by Matt Slick
The duties and responsibilities of Christian churches are to preach and teach the word of God to the people of God, minister to them, guard them, and guide them in understanding and practicing worship. Before I expand on this, we need to ask, "What is the church?"
The church can be understood in two ways: the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church is comprised of people who attend the buildings, go to studies, etc. The invisible church is comprised of those who are truly saved. They are regenerate. But, of course, we cannot look into the hearts of people to see if they are regenerate. Nevertheless, the visible church operates with its pastors, elders, and deacons as it seeks to carry out the teachings of the Bible.
Basically, these teachings fall into several categories, depending on how they are classified. Nevertheless, here is a list of some of the responsibilities of the Christian church, in alphabetical order.
- Spiritual support
Let me expand on each one of these.
Discipleship is the habit of the Christian who learns about Jesus and practices what he taught. It is a process of becoming more like him as we seek to follow his words and emulate his actions. The goal is multifaceted. A disciple of Christ wants to become like Christ but also wants to bring glory to him. A disciple must pick up his cross and follow after Jesus (Luke 9:23). But being a disciple is not about becoming a better person who is honest, more patient, more gentle, etc. It also means that we reach out to others both in and outside the church. After all, that's what Jesus did.
- Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
- Acts 1:8, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
- Acts 14:21, "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,"
To equip means to supply what is necessary to accomplish a task. The Bible tells us that the church consists of pastors and teachers who are to equip the saints for the work of service and for the building of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). This equipping, of course, is for the furthering of the kingdom of God and the sanctification of God's people. It consist of instruction, discipleship, prayer, and more. The Christian is to be equipped in various areas according to his or her abilities and giftings. This includes understanding the faith intellectually as well as experientially. After all, we are called by Christ not merely to aquire knowledge to carry out what we know in the world.
- Ephesians 4:11–12, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."
- John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."
Evangelism is the practice of speaking to unbelievers about the saving work of Christ. It is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. It means to inform them about their sin and the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23; Isaiah 59:2) and how Jesus is the only way to have our sins forgiven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Though most people have heard of Christ in this increasingly secularized world, fewer and fewer people appreciate who Jesus is and what he did. Nevertheless, it is the job of the church, of the members of the body of Christ, to tell others about what Jesus did on the cross.
- Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
- Romans 10:14–17, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” 16 However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
- 1 Corinthians 15:1–4, "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,"
Fellowship is the involvement of the people of God, with one another in a caring mutual association. We have fellowship with one another when we spend time together and enjoy each other's company. But in the Christian context, such fellowship is ultimately around the person and work of Christ. Christians fellowship with each other based on the common knowledge that we have been saved by the shed blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 John 1:9). Along with this, we seek to learn about Jesus and be more like him. But not only that, Christians have fellowship with God through Jesus (1 Cor. 1:9). It is in our churches where we experience a closer and deeper fellowship with one another as well is with God.
- 1 Corinthians 1:9, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
- 1 John 1:3, "what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
In the Christian church are pastors and elders (Eph. 4:11-12) whose job it is, in part, to instruct the body of Christ in biblical truth and principles. Teaching Christians is one of their primary purposes. Of course, the teaching must be centered around the revelation of Jesus Christ, as is found in the entirety of the Bible, including the Old and New Testaments. The instruction includes such things as understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, who Jesus is, what he did on the cross, salvation, sanctification, resurrection, judgment, and future things. In addition, correction of error is a necessity as they guard the people from false teachers. If a church is not teaching sound doctrine and correcting error, it cannot he considered a true Christian church.
- Matthew 28:20, "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- Ephesians 4:11–12, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;"
- 1 Timothy 4:6, "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."
- Titus 1:9, "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."
Prayer is the humble work of a person who speaks to God and asks Him to meet his or her needs. But it is not only that. Prayer also a place and time of worship where the Christian praises God, intercedes for others, asks for forgiveness, seeks direction, and pleads for inner change. This prayer can be alone, or in the context of the gathering of the people of God in a church. To learn to pray, we must look to God's word and, of course, the church is there to help us understand how to pray as it teaches us the word of God. Jesus taught us to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44), to pray in solitude and not for public approval (Matt. 6:5-6). He also provided us a model for prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). Paul prayed for people's salvation (Rom. 10:1) and their proper conduct (2 Cor. 13:7). We are to pray at all times (Eph. 6:18), with joy (Phil. 1:4), and by making requests to God (Phil. 4:6). We can pray for deliverance (Phil. 1:19), for God's will (Col. 1:9), that the word of God would spread (2 Thess. 3:1), etc. All of this, and more, is what we are to learn in church, and through the body of Christ, as we study God's word.
