Individual or Church?

by Jimmy R. Mickells

I was recently given a bulletin with an article in it that asked this question: "Where does the Bible make a distinction between the individual member and the church in the work of the Lord?" May we notice together that the word of God answers this question very clearly? The reason that some contend that there is no distinction between the two, an individual and the church, is that they want to practice something for which the church has no authority. There are differences between what a church is authorized by God to do and what an individual can do.

In I Timothy 5:16, Paul made this statement, "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." This passage very clearly makes a distinction between what the individual is to do, the believing man or woman that has widows, versus the responsibility that the church has, let not the church be burdened. The church was to help those who were "really widows." Notice the stipulation that the apostle gave before she was to be taken into the number. "Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work" (I Timothy 5:9,10). This is the answer to the question above.

As an individual, I can give money to the Red Cross, support the American Cancer Society, help Alive Hospice, contribute to a political party or candidate, etc. As long as what I'm doing is not evil, I can spend my money (given to me by God) in whatever way I deem best. This is not true with the church. It can only act as authorized by God. He gave her work to do. Can the church contribute to the Red Cross, American Cancer Society, etc.? Absolutely not! Why? It has no authority at all to use the funds collected on the first day of the week, by free-will offering, to be used for something other than what we read about in the Bible.

Many churches of Christ today are using the Lord's money to provide things for members (and non-members) that the individual should be supplying. It is not the work of the church to provide entertainment, gyms, camps, social meals, etc. As a parent, I'm to provide these things for my children. I have responsibilities that I must fulfill and I cannot and should not expect the church to do what the Lord requires me to do. Is there a difference between what an individual can do and what the Lord's church can do? Paul says there is! Will you accept the answer that is given? We must never be guilty of involving the church in some work that God has not authorized it to do. Remember the words of John, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (II John 9-11).

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