Several months ago, a faithful and able preacher of the gospel emailed me about his concern over the direction the Lord’s church is taking with reference to parachurch organizations. I hasten to say that this brother is not a reactionary, a hobbyist, a crank, an opposer of good works, or one who is hypercritical. He is a veteran, seasoned, balanced gospel preacher who spent several years teaching Bible in a Christian high school. But he is concerned about the direction he sees the church going in “outsourcing the work of the church to human organizations.”
To seek to be as clear as possible as to what we are talking about when we speak of “parachurch organizations” I cite this working definition from Wikipedia: “Parachurch organizations are Christian faith-based organizations that usually carry out their mission independent of [local] church oversight. The prefix para is Greek for beside, or alongside.” (Think here of “parallel” = to run along beside). A parachurch organization runs along beside the church in an effort to “help” the church do its work, to presumably “facilitate” the work of the church, and, unfortunately, sometimes in competition with the church. In short, the parachurch organization endeavors to do the work which God gave the church and not a human organization to do.
A careful study of the New Testament will reveal that God has given the church three areas of work:
1) Evangelism: Preaching the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; I Timothy 3:15).
2) Edification: Teaching its members the truths of the faith, building them up in the true doctrine of Christ (Matthew 28:20; Acts 2:42; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:12-14; II Peter 3:18).
3) Benevolence: Doing good to all people in a physical/material way as the need for such exists, especially to those of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10; II Corinthians 9:12-14; James 1:27; I Timothy 5:16).
The church existed in the eternal purpose of God (Ephesians 3:11) and was established by Christ (Matthew 16:18), being purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). Through the instruction of His Spirit-filled apostles, the Lord set up a perfect structure for the church to do the work God gave it to do – local congregations overseen by a plurality of elders (also known as bishops and pastors) and served by deacons (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). It is an indictment of the wisdom of God to think that He gave the church work to do but did not provide it with the organizational structure and means to do that work and that man must devise that structure or means!
Just here it is necessary to point out that the church and the home are two different institutions. Each operates in its own sphere. The church is composed of redeemed individuals who also are members of an earthly family, but many earthly families have no members who are members of God’s spiritual family, the church. Yet the home is a divine institution, having been ordained by God at the beginning (Genesis 2:18-25). When a home – any home – sustains a legitimate need, the church is authorized to help it. If children are deprived of their parents through death or abandonment or for other reasons, a legal home (sometimes referred to as an orphans’ home) may be established to take the place of the natural home. An orphans’ home is not a parachurch organization, but is a way of replacing the natural home. The replacement home is entitled to the same help from the church as the natural home. The home does its work by taking care of the children, and the church does its work by providing the necessary help to enable the home to do its work!
The work of the church is to be done by local churches under the oversight of their elders. Local churches may cooperate with each other in doing that work (I Corinthians 16:1-2; II Corinthians 8:1-15; et al). But human organizations (parachurch organizations) have no place in the work of God’s church. Many good works are going on under the oversight of the elders of a local church. Among these are the television program “In Search of the Lord’s Way,” “Gospel Broadcasting Network,” “Latin American Missions,” “Benevolence and Disaster Relief” (not to be confused with “Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort, Inc.” in Nashville which operates under a Board of Directors), and “Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team” (again, not to be confused with “Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort, Inc.”).
Many admittedly good works are being done, but some are not being done in harmony with the organization and structure that God Himself ordained by which the work of the church is to be done. As the concerned preacher who wrote to me several months ago said, “Regardless of the amount of good being done or the emotional appeals that people in need or children are being helped, the organization itself is seeking to do the work God assigned to the church and to that extent [it] is not an organization the local church should help from its treasury” – any more so than it should help “The Red Cross” or any other “good work” out of the church treasury!
As over a century and a half ago the missionary society brought heartache and division to the effort to restore apostolic Christianity by taking over the evangelistic work of the church, so parachurch organizations are running that same risk today – and for the same reason: they are usurping the work God gave to the local churches under the oversight of their elders. Greg Tidwell, in his editorial in the Gospel Advocate of January 2016, was clearly on the mark when he said, “The way of faith seeks a command or an example in Scripture to authorize all we do as the church. The way of faith also sees the Lord’s church as the sufficient means of doing the Lord’s work. Both sides of the ledger are vital. We must not bring unauthorized practices into the church, and we must never outsource the mission of the church to unauthorized outside agencies.”
August 14, 2018
- August 19: Karns Church of Christ, Knoxville, TN
- August 20-21: Polishing the Pulpit, Sevierville, TN