ID 83646-1653


This articles was originally published in the May 1965 ACTS magazine with the following Editor's Note: "This short semester paper was prepared for the Bible Doctrine Class of Maranatha College at Meridian, Idaho." It was later reprinted in the June 1979 ACTS.

In studying the Bible, we find that the church is known by various names. Among them are "the body of Christ," "church of God," "churches of Christ," etc. Let us try to find just what the church is; its purpose and how it functioned. Then let us examine ourselves to see where we stand.

What "Church" Really Means

The word "church" is translated from the Greek word "Ekklesia," which means "that which is called out" or "called out ones" (Youngs Concordance), and so when we read of the church of God at Corinth it simply means called out ones of God at Corinth. It does not mean an organization or a building as the word "church" means today, for these came into use years later. No, it meant those who had accepted Christ as their Savior, sometimes called "the saints." Acts 2:47 states: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." These then became members of the body of Christ.

This body was composed of all those who had accepted God's plan of salvation through Christ's atoning blood and were living an overcoming life.

Each Member Has A Place

As we study deeper, the one fact that stands out is that every member had a job to do. Paul in the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians is trying to convince them of this fact. In the 14th verse he states: "For the body is not one member but many." Then he goes on to say, "If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member where were the body? But now are they many members but one body." As we study the Epistle to the Corinthians, we find that there was division among them. Some were saying, "I am of Paul, another I am of Apollos," and instead of working as a unit to spread the Gospel they were quarrelling among themselves. So in the 12th chapter Paul is trying to teach them to work as a team instead of each going their separate ways.

In the last of the chapter, he shows how each person has his place and gifts. Thus, we find that all will not be apostles or all prophets but nevertheless, we have our place. He then ends with, "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." And then follows one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible—the chapter on charity. In an engine it is the oil that keeps down the friction, making the parts run smoothly and insuring longer life. In the same way, it is charity among the members that keeps the body of Christ running smoothly. "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

Purpose of Offices—Not for Superiority

In this body are offices. We find apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, bishops, deacons, etc. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:12 that these offices are "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto, a perfect (or mature—Moffat's version) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." The purpose of these offices is to edify the church or as Jesus told Peter to "feed my sheep."

In the ninth chapter of Mark, we find an incident where the disciples disputed among themselves as to who should be the greatest. In the next chapter, we find James and John once again wanting to be the greatest. As we look around us we find the same conditions—one member trying to get ahead of another member. This shows a lack of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We have not grasped the truth Jesus taught when he said, "and whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant of all." The offices in the church are not places of honor but are calls for service and dedication. Greatness in leaders can only be measured by their willingness to put self aside for the good of others.

It is significant that after the day of Pentecost we never again find the disciples disputing over who is to be the greatest. We must realize that we are only as great as our ability to let Christ work through us. This is the kind of leadership that made the early church grow, and this is the leadership we need if we want to see souls saved and the church edified.

How Do We Compare?

As we compare our achievements with those of the early church, we find ourselves falling far short Finding ourselves in this position, we start looking for excuses. Thus, you will hear the statement, 'The early church had the gifts of the spirit and this is what convinced the people of the power of the Gospel." And when asked, "Don't you think the gifts are for us today?," they will reply, "No, they were only for the early church to help establish the work." Or you will hear, 'This is the end of the Gentile times, the main harvest is over and now we are in the gleaning period. Now, we will only convert one here and another there. Oh! yes, our fathers saw people converted by the score but that was still the harvest time." This may be true to a certain degree, but are we sure a lot  of the  blame  cannot  be  placed   upon ourselves?

You recall the story of Jericho when Joshua, as Israel's new commander, went up against Jericho and how the Lord miraculously delivered the city into Israel's hands. The next day they went out against the little city of Ai and were defeated. Joshua fell on his face before the Lord and said, "O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies?" Oh I yes, you were with us yesterday at Jericho but that was yesterday. Today you have withdrawn your spirit from us. The time of miraculous victories are past. We'll just camp here at Jericho and forget about conquering the promise land. That is what we are saying when we accept a defeatist altitude and say the time of mass conversions is past.

