The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (Conclusion)

A Few Concluding Observations

Having looked at those things mentioned in parts VII and VIII, I’d like to focus your attention on a few more scriptural observations and then this study, for whatever it is worth, will be yours to accept or reject. But whatever your decision, I hope you will prayerfully contemplate the things that have been presented in view of the obligations that are placed on us as members of a local church of Christ.

Neither “Headship,” “Oversight” Nor “Leadership” Authorize Domination

I am the head of my wife and she, praise God, honors me as her lord (cf. 1 Peter 3:6). However, this does not mean that I run roughshod over her. In fact, I discuss with her every decision that directly impacts her life with me. I am ashamed to say that I have not always been so inclined. But, thank God, I have repented of all such actions and have been cleansed, I trust, of these sins by the precious blood of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I would dare to say that there is not anyone who knows my wife and me, and this would certainly include our closest relatives, who does not think she is subject to me as her head. Even so, as we work as a husband and wife team, we discuss, or have discussed, most everything that relates to our life and work together. However, as the one who is in subjection, she defers to my judgment, as long as it is consistent with what God teaches in His word. This means that ultimate authority for me and her is not Allan Turner. Our ultimate authority is Jesus Christ.

This means that the delegated authority I have been given as my wife’s head must be exercised in view of the truths revealed in God’s Word. If I do not understand her needs (i.e., “dwell with her according to knowledge,” 1 Peter 3:7), then I am not what the Lord requires me to be, and our prayers are ultimately hindered. But how can I understand her if I’m not discussing my wife’s needs with her? By the same token, how can the men of the congregation understand the needs of the congregation if they are not discussing these with the women members of the church? If this is true, and I believe it is, and if elders are supposed to be the kind of husbands we’ve just talked about, then how could an eldership, if one exists, exclude female members of the congregation from discussing the important business of the church? I think the only correct answer is: It couldn’t and it wouldn’t!

However, I have heard that there are even elderships exercising their “oversight”/“rule” in local churches at the expense of even the male members of the congregation, in that they do not even meet with the men of the church to discuss congregational business. This is, in my humble understanding of things, just plain WRONG! The apostle Peter, who was himself an elder, instructed elders to: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). What’s my point? Simply this: If elders are not to be lords of (or masters over) the flock which is among them, how can it be thought wise for them to never have a meeting with the members of the church? Unless the congregation is so small that it would be possible for the elders to discuss the matter with everyone in the church individually before making some major decision, then a business meeting with the church would seem not only appropriate, but sometimes mandatory.

How does this apply to our situation? Well, if elders ought not to run roughshod over the men of the congregation by never calling a business meeting with them, then why should those in a “men’s business meeting” feel justified in making significant/major decisions without the valuable input of the women of the congregation? Godly elders do not relinquish oversight of the local congregation when they consult with members in a business meeting anymore than a husband does when he consults his wife and children. Consequently, the men of the congregation do not relinquish their leadership, nor do women usurp their authority, when they consult with the women of the congregation, be it in a business meeting or otherwise.

So, someone says, “Okay, then, we won’t object to women being in a business meeting as long as they remain silent.” In other words, such will concede to the women being informed by what takes place, but they refuse to permit them to inform the meeting, for to do so, they think, would cause them to either teach over or usurp authority over the men. This, of course, could happen, but not necessarily so!

Some Godly Examples

Remember, if you will, that sweet Priscilla, a godly Christian woman, along with her husband, “took [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The KJV and the ASV translate this same Greek word as “expounded.” Most assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or exercising authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).

Remember, also, that dear sister Phoebe was a servant (a “minister,” if you will) of the “church in Cenchrea” (Rm. 16:1). Paul asked the church at Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and [to] assist her in whatever business she has need of you: for she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (v. 2). Assuredly, she did this without either “teaching [over] or usurping authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12).

If They Are Not Careful, Anyone Can Get Out Of Their Place

Yes, women may get “out of line” or “out of their place” in a meeting of the church to discuss business, and this must be guarded against by all involved. However, even men sometimes get “out of line” or “out of their place” in business meetings, and this is no less sinful than if women were to do so. Perhaps a reading of Philippians 2:1-8 at the start of business meetings would be beneficial to all involved.

Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Submitting To One Another

When the apostle Paul said: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition [strife] or conceit [vainglory]; but in lowliness of mind [humility] let each esteem others better [more significant] than himself,” he wasn’t simply making a suggestion. He was, instead, giving a direct command! Christians are plainly taught to “submit…one to another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21). Such godliness would eliminate the attitudes that wreak havoc in too many “men’s business meetings.”

Authority Comes With Tremendous Responsibilities

My position/role with reference to the exercise of authority does not dictate my significance. The world may reason this way, but the gospel teaches that our glory, our worth, is measured by our personal conformity to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Feminism argues that a woman cannot be “a serious person” unless she occupies a position of headship/authority. This kind of thinking does not come from “above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:15). It reflects the mass stampede for power, recognition, status and prestige we see all around us in a lost and dying world. But the world’s reasoning is invalid.

Authority does not authenticate me as a person made in the image of God. Authority is not a privilege to be exploited to build up my ego. Authority is a responsibility one bears for the benefit of others without regard for one’s self. This is the Christian view. In other words, my personal significance is not measured according to my rung on the ladder. Neither is my opportunity for personal fulfillment enlarged or diminished according to the role I have been assigned. If it is, then the goal of life degenerates into competition for power, and when this happens, then no one hungers and thirsts for the true fulfillment that comes only from doing righteousness.

Superior Vs. Inferior Has Nothing At All To Do With It

The ancient preacher said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13). Godly submission honors and glorifies God just as much as godly authority, and neither of these is easier than the other. For a woman to learn godly submission and for a man to learn godly leadership takes devotion and work. Devoted to God and the male/female roles He ordained, we work hard to exemplify these roles to the glory of God. Contrary to what some think, the Bible does not teach that men are superior and that women are inferior. Thus, man’s authority is a responsibility, a God-given trust, for the good of all. It is not a right of man to exercise for his own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction. And it is not so much a prerogative as it is a calling. It is, in fact, a duty, an obligation, a charge that God has given to man. It is unfortunate that sin has distorted both masculinity and femininity. Consequently, it is only “in Christ” that one can expect to learn what mature masculinity and mature femininity are all about.

Not As Lords, But As Servants

“Authority,” whether in the home or church, is vested in men. However, any and all power associated with such authority recedes before its responsibility. In Matthew 20:25-26, the Bible says: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.’” Therefore, mature Christian masculinity views leadership/authority as an obligation to be borne (a sacred duty to be discharged for the good of others, if you will), not simply as a right to assert or power to exercise.

“Decently And In Order”

Finally, and in consideration of 1 Corinthians 14:40, which says, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” an agenda of business to be discussed and a presiding “chairman” are useful expedients for a congregation without elders. These would provide a means for all things to be done decently and in order. But to exclude women from such meetings, as is often done today, and to do so arguing that the Scriptures do not permit them to attend and participate, is not, itself, a legitimate scriptural position. In other words, the Bible teaches no such thing!

However, and as already mentioned, a congregational meeting of men and women to discuss business may not be deemed expedient. In this case, and consistent with the prohibitions of 1 Tim. 2:12, a men’s business meeting could be conducted. But because we are compelled to arrive at our conclusions by consensus, then how could it be appropriate to make decisions that affect us all without first considering what the women are thinking? It isn’t, unless you buy into the argument that a men’s business meeting is the “ruling entity” for the church. But the Bible makes it clear that this is a function reserved for the eldership, and not a group of lesser qualified men. Therefore, some means will be necessary for “feeling the pulse” of the women of this congregation.

In other words, it is important not only that the women are being told, after the fact, what happens in the men’s business meeting, but that they have genuine input prior to decisions being made. If they are not going to be allowed in the meeting, or if in the meeting they are not permitted to speak, then it seems reasonable/expedient that the men could assign a man to meet with the women prior to the men’s meeting, so as to make sure they had a feel for what the women were thinking, and all this for the ultimate purpose of reaching a consensus. The male, who would, of course, chair the meeting, could then report to the men what the women thought about the matters at hand.

