A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

What is the Church Supposed to be Doing?

By Jeremy Cagle

In his autobiography, Charles Spurgeon gave the following insight into the Christian ministry:

I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel, and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.1

I could not agree more. There is no other way to bring sinners to a saving knowledge of Christ than with the means that God Himself has ordained. God will only save men in His time, in His power, and with His methods. Men’s methods will not accomplish God’s purposes. Human inventions will not convert lost sinners. But what are the methods that God uses to draw men to Himself? How does the Lord bring sinners into His kingdom and, once they have been brought in, what are the new converts to do with themselves? It is the purpose of this article is to answer those questions.

John MacArthur has described the church as:

The only society in the world in which membership is based on the single qualification that the candidate be unworthy of membership.2

Martyn Lloyd-Jones echoed this idea when he said:

There is nobody born a Christian into this world. We have to born again to become Christians.3

The church is the assembly of God’s elect called out to teach, preach, worship, fellowship, and evangelize. The church is local, meaning that it meets weekly in certain geographic areas.4 The church is universal, meaning that every Christian in the world belongs to it.5 In the New Testament, the church is given many descriptions such as a body,6 a vine,7 a sheepfold,8 a bride,9 a building,10 a family,11 and a priesthood.12

As for its leadership, the church is watched over by elders13 and served by deacons.14 As for its function, the church functions as the body of Christ with Christ as its head15 and it worships “in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ.”16 As for as its membership, each member belongs to one another17 and each member belongs to one body.18 As for its initiation into membership, one must believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for their salvation19 and repent of their sin to join.20

The church may meet in a building but the church is not just a building. The church is an organization of Christians consistently meeting together for the five purposes mentioned below:

I. TEACHING

The purpose of teaching is given in Ephesians 4:11 – 12:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.

The function of pastors and teachers is to equip the saints for the work of service. Teachers function to educate the members of the body of Christ on what they are to be doing while on this earth.

The importance of teaching cannot be emphasized enough in regards to the church. Paul told Timothy that if he would pay close attention to his own life and to his teaching, he would provide salvation for himself and his hearers.21 Earlier in the same chapter, Paul told Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.”22

The teaching of the Word of God is a serious task because, if it is done well, the church will move forward. If it is not done well, the church will not move forward.

With all of that said, teaching occurs in three main arenas: in the church, in the home, and one on one.

In the Church

The first place where teaching occurs is inside the walls of the church. This kind of teaching can be done in the pulpit (see below) but it can also be done in a Sunday School setting or within small group Bible Studies. Those who teach such classes and studies should be under a strict watch from church leaders as their teachings and lives serve as models for their audiences. Even though they may not be clergy, they are still functioning as ministers and should be held accountable to what they say and do.

In the Home

The second place where teaching occurs is within a family or neighborhood environment. Home Bible Studies have become a necessity in large church communities where there would be no other way to personally serve one another without weekly meetings in some informal location. We see an example of this in Romans 16:3 – 5, where a church met at the home of Priscilla and Aquila.

It is also essential for teaching to occur within the context of an earthly family. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The greatest teachers that God gives to young children are their parents. Without parents giving Christian instruction in the home, children grow up confused and disillusioned about the Christian faith. They learn the Bible from their pastor but they do not learn the Bible from their mother and father and that confuses them. It teaches them that the Christian life is for Sunday mornings but not for week days. The Apostle Paul thought this to be such an important aspect of the Christian life that he would not allow a man to function as an elder if his children were out of control.23

One on One

A third placed where teaching occurs is in one–on–one / life–on–life relationships. This third form of teaching is known as discipleship. In the Great Commission, Jesus told His followers to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”24 Jesus wants His church to make more than converts; He wants them to make disciples. He wants His followers to instruct the next generation on what He has commanded them to do.

