The New Testament Church - Its Work
One thing which sets the New Testament church apart from manmade denominations is the work it engages in. Every organization needs to have a focus or a purpose. When an organization lack a focus or purpose or forgets its purpose or focus, it will cease to function in the way it is supposed to function. Jesus established the church (Matthew 16:18) and as its head (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18) assigns its purpose and focus. When churches deviate from this divinely given work, they cease to truly be the church which belongs to Christ and rather take their direction from some other source. What is the work Jesus gives the church to accomplish? What work did the New Testament church perform under the direction of the inspired apostles in the first century?
Jesus gave the church the work of evangelism. Evangelism would involve proclaiming the gospel or the good news. The church of Thessalonica was praised for engaging in the work of evangelism. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 says, “As you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 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” (NKJV). God’s intention is for those who have been taught the word of God to continue to spread His word to others. 1 Timothy 3:15 describes the church as, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (NKJV). The truth is another way of describing the gospel message (Colossians 1:5). The church is to support and uphold the truth or the gospel so others can learn of it. One of the primary works Jesus gave to His church is that of evangelism.
Jesus gave the church the work of edification. Edification refers to building one another up spiritually. Edification is one of the purposes for the church assembling together (1 Corinthians 14:26). Edification is one of the reasons Jesus gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-16). Edification comes as God’s word is taught because it is the word of God which is capable of building us up spiritually (Acts 20:32). Apostles and prophets play a role in the edification of the church because it is through them that God revealed His word to mankind. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers play a role in the edification of the church because they are tasked with teaching others the word of God. Once a person has obeyed the gospel they need continued instruction in the word of God (Matthew 28:18-20; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2). The church needs to provide Christians with the instruction they need in order to mature spiritually.
Jesus gave the church the work of caring for needy saints sometimes referred to as limited benevolence. One of the activities we read about the early church doing was caring for needy saints (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 11:27-30). Widows who met certain qualifications were a special group of needy saints whom the church was charged with taking care of (1 Timothy 5:3-16; Acts 6:1). The collection Paul commanded the churches of Galatia and Corinth to engage in was in part to provide aid to needy saints in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). The New Testament teaches individual saints may do good to all as they have the opportunity and ability (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27). The benevolent work the church as a collective is authorized by the Lord to do is limited to needy saints.
Jesus did not authorize the church to engage in the sort of work many churches engage in. Jesus did not authorize the church to provide people with common meals. He assigns that work to the home (1 Corinthians 11:22, 32) yet many churches do the very thing Jesus condemns. Jesus did not authorize the church to be a benevolent aid society for all the needy in the world. Manmade denominations though seem to emphasize things like offering health clinics, free medical care, running food pantries, offering free clothing, etc. Jesus did not authorize the church to be a political organization. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) but is spiritual in nature. Some manmade denominations become polling places, encourage their members to vote for particular political candidates, etc. Jesus’ church is not a political organization though. Perhaps there are other things you can think of which denominations do which are not authorized by the Lord. Let’s be content to do the work Jesus has given the church to do and not go beyond what He has authorized the church to do (2 John 9).