This would require, or so it seems to me, an agenda of business to be provided to these women before or during their meeting. Then, not only would the women of this congregation be informed as to decisions that were being made, but they would also have genuine input into the decision making process, so that when a decision is finally made, it would indeed be by consensus. This is, without elders, and in my humble opinion, the only scriptural avenue at our disposal. By “only scriptural avenue,” I do not mean the particular plan I have set forth here. What I mean is that, in lieu of elders, and in my understanding of God’s word, the only scriptural avenue we have open to us is to arrive at our decisions by consensus. To doubt, as some do, that a consensus is possible, one must lack faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ in shaping the hearts of both men and women.

Think About It!

And as you do, understand that in the absence of a humble spirit of love and mutual concern, there are no rules of order that can make a church without elders function for the Lord as He would have it. As Christians, our task, without sacrificing the truths taught in God’s word, must be to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Without elders, a church is, at best, still “lacking” (Titus 1:5). Therefore, in a church without elders, let every saint be determined to be the kind of man and woman that will one day allow them to appoint, from among themselves, godly men who will be both qualified and willing to take the “oversight” of the church. Let all be praying for and working toward that day, trusting the Lord to bless them as they endeavor to do His will in all things.

In concluding this series, it is my fervent prayer that New Testament Christians will realize and understand that there is no clergy-laity distinction in the church for which Jesus died. We are all priests and, as such, are full participants in the service and devotion He requires of us.

  • No Book But The Bible
  • No Creed But The Christ
  • No Name But The Divine
  • No Plea But The Gospel
  • No Aim But To Save
  • In Christ — Unity
  • In Opinions — Liberty
  • n All Things — Love

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VIII)

Church Business Meetings And The Feminization Of A Culture

But having read what I’ve written up to this point, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! I am not arguing, as some might think, that it is right for a woman to be in a “men’s business meeting.” I have argued, and will continue to argue, that a men’s business meeting can not only be a lawful expedient, but it can be a loving one as well. In other words, I do believe the Bible teaches that both men and women can come together to discuss the business of the church. But I also believe that current cultural conditioning has made this a very thorny issue that is fraught with dangers.

The feminization of Western culture, and today the primary focus of this culture is America, is in full bloom. Radical feminists bent on nothing less than the destruction of patriarchy have, with few exceptions, won the battle. As a result, a family structure where the husband/father is accepted and honored as the head is practically nonexistent or seriously diminished. The home and workplace are now almost totally egalitarian, and the patriarchal nature of religious structures are changing with more and more women being ordained as clerics, whether it be bishops, priests, pastors or various other “ministers.” It is fair to say that the times are not just changing, they have, instead, already changed.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. The burqa, that “shuttlecock” outfit that Afghan women wore under the repressive regime of the Taliban is not, it may surprise you, a Taliban invention. It is worn many places in the Muslim world. It is an interpretation of Shari’ah (Muslim law) that requires the woman to wear a hijab (a covering). Even so, this covering was used by the Western media as a symbol of the oppressive rule of the Taliban. Many Christian ladies were probably appalled by the thought of the oppressiveness of being forced to wear such an outfit. But I am afraid Paul’s teaching concerning the head covering the Corinthian women were required to wear would seem equally oppressive to many Christian ladies today. After all, women who are liberated in the market place and in the home will not take kindly to a symbol of authority in the church either. But Paul told the Christian women of Corinth that they could not take their head coverings off in the assemblies of the church. Of course, the women of Corinth were not liberated socially and a head covering was mandated as a symbol of their subjection. But because the women were “all one” in Christ Jesus equally with the men, they evidently thought it would be okay for them to take their coverings off in the assembly of the saints. Paul said “No,” they could not.

The apostle gives several reasons, one of which was to remind the woman of the role she was originally created to play, i.e., a helpmeet, in that man was created first and therefore the woman was created for man, and not the other way around, and this no matter what some women seem to think. Paul uses the primacy of man as one of his arguments for a woman not teaching over nor usurping authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:13. Therefore, if our culture mandated the wearing of a head covering for women, Paul’s teaching would require that Christian ladies not take their coverings off in our assemblies. But because it is not culturally mandated, I do not think a woman ought to feel obligated to put one on when she comes into the assembly. But if she thinks she should, then she must not violate her conscience.

But just because a woman in our culture is not required to wear a covering to show her subjection to man, and therefore is not required to wear a covering when she worships in our assemblies, does not mean that the points Paul made about the roles of men and women can be disregarded. On the contrary, women are to be in subjection. As such, they cannot teach over nor usurp authority over a man. This does not, as we’ve seen, prohibit a woman from being in a business meeting, but her participation would have to be consistent with her God-ordained role. Therefore, a woman could not take a leadership role in a business meeting, but would need to conduct herself consistent with the obligation placed upon her by God in His divinely revealed word. To disregard this would be to forfeit who we are as a people “in Christ.”

So, as we study this subject we must do so carefully and prayerfully. As a male, I do not intend to look down my nose at a female spiritually or otherwise. At the same time, I do not want to do anything that would cause a woman to get out of “her place.” By this expression, I do not mean the place where I want to keep her, but the place where God put her. Therefore, with the egalitarian spirit that is wreaking havoc with many peoples’ thinking today, the decision to have a business meeting with just the men of the church may not be the crass chauvinism some think it to be. On the contrary, and commensurate with man’s leadership role, it may be both the most loving and wisest thing to do.

The Feminization Of America

Feminist Books

In the preface to The Feminization Of America, written in 1985, Elinor Lenz and Barbara Myerhoff, write of “head-spinning changes now occurring in American life as a result of women’s transition from their historic domestic world to the public world of business, industry, and the professions.” “These changes,” they claim, “are truly revolutionary; some of them could not have been predicted even a decade ago.” “They represent,” they said, “nothing less than the feminization of America” (p. 1). On page 14, describing chapter 6 of the book, they said: “The feminizing process is altering the family in ways that could not have been imagined even a few decades ago. As the family is redefined, we are seeing new attitudes toward mothering and fathering and the reordering of relationships all across the social spectrum.” On page 141 they note, “The God of Israel was a chauvinistic deity….” Then on page 146 they say, “The cult of the Goddess is a dominant motif of the recovery of women’s religious roots.”

In the closing remarks of When God Was A Woman, the writer says: “It is time to bring the early facts about the early female religions to light… With these facts we will gain the historical and political perspective that will allow us to refute the ideas of ‘natural or divinely ordained roles’… When the ancient source of the gender stereotyping of today is better understood, the myth of the Garden of Eden will no longer be able to haunt us” (pp. 240-241).

Feminist Books

In her book, Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions, Naomi R. Goldenberg wrote: “‘God is going to change,’ I thought. ‘We women are going to bring an end to God. As we take positions in government, in medicine, in law, in business, in the arts and, finally, in religion, we will be the end of Him. We will change the world so much that He won’t fit in anymore’” (p. 3).

In her book, The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother and Crone, Barbara Walker starts out by saying: “A feminist believes a world where socioreligious and legal systems are governed by women would be a more humane world than the present one, which is governed by men. There would be less greed, injustice, exploitation, and warfare” (p. 1). She went on to write: “We are barely beginning to understand the enormous tragedy of the historical clash between the archaic mother religion and the new, aggressive father religion, which took place from approximately 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000, and which drastically changed the world. The sexist attitudes, injustices, and outrages that plague our society today have their foundation in religious imagery. The reason a feminist needs a skeptical view of father religion is that sexism is the product of that religion, and will remain so as long as God is assigned a masculine gender” (pp. 5-6).