Although discipleship does happen from the pulpit or church classroom, one of, if not the, most effective form of discipleship is one-on-one. Circumstances in life often arise that are difficult to address from the pulpit because they are irrelevant to the current subject under discussion or because they are too specific to mention to a broad audience. It is vital for every Christian to find an older believer or group of believers who can help guide them through the ebbs and flows of life.25 It is the duty of the “disciple” to seek out these relationships as much as it that of the “discipler.” In the words of Steve Martin, “We cannot take it for granted that conversion gives a man all he needs to know about manhood, marriage, child raising and leadership.”26

II. PREACHING

The difference between teaching and preaching is not a ravine but rather a small rift. Preaching would fall into the category of teaching but, because of its importance in the life of the church, it is necessary to give it separate treatment.

In Second Timothy 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul says,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Here in Second Timothy, Paul gives Timothy three purposes for preaching: to “reprove,” to “rebuke,” and to “exhort.”

To Reprove

 The first function of preaching is that of reproof or warning. The church needs to know when it is facing danger. Second Timothy 4:3-4 shows us that this is what Paul had in mind in verses 1-2.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Timothy’s job was to warn his congregation against wrong teaching and that is the first function of modern preaching as well.

To Rebuke

The second function of preaching is that of rebuking or admonishment. This is very similar to the first but whereas the first is a warning, the second is a reproach. An example of this is found in Galatians 2:14 when the Apostle Paul confronts Peter for his decision to eat with Jews and not with Gentiles:

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Although this confrontation was not done from a pulpit, it does highlight the fact that the job of the preacher is to rebuke unsound doctrine.

To Exhort

The first two functions of preaching have negative aspects, but this final one is positive. The third task of preaching is to encourage or uplift. Although some have the gift of encouragement27 and encouragement is the duty of all Christians,28 a pastor is to be one who encourages his flock. Titus 2:15 says: “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” There is a time for tearing down and a time for building up. When a pastor reproves and rebukes, he is, in a sense, tearing down his congregation (but he is doing so for their own good – to keep them from believing lies). When a pastor exhorts, he is building them up to be more like Christ.

III. WORSHIP

To worship is, “to show religious reverence for something.”29 It is to exalt something. To magnify it. To give it glory. Worship may be the most controversial and confusing method of ministry around today. Churches split and denominations form almost monthly over disagreements regarding how “to show religious reverence for” Jesus Christ.

The Bible does give us instruction regarding how to worship and what is says falls into three categories: music, the ordinances, and prayer.

Music

Music is one way in which we see the Lord worshipped in Scripture. The Psalms provide a rich display of commands to worship the Lord in music. Psalm 57:7-9 says:

I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! Awake, my glory,Awake harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations.

Psalm 92:1, 3 says: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High . . . With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp.” Psalm 98:4-6 says:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre. With the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Ephesians 5:18-20 also says:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.30

The Ordinances

The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the two ordinances that are given to the church today. They are one of the ways in which believers can worship God. The Lord’s Supper, instituted by Jesus on the night before His crucifixion31 was given as a continuous symbol of His covenant with believers. The bread and drink contain no spiritual powers in and of themselves. Instead, the bread symbolizes Jesus’ body (Matt 26:26) and the drink symbolizes Jesus’ blood, “which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”32 The Lord’s Supper is also said to serve as a proclamation of Jesus’ death until He returns (1 Cor 11:26) and as a representation of the unity of the church.33

Believers are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ as a symbol of their death to sin and resurrection unto a new life.34 In this baptism, Christians are “all baptized by one Spirit into one body” – the church.35 Because of this, baptism is commanded for all true believers. As to its implementation, this ordinance is not for infants or unbelievers of any sort but only for those who have repented of their sins and believed the Gospel.36 Baptism is by immersion, not sprinkling. The Greek word baptizo always signifies always “to sink, immerse, dip” in the New Testament. It never refers to sprinkling.

