Let the Church Be the Church

Ron Halbrook

God’s eternal plan of salvation is summed up in Christ and the church. “All spiritual blessings” are “in Christ,” who is “the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:3, 22-23). This is “according to the eternal purpose” which God “purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11). All men must be members of the universal church to be saved. Jews and Gentiles are reconciled “unto God in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:16). The universal church has no earthly headquarters or other institutional organization on earth with officials, a treasury, and assigned missions. It simply refers to our spiritual fellowship with Christ as our Savior and head, nothing more, nothing less.

Christians must be active, faithful members of the local church. The first thing we read about the first Christians is this: “And they continued in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). When the newly converted Saul came to Jerusalem, immediately “he assayed to join himself to the disciples” (Acts 9:26). The local church has its own organization to do its own work: elders to oversee, deacons to serve, and all members to participate (Phil. 1:1).

We must guard the church against apostasy or the abuse of its role by strictly following the New Testament pattern for its work, worship, and organization (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:13).

The Church Distinctive

The church does some things the individual does, but is not an individual. “For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14). The church does some things the family does, but is not the family. Deep, affectionate, abiding love is experienced in both relationships, but we must love Christ, the truth, and the church above the family (Matt. 10:37). The church does some things a school does, but is not the school. Classes are provided by both, including Bible classes in some cases, yet God did not design or equip the church to educate people in secular subjects (1 Tim. 3:15-16). The church does some things a summer camp does, but is not a camp. Some camps schedule time for Bible study and worship each day, just as a church does in Vacation Bible School, but the church was not ordained to teach horseback riding, swimming, softball, and marksmanship. The church does some things a business does, but is not a business organization. Both churches and businesses need money to operate, but the church depends upon the freewill offerings of its members and not upon selling goods and services, investments, and other business strategies (1 Cor. 16:2).

In all things, let the church be the church in its distinctive role as God ordained!

The Church: Distinct from the Individual

The individual as a Christian may do some things the church does, but is not the church. Individuals may sing, pray, study the Bible, and disseminate truth in every way possible. “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (Ja. 5:13). “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25). Jesus said, “Search the scriptures,” and Paul said, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This realm of individual activity, whether people act independently or in unison, is no substitute for the church and is not in competition with the church.

Individuals must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). For instance, an individual should not attempt to serve as “a missionary society,” taking donations from churches and then selecting fields of endeavor and providing financial support to send men to these fields. Don Carlos Janes (1877-1944), a premillennial preacher among churches of Christ, once tried to function as a one-man missionary society. Faithful brethren rejected this plan, insisting we “let the church be the church.”

The Church: Distinct from the Family

The family of Christians may do some things the church does, but is not the church. The family may gather to sing, pray, study the Bible, and disseminate truth in every way possible. Aquila and Priscilla made Christ the center of their family life by helping to supply Paul’s needs, teaching Apollos “the way of God more perfectly,” and inviting the church to meet “in their house” (Acts 18:1-3, 26; 1 Cor. 16:19). A family gathering at the home of Cornelius provided Peter the first opportunity to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and Peter stayed for several days to do follow-up teaching after baptizing the first converts (Acts 10:24, 33, 48). At “the house of Mary,” Christians “were gathered together praying” for Peter while he was in prison (Acts 12:12). Like many other families, Joel and Linda Plunkett for years have invited young people far and wide to their home in middle Tennessee for monthly occasions of Bible study, prayer, and singing God’s praises.

Untold hundreds of young people have been blessed by these periods of worship provided by the Plunkett family and other godly families like it. Yet, for all this, such actions on the part of families are no substitute for the work the church itself does and are not in competition with the church.

Families must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. For instance, a family should not attempt to serve as “a missionary society,” taking donations from churches and then selecting fields of endeavor and providing financial support to send men to these fields. Let the family be the family and let the church be the church.

The Church: Distinct from the School

The school conducted by Christians may do some things the church does, but is not the church. The school may make arrangements during the day to sing, to pray, to study the Bible, and to disseminate truth in every way possible while training young people in all sorts of secular subjects and pursuits. What the school does is an extension of the work of the home and the state in preparing young people for life (Eph. 6:4; Rom. 13:1). This is no substitute for the work of the church and is not in competition with the church.

Such schools must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. For instance, a school should not attempt to serve as “a missionary society,” taking donations from churches in order to teach the Bible and other subjects to its students, or selecting fields of endeavor and providing such financial support to send men to these fields. Let the school be the school and let the church be the church.

The Church: Distinct from a Summer Camp

The summer camp conducted by Christians may do some things the church does, but is not the church. The camp may make arrangements to sing, to pray, to study the Bible, and to disseminate truth in every way possible. Individuals and families combine their talents, funds, and efforts to provide young people with all sorts of wholesome activities and associations in the camp environment. Dedicated people serve as counselors and mentors in leading these activities. Each day’s schedule includes physical exercises, learning experiences, and time set aside for Bible lessons and worship. Camp activities reflect the efforts of individuals and families to fulfill the duty to raise our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and a recognition that this duty cannot be shifted to the church (Eph. 6:4; 1 Cor. 11:34). This is no substitute for the work of the church and is not in competition with the church.