Prayer can be offered in different physical positions such as owing and kneeling (Luke 22:41; Acts 21:5; Psalm 95:6; 2 Chron. 6:13), outstreatched hands (1 Tim. 2:8; Ezra 9:5), eyes lifted upward (John 17:1), beating one's chest (Luke 18:13), lying prostrate (Num. 16:22), etc.
- Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
- Matthew 6:6, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
- Matthew 6:9–13, "Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’"
- Romans 10:1, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation."
A sacrament is a visible manifestation of the word and work of God. In Protestant theology there are two sacraments: the Lord's supper and baptism. It is the duty and responsibility of the Christian church to provide a means to participate in the Lord's supper as well is for the people of God to be baptized. Some call these two things ordinances. Others call them symbols. Nevertheless, as the church gathers for worship, to hear the word of God preached, and to have fellowship, we also participate in these ordinances that are revealed to us in the Scriptures.
- Luke 22:14–20, "When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
- Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
We serve one another in church. But, we also serve the community. Service is a way of helping one another. It can be sacrificial. But, it ought to be heartfelt with love and the consideration of the wellbeing of others. In helping each other, we need to understand that ultimately it is Jesus whom we are serving (Col. 3:24; 1 Tim. 4:6; James 1:1). Jesus speaks of serving people by giving them food to eat, water to drink, close to wear, and visiting the sick and those in prison (Matt. 25:37-40). Timothy and Erastus ministered to Paul (Acts 19:22). And, we are to serve one another (Gal. 5:13).
- Matthew 25:37–40, "Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’"
- 2 Corinthians 9:12, "For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God."
- Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."
- Ephesians 4:12, "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."
Spiritual support is the help that the church provides to its members via the preaching and teaching of the word of God. It is also a loving care that we show to one another. Spiritual support can include the correction of doctrine, warning about sin, comforting the sick, counseling those in distress, etc. It is spiritual because it is based on the word of God. Therefore, it is something that the church as a whole is to accomplish. Of course, we use the word of God as our guide, and the pastors and elders teach us how to support one another spiritually. They are supposed to teach us from that word so that we can learn how to help others in need.
- John 15:12, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you."
- Romans 15:1, "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves."
- Galatians 6:2, "Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14, "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone."
Worship is the adoration and praise of God and God alone. This adoration and praise can be accomplished through prayer, physical position, and singing. Prayer is the practice of humility before God, and in it, we praise Him. We can worship God by bowing down (Psalm 95:6), with our faces to the ground (1 Cor. 14:25), standing (1 Chron 23:30; Psalm 22:23). It must be in spirit and truth (John 4:23). We can worship in God's house (Jer. 26:2) or while driving, sitting, or walking. We can also worship him with singing (Ex. 15:1; Psalm 9:11; Rom. 15:9). However, we are not to worship God with the precepts of men (Matt. 15:9). This means that we are to study God's words to learn and know the truth about worship, and it is the church that provides this through its biblically-based teaching.
- John 4:23, "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers."
- Ephesians 5:19, "19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;"
- Psalm 2:11, "Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling."
- Psalm 33:1–3, "Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. 2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. 3 Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy."
- Psalm 95:6, "Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Each of the above categories can be expanded. But, they should be sufficient to help explain what the purpose is of the church. Basically, it is to equip the body of Christ the work of service (Eph. 4:11-12), to make disciples (Luke 9:23; Matt. 28:19), evangelize (Matt. 28:20), instruct (1 Tim. 4:6; Titus 1:9), encourage prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Eph. 6:18; 2 Thess. 3:1, etc.), participate in the sacraments (Luke 22:14-20), to serve one another (Gal. 5:13; Col. 3:24), and to worship God (John 4:23; 17:1).