Today, many Christians are being taught that the church, as an organized, working corporate body, has been assigned certain responsibilities of its own, and has, therefore, church responsibilities in addition to individual responsibilities.
Consequently, there is a feeling that "as long as I attend the services of the church and am involved in the activities of the organization, I will be pleasing in the sight of God." Christians are abandoning the duties placed upon them by God as individuals. They are not studying the Bible like they once did; they are not having family devotions anymore; they are not conducting personal Bible studies with friends and neighbors to convert them to Christ; and they are not interested in visiting the weak brother, the widow, and the fatherless. And, the list could go on. It seems to me that many feel as long as we pool our efforts "at. church," God will be pleased.
What about this idea that God has given responsibilities to the church which differ from "individual'' responsibilities? Does the Bible teach that, or have we assumed something here? I want to challenge your thinking to get you to examine the scriptures with me, to see what they teach on this subject. That, in itself, is a duty of the Christian.
What is responsibility . The word does not appear in the Bible, nor does the word "responsible." We use these words to express the concept of "duty;" which is found in the Scriptures. Since we cannot find these words in the Greek, we must appeal to Webster for our definitions:
RESPONSIBLE - "1. Liable to respond; accountable; answerable. 2. Able to respond or answer for one's conduct and obligations; trustworthy. 3. Involving responsibility or accountability....Syn. responsible, answerable, accountable, amenable, liable meaning subject to an authority which may exact redress in case of default."
RESPONSIBILITY -"1. State or quality of being responsible: specif.: a. Accountability; also, moral accountability" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary).
There are two major thoughts inherent in Webster s definitions that pertain to our discussion:
(1) someone is expected to respond, according to his ability, to another who has authority over him, and
(2) because of this responsibility, he must give account to that authority.
The main idea in these definitions is that RESPONSIBILITY calls for ACCOUNTABILITY. We must understand that without responsibility there is no accountability, and without accountability there can be no responsibility. These two concepts are inseparably tied together. One should not talk of responsibilities APART from accountability. THERE IS NO SUCH THING!
God gives each person a set of abilities and expects him to respond according to His will. God will hold him accountable, but never beyond his ability to respond.
Accountability suggests "a day of reckoning." This is when one who has been entrusted with responsibilities must give an account to the authoritative source (God). The scriptures call this THE JUDGMENT.
The New Testament is filled with this teaching. In the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus taught the great lesson of stewardship. We are impressed with the fact that a man, before going into another country, called his servants together and distributed his goods. "And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one: TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS SEVERAL ABILITY" (emphasis mine--D.O.). It becomes evident from the reading that this man expected his servants to do something with the talents rendered to them. "Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a RECKONING with them," (v. 19). The Lord was pleased with those who performed adequately, but was angry at the slothful servant who had failed in his responsibility. The Lord cast out the unprofitable servant!
It is obvious from this parable that our Lord is teaching responsibility according to ability, coupled with the idea of accountability. He held these servants responsible for what had been entrusted to them, individually, relative to their ability. There was a day of reckoning when the master returned and called his servants to him. He demanded an accounting from each servant as to what was accomplished while he was in another country. This parable is not difficult to understand, and most Bible students agree that we have a case of individual responsibility here.
In a similar parable, the Parable of the Pounds, Jesus taught the same principles. Read Luke 19:11-27. Here, we see servants charged with responsibility, which led to accountability, terminating in reckoning. Again, there is no "church" responsibility or accountability, only individual.
The word of God teaches definitively and explicitly that there will be a day of reckoning. In Romans, Paul labors to convict every individual of sin (3:23). He demonstrates that justification and eternal life are through Jesus Christ; but that there will be a day of judgment to determine who shall be saved. In the second chapter, Paul emphasizes that it is the INDIVIDUAL that shall be judged:
"...but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for THYSELF wrath...who will render to EVERY MAN according to HIS works...upon EVERY SOUL OF MAN that worketh evil...but glory and honor and peace to EVERY MAN that worketh good," (2:4-11; emphasis mine.