Prayer

One of the most popular forms of worship is prayer or the action of bringing our requests before God. A clear example of prayer as a vehicle for worship is seen in the writings of the Apostle Paul. In Ephesians 3:14-15 Paul bows his “knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Furthermore, Paul states in Ephesians 3:20-21 that glory is due “to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” In 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul gives “honor and glory forever and ever” to the “King eternal, immortal, invisible,” and in 6:15-16, he confers “honor and eternal dominion” to “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.” Finally, in Second Timothy 4:18, Paul gives “glory forever and ever” to the Lord who “will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”

IV. FELLOWSHIP

Fellowship is an intriguing aspect of church ministry. It is a montage of all the methods of church ministry mentioned above. When the three methods of preaching, teaching, and worship come together, fellowship occurs.

We see a good example of Biblical fellowship in Acts 2:44-47. Here, the Word of God tells us that fellowship is conducted in three ways: with one purse, with one mind, and with one purpose.

With One Purse

Acts 2:44 – 45 says, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” The first church had one bank account for everyone. Each believer gave to one end: the good of every other believer.

Fellowship occurs when believers are looking out for one another. When the church begins to function as a family, it is engaging in true fellowship. Families support each other: socially, emotionally, and financially. We see here that the early church did just that.

With One Mind

Acts 2:46 says, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” The second form of fellowship is done with “one mind.” If the church is to participate in true fellowship, it must function without division.

Fellowship cannot occur where there is disunity. In Philippians 2:1-2, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians to, “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” The church is to be one in its teaching, preaching, and worship of Jesus Christ. The church must function with a united heart but it must also function with a united mind that submits to the truth of God’s Word. As Jerry Bridges writes:

Where there is no vital union with Christ, there can be no sharing of the common life that believers have in Him . . . As we turn our attention to the horizontal aspects of fellowship . . . let us keep in mind that it is all made possible by our vertical fellowship with God.37

With One Purpose

Acts 2:47 says this group of believers was “praising God and having favor with all the people.” If the church gathered for the sake of gathering it would be nothing more than a social club. In order for the church to be distinct from any random body of people, it must have a unique function. That function is to praise and glorify God.

This purpose cannot be confused with anything else. Many churches today mistake their spiritual function for one of a political or social nature when it is the praise of God that makes a church a church. This one purpose cannot be substituted for a lesser one. We can participate in outreaches and social gatherings as a church but if these are not done to promote the exaltation of God, then our purpose is divided and true Biblical fellowship cannot occur.

V.EVANGELISM

Evangelism is last in this list of ministry methods in order but not in importance. It is distinct from the other forms in that, as the other methods of ministry are to occur when the church gathers together, evangelism can occur when the church comes together and when it scatters. This is evident from two passages of Scripture.

Matthew 28:19

Matthew 28:18-20 is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. It is Jesus’ final commission or sending of His disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. Verse 19 records these words from the Lord:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The original recipients of this Gospel would have understood this command in a different manner than we do today or at least with a little more insight. The Greek verb for “go” at the beginning of the verse is poreuthentes. It is best translated “having gone.” This may seem like a small peculiarity but it is a major distinction in understanding the way in which our Lord wants us to evangelize. Jesus did not command us to just go and bring the lost to a church gathering, He commanded us to go and, “having gone,” to make disciples.38

In other words, evangelism is to be done every day, not just on Sundays. As Christians are working their 9-5 jobs, they are to be making disciples. As they cook, build, farm, and conduct business, they are to be witnessing for Jesus Christ. It is to be something that is done as they “have gone” out into the world.

Romans 10:14

Some scholars consider Paul’s Letter to the Romans to be his greatest work on salvation. Martin Luther once wrote that:

Should a tyrant succeed in destroying the Holy Scriptures and only a single copy of the epistle to the Romans and the Gospel according to John escape him Christianity would be saved.39

In this great work, Paul says this about evangelism in 10:14-15:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heart? And how will they heart without a preacher?

The lost cannot get saved unless someone preaches the Gospel to them. An unbeliever cannot believe a message that he has never been told. It is the task of every Christian to give the message of salvation to everyone. As 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The Word of Christ must be presented if saving faith is to occur and that presentation is the responsibility of the church when it gathers together and when it scatters.

