A Sound Church
by Kenneth E. Thomas
August 14, 2001
The word "sound" according to my Franklin electronic Dictionary & Thesaurus, means: "(1) Free from fault, error, or illness. (2) Firm or hard. (3). Showing good judgment, able. If, however, we are to find the meaning of "sound" as it applies to spiritual matters, to local churches, we must go to the scriptures for our definition. We must find the scriptural criteria for soundness as Christ views it. One church in the first century considered themselves as sound and "having need of nothing;" when in fact they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: as viewed by Christ Revelation 3:14-19.
Let us be sure not to equate soundness with perfection as we consider this subject. Any entity made up of people will always be less than perfect in the absolute sense of the word when the human side is viewed. The churches in Asia to whom John wrote by divine inspiration on behalf of Christ still maintained their identity or "lampstand" as belonging to Christ, even though there were various problems and flaws among the membership. Hence in all but two of the seven churches of Asia, Jesus said through John, "..nevertheless, I have somewhat against you.." Revelation 2:4. This was said just after commending the church at Ephesus for some very good qualities V's 2-3. It should be noted as well, that the church at Corinth was addressed lovingly by Paul and commended for the good qualities they possessed before he "lowered the boom" on them for the many problems existing there 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.
This should not be taken to mean that fellowship should be extended to brethren who refuse to correct moral or doctrinal problems existing among them; no, not at all, for in his first letter Paul identified the many problems there and called upon them as an apostle to "clean up their act" or suffer the same consequences as the church at Ephesus Revelation 2:5; 2 Corinthians 2:9-11. Corinth dealt with the problems identified in Paul's first epistle and his attitude toward them was then favorable 2 Corinthians 2:1-8. I once had an elder try to get me to back off in dealing with several moral and doctrinal matters in a local church citing Paul's commendations of the brethren at Corinth as proof that problems would always exist and we should not try and solve them all. I pointed out to him that while Paul did commend that which was commendable, he demanded by his apostolic authority that they make the necessary corrections as cited above. The corrections were not made in my case in point, and my work with that group was terminated. Did that solve their problems? It certainly did not! It exacerbated them, adding their mistreatment of me to their existing problems. Repentance is the only solution where moral or doctrinal problems exist Revelation 2:5. Evangelists are charged with "setting in order the things that are lacking..." as already noted from Titus 1:5.
It should be noted well that the only collective entity authorized to function in "church work and activities" in the New Testament system of things, is the local congregation with her elders, deacons, and other saints Philippians 1:1-2; Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17- 32; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-21; Titus 1:5. Qualben's Church History recognizes that each local church in the first century was served by a plurality of elders, pastors, or bishops, with no distinction being made between those words as regards different "offices," but all three applying to each man in this plurality serving a local congregation (A History Of The Christian Church by Lars P. Qualben pg. 64).
No local church of Christ is what it should be until and unless it is fully and scripturally organized with elders, deacons, and saints Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5. Something is still lacking where local churches have not yet advanced to this standard. May they exist and function in the absence of elders and deacons? Obviously, the answer is yes they may, since Paul left Titus at Crete to "set in order the things that were lacking" and appoint men to serve as overseers. This indicates that there were churches that were what we shall call scripturally unorganized as yet, since there were no men qualified to so function. However, a local church may become unscripturally unorganized when there are men who desire to serve and who meet the scriptural criteria of 1 Timothy chapter three and Titus one who have yet to be appointed. Local churches may not opt not to be seeking to come to full and scriptural organization and still claim to be "sound." Some preachers I am told do not want the local church where they work to come to full and scriptural organization since they have more say in the absence of elders. This has the danger if not the reality of working with a one man "Pastor" system. Such is as unscriptural and wrong for a local church of Christ as it is for the denominations about us. When local churches of Christ allow themselves to so function, they are then what we shall call "unscripturally unorganized." They could well be "unscripturally organized" if they appoint men to serve as elders and or deacons who do not meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy three and Titus one.