Neanderthals Aren’t Cool

Things have changed. In today’s society, if you hold to a traditional understanding of men and women in the family and the church, you are an “uncool Neanderthal.” If you believe God has assigned to men a unique calling to authoritative leadership, where they alone are appointed to “oversight” in the church and they alone are the heads of their families, you will be seen as backward, fearful of change, and a misogynist. You hold such a position, it will be thought by many, because you’re just another insecure male frustrated over the loss of your cultural superiority. Furthermore, either you’re not married (it figures!) or your wife (for surely you are male) is a shriveled doormat of a human being, who has low self-esteem and wears heavy make-up to hide the welts where you have beaten her into submission.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter what kind of “traditionalist” you are. You may believe that women are created in the image of God and are deeply loved by Him, and have been given talents that should be encouraged and developed for use in the local church. And you may believe that women are essential and valuable partners in their families as wives and mothers. You might respect women, work in partnership with women, and even learn from women. But if you believe it is God’s will that men have been given certain unique positions of leadership in the church and family—even if you believe this leadership ought to be exercised in a humble, servant-like fashion—the “cool” people will still see you as anti-women. It also doesn’t matter that your belief regarding the sexes has been the normal position held by the majority of all people, everywhere, over all time, up until about 1960. Why? Because the current cultural propaganda brushes aside all history before the rise of modern feminism as uniformly oppressive to women. Exclusive roles of the sexes are to be outgrown just like witchdoctors, horse-drawn carriages, and rotary telephones.

Feminist Books

In the epilogue of the book shown above, Robert H. Rowland, a Christian, wrote: “Visualize with me an unusual, but not unscriptural scene. It is Sunday morning and we walk down the hall of the educational wing of the church.” He goes on to describe several scenes:

[In one room] the minister and his wife are team-teaching a mixed class on family relations. Across the hall, an older lady, who spent 40 years in the mission field in Africa, is teaching a mixed college class about mission work … In another classroom, a sister who recently graduated from a Christian university with a major in Biblical Languages is teaching a dozen men and women New Testament Greek. Down the hall, a Christian woman, who is a trained psychologist, is teaching a group of recovering alcoholics and their mates. In the auditorium, a Christian woman who is head of the music department at the local Christian university has a large group of men and women studying worship and is training them to read music and blend voices to more effectively teach and admonish in song. In the family room, the new youth minister is teaching teenagers to resist Satan and live for Christ in this sin-pressured world. She recently graduated from a Christian university. The teenagers have already learned to love and respect her.

After the congregation gathers for worship in the auditorium, he writes, “the lady who taught the music class encourages the church to join her in two songs of praise.” After a brother reads scripture, “a sister asks the church to join her in the offering of prayer and thanksgiving.” After the preaching, which was done by a man, “three men and three ladies wait on the communion table and serve the church. One of the ladies offers thanks for the bread and a man offers thanks for the wine.” During the announcement, an elder announces “that Sister Jones, from our favorite Christian university, and professor of Biblical Archeology, would be preaching for us next Sunday morning on the subject ‘Archaeological Evidence That The Bible Is True.’” “The bulletin reports the activities of deacons and deaconesses who are involved in dozens of ministries within the membership and in outreach.” Rowland then goes on to lambaste those who would find this whole thing “shocking.” Shocking, indeed, but such is the vision of some among us.

Feminist Books

The website above (http://www.facebook.com/Gal328/?fref=ts) is maintained by a group of Christians who are touting just such a vision. On this site under the title “Hearing Women’s Voices At The Stamford Church Of Christ,” (click here for documentation) it is said:

Where I worship God I hear women’s voices. I hear them read Scripture, sometimes with an interpretive passion I’ve rarely heard from men. I hear them pray in ways that stir my soul and awaken places in my heart that were dormant and undiscovered. I hear them bring a woman’s sensibility to their reflections on the suffering of Christ as we commune together at the Lord’s Table. I hear announcements that make sense because they are directly given by those most familiar with the real needs of our church family. And I have sat in, and greatly benefited from, classes taught by female social workers or Bible scholars. In fact, where I worship God we understand that distinctions of roles, privileges, rights and status on the basis of birth (that is, on the basis of race, gender and class) are ended in Christ (Dale Pauls, minister of the Stamford Church of Christ in Stamford, CT).

The Feminization Of A Culture And Its Results

I would like to think that reasonable, God-fearing men and women would easily recognize the folly of such radical feminism. I would like to think that you are appalled by these shenanigans. But, experience has taught me that this is not always the case. Some of my worst critics concerning gender roles have been Christian women. Depending upon their own perspectives, some have thought me too conservative while others have considered me to be too liberal. Gender issues are extremely volatile, even among Christians. One of the reasons for this is that the feminization process feeds off the real injustices that have existed—and in some cases still exist—in our culture concerning women and equality. I understand this and try to be as sensitive as I can without sacrificing what I believe the Bible to be teaching on this subject.

I do not wish to ignore or diminish the legitimate concerns off of which feminization feeds. But if you want to know why men today are acting more like women and women more and more like men, it is because feminist propaganda reigns supreme in our society—a society that encourages, even admonishes, men to get in touch with their feminine side and be, you guessed it, more sensitive. At the same time, women are taught to be more aggressive and authoritarian. It is exactly this role reversal, or interchangeability, that is touted by our feminized culture. In The Feminization Of America, the chapter that deals with “New Men, New Women” ends the section on the new man with this paragraph: “The new man, it appears, is a fit companion for the new woman who, as his mother, lover, wife, coworker, has helped him become the expressive, open-minded, vulnerable, empathetic man he is today” (p. 208). How sweet. Isn’t that just precious. Let’s all get in touch with our feelings so we can act like “girly-boys.” God forbid!

Real Men

Where is that man that God created to be male, not female? Where is that man who is a leader of and provider for his family? Where is that man’s man who exhibits those qualities that will make him desirable to God’s woman? He is, unfortunately, an endangered species! But if he can’t be found in society, then surely he can be found in the church. Sadly, this is not always the case, for instead of the church being the salt and light it needs to be to a lost and dying world, the world has risen up to force its image upon the church. Too many Christian men act neither like Christians nor men.

But the image is not faded altogether, for there is Jesus, the personification of what real manhood is all about. There is Peter, Paul, Timothy, Titus and the others. And there are those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that speak to the fullness of Christian manhood:

[W]ithout reproach or blameless, given to hospitality, good testimony from without, a lover of good, no lover of money, not greedy for ill-gotten gain, temperate, self-controlled, orderly, gentle, not contentious, not a brawler, soberminded, apt to teach, not a novice, children in subjection, able to rule his own house, the husband of one wife.

This is true manhood and it ought to be what we strive for. Such a man is the “head” of his wife, as also Christ is the head of the church. “Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:23-24). The man of God is not a neutered wimp who has emasculated himself at the altar of an anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Biblical feminism. The true man of God is not willing to relinquish his leadership role in the family or the church, and God’s woman does not want him to do so. This may make us “peculiar” to those around us, but it must be remembered that this is precisely what God created us in His Son to be (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 2:9). May God help us to be true men and women, and may we glorify Him in these efforts.

Lawful, But Not Necessarily Expedient

I have frequently thought that if we’d just get ourselves taught on this issue, emphasizing what the Bible says about the male and female roles, then a meeting of the whole congregation could be conducted in such a way that no one, male or female, would get out of line, and ultimately no one would feel left out of the process. But congregations that have tried this have not always met with positive results. Why?

Because although it is certainly lawful for a woman to be in a business meeting of the church, it is not always expedient. The apostle Paul addressed this principle when he said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). What this means concerning the subject at hand is that although a combined meeting of men and women called to discuss church business is authorized, this does not mean it is mandatory, or even desirable. It all depends upon our attitudes, dispositions, and of course, our understanding of God’s word. I’m speaking to both the men and the women here. Is our collective thinking up to speed? In other words, are we sure we have a “thus sayeth the Lord” for it, congregationally? I doubt it! But if we all conclude that we do have authority for it and that this is what we want to do, is there reason to think that some of us might have a tendency to get out of line? And if someone does get out of line, are the rest of us willing to rebuke such an individual, and take the necessary action if one doesn’t repent of their ungodly behavior? Or, might not a husband try to defend his wife even when it is clear to the rest of us that she has gotten out of her place, and vice versa? I hope you’re getting my point here. Yes, I believe the Scriptures teach conclusively that congregational business meetings are authorized and, therefore, can be conducted—and I personally would like to see it happen—but the pertinent question still remains: Is it expedient for us to do so? Remember, just because something is lawful does not automatically mean it’s expedient, or that it edifies (1 Cor. 10:23).