CONCLUSION

While these five methods will never be perfectly followed, they are the Bible’s standard for the church. Every assembly of God’s elect should strive to teach, preach, worship, fellowship, and evangelize according to the Word of God. To strive to do less would be to dishonor Him. To ignore His divine instructions would be to incur His divine judgment. But, if all of this sounds discouraging, let me close with these words of encouragement from an author who has written a lot about what the church of God should be doing.

Of course, just as there are not perfect Christians in this life, so there are no perfect churches. Even the best churches fall far short of the ideal. Neither correct polity nor courageous preaching, neither sacrificial giving nor doctrinal orthodoxy can ensure that a church will flourish. Nevertheless, any church can be healthier than it is. In our own lives, we never see complete victory over sin, but as true children of God we do not therefore give up the struggle. Churches must not give up the struggle either. Christians, particularly pastors and church leaders, desire and labor to see healthier churches . . . To that end I write, and to that end you read, both so that God may be glorified in His people.40

 

 

 

 

 

  1. C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume I: The Early Years (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005 ed.) v.  []
  2. Anxiety Attacked: Applying Scripture to the Cares of the Soul (Colorado Springs, Col.: Cook Communications, 1993) 75. []
  3. The Cross: God’s Way of Salvation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1986) 45. []
  4. Acts 20:7; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19. []
  5. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Cor 12:13. []
  6. 1 Cor 12:12-27 []
  7. Jn 15:1-2 []
  8. Jn 10:7-18 []
  9. Eph 5:25-32 []
  10. Matt 16:13-20 []
  11. Rom 14:13-21 []
  12. 1 Pet 2:4-9. []
  13. Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 3; Titus 1:5-9 []
  14. 1 Tim 3 []
  15. Col 1:18, 24 []
  16. Phil 3:3 []
  17. Rom 12:5 []
  18. Eph 4:25 []
  19. Rom 10:9-10 []
  20. Lk 13:3; 2 Tim 3:19 []
  21. 1 Tim 4:16. []
  22. 1 Tim 4: 13).) The seriousness of teaching cannot be emphasized enough, either. James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” James Montgomery Boice gives the reason for this stricter judgment when he says:

    God is well able to raise up preachers from stones. But at the same time it is true that if God has called a man to be a preacher in a particular situation, that man is, by the calling and disposition of God, indispensable for that situation. If he gives good leadership and provides good teaching from the Word, that church will go forward. If he fails to do it, that church will not go forward. ((Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (Orlando, Flo.: Ligonier Ministries, 2008) 25. []

  23. 1Tim 3:4-5; Tit 1:6. []
  24. Matt 28:19. []
  25. Titus 2:1-8. []
  26. “Train Other Men” in Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, ed. Thomas K. Ascol (Cape Coral, Fla.: Founders Press, 2004) 305. []
  27. Rom 12:8 []
  28. Heb 3:13; 10:25 []
  29. Webster’s New World Dictionary, ed. Michael Agnes (New York: Wiley Publishing Inc., 2003) 746. []
  30. For more information on this passage, see the Theological Question: “What Does It Mean to be Filled with the Spirit?” []
  31. Lk 22:7-20 []
  32. Matt 26:28 []
  33. 1 Cor 10:17 []
  34. Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12. []
  35. 1 Cor 12:12-13. []
  36. Gal 3:26-27. []
  37. The Crisis of Caring: Recovering the Meaning of True Fellowship (Philipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 1985) 61. []
  38. John MacArthur, Matthew 24-28 in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989). MacArthur comments on this issue of internal or external evangelism by saying, “The first requirement makes clear that the church is not to wait for the world to come to its doors but that it is to go to the world. The Greek participle is best translated ‘having gone,’ suggesting that this requirement is not so much a command as an assumption,” (342). []
  39. Quoted in Mike Abendroth’s Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers (Leominster, Canada: Day One Publications, 2008) 51. []
  40. Mark E. Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Washington, D.C.: IX Marks Ministries, 2005) 7-8. []