In Romans 14:10-12, Paul said:
"...for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me EVERY KNEE shall bow. And EVERY TONGUE shall confess to God. So then EACH ONE of us shall give account of HIMSELF to God," (emphasis mine).
There is no doubt that the scriptures set forth individual responsibilities, for which "all" will be held accountable and judged individually. THERE IS NO PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE THAT TEACHES CHURCH (GROUP) JUDGMENT! Christians at Rome will not be judged as a "church"; Christians at Corinth will not be judged as a "church"; etc. Each Christian will be judged individually, according to his own works.
There is no "church" responsibility, nor do we have a "church" accountability given.
We may conclude that the scriptures teach that Jesus gave each disciple certain responsibilities to carry out according to his ability. We shall notice that some of these responsibilities must be carried out in cooperation with other saints; while other responsibilities are discharged away from the assembly. On the day of judgment, the saint will give an account of himself to Jesus for the way he discharged all these responsibilities.
Let us look at it in reverse order. The disciple is JUDGED by Jesus Christ. Why is he judged? Because he is held ACCOUNTABLE by Jesus Christ. Why is he held accountable? Because he has been given RESPONSIBILITY.
Now, we ask the question, "Will the church (as a group or unit) be brought to judgment?" The answer is an emphatic NO! Then, arguing the case in reverse order, we ask why not? Because the church (as a group or unit) is not held accountable for any action (if it is held accountable, it will have to be judged!) If it is not accountable for any actions, then IT WAS NEVER GIVEN RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE FIRST PLACE! Remember, we are talking about the church as a group or organized unit of people.
Arguing it the other way, we can say that the church (as a group or unit) was not given responsibilities, will not be held accountable for the discharge of any (as a group or unit), and therefore, will not be judged by Christ in the day of reckoning (as a group or unit). The scriptures teach INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND JUDGMENT; not CHURCH RESPONSIBILITY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND JUDGMENT!
Today, there is a lack of zeal for the work of the Lord on the part of most disciples. It seems that the "work of the Lord" has been equated with meeting one, two or three hours a week for "Worship Service and Bible Study." Trying to find Christians interested in helping with the work of "seeking and saving the lost" is like trying to find the proverbial "needle in the hay stack." Many people, hiding themselves in the organization, refuse to get involved in anything. They just simply "go to church." To hear them talk, it is evident that they think because the group has gone through "an hour of worship" that God is pleased with them; after all, "they belong to the group." The thought is that whatever the group does, somehow it is credited to me. Each individual will be held accountable for his own participation (or lack of it) in the activities that are being performed. It is time we placed the emphasis where it is in the teaching of Christ; that is, on individual responsibility.
By now some of you may be thinking, "I agree that the Bible teaches individual responsibility, but it also teaches church responsibility." Yes, it does, but only in terms of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. Let us look at some applications.
Each Christian has the responsibility to develop a holy character commensurate to the high standard of morality set by our Lord. Peter taught the elect that "like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy," (I Pet. 1:13-16). This word is the summation of every scripture that can be pulled together on the subject of morality. "WHOSOEVER...would be a friend of the world maketh HIMSELF an enemy of God," (Jas. 4:4). "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If ANY MAN love the world, the love of the Father is not in HIM," (I John 2:15). Every Christian is responsible to attain this high standard of morality, and will be held accountable in the day of judgment.
The subject of holiness is used by Paul to describe the church as it must exist to please God:
"...Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27).
The church was not "cleansed" with one great dousing of water, but as EACH PERSON "gladly received the word and was baptized" (Acts 2:41). Each addition to the church was on an individual basis. Each one, set apart (saint), is charged "to keep holy and to keep HIMSELF unspotted from the world," (Jas. 1:27). The church will not be judged in one gigantic swoop of the King's "rod of iron," but will be judged as individuals "give an account of the deeds done in the body."