We’ll have more to say about this in the next and concluding article.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VII)

Church Business Meeting

Without Elders, Who’s “In Charge” Of The Local Church?

In Paul’s epistle to Titus, we learn there were some things “lacking,” or still left undone, that needed to be “set in order” (Titus 1:5). One of these things was the ordaining of elders. In Acts 14:23, we learn that Paul and Barnabas, while returning from their first preaching journey, “ordained … elders in every church.” Obviously, then, the ordaining of elders in every church was something the Holy Spirit considered to be extremely important to churches of Christ. If elders were simply to be thought of as “options,” as some seem to think, then surely they would not have received the attention afforded them by the Holy Spirit. Ordaining (or appointing) elders in a local church of Christ was, according to an inspired apostle, nothing less than setting in order the things that were lacking.

What this all teaches is that although a local church may be scriptural without elders, it cannot really be complete until such elders are ordained. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that elders are “gifts” given by our Lord Jesus Christ “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7-13). But in truth, even when two baptized believers begin to meet at a certain place for the purpose of New Testament worship, they compose the church in that locality. As such, they are as scriptural as a well established church with elders. But, and here is my point, they definitely have a problem, and sooner or later this problem is going to manifest itself. As the congregation continues to grow in number, its members will eventually come to appreciate their need for some type of oversight. Of course, in their scripturally unorganized form, the very thing they need (viz., “oversight”) is the very thing the Bible says is “lacking” (cf. Titus 1:5 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7).

Without Elders, No One Has The Oversight

In the absence of elders, no single person (or group of people, for that matter) has the scriptural right or obligation to assume or exercise any “oversight.” When a situation arises where a decision needs to be made, the church must discuss the situation, be of the same mind, and then act accordingly. There is absolutely no scriptural authority for any form of voting so as to establish majority rule. The church of Jesus Christ is not a democracy. If more brethren understood this, there would not be so many attempts to substitute “leadership” or a “men’s business meeting” for a scriptural eldership. Churches that do so, do so to their own detriment.

So, What Are The Guidelines Without Elders?

The Bible informs us that a church without scriptural elders is definitely working with an impediment. Inevitably, congregational decisions will have to be made; but if, in the absence of elders, no one (or group) has the rule, then how are final decisions going to be made? I believe the Bible provides guidelines for Christians who find themselves in such circumstances. But some, seeing this as an insurmountable problem, hastily (or at least prematurely) appoint men who are scripturally unqualified. This is a mistake and, interestingly enough, demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s plan for the local church. How?, you say. Because those rushing to be “scripturally organized” due to the pressure of congregational “business” neglect the Holy Spirit’s instructions as to the absolute qualifications that must be in place before a man can be scripturally appointed an elder. True faith, the kind that trusts in and relies upon God, will seek a “thus sayeth the Lord” for the things it believes and practices. Consequently, we must turn to God’s word for the answer of what is, admittedly, a thorny issue.

A Church Business Meeting

Scriptural authority for a church meeting to discuss business is found in Acts 6:1-8, where we are told that certain widows were being neglected in the “daily ministration.” Responsibility for these widows fell within the “business” of the Jerusalem church. Having “called the multitude of the disciples unto them,” the apostles said, “look ye out among you seven men…whom we may appoint over this business (emphasis mine).” The word translated “business” in this passage means “Necessity… need … duty or… business” (Vine). After receiving such apostolic instruction, the “multitude of the disciples” (the ASV says “congregation” and the NRSV says “the whole community”) then took care of the business at hand, that is, they selected seven men to minister to the neglected widows. Therefore, “business meetings” are authorized by an approved apostolic example. However, many of the “business meetings” I have been a part of during my 48 years as a Christian have not reflected the approved apostolic example mentioned above. I say “most” because I have been in a few meetings of the whole church where pressing business was discussed, like the need for the church to look out among itself and appoint elders, for instance. But these occasions have been exceptions rather than the rule.

What About The “No Women Allowed” Rule?

I believe an argument can be made for a “men’s business meeting” on the grounds that a meeting that is called to take care of business that includes both men and women in today’s cultural environment may not be expedient, and I’ll further expound on this point later. But the point I’m trying to make now is that a business meeting involving the whole church, and this would usually include both men and women, is, in point of fact, lawful. By lawful, I mean scriptural. In other words, I am arguing that an apostolically approved example (viz., Acts 6:1-7) teaches that a meeting of the whole church called to take care of business is Biblical. If this is true, and I don’t see any way it can be effectively refuted, then it is wrong to believe or teach that it is somehow unscriptural for women to be in a meeting of the church called to take care of business. But this is exactly what some brethren argue:

If a woman has authority with men in business meetings, she then has authority over men in the church. Remember, that business meetings are decision making meetings that involve the leadership of the church. If women have the same authority as men in these meetings, then they are exercising authority over the church (which includes men as well as women).

Those who take this position go on to say:

Leadership in the local church belongs to men. A decision making business meeting is in itself a ruling entity. The role of women is that of subjection. … Just as it is men (not women) who are to conduct the worship of the assembly, it is men (not women) who are to conduct the business affairs of the local church.

Now, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that men (not women) are to exercise leadership in the local church, and there is no doubt that such leadership involves authority. Otherwise, Paul’s instruction that a woman must not usurp authority over a man in 1 Tim. 2:12 would make absolutely no sense. Anyone who knows me or has listened to my preaching and teaching over the years knows that I believe and teach that a woman, in order to be pleasing to God, must be “under authority” or “in subjection” both in the home and the church. Consequently, I do not believe a woman can “teach or usurp authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). I further believe that a woman is to “keep silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34), that is, when the church is assembled.

“Authority” And The “Ruling Entity”

However, the only men that the N.T. identifies as having the “rule” or “oversight” are elders/bishops/pastors (1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet 5:2; Acts 20:28). Therefore, and here’s my point: The only “ruling entity” in the local church is a plurality of men (elders/bishops/pastors) who meet certain specific and extensive qualifications set down by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, and this ought to be quite clear, if such an eldership presently existed in a congregation, then a “men’s business meeting” would not and could not be viewed as a “ruling entity.” However, in the absence of elders, the Bible does not teach that a “men’s business meeting” is the de facto “ruling entity” for the local church. In fact, and this is my point, in the absence of elders, there is no ruling entity that exists in the local church; namely, it is one of the things that is lacking.

Being Of The “Same Mind” And “Same Judgment”

Consequently, decisions that are made — and decisions will have to be made — are to be made by consensus. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, consensus is “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” In other words, “UNANIMITY.” Some think that such is impossible, but they are wrong. It is not impossible for a congregation to come to a unanimous decision about some piece of business. In fact, if all members are Christians, and this is what a local church is supposed to be, then it ought to be a simple matter to arrive at a consensus of opinion, and to do so without someone or some group being “in charge.” It is unfortunate that such a process can be, and often is, quite difficult, and this is particularly so when those involved in the process don’t have the right attitude about what it is they are doing — namely, demonstrating their faith and trust in God and those He has redeemed with the precious blood of His Son.

Admittedly, this whole process is made much easier when elders, who are in the God-given position to exercise “oversight” or “rule,” are in place. However, it must be remembered that even elders do not exercise themselves as “lords” over those who have been “entrusted” to them, but as “examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). When these men set the right example, it is assumed the congregation will follow. There are, of course, exceptions (i.e., the unruly, et cetera) and elders have the authority to deal with such members. If the elders are unsuccessful in leading such to repentance, then they will ask the congregation to “withdraw” from such individuals (1 Tim. 3:6). So, even with elders, the local church is expected to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). In closing his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church to be “of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:11-12).

