and say that we will let the local church take care of it by sending our preachers and supporting the work of spreading the gospel. We as individuals must be doing the work. So if some Christians want to meet in a park, meet in a home, meet at a restaurant and talk to our friends about Bible things, then great. But do not involve the funds of a local church. There is no authority for it, and I hope that we see by now that there is no reason for it. We can do this ourselves, and God has entrusted each of us to do. Let us each do the work and not rely upon other organizations or arrangements to shirk our responsibility.