Therefore, since the church will not be judged as a unit of people in reference to morality, there is no such thing as "church responsibility" and "church accountability" in these matters.
Here, the Bible has a lot to say about individual responsibility. Paul told Timothy, "And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also," (II Tim. 2:2). This is God's plan to evangelize the world. Paul said, "You teach a man the truth, and then teach him to teach others." It worked in the First Century, and it will work today as well. It places the responsibility to preach and to teach right square on the shoulders of each individual Christian.
A careful study of Hebrews 5:11-14 will reveal that God is not pleased if Christians become "dull of hearing'' and do not prepare themselves as teachers. In this passage, those who refused to "leave the doctrine of the first principles of Christ," (6:1) had need of someone to teach them the "milk, and not of solid food. For EVERY ONE that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe."
But, someone may, ask, "What about the church preaching and teaching? Doesn't the church have a responsibility to do these things?" Yes, if we understand that the church is made up of individuals, and that the Lord places the responsibility to preach and teach on each one of us. Usually though, we tend to think of the "church collectively" doing the preaching and teaching, meaning that only the selected few do the actual preaching and teaching while the rest of the flock throw in their contributions to finance the program. This is another ase of most Christians getting lost in the group activities and being content that their responsibilities to teach and to preach are discharged with their monetary contribution. As a result of our concept of the "organized, corporate body, church," people continue to be "dull of hearing" and fail to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord." They certainly cannot "give answer to every man that asketh...a reason concerning the hope," but even so all seems "well with the soul." Oh, my brother, can you not see that this idea of "church responsibility;' in the area of preaching and teaching, is lulling us to sleep and is giving us a false sense of security? Let us remember that we will give account as individuals, not as a church.
We can learn from the church -- the disciples --in Jerusalem. When heavy persecution befell them, "they were scattered abroad." But they were not discouraged, nor was their zeal diminished, for "they...that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word." (Acts 8:1,4) Notice, it was not the apostles who were preaching, for they were still in Jerusalem. It was the disciples! Each one taking on responsibility, though in the face of severe adversity, to preach the word to a dying world. What are you doing today to carry on that great work? Are you ready to give Jesus an accounting in this matter?
It is easy to understand other passages in light of Acts 8. Paul commended the brethren, who made up "the church of the Thessalonians," because "from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord," (I Thess. 1:1-8). How did the church "sound forth the word of the Lord"? They did it the same way the disciples of Jerusalem did it when they "went about preaching the word." (Acts 8: 1,4). As each Christian took what he knew of the gospel of Christ and taught it to a new acquaintance, the word was "sounded forth." It is in this sense that the church preaches and teaches the word.
Today, we seem to have the idea that the great plan of God for evangelizing the world is through the "Lord's Treasury." Christians are content in thinking that they "give to support preaching and teaching," while they do very precious little, if any, themselves.
Is it any wonder that the rate of converting people to Christ has diminished tremendously over the last several decades? Indeed, "the harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few!"
We must come to understand passages like I Tim. 3:15 in the same way. What did Paul mean when he called the church "the pillar and ground of the truth"? Simply, that each Christian has the responsibility, before the Lord who saved him, to defend and to teach the gospel that will save still others. He was not talking about the church as some institutionalized, organized, functional, corporate body being the "pillar and ground of the truth." This idea was born of men and nurtured through the pages of time; and somehow in execution ends up with a handful of powerful men dictating their will to the masses. We see this spirit working everywhere today. It seems to me that many brethren are content to let a small number of preachers decide all matters of faith and principle for them, instead of studying the word prayerfully and intently, and then speaking out forcefully from a heart of deep conviction.
In His conversation with the woman of Samaria, Jesus emphasized the nature of the worship of God as it would pertain to the new covenant. "The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father," (John 4:21). With this plain and simple statement, Jesus assigns the worship of God to no place in particular. Also, important features of worship are contained in His statement: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth," (v. 24). The two elements stressed by Jesus are: (1) that worship must be with the proper spiritual attitude, and (2) that it must be in truth.