You will recall that when the letters were sent out by the church at Jerusalem concerning the Judaizers, who were troubling the Gentile Christians concerning matters of the Law, it was in the name of “the apostles, the elders, and the brethren” (Acts 15:23). Some, trying to argue that only men were involved in the process, say that “brethren” means only men. Such a claim manifests total ignorance of the text and the context. Yes, adelphos, translated in the verse as “brethren,” can refer to men, but it is frequently used to refer to kinsmen (male and female), those of the same nation (male and female), those in the same group (male and female), and those who are Christians (male and female). Besides, that men and women are included in the term “brethren” in verse 23 is established by verse 22, which says, “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church [emphasis mine], to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren.” In other words, they were all of the “same mind” and “same judgment” in the matter. Notice, further, that this was all done without any woman teaching or usurping authority over any of the men, be they apostles, elders, or any other male member of the congregation.

In the next article, the plan is to deal with church business meetings in view of the feminization of our culture, a circumstance that must be factored into this issue.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (VI)

The Importance of the Local Church

This is the sixth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). We’ve learned that the “My Church” of Mt. 16:18 is singular in number, universal in existence and that Christ is the Supreme Head with headquarters in Heaven. However, the New Testament reveals that the Church, in its local aspect, is plural in number, independent in operation and overseen by men according to the Divine plan as prescribed in the New Testament. Therefore, when we speak of authority, we must understand whether it is universal or local authority. When we refer to membership, we should know whether it is universal or local membership. When we speak of fellowship, we should understand whether it is universal or local fellowship. And when we talk about the work of the Church, we ought to know whether we are talking about the universal or local Church.

As we’ve learned, membership in the Universal Church is by birth — a birth of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). This is accomplished by obeying the gospel and being added to the universal body of believers, the “My church” of Mt. 16:18. However, this does not make one a member of a local congregation or church. This membership is obtained by the mutual consent of both the baptized believer and the congregation with which he desires to be identified (cf. Acts 9:26-28;18:27;Rom. 16:1-2).

Floating Membership

Some Christians have the mistaken idea that they are members wherever they attend just because they are members of the Universal Church. If all Christians made the same assumption, there could be no local congregation, for such persons remain independent, free from responsibility and free from discipline should they be disturbers of churches. The progress of God’s work in a local area cannot depend upon such people. On the contrary, when one joins or identifies himself with a local church, he pledges or agrees to enjoy and participate not just in the local worship, but in the local fellowship in aiding and financially supporting the cause of Christ in the community and elsewhere. Now, it is true that one can be a member of the Universal Church without being a member of a local congregation, as was the case with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39).

Therefore, it must never be argued that one must be a member of a local church of Christ in order to be saved. Nevertheless, the question is: Can one remain faithful, and therefore saved, if he refuses to become a member of a local church? Again, there may be some exceptions, but I think the general answer is “No!” In other words, the mindset of the “floater,” who argues for automatic membership in any local church, and in fact all local congregations, because he is a member of the Universal Church, is contrary to the truths taught in God’s word. The Bible teaches that each Christian ought to be a part of a local congregation, and participate in the activities of that group of believers. Except in rare circumstances, it is impossible to fully obey the Lord without such participation. Why? Because Christians are taught to not be “forsaking” the “assembling” of themselves “together” (Heb. 10:25). This passage does not say, as some try to make it say, “forsake not the assembly,” referring to the Lord’s Day morning assembly, as if that assembly is essential and all others are optional. Instead, it is the practice of assembling together that is under consideration: “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” (KJV). But there is more to this subject than just attending services and warming a pew. Instead, we must come together to engage in those things the local church is prescribed to do.

The Importance Of The Local Assembly

The whole church comes “together” only as each individual participates. Individual action is made clear in the NASV: “not forsaking our own assembling together…” (Heb. 10:25). Consequently, the person who willfully absents himself from any assembly has a spiritual deficiency. He may do so because he does not feel a sense of “community” with the saints. He may not understand or appreciate the benefits to be derived from community in worship. He may consider the call to assemble as “man-made.” This is often the attitude toward evening and midweek services. However, such assemblies were first called because spiritually minded brethren felt the need for them. So, if we have a sense of “community,” then it would seem reasonable that these would be important to us.

The N.T. reveals that the early saints, as a group, engaged in five activities when they assembled for worship. Two of these (#1 and #5 in the list below) were authorized as first day of the week only activities. The others were engaged in on other days in addition to the first day of the week.


  1. They met on the first day of the week to eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34; Acts 20:7).

  2. They had preaching and teaching when they came together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:15).

  3. They engaged in singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

  4. They engaged in congregational prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:5; 1 Cor. 14:12-15).

  5. They laid by in store into a common treasury on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 5:1-6).

The Local Assembly Chooses Its Own Servants

According to the Bible (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9; Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; Eph. 4:11-16) those who are to serve the local church are:


  • Elders

  • Deacons

  • Evangelists

  • Teachers

An example of the whole congregation (“the multitude of the disciples”) being involved in the selection of servants is found in connection with the church at Jerusalem (cf. Acts 6:1-6). This “seek[ing] from among you” (v. 3) was done according to the apostles’ instructions. Because faith comes by hearing God’s word (cf. Rom. 10:17), Christians today, exercising faith in God and His word, follow this example in appointing those who will serve the local congregation. This means that the local church, apart from the instructions in the Bible, is not subject to any outside control or oversight. This is what we are talking about when we say the local church is completely autonomous. Synods, conventions, and all denominational structures are unwelcome and anathama to churches of Christ functioning after the New Testament order.

The Local Church Has Work To Perform

The local church has been given work to perform. There is:


  • The work of Evangelism.

  • The work of Edification.

  • The work of Benevolence.

Evangelism

Each individual should participate to the extent of his or her ability in every teaching effort planned by the congregation. This would include attending the scheduled services of our “Gospel Meetings,” and making efforts to bring others to hear the gospel on those special occasions. By freely giving of their means into the common treasury of a local church, Christians have fellowship in supporting evangelists. This includes not just those evangelists who are members of the local church, but also those who are laboring in other places. Paul, you recall, received “wages” from other churches while ministering to the Corinthian church (2 Cor. 11:8; Phil 4:10-11).

Edification

There is much that we can do as a congregation to “edify one another.” One way is to participate in the Bible classes a church offers. What, pray tell, is the purpose of “joining the disciples” in a particular area if one is not going to be “coming in” and “going out” with them in their various spiritual activities (Acts 9:26-28)? In order to be successful, every member who is able ought to be participating in the scheduled Bible studies offered by a church, putting forth his or her best effort. The Bible teaches us that we are to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,” and this in the context of “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some” (Heb. 10:24-25). Some had, for whatever reasons, given up on meeting together. For these, the Scriptures tell us, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26b-27). Those who were converted on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Scriptures go on to say “Now all who believed were together” (Acts 2:44).

“Were together” does not mean they became a commune, all living together, but speaks to the marvelous unity of these brethren who were “coming in” and “going out” together — a genuine community of believers. It speaks of a unity of mind, of purpose, of faith, of heart, of action. They were united because they were obedient believers in Jesus Christ. Although men try, they cannot create such unity. This isn’t socialism, and it surely isn’t communism. It is, instead, pure N.T. Christianity. It is the unity that only comes “in Christ.” The meaning of “together” (Grk. epi to auto) is explained by the following verses:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).

I emphasized “as anyone had need“ in the above quotation because this is the key to understanding what took place. Christians, without being forced to do so, willingly took care of those in their number who had needs. These “needs” were not simply “wants” or “desires,” but were instead the genuine needs that people have in order to sustain their existence; namely, food, water, shelter, clothing, et cetera.

Benevolence

The local church is to engage in works of benevolence as circumstances dictate. The word benevolence means, “An inclination to perform kind, charitable acts.” Clearly, the church has been given the responsibility to provide for its own needy (Acts 2:44-45; 4:35; 1 John 3:17). In Acts 6:1-6, we learn that the Jerusalem church provided for needy saints. Then, in Acts 11:27-30, we learn that the disciples at Antioch sent a contribution “for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” In Romans 15:25-26 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, we are informed that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia sent their contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. In other words, the churches of Christ take care of their own! On the other hand, churches of Christ have never been burdened with the responsibility of taking care of the world’s poor. Indeed, such would be impossible! Nevertheless, there are those who believe the local church has just such a responsibility. Although there is absolutely no authority in the New Testament for such, these advocate using the treasury of the local church to take care of all who are needy, particularly non-Christians.

