In a study of what the work of the local church is, it is always necessary to know what the Lord has revealed about the subject. ( 2 John 9 ff; 1 Cor. 4:6; Acts 15:24). God’s mind and His eternal purpose are manifested even to the high order of “principalities and powers in heavenly places” through the church. (Eph. 3:10).
By its very definition, the local church is the saved people who meet together to worship God and work together under qualified elders to do the work God has assigned the church. The local church is God’s order. Paul wrote to Titus telling him he had been left in Crete to “set in order things wanting and ordain elders in every city.” (Titus 1:5). When a thing is set in order, it is organized. To the church in Colossae. Paul wrote of his joy in beholding their “order” (Col. 2:5).
The local church is to be under the oversight of elders. (Titus 1: 5 ff; Acts 14: 23; 1 Peter 5:2-3). These verses show that each church in each city is to have elders appointed who are charged with the duty of overseeing all functions of that church. Their oversight is limited to that congregation only, and they have no authority to oversee any part of the work, worship, or members of any other congregation.
The local church is to finance its own work and make up those finances by the members contributing regularly into a common treasury. (Acts 2:44 ff; 4:34-35; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 1 Cor. 9: 7). These verses teach that on the Lord’s Day, evidently during worship, each member is to give as they have been prospered, cheerfully and with liberality, that the work may be financed.
Paul writes the Corinthians and says, “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a man has not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the case of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality.” (2 Cor. 8: 12, 13).
The work of the local church consists of three things. The first is evangelism, or causing the gospel to be preached. (1 Tim. 3:15 ff; 1 Thess. 1:7,8; Phil. 2:14-10; 4:13-17). These verses all show that it is the local church that is given the responsibility of seeing that the gospel is preached according to the scriptures. Churches either sent preachers (Acts 1: 22) or they sent directly to a preacher (1 Tim. 4: 13- 17) and in this way caused the gospel to be preached.
The second work of the local church is benevolence or providing physical necessities to those who are poor. (Acts 6: 1-4 f; 1 Tim. 5: 16). The churches of Christ in the first century provided for the needs of members of the body of Christ when they were in need (1 Cor 16:1-3). The work of benevolence is limited by its very nature to Christians and was never extended to sinners.
A third and last work of the church is edification, or strengthening the members of the church. (Acts 9:31 f; Rom. 14:19). This is accomplished by employing teachers to teach the Word to members of the church. Elders are to “feed the flock” with the sincere milk of the Word. (Acts 20:28). By this the church grows stronger. Edification is the way members of the church are encouraged and exhorted to do more personal work for the Lord.
In a complete survey of the New Testament there is a conspicuous absence of any information about social or political work being done by churches of Christ. There is no indication that they ever engaged in recreational activities such as parties, banquets and games, etc.
The work of the local church is different than the work that is given every individual Christian. The individual has duties that are civic and domestic but the local church does not. An individual Christian has social obligations that the local church does not. We, as individual Christian parents, are to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but it is not the local church’s duty to do so.
The work of the local church differs from individual work in finances. The only authorized way of getting money into the treasury of the church is the contribution of the members of the church on the Lord’s Day. (1 Cor. 10: 1-4). There is no authority for local churches to have car washes, cake sales or hold profit-making businesses. But there is nothing wrong in an individual working in a car wash, bakery or holding a profit making business “to be able to give to him that have needs.” (Eph. 4:28).
The work of the local church differs from individual work because there are specific statements of inspiration showing such to be true. “If any man or woman that believes have widows let them relieve them and let not the church be charged . . .” (1 Tim. 5: 16). Paul clearly shows the difference in this passage between individual Christian duties and in congregational work.
The local church is limited in organization to operating in and through the framework God has given. There is no authority in the Bible for any other organization than the local church through which this work is to be done. No Missionary Society, Benevolent Society (Orphanage under a board of directors) or College has the right to do the work God gave the Church, and no right to expect one cent out of the local church treasury.
The local church work cannot be done by one congregation trying to work through another. The sponsoring church practice is an offender in this case. A sponsoring church acts as agent for all the contributing “interested” churches. This destroys the equality and independence of all congregations in this cooperative.
Conclusion: God has set in order the work of the local churches of Christ. The local church has full autonomy according as the scripture gives authority. Thus, the same rules apply to each and every local church but is not limited by it’s ability. Some churches will be more talented. Some churches will be more affluent. Some churches will have more opportunity. Yet, all churches cannot supersede the commandments and direction which the apostles of Jesus Christ established.