The Work of the Church
When God told His people in Old Testament times to build the tabernacle, He gave Moses the pattern that he was to follow in building the tabernacle. The Hebrew writer says:
“…Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’.” (Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:40).
God gave Moses the pattern for the structure of the tabernacle, the furnishings, the organizational structure, and even the specific works of the priests and Levites who would serve in the tabernacle. Nothing was left to man’s wisdom; the pattern for building the tabernacle and its work was all given by God, and Moses was not allowed to deviate from the God-given pattern. God said:
“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9).
God’s dwelling place in New Testament times is the church, and the New Testament reveals God’s pattern for the building of His church, its organizational structure and worship, and even the work that God wants His church to perform. If God chose not to reveal any specific program of work for His church, then any program of work would be just as good and thus pleasing in the sight of God as any other program of work. A church which decided to use its resources to build a money-making enterprise or a hospital would be just a pleasing as a church which used its resources to preach and teach the gospel. But God has revealed a pattern of work for His church and God’s people are admonished to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) which have been revealed by the apostles. What works, according to the Scriptures, have been assigned to the church by God?
The Work of Evangelism
Due to the fact that
“the gospel of Christ…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)
and the gospel is to be heard through preaching (cf. Romans 10:13-17), evangelism is a work that God has assigned to His church. The local churches you can read about in the Bible recognized their obligation to spread the gospel to the lost world. The church at Antioch sent preachers out to spread the word of God (Acts 13:1-3), and the church at Philippi supported the apostle Paul in his labors to preach the gospel (Philippians 4:15-16).
The Work of Edification
God has also assigned the work of edification to the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). In the New Testament we see that as the gospel was preached and people obeyed the gospel, local churches were established, and the saints in these local churches needed to be strengthened and encouraged to become mature Christians (Acts 14:21-22). Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, gave them instructions concerning singing, praying, giving, and observing the Lord’s Supper. He said
“if the whole church comes together in one place…Let all things be done for edification…that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:23,26,31).
The Work of Limited Benevolence
God has assigned the work of benevolence to the church, but in all the examples given in the New Testament benevolence by the church was limited to helping needy saints. Occasionally the early saints came to be in need of the necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter); some due to unexpected extended stays away from their home (Acts 2:44-45; 4;34-37; 61-6), others due to a famine (Acts 11:27-30; ), and some due to a lack of relatives to care for them (1 Timothy 5:4-16). By these examples we see that God authorizes local churches to care for needy saints.
Some Works Man has Assumed for the Church
In spite of the fact that God has clearly revealed the works that He has assigned to His church, man has added many more works to the church. Here is a partial list of works financed and overseen by institutional churches: farming, secular schools, day care centers, orphan and retirement homes, recreational and entertainment facilities, general benevolence facilities (clothing and food banks for non-saints in the community). Many more additional works could be cited that man has assumed to be good works for the church to do; but these works lack authority from heaven and constitute “lawlessness” in the eyes of God (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
“But the Bible doesn’t say we can’t…”
In an attempt to justify many additional works, the reasoning is offered: “But the Bible doesn’t say we can’t have them.” But the Bible does say that we are not allowed, with God’s approval, to assume other works besides what God has revealed in His pattern (the New Testament). Let me illustrate. My employer sends me blueprints for office remodels that are designed to suit prospective tenants. These blueprints are the pattern I am to follow as I remodel the office space. Suppose I were to take it upon myself to add a kitchenette in an office space even though the blueprints did not call for a kitchenette. Could I go to my employer and say, “I thought it would be a nice addition, and besides, you didn’t say we couldn’t have a kitchenette in the office space.” I know my employer, and they would not be receptive to my reasoning for the kitchenette. But let’s go a step further; suppose on the blueprints for the remodel there were statements like: “do not go beyond the things that are written in this blueprint”; “whoever transgresses and does not abide in the instructions of this blueprint, will no longer be employed by this company;” “if anyone adds to these things, the employer will add to him a plague…and if anyone takes away from this blueprint, the employer will take away his part from a salary and future employment with this company.” These statements would make it especially clear that I am not allowed, with the company’s approval, to add anything or subtract anything from the work outlined by the blueprint for the remodel.
The New Testament contains statements that make it clear that man cannot, with God’s approval, deviate from God’s blueprint (pattern) regarding the works He has authorized for His church. The apostle Paul said we are “not to think (“go”—KJV) beyond what is written;” the NASB says, “not to exceed what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6), and we are to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). The apostle John said:
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God” (2 John 9).
The Revelation of Jesus Christ ends with an admonition that is true, in principle, of all of God’s revealed will:
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to those things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).