Today, we find some churches of Christ pooling their money together for the relief of non-Christians. To many, this seems perfectly all right; but nowhere in the Bible is Christ’s church saddled with such a responsibility. Actually, it is sometimes all the church can do to effectively take care of its own needy. The Scriptures are totally clear on this subject. Taking care of the benevolent needs of the saints is all that local churches of Christ are responsible for. Yes, it is true that Christians, as individuals, have a responsibility to the needy, and this is true even when the needy are not Christians (Galatians 6:2-10; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 4:17).

Consequently, a Christian may deem it fit to meet this responsibility by building, in cooperation with others, various benevolent institutions (hospitals, aid societies, etc.); but even when he does so, these institutions must not be seen as doing the work of the local church. The local church, which has the God-given responsibility to care for its own, is sufficient to do its own work. Furthermore, and as we’ve previously learned, even Christians are not to unduly burden the church in matters of benevolence. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:16, the apostle Paul said, “If any believing man or woman has widows, let them relieve them, and do not let the church be burdened, that it may relieve those who are really widows.” Therefore, those who think the church is responsible for taking care of all the needy have “wrested” the Scriptures by wrongly applying passages meant specifically for individual Christians to the local church. Called upon to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, it is extremely important for Christians to make distinctions between individual and collective responsibilities and activities, always guided by book, chapter and verse.

The Local Church Is To Practice Discipline

The church at Corinth was instructed to deliver the fornicator to Satan “when you are gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). There are two reasons for this. First, the immediate objective is to remove the wicked man from the fellowship (1 Cor 5:13), and second, to ultimately save the sinner (1 Cor. 5:5). The united action of an entire group of saints will have far more power to bring the sinner to repentance than when just a few people take it upon themselves to do so. If a brother or sister “walks disorderly” and will not repent, the local church is to “withdraw” from that person (2 Thess. 3:6). When a church fails to do this, it can only do so by disregarding the Lord’s instructions, which is serious business as it is nothing short of rebellion.

The Local Church Is Not A Social Club, Country Club, Or Recreational Center

Individually and collectively, the church is a “spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). It is not, then, a social club/country club for religious people. The Corinthians were instructed to “eat at home” (1 Cor. 11:34), and this was the pattern for the church (individually and collectively) from the very beginning: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47a).

In Summary


  • The local church is a voluntary association of Christians who come together to do those things that God would have them do as a group.

  • Each individual member should participate fully in the worship and work of the local church as he or she has the opportunity and ability.

  • However, as Christians, our responsibility to the local church is only one of many obligations we have as we live in this world. Without denigrating the importance of the local church, those who think it to be the be all and end all of the Christian’s obligation, fail to be the well-rounded influence the Lord expects His unique people to be to a lost and dying world (cf. Matt. 5:13-16).

This is summed up in the chart below:

The Christian's relationships of life.

Our plan is to continue this study in the next article.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (V)

Priesthood of all Believers

This is the fifth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. Very few people, and this includes too many New Testament Christians, don’t have a clue as to what the church actually does (I’m speaking now of the church in the local sense). This is caused, at least in part, by an institutional concept of Christianity. This kind of thinking has resulted in two tragic consequences:

  1. Many feel that every responsibility of a Christian is to be discharged as a part of the church (as a group)—these folks “practice” their religion only as a part of a group, church, or institution, and
  2. If the local church is not big enough to do what some Christians want, larger institutions are formed in order to accomplish the desired goals.

The problem lies in the failure to understand the responsibility of the individual member of the Lord’s church (I’m here referring to the universal body of believers). Consequently, it is important to keep in mind, as we’ve already learned, that the individual is the unit of membership in the universal body of Christ and, as a result, has duties that must be personally discharged, no matter what others may do. Yes, a Christian certainly has duties to discharge as a member of a local church, but for the moment I want us to focus our attention on the Christian’s responsibilities separate from the local congregation.

To make sure all minds are right, it must be reiterated that one does not become a Christian by belonging to a local congregation, or because his parents were Christians before him. One becomes a Christian when he personally obeys the gospel. When he is saved, he is added to the universal body of Christ: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Therefore, people who believe they are Christians because they were born in a “Christian home,” live in a “Christian nation,” or attend a “sound church” are greatly mistaken. In order to be a Christian, one must be “born again,” which was described by the Lord as a birth “of water and of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-5). One becomes a Christian by personal faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ, who is described as the Author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).

Total Equality

In Galatians 3:26-29, the Scriptures say: “For we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

As we are individually called by the gospel, a Jew has no advantage over a Gentile, a slave stands on equal status with his master, and a female stands on an equal basis with a male, in that she does not come to Christ through any man, but by exercising her individual will in obeying the gospel.

All Are Priests

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)…“and has made us kings and priests [or a kingdom of priests] to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6). The Scriptures go on to say: “You [Jesus Christ]…have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10), and “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6). All believers have access to the Father through Jesus Christ and are called upon to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks…for all men” — “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). No one stands between these priests but Jesus, the High Priest: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1) and “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14).

The Priestly Ministry

Christians, by virtue of who they are, are involved in a priestly ministry to the world. There are obvious ways we may do this, such as helping the helpless. There are also strategic ways such as asking why the poor are poor and dealing with the structures and powers of our societies that marginalize and depersonalize people; thus we become priests to the principalities and powers. Paul wrote, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). In Ephesians 6:12, he said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Describing this ministry, Jesus said it would be like leaven: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Mt. 13:33). Consequently, our job is to change the world. We do this as priests of the kingdom of God, serving a lost and dying world that is sin-sick and on its way to hell.

As priests of the Most High God, we must minister to those around about us, doing good to all men as we have opportunity (Gal. 6:10). Ours is a high calling that must not be taken lightly, for to do so will cause us to fail in our service/ministry, the majority of which takes place apart from the local church. Again, I wish to make it very clear that nothing I’ve said here in anyway demeans the local church, a relationship that is, in all but the most extreme of cases, an important part of every Christian’s life. Nevertheless, much of our ministry stands outside of the local church. This may sound strange to you, but it is, nevertheless, true. With this in mind, notice the following chart.

Chart of a Christian's Responsibilities

What we see from looking at this chart are our duties as members of the universal body of Christ, the “My Church” of Matthew 16:18. One aspect of our total duties is to the local church. These duties, along with the relationships we have with other members of the local church, are extremely important. But as you can clearly see, they make up a rather small portion of our entire duties and responsibilities.

A Compassionate Ministry

As can be seen from the following passages, our priestly ministry is to be a ministry of compassion: “He has shown you , O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23), “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27), “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10). This kind of ministry, particularly because it is to be done in the midst of a fallen and broken world, is not easy. For example, your child watches television in a neighbor’s home and you discover later that some of the material was pornographic. Your boss requires you to do work for a business known to have connections to the Mafia. The school system teaches a godless, secular approach to all subjects, including the creation of the world. Your purse seems to have holes in it and your money seems to purchase less and less because of global economic factors over which you have no power. These complexities come not simply from the perversities and sins of individual human beings, but from something more systemic, more all-embracing. For behind every visible foreground to a person’s life — family life, work life, community service, citizenship, and church life — there is an invisible background, not seen with the human eye, but profoundly influential. We want to do good, to serve God and our neighbor, to do an honest day’s work, to fulfill our citizenship responsibilities, and to meet our obligations to our family. However, we find ourselves confronted almost on every hand with resistance. Why? Because the “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” “the rulers of the darkness of this age,” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” are arrayed against our God-ordained ministry to a lost and dying world. Satan and his demonic forces are at work in the heavenly places, and in the world, to destroy our priestly ministry.