Such camps must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. For instance, a camp should not attempt to serve as “a missionary society,” taking donations from churches in order to teach the Bible and other subjects to its participants, or selecting fields of endeavor and providing such financial support to send men to these fields. Let the camp be the camp and let the church be the church.

The Church: Distinct from a Business

A business conducted by Christians may do some things the church does, but is not the church. The business may make arrangements to sing, to pray, to study the Bible, and to disseminate truth in every way possible. The business is an extension of the individual, whether acting independently or in concert with others, in making an honorable living (Eph. 4:28). This is no substitute for the church and is not in competition with the church.

Such businesses must also guard against going into apostasy or abusing the role God has given to them. For instance, a business should not attempt to serve as “a missionary society,” taking donations from churches and then selecting fields of endeavor and providing financial support to send men to these fields. Let the business be the business and let the church be the church.

The Church: Distinct from the G.O.T. Foundation

The Guardian of Truth Foundation is a business that publishes religious literature including Truth Magazine and that owns two bookstores which market its literature. This Foundation fully supports the proposition that the church and our business are two separate entities acting in independent realms.

Individuals may act alone or in concert to form and conduct legitimate, legal businesses, but no business enterprise was included in God’s eternal plan of salvation in Christ and the church. It is not necessary that all men be members of, or that they participate in any way, in the G.O.T. Foundation or in any other business organization. God ordained the organization of the local church with elders to oversee, deacons to serve, and every member to participate, which organization is fully sufficient in order for the church to fulfill its mission of evangelism, worship, and benevolence (Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Therefore, churches should not donate money to the G.O.T. Foundation or to any other business under the guise of doing the work of the local church. Churches may simply purchase goods and services from businesses for their own use in fulfilling their work. Let the church be the church.

In the course of conducting our business, members of the G.O.T. Foundation often pray together and even pray with other people with whom we have dealings, especially in praying for God’s wisdom and blessings upon our endeavors. We discuss God’s Word together and with others, especially regarding its proper application to our work. As circumstances permit, we create and utilize opportunities to teach people the truth of God’s Word and we do everything possible to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully. Such studies have been conducted for the staff writers of Truth Magazine from time to time. The Truth Lectureship makes it possible for other interested individuals to share with us in such studies. By inviting people to read Truth Magazine and to visit our web site (http://www.truthmagazine.com), we hope to better acquaint them with the goods and services of our bookstores and to encourage them to obey, worship, and serve God faithfully.

When this Foundation does all that it can do in its legitimate role as a business conducted by Christians, this is no substitute for the church doing all it can do in its God-given role as the church. There is no competition with the church nor any effort to detract from the church. Utilizing the goods and services of this Foundation is not necessary for salvation, but faithful membership in the church of Christ is essential for salvation. Let the church be the church.

The Church: Distinct from Every Other Effort

The church is distinct from every other effort and every other organization in performing its own work through its own organization. We are thankful for every legitimate effort to disseminate and teach the truth of God’s Word. In the past years, schools began the day with Bible reading and prayer, and teachers paused to pray at meal time. Families have often opened their homes to conduct monthly Bible studies for young people. Businesses conducted by Christians sometimes make Bible study materials available to customers or invite a preacher to teach weekly Bible lessons for interested employees. Several Christians have combined their funds to rent meeting rooms at motels for gospel preaching in places where the true gospel is unknown. Properly conducted, none of these efforts can detract from the unique role and work of the church in the plan of salvation.

Consider other examples. Athens Bible School in Athens, AL and Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL have taught Bible classes, conducted daily devotionals, and presented Bible lectureships through the years. Summer camps have provided young people wholesome activities and associations including daily periods of Bible study and worship. A group of brethren associated with R. J. Stevens has conducted an annual singing school, utilizing the facilities of a college in Wilburton, OK. Businesses which produce or market Bibles, songbooks, tracts, magazines, and books occasionally provide complimentary samples or give away outdated and damaged materials in an effort to disseminate the truth.

Countless other examples could be added, but none of these efforts is a substitute for the daily ongoing responsibility of each and every local church to press forward in doing its own work through its own organization as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). The examples and efforts enumerated above do not diminish or detract from the duty of local churches to sound out the word of the Lord via regular worship periods, Bible classes, singing schools, gospel meetings, radio programs, special lectureships, tract distribution, correspondence courses, and other endeavors (1 Thess. 1:7-8). No one of the activities listed above, nor all of them combined, diminishes the unique role, organization, and glory of the local church in God’s plan for the redemption of the world.

Let individuals, families, schools, and various business and service organizations do their best to please God and to bless the world. But, first and foremost, emphatically, we must remember this imperative: Let the church be the church!

[Published in Truth Magazine XLVIII, 18 (Sept. 16, 2004):560, 563-65 (16, 19-21); reproduced in Daniel H. King, Sr. & Mike Willis, We Have a Right: Studies in Religious Collectivities, rev. ed. (Guardian of Truth Foundation: Bowling Green, KY, 2007), pp. 172-177]