The worship of God under Christ is strictly an individual responsibility, and can be general and specific. In a general sense, each Christian is charged to be in complete subjection to Jesus Christ, to render service (worship) as a servant to a Lord. Then, there are specific activities which are required of him; some to be carried out while assembled with other saints, and some done alone, even in one's "closet." All must be done "in spirit and truth," and all are INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITIES. THERE ARE NO ACTS OF WORSHIP COMMANDED OF THE CHURCH (as a group or unit), for if the church (as a group or unit) was given such responsibility, then there would of necessity be accountability and judgment on a group, unit or church basis. We have already established that there is neither accountability nor judgment of that kind.
Before we deal with this subject, let us call to mind our basic proposition: Every responsibility found in the word of God has been assigned to the individual, according to his ability, for which he will be held accountable in the day of judgment. If this proposition is correct, the following deductions can be made:
(1) the church will not be judged as an organized institution, a corporate body;
(2) the church will not be held accountable as an organized institution, a corporate body; therefore,
(3) THE CHURCH AS AN ORGANIZED INSTITUTION, A CORPORATE BODY, HAS NOT BEEN ASSIGNED A SINGLE RESPONSIBILITY!
If it has, as some claim, then it necessarily follows that the church must be held accountable and be judged as a unit! Where is the scripture that teaches that concept?
There are many scriptures that teach us to have a genuine care for one another, but here, we are concerned with the "care of the needy." In James 1:27, the writer said: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." The context of this verse shows that James is talking about individual responsibility." Notice: "...if ANY ONE is a hearer...He is like unto A MAN (v. 23)...for HE beholdeth HIMSELF (v. 24)...But HE that looketh...this MAN shall be blessed (v. 25). If ANY MAN thinketh HIMSELF to be religious, while HE bridleth not HIS tongue but deceiveth HIS heart, THIS MAN'S religion is vain." In this passage it is not difficult to see the individual responsibility God placed upon the Christian.
For years brethren have argued over "individual responsibility" versus "church responsibility." Some have even concluded that what the individual can do, the church can do, and vice versa. The truth of the matter is that the Scriptures teach only "individual responsibility."
But, someone says, "What about I Timothy 5:16? Doesn't that show a difference?" Does it? "If any woman that believeth hath widows, let her relieve them, and let not the church be burdened; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed." This is not a case of "individual" as opposed to "corporate" action. If a woman, who is a Christian, has widows, her responsibility is to take care of them. She is held accountable and will be judged accordingly. Other Christians are not responsible in this case. Now, if a destitute widow does not have a relative, a Christian, to "relieve" her, she becomes the responsibility of other Christians who are aware of her situation, and who have the ability (physical and material) to take care of her. God will hold each one responsible according to how they reacted to the situation
But, this is not our mentality, nor our disposition. We have other mechanisms in place to justify our own reluctance to assume the personal responsibility that God has given to us. The first thing we think of is to call a business meeting and discuss how much we have in the "church treasury." Others have gone so far as to pool funds to build a "Home For Widows." Either way, we justify our actions with the thought that we are making our contribution on the "first day of the week," which pays for everything. That way we do not have to get involved in anything that will take up our valuable time or drain off our precious funds; and at the same time feel very smug and content that "we are taking care of our responsibilities.'' Brethren, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked!"
There are many other passages of scriptures, some addressed to the church and some written to individuals, that bear on this great subject. These that I have used are sufficient. They all have one thing in common: they all teach that God has given us only individual responsibilities.
In closing, I want you to know that I have tried to select my words very carefully .so as not to be misunderstood. However, there is always that danger. Please read my proposition and definitions, and follow my logic with great care. We need to examine and reexamine our positions often to make sure we are "in faith," (II Cor. 13:5). Can we unite on this proposition of "individual responsibility" so that we might persuade all to accept that for which we will be held accountable in the day of judgment?