But what did God tell Joshua? "Get thee up, wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant, which I commanded them." Maybe we are not living up to what God would have us to, and thus He cannot bless us to the extent we would like Him to. Isaiah 59:1, 2 states: "Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that he cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear." No, the Lord is not holding the gifts back from the church, but it is our sins that keeps us in the condition so that we cannot receive them.

Willingness to Sacrifice

As we study the lives of the apostles and prophets in the Bible, we find men and women who were willing to give up everything to follow their Master. A willingness to give up home and loved ones; and a willingness to give up warm beds and snug homes and sleep on the ground if by so doing they might win souls for Christ. The willingness to go into a city even though they knew it meant their lives. This is what made the early church prosper. Jesus says in Luke 14:33: "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." This is why we do not see the gifts in the church to a greater extent. He cannot use us until we are willing to crucify self and let Him lead completely in our lives. Then we will see souls won to Christ. The early church was centered around Christ's command to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." With the Holy Spirit to give direction and power and this command to motivate them, the early church in a few short years preached the gospel to the then known world. This was their goal and everything else had to conform to it.

A Matter of Priorities

Organization was only a means to that end and not the end itself. As we look at Christianity today, we find the picture has changed. Building big organizations and keeping them running smoothly has become the goal and winning souls has become secondary. Today we hear people express the thought that if we can just keep the people we have and they in turn can hold their children then we will be doing fine. This in itself is a noble desire but on what a limited vision! If the early church had been content to keep the status quo, where would the church have been today? Have we lost the vision that the early church had? "Where there is no vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18).

Today we seem to have lost the sense of values that the early church had. The things they felt were important we have set aside and in their place have inserted our own set of values. Mr. G. H. Lang in his book, The Churches of God, describes the three periods the church has gone through. He states: "In the earliest period the basis of Christian fellowship was a changed life—repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. It was the unity of a common relation to a common ideal and a common hope."

"In the second period, the idea of definite belief, as a basis of union dominated over that of a holy life." 

And he goes on to show how unity of doctrine became of first importance and having a true conversion and living an overcoming life became secondary.

He states: "in the third period insistence on catholic faith had led to the insistence on catholic order—for without order, dogma has no guarantee of permanence. Consequently, the idea of unity of organization was super-imposed upon that of unity of belief."

Can we see where we also have followed these steps? We hear that "John Doe" is interested in joining our church. The first question we ask is, "Do you keep the Sabbath?" And at his answer of "Yes," we then let out a sigh of relief. "Do you believe in keeping the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus?" If he answers, "Yes," to this he has passed the test and is now a member. And thus we infer that salvation is a life above sin through Christ Jesus. We put the cart before the horse; we can convince a person of the truth and he may never know the transforming power of Jesus in his life. But if we convert them the Bible says the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth. Are we trying to convince people or convert them?

In Summary

So, in studying, we find that the church is not what is generally thought today; but it is the body of Christ, composed of everyone who accepts God's plan of salvation through Christ's atoning blood and who lives a holy life. This body is not bound by any man-made lines—it is an organism not an organization. We find that, like our body, every member has an active part to fulfill. It's head is Christ Jesus, and it's body is subject to Him. It's primary purpose is to "spread the gospel to every creature" and everything else is secondary.

Yes, you belong to the "Church of God," but do you belong to the church of God, the body of Christ? Can you say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).


ACTS - May/June 2019

The General Council Churches of God,

(Seventh Day): Independently Working

Together Through Local Autonomy

What is local autonomy?

Local autonomy refers to a type of administration used to govern the activities of individual churches. The word "autonomous" is derived from two Greek words: autos, meaning "self," and nomos, meaning "law." Thus, autonomy would refer to the state of being self-governed, self-directed or self-ruled. Given that any congregation should recognize and abide by the control and authority of the Savior Himself (as He is the head of the Body), an autonomous congregation would then be one that governs itself locally as it is led by the Spirit. The General Council of the Churches of God, (Seventh Day), Inc. supports local autonomy and strongly opposes a centralized, top-down, hierarchical form of church organization characterized by some mainline denominations.

Scripture supports local autonomy.