Under the oversight of qualified elders and with the assistance of deacons to serve, there are certain functions which Christians and local churches of Christ are charged. They are thereby authorized to provide the facilities and the opportunities for each Christian who is a member of that particular local congregation to obey. A place to assemble and elements to observe the Lord's supper weekly etc. It should be also noted well that there are some activities that are purely individual and others which are a function of the entire collective to be supported out of the collective treasury of the local congregation. Failing to make this Biblical distinction has caused untold problems among the brethren. It should also be noted well that there is no organization larger, smaller, or other than the local church authorized to function in collective church activities. To see that a distinction is clearly made between what the collective may spend its funds to support , and what the individual Christian may spend his/her funds to support, one must look at the following passages: Matthew 18:15- 17; 1 Timothy 5:8, 16.
Matthew 18:15 shows a purely individual activity.
Matthew 18:16 shows individual collective activity.
Then Matthew 18:17 shows collective church activity.
1 Timothy 5:8 shows that each Christian must provide for his own or he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel. Verse 16 clearly makes a distinction between collective church activity and that of the individual Christian. "If any may or woman that believeth hath widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed."
Secular, social, recreational, and political activities have never been assigned to the collective of Christians (the local church) as a part of their function. Such are either allowed or assigned only to the individual Christian. When these distinctions were blurred and the line crossed by the brethren at Corinth, Paul condemned them and said their houses were where such should be done 1 Corinthians 11:22. Many today have the local churches engaged in these things. Rather than being the "pillar and support" of the truth 1 Timothy 3:15, many "liberal" churches of Christ have become play houses, social, refreshment and recreational centers. The social gospel is sweeping the land to the detriment of the real mission of the Lord's church, "preaching Christ, edifying the membership, and relieving the destitute among them for which they are responsible." Sound churches of Christ will act only by the authority of Jesus Christ Colossians 3:17. They will uphold the preacher in declaring the whole council of God Acts 20:26-27. They will abide in the teaching of Christ and will not greet or bid God speed to those who pervert this doctrine 2 John 9-11; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Timothy 4:1-8. Sound churches will not harbor immoral members but will discipline them and if they will not repent, will expel them from the fellowship of the local church 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Titus 1:7-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.
Paul by inspiration commended churches who supported the preaching of the gospel locally and elsewhere 1 Thessalonians 1:1-8; Philippians 4:14-19; 2 Corinthians 11:8. He likewise commended them when they engaged in self edification among themselves 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 14:3,-5,12,26; Ephesians 4:13-16. He commended them also when they saw to the needs of the brethren among them and even in other localities as commanded 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians chapters eight and nine. See Acts 11:27-30.
(1) A "sound church" is one that is fully and scripturally organized or is working toward that end.(Titus 1:5).
(2) A "sound church" provides facilities and materials for scriptural worship and work.
(3) A "sound church" supports the preacher in declaring the whole council of God as error is exposed and opposed and positive and negative preaching is done in love.
(4) A "sound church" engages only in those activities that are authorized by command, approved apostolic example and necessary inference. They recognize that authority may be either specific or generic. Generic gives latitude to expedite the command and specific limits only to that which is specified.
(5) A "sound church" recognizes that the sum total of what churches of Christ engaged in when men inspired by the holy Spirit were present among them, forms the pattern for what "sound churches of Christ" may engage in today with Christ's approval.
(6) A "sound church" practices discipline to edify the membership and when necessary discipline to the extent of expelling from the local fellowship ungodly, immoral or factious members who refuse to repent and get with the scriptural program.
(7) A "sound church" is one whose membership does everything they should be doing individually and collectively as best they know how. A "sound church" will make whatever corrections are needed when failures to be what "soundness" requires; are called to their attention.
Are you a member of a "sound" church?
by Kenneth E. Thomas
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