Sadly, there has been much division in the Lord's church over the course of the last 30 to 40 years. This division has centered on such issues as church-sponsored recreation and church support of human institutions (orphan homes, colleges, rest homes, homes for unwed mothers, etc.). One argument used to justify church support and involvement in such activities is that there is no distinction between the church and the individual. The church, according to the position, is made up of individuals, so when the individual acts, the church acts. Thus, the thinking is that whatever individuals can do, the church can do; whatever Christians can scripturally contribute to, the money from the treasury of the church can be used to support.

The above position is certainly contrary to the scriptures and is actually quite ludicrous. While there are many passages we could examine, we will concentrate on two that show the distinction between church action and individual action.

Consider Matthew 18:15-17. In these verses, we have a situation where one Christian sins against another. The wronged brother, in this case, is to go to the brother in error and tell him his fault (individual action). If this fails, he is to take with him one or two other Christians to try and get the erring one to repent (group action). If this fails, he is to tell it to the church, and if the efforts of the church fail (church action), then he is to be as a "heathen man and a publican." Clearly, Christ is not saying that the entire congregation would have to visit the erring brother, but, instead, representatives of the church would visit the man. The first two steps involve the action of "Christians," but do not involve "church action." It is not until the third step that you have "church action." Thus, individual Christians may pursue a course of action, and that is not the church acting.

The same distinction is made in I Timothy 5:16 where there is a discussion of the "widow indeed." This widow's family (i.e., her children and grandchildren), 5:4, has the first responsibility to help her. The family being addressed are "believers." If they are able to help her, then, it is stated, "let not the church" be charged. Therefore, individual Christians can act in helping a needy widow, and if they do, the church is not acting.

Consider a few consequences of this position that believes the church and the individual are the same. An individual Christian can operate a business. Does this mean that the church can operate a business? Can the church rent out an apartment or own a grocery store simply because the individual can? Also, the individual Christian can make donations to such organizations as the Red Cross, the Heart Fund, and the American Cancer Society. Can the church make donations to these organizations, simply because the individual can? Further, an individual Christian can provide clean recreation for his family. Can the church build facilities for recreation, build a theme park, etc., simply because the individual can?

Clearly there is a distinction between the actions of the individual and the actions of the church. The church is not authorized to engage in every activity that the individual can.

By Mike Johnson

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