From the example of free will that God gave Adam and Eve, God showed His desire for mankind to be at liberty to choose to serve Him or not. Building on that liberty, it is our desire to follow God's example as an organization structured around locally autonomous churches.

The assemblies in Acts were decentralized and operated autonomously, maintaining autonomy from both governmental and religious authorities. For example, the saints in Jerusalem selected from their own membership individuals to care for the physical needs of members (Acts 6:3-6). The local congregation determined by the leading of the Holy Spirit which persons should be commissioned for ministry (Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-3) and disciplined their own members (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This did not preclude them from being admonished and instructed by others, or from collaboration with others. (Matthew 22:21 shows that the congregation should obey the laws of secular governments as they relate to certain matters, but the government has no authority in matters of doctrine, polity or ministry.)

Local autonomy also helps prevent pervasive heresy in that, as with the Bereans, the local congregation is not forced to accept variant teachings and are free to examine teaching in the light of Scripture and determine the application in its local setting (Acts 17:11).

Accordingly, each congregation should have its own eldership (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5), which is responsible for feeding the flock of which they are a part. By example, the congregation in Jerusalem had its own elders (Acts 15:4), Ephesus had its own elders (Acts 20:17), and Philippi had its own elders (Philippians 1:1). John wrote individual letters to each of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

Although each individual church is self-financed and self-governed, such as the churches in Paul's time, they may be called to help support other ministries outside of their local sphere of influence. We see this pointed out in Romans 15:25-26 when Paul mentions the other churches and their willing support of Jerusalem during its time of need.

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Assemblies affiliated with the General Council value the inherent freedom and responsibility given by local autonomy. We value the freedom to run our congregations at the local level, free from top-down interference. However, local autonomy does not mean we go our separate ways, or that we do not support each other, or cooperate with each other. As autonomous congregations we also accept the responsibility to do everything we can to assist those who are within the body of Christ and be a friend to them. Just as brothers and sisters are strengthened through fellowship in a church body, so autonomous churches are stronger when supporting and assisting each other.

Congregations can and should cooperate with each other in doing Kingdom work, sending support in terms of people or substance. We see that in Acts 11:22-30, where Barnabas was sent to help the new church in Antioch and the congregation in Antioch later sends help to the churches in Judea.

Without a centralized collection and redistribution of resources, those with resources may not know of those in need of assistance. Even though congregations may know of each other, they may not know what the other is doing and resources and efforts may be unnecessarily duplicated and there may be a loss of economies of scale.

Because there was a need.

The General Council was established in 1950 because there was a need for an organization to preserve and build on the work of the people in independent Churches of God, wherever they were to be found. Because we believed the most efficient use of manpower and resources is in each local area, our plan was to facilitate that while also providing an opportunity for people to come together and unify in purpose and spirit. Not being under the domain of a hierarchy allows for varied freedom of expression in terms of types of worship, financial decisions and generally decentralized governance. By having its own leaders, each autonomous congregation develops its own members to be leaders whenever possible. Therefore, "local autonomy" has been one of the hallmarks of the General Council Churches of God, (Seventh Day) from the beginning. This "network" of congregations could voluntarily assist each other financially, with human resources, and with the providing of literature. To accomplish this, a publishing house was established to develop printed materials for spreading the Word, and an organization was incorporated to allow input from local congregations and to keep us united.

Working individually together.

Churches affiliate with the General Council for a variety of reasons including opportunities to:

1. Be officially recognized and licensed.

2. Have access to resources for education and training.

3. Contribute to training and educational resources.

4. Work and pool resources with like-minded believers in Kingdom work that may require a larger group.

5. Network and reduce unnecessary duplications of charity, resources and time.

6. Be connected to other groups to collaborate, share needs, experiences and projects.

The Council does not require anyone to help another, or even demand funds to do so, but as we are shown a need, we will strive to pass that need on, and assist as possible. As literature is created, it can then be centrally located and made available as needed. In some areas, licensing is required and so the Council is able to provide these licenses. As the organization grows so do the possibilities to work and fellowship together in the mission field and with education.

It is the mission of the General Council, through the grace of God, to be an international center for fellowship and learning. We facilitate these activities by assemblies individually working together.