Cecil B. Douthitt
God's method, purpose and plan for covering the earth with His knowledge as the waters cover the sea requires the establishment of local churches all over the land the making of every congregation a radiating center for the furtherance of the gospel. In compliance with this divine pattern received from the risen Christ, the disciples began to preach the gospel in Jerusalem, then in all Judea, Samaria and on and on unto the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Local congregations were planted in every community where the gospel was preached, and where men and women believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8; and other passages.) These groups of baptized believers constituted the churches of God in their localities, and were so addressed by inspired men (I Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2; and many other passages).
With every local church divinely appointed as a radiating center (Phil. 1:5), in one generation the gospel was preached with manifest results all over the known world (Col. 1:6,23). The success of this divine pattern for making the manifold wisdom of God known (Eph. 3:10) proves conclusively that the local churches are abundantly adequate for the work appointed for them to do, if they utilize the means and opportunities the Lord has given them for their own growth and development.
The apostles neither organized nor endorsed the organization of anything else through which to do the work that the Lord assigned to the churches. Fifty years ago voices loud and strong rang out from so many pulpits that the following declaration became axiomatic among all the true churches of Christ: "Any organization for the work of the church larger than the local congregation is too large; every organization smaller than the local church is too small." But a great change for the worse has come over many churches during the past decade, and they now are set for the defense of church-support
for human missionary societies, institutions for secular education, business enterprises for profit, human benevolent asylums for children and indigent aged, and recreational organizations for all: some larger and some smaller than the local church.
Many preachers and many churches today, as in apostolic times, still hold this truth inviolate that the churches can preach the gospel, do all the benevolent work assigned to them, edify themselves, and worship God acceptably without building or maintaining any human institution whatever through which to do their work. And they know that the "sponsoring church" concept of making a few congregations the radiating centers and all the other local churches mere money supplying subsidiaries is no part of God's pattern or plan.
Therefore, the members of these true congregations with their avowed knowledge of the importance, the autonomy and the responsibility of every local church in the divine plan of the ages, are obligated to do everything within the bounds of truth and righteousness to build up and make strong the local churches of which they are members.
A few things generally known and admitted to be mighty factors in building up the local congregation must and will be observed by all faithful men who indeed want the church to be efficient and to succeed in the great work assigned to every church of Christ on earth. They are pointed out below:
1. Every informed member who sincerely wants the local church to be everything that God wants it to be will attend all the meetings possible. Everyone should memorize and meditate upon these two verses: "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the day drawing nigh" (Heb. 10:24, 25). These verses command every member to provoke others to love and good works by being in the assembly. If you forsake the assembly, as the custom of some is, you are not stirring up others to love and good works, and the Lord is pointing you out to others as an example, not to be imitated, but to be avoided. He warns all not to act like those who have adopted the custom of forsaking the "assembling together."
Some undependable and lukewarm church members may ask, "Where is the passage that requires me to attend the Sunday night or Wednesday night meetings, or any other meeting of the church, except the Sunday morning meeting in which the Lord's supper is observed?" If this "assembling together" on Sunday and Wednesday nights is helpful in building up the local church, then every verse that teaches you to work that which is good toward all men, forbids your forsaking these meetings. If they are not contributing anything to the strength of the church and are not working that which is good toward them that are of the household of the faith the local churches should abandon them immediately.
Some who have not forsaken the assembling together are deprived of the blessed privilege of attending. There is a difference between forsaking a good work and being deprived of the privilege of doing it. Please search your own heart. Do you sincerely want the local church to grow? Do you earnestly desire to exhort and provoke others to love and good works? How can you persuade yourself to think that you are working that which is good toward all men, and especially to them that are of the household of the faith, while rejecting the way God said do it in Heb. 10: 24, 25?
Don't you think you could attend all these regular meetings of the congregation, if you would begin right now to plan and to arrange your affairs to that end? Please try it; you will be glad you did.
2. Church members who are making the kingdom of God and His righteousness first in their lives will contribute liberally and cheerfully every week in proportion to their prosperity. If for any reason one should be unable to attend the Lord's Day meeting, one should send one's contribution in, or bring it when able to attend again.
Money is necessary in building up the local church, and in doing the work required. God could have provided all the material needs of the church without calling on man for anything; but this duty of giving was assigned to Christians for their own good. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Of course, the receiver is blessed by the gift, but the giver obtains blessings through his giving that he could not obtain in any other way.
Not by getting, but by giving, Cornelius built a memorial before God (Acts 10:4, 31). God loves a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7). The earnestness and sincerity of your love can be determined by your liberality (II Cor. 8:8). God keeps a strict account (Phil. 4:16.17). The command to give did not begin in I Cor. 16:2; it began on the birthday of the church (Acts 2:42).
3. The unsaved must be kept in mind, and every member of the church should prayerfully work for their salvation by teaching them and persuading them to attend the meetings of the church. Everyone should make it a point every week to tell some one who is not a member how the services of the congregation make one to be a better, a more useful and a happier person. If you will do this, you may be able to save many souls from death, and make yourself and others stronger in the faith.
The conversion of a soul to Christ does not always begin with a pulpit sermon; it often begins with individual efforts in a private way. In this way Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1: 41, 42). When scattered abroad the members of the Jerusalem church "went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).
Even the apostles of Christ, though adept and powerful in preaching the gospel publicly, did not overlook the responsibility and the effectiveness of personal and private work "from house to house" (Acts 20:20).
4. You must live daily in all godliness, purity and helpfulness to others; otherwise you may cause the church to be criticized, and its progress inhibited. Like the Samaritan on the Jericho Road, you must be a neighbor unto all in need of your services.
If you have some money that you want to use to help the poor who are not members of the church, you should contact them yourself and supply their needs yourself. If they ask why you are doing this for them, tell them it is because you are a Christian, a member of the Lord's church. If you send your money away to some human eleemosynary organization, you will not come in direct contact with those whom you wish to influence, and you will not be building up anything except some institution that already may be an enemy of the true church and a curse to the poor, especially the fatherless.
"Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil doers, they may be your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Pet. 2:11, 12).