Unsuccessful in destroying the Christ, Satan and his horde seem bent on destroying Christians, who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth. Left here in the world, Christians do not feel in control of the circumstances surrounding their priestly service. They encounter unjust and unloving structures, principles of conformity (e.g. professionalism), cultural expectations, social patterns, law without moral foundations, customs and traditions, escalating pressures for performance, technology as master and not servant, seemingly intractable institutions, professionalism and careerism, images, the almighty dollar, red tape, and spiritual forces. The last enemy, of course, is death, an enemy that seems to lurk everywhere.

Even when one’s primary focus is the local church, service there is not free from resistance. To be faced are the powers and principalities in disguised form: power, conformity, legalism, institutionalization, and sometimes outright demonic attack. Consequently, there is no escape from the many faceted powers and principalities that are determined to resist the Truth of God and our priestly service to Him and His creation. Having attacked our Lord and failed, and now intent on destroying Christians who are, as living stones, the building (or body) of Christ here on earth, Satan roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet. 5:8). However, with the help of Him who overcame Satan and his ungodly horde, we too can overcome the powers and principalities in heavenly places, namely, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). But if we are to do so, we must be willing to do our part, which is described in Ephesians 6:10-17 as a taking up and a putting on of “the whole armor of God.” This is the only way we’ll be successful in doing the work the Lord has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:11-13).

A Knightly Priesthood

The great apostle Paul, who was a fine example of what I am here calling “knightly priesthood,” said this in Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

The Christian who is called to a priestly ministry is also described as a soldier engaged in spiritual warfare. Consequently, it seems correct to think of the Christian as a chivalrous knight engaged in those duties involving special service to the King. Webster defines chivalry as “the qualities (such as bravery, honor, protection of the weak, and generous treatment of foes) of the ideal knight: chivalrous conduct,” all of which seem to be the subject of what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

The Knightly Priest Ministers With God’s Help

The apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13) and then, “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rm. 8:21). He then made it absolutely clear that all of us are to be assured that God will continue to aid all His children, by saying: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:37-39). The following Chart graphically reminds us of this enduring assurance.

David and Goliath

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21). “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:2-4).

We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting, as we concentrate specifically on the work we are to do in connection with the local church.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (IV)

Ordained Minister

This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy or Laity, as do most religious organizations. And because it doesn’t, its preachers are not “credentialed” or “ordained,” as are most in the denominational world.

I have been asked on more than one occasion where and when I was “ordained.” When I have tried to explain that gospel preachers are not “ordained,” “credentialed,” or “called” in the ordinary denominational way, I have been rather quickly and summarily labeled a “lay preacher.” Although I reject the designation, I suppose this is about as close to understanding what a gospel preacher is that a denominationalist operating under the delusion of clericalism will be able to come up with. In point of fact, an evangelist or gospel preacher in no shape or fashion resembles most denominational preachers or clergymen. To understand this, it is important to understand some key words and their definitions.

Clericalism is the domination or rule of the “ordinary” members of a church by those ordained, trained, and invested with privilege and power. Such is the natural outcome of (1) a people who have eschewed Bible authority in favor of the think-sos of men and (2) the inevitable pressure placed upon religion by the world to specialize and centralize. As R. Paul Stevens has pointed out on page 52 of his interesting 1999 book, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, And Ministry In Biblical Perspective:

Clericalism is not only expressed in dominance through knowledge, position or exclusive right (as in sacramental ministry). It often gets expressed as disdain for the laity as unreliable, incompetent and unavailable. Increasingly, in a high-tech, fast-paced society, churches are hiring professionals for everything from childcare to financial management. Such disdain is expressed in the words of Sir John Lawrence: “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church, a clergyman dressed in the ways he approves, services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone” (Lawrence quote in Stott, One People, p. 36, emphasis in original).

According to Stevens, this is countered by anti-clericalism, which he describes as, “…the domination of the ‘laity’ and the rejection of ordained church leadership” (Ibid.).

Consequently, and according to the truths taught in the Bible, true New Testament Christianity will always be, as long as it remains authentic, anticlerical. In other words, the local church, although it is to be guided by a multiplicity of God-ordained leaders (elders, bishops, pastors), does not have, nor will it be seeking, a professionally trained and ordained seminarian as its leader or “pastor.” Such, as we learned in an earlier article, is totally foreign to God’s word. In fact, Paul was very careful to warn the churches of the first century that the God-ordained plan of several men meeting the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 (namely, an eldership) exercising the oversight of a local church would eventually be corrupted by those who made up these elderships because they desired to “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:28-31).

Therefore, it is certainly disappointing, but not unexpected, that by the third century Christendom had almost totally and wholeheartedly adopted the clergy-laity distinction, an idea that was completely at odds with New Testament teaching. The “preverse things” (Acts 20:30) these elders or bishops would teach is first recorded in the words of Ignatius of Antioch (AD 50-110), who argued for the necessity of having a single bishop in order for there to be “unity” and “peace” in “the Catholic Church,” as he called it:

Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself [I Eph6:1], your godly bishop, the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ.” Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters. Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit. [I Mag 2:1,6:1,7:1,13:2] In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church. [I Tr 3:1] Follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God’s commandment. He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil [I Smy 8:1,9:1], Lightfoot translation (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_of_Antioch).

Although he did this in the face of the continuing heresies of Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing that had become so prevalent in the churches of the latter half of the first and early second century, it is interesting that the source listed above prefaced the quoted material by saying: “Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyality to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.”

About this, the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia says:

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of the testimony which the Ignatian letters offer to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity. The martyred Bishop of Antioch constitutes a most important link between the Apostles and the Fathers of the early Church. Receiving from the Apostles themselves, whose auditor he was, not only the substance of revelation, but also their own inspired interpretation of it; dwelling, as it were, at the very fountain-head of Gospel truth, his testimony must necessarily carry with it the greatest weight and demand the most serious consideration. Cardinal Newman did not exaggerate the matter when he said (“The Theology of the Seven Epistles of St. Ignatius,” in Historical Sketches, I, London, 1890) that “the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles.” Among the many Catholic doctrines to be found in the letters are the following: the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philad., c. iii); the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (lntrod. to Philad.; Ephes., c. vi); the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magn., c. vi); the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magn., c. vi, c. xiii; Smyrn., c. viii; Trall., c. iii); the unity of the Church (Trall., c. vi; Philad., c. iii; Magn., c. xiii); the holiness of the Church (Smyrn., Ephes., Magn., Trall., and Rom.); the catholicity of the Church (Smyrn., c. viii); the infallibility of the Church (Philad., c. iii; Ephes., cc. xvi, xvii); the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrn., c. viii), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament, just as in Smyrn., viii, we meet for the first time the phrase “Catholic Church,” used to designate all Christians; the Incarnation (Ephes., c. xviii); the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polyc., c. v); the religious character of matrimony (Polyc., c. v); the value of united prayer (Ephes., c. xiii); the primacy of the See of Rome (Rom., introd.). He, moreover, denounces in principle the Protestant doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion (Philad. c. iii). The heresy against which he chiefly inveighs is Docetism. Neither do the Judaizing heresies escape his vigorous condemnation (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07644a.htm).

In that letter to the church of Smyrna referred to above, Ignatius’ exact words were, “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” It is only fitting, then, that his remains are today being venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as they repose in a church (“St. Clement”) in the city of Rome.

The Word “Clergy”

It is ironic but true (remember, the Devil loves irony) that the Greek word kleros, the word from which we get our English word “clergy,” is used in the Bible to refer to the whole people of God, not just a few (cf. Kittle and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 763). In fact, all the people of God receive a “place” or “inheritance” (kleros) through the gospel. As Jesus is reported to have said to the apostle Paul, “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [kleros] among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:17-18). Nowhere does the Bible use this word to describe someone appointed to an office in the church. It is important to note that the word was not used to refer to “clergy” until the third century. It was at that time that “laity” began to be used, as well, for it goes without saying that a “laity” can only exist when it has an opposite against which to define itself, and throughout the first and second century there was simply no such opposite. Thus, it ought to be clear to anyone interested in what the Bible says about church matters that the clergy-laity distinction so prevalent in Christendom is totally unscriptural and an invention of man and makes up at least some of the “perverse things” of which Paul warned the first century church of (cf. Acts 20:30).

The church of the first century had no “laity.” All were “clergy,” in the Bible sense of that word, in that all members of the Lord’s church had obtained a “place,” “portion,” or “inheritance” in the kingdom of God. As such, those who make up the Lord’s church or kingdom are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9), a “kingdom of priests” (Rev. 1:6), a “holy priesthood” that is able “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). In such a place, there is no room for some earthly mediator or priest. The glorified man, Jesus Christ, who now rules as King of kings and Lord of lords, is not just our High Priest, but He is the only “man” authorized to be the Mediator between us and the Father (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

I wish that the denominational world could see, by faith, that glorious and all-sufficient church for which Christ died as it really is — truly a church without laity. However, I am afraid that the “clergy” will do their utmost to keep their counterparts ignorant about the true structure and governance of the Lord’s church. What a pity.

We’ll have more to say about this in the next article, Lord permitting.

The “My Church” Of Matthew 16:18 — The Church Without Laity (III)

Missionaries

This is the third in a series of articles dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Consequently, many, even those who are worshiping with local churches of Christ, are confused about the work of so-called “missionaries.”

Foremost is the idea that there are only a few select, spiritually elite, individuals who are called to be “missionaries.” These, we are told, fulfill a very special role in the body of Christ and often at great peril to themselves. To bolster this idea, we hear some saying, “Not everyone can go, but most can give, and certainly all can pray.” At first, this appears to be just another way of saying that there is room for everyone to be involved in the kingdom of God, albeit in different ways. Consequently, it sounds quite biblical. It’s not. Nevertheless, there is just enough truth in this myth for Satan to make us feel comfortable when we embrace it. As a result, many of us fall into a deadly error — an error that says there really is a missionary elite (i.e., a specially favored, highly talented, relatively small group of Christians who are really God’s choice little band for evangelizing the world). The fact that all this corresponds so closely with what we see and hear further operates to make this seem even more plausible. After all, the number of those who actually go into foreign fields to preach and teach the gospel is relatively small. So, although we may not see ourselves as the missionary type (and few are, we console ourselves), we can surely give from our abundance to support these dedicated few, even if this entails digging a little deeper than usual. After all, foreign evangelism is something very special, we tell ourselves, and if, God forbid, we happen to be in a situation at the moment where we are unable to give, then we can always pray for the work and the safety of those involved.

“What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?,” you ask, and “How could such be unbiblical?” Simply this: The “going” that God commands of His people is not limited to an elite group of super-Christians, even as it was not limited to the apostles to whom it was first given. Further, it is not limited to far away places that inevitably involve the crossing of large bodies of salt water. On the contrary, the Lord calls every Christian to be a missionary. In doing so, He commands all of us to “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Yes, I realize that the Lord first directed this to His apostles, but most interpreters have understood that this wasn’t limited to them alone. In fact, and this by way of extension, it is every Christian’s “call” to the mission field — a field made up not only of exotic sounding places and far away locations, but one that includes our houses, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It includes the factories and offices where we work and the schools we attend. In reality, the mission field may be as unromantic and unexotic as that area just over our backyard fences. In other words, although we Christians are no longer “of the world,” through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we are still “in the world” (John 17:6-19), and it is to this world — the one in which we live every day — that the Lord has called us to be missionaries.

So, with the undeserved fuss that is frequently made over “missionaries,” a group thought to be an elite band of super-Christians willing to make great personal sacrifices to preach and teach the gospel in far away places, many of us unwittingly fall into Satan’s snare as we alternately praise and feel sorry for this admired group (viz., the “some” who can go). Believing missionary work to be a task for the few, the rest of us, in moments brought about by guilt, or even by a desire for greater personal service, promise to pay for and pray for “our missionaries in foreign lands.” But in exaggerating the role of those who go great distances to communicate the gospel, we begin to underestimate the divine call to missions that is placed on all Christians. We soon forget that all of us are called upon to live in a mission field, and that all of us are, in fact, missionaries (and this no less or no more than those few who go the great distances). When this happens, the work the Lord left us here on this earth to do is seriously hampered.

We are sometimes lead in the song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru.” This sentiment is an integral part of a correct biblical worldview, for as Christians we are to understand that our citizenship is not here on earth, but in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Here we are but sojourners and pilgrims (2 Peter 2:11). What this means, then, is that wherever we are in this world is the mission field, and when every Christian gets this idea firmly entrenched in his or her mind, we’ll be doing a much better job of what it is the Lord left us here to do.
Does this mean that I think those who go into foreign fields are not to be admired for their work’s sake? Certainly not! Does it mean that I think they should not be supported? No! Does it mean that I think those in foreign fields do not need our prayers? Don’t be ridiculous! What I’m saying is that we must learn to view what the “missionaries” are doing as nothing more than an extension of the work we are all called upon to do. This is to say, mission work is not something “other than” what the rest of us should be doing. We are all in this together, and this is not because we are giving and praying, as we should be, but because we are all missionaries to a lost and dying world.

Our ancient adversary is a formidable foe who specializes in the “deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Therefore, it should not surprise us that a church that prides itself on being missionary-minded, and takes comfortable satisfaction in its support of foreign evangelism, reveling in the long roll of preachers it supports at home and abroad, can still be failing in its primary missionary responsibility. Indeed, it is a pathetic thing when a church that expends great amounts of money supporting the preaching of the gospel around the world, and rejoices in the saving of foreign souls, is made up of members who fail to see themselves as missionaries called to service in the army of the Lord. Failing to see themselves as “candidates” for the Marine Corps of evangelism (i.e., “a few good men”), they forget that they are actually “conscripts” who have been called upon to serve the Lord where they are. They forget the church is not the building where they assemble, but the body of Christ that gathers together on the Lord’s Day for worship, and then scatters into the world for service during the rest of the week, going to the unique places God has called them to go. Seduced by a lie and effectively destroyed by a myth, these Christians have caused the primary mission of the church (“to seek and save the lost”) to be seriously impaired as they imbibe the Laodicean legacy. Thinking themselves to be rich and in need of nothing, they do not realize they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

But, there is a remedy, and as always, it is to be found by turning to God’s Word.

When Christians turn to God’s Word for guidance, they will learn to think of themselves as missionaries.

When men go back into the business world on Monday, and they do so not just as an opportunity to make money, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they will see themselves as missionaries to the business world.

When the women of the church return to their tasks in the home, the neighborhood, and the world of commerce, and they do so not just because this is the nature of their lives, but because they are being sent by Christ to these places. They, too, will see themselves as missionaries.

When young men and women who have been taught God’s Word return to their schools and colleges not just to get an education, but because this is where Christ is sending them, they too will be missionaries.

In truth, the role of missionary is assigned to all in the kingdom of God, not just a few. Consequently, the true measure of a church is not necessarily to be found in its foreign evangelism budget or in the number of preachers it supports. It is, instead, to be found in the portion of its own members who understand that because they are saved by Christ, they are sent by Him as missionaries to a lost and dying world. In the plan and purpose of God, all are meant to go. Therefore, the idea that “some can go” falls far short of the truth.

Consequently, when churches of Christ return to their ancient heritage, rejecting as they should the traditions and think-sos of men, ideas that raise the work of foreign evangelism to pedestals to be exalted throughout the brotherhood, they will realize that God’s plan for missionary work is the only effective plan for missions.

When Christians understand the Bible as we should, we will be saying to ourselves and our fellow Christians that all can go, and therefore should; that all can give, and are, as a result, under obligation to do so; that all can pray, and that this is to be an essential part of going and giving, but that this must not be seen as a substitute for either one of these.

So, as a kingdom of priests, let us all rise to the missionary task set before us, and let us take consolation in the assurance that we can do all things required of us through Christ who gives us the strength (Philippians 4:13).

In the next article, we’ll examine some more characteristics of the church without laity.