Can't the Church 'Do Good'?

There is a common feeling in America that churches are in the "doing good" business. Since helping the poor is a "good work" it logically follows that churches should do so. As many people do not believe the Bible to be inspired, heaven and hell to exist, or that man has an immortal soul teaching moral guidelines from scripture would be a waste of time. The presumption is that the church should do something practical and useful in the here and now. That thinking translates directly into homeless shelters, soup kitchens and every other kind of social aid program to help the impoverished. Doing such is a "given" for most churches. It is unquestioned and unquestionable: the church should do good.

Is that really so? It is remarkable that more Christians don't see the proverbial "red flag" when non-Christians are so freely allowed to define and state the mission of the church. Those people don't read the Bible, don't know the Bible, and don't make any attempt to follow the Bible. Is it really a good idea to turn to them for ideas and direction concerning the very mission of the church? Just because the world thinks the church should do something does that mean it necessarily should? We would do well to consider that much of what man decides is good and right in God's sight simply is not. Remember David's desire to build a temple for Jehovah? 2 Samuel 7:2 tells us that David wanted to build a house for the Lord, and correctly consulted the prophet Nathan to see if such would be "good" in God's eyes. Nathan assumed that such an idea must be good, and immediately blessed the project (v. 3) without consulting God. Yet contrary to what everyone else thought about David's idea, God did not want David to build a temple, and expressly forbid it (v. 5ff). Think carefully about this situation. Wouldn't we all have said "Great thinking, David, let's get right to it!"? Yet 2 Samuel 7 illustrates powerfully to us that what men think is good and right is not necessarily good and right. God's revealed word is our standard, not our thoughts and opinions. "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

Having established our own personal fallibility what can we say about the church "doing good?" First, we would suggest that the church does good when it respects the authority of its Head, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:21-22) and we must let Him rule His church as He sees fit. After all, He bought and paid for it with His own blood! If my hands or feet were suddenly to decide to do their own thing, out of the control of my mind, I would not term their actions a good thing no matter what they accomplished. My body must function under my mind's control and so must Christ's body. It is outrageous for members of His body to break away, do what they want without any authorization from Christ, claim it is good, and demand the Head accept what they have done.

Note carefully Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" These individuals performed various religious acts yet they were not in subjection to the Law of Christ and hence were not under the control of the church's Head. Their works are not termed good but "lawlessness."

Second, we believe the church does good when it adheres to the mission and work that Jesus gave it to do. The church cannot do everything. Such is impossible — resources, man-hours, money and energy are all limited commodities. Since we cannot do everything we dare not divert away any of our limited resources to activities which our Head has not ordered. Everything we do must be under His control, and fulfill the work He requires of us (Col. 3:17). Even a brief examination of Acts reveals that work. The church is to teach the Gospel to the lost (see the missionary journeys of Paul, Acts 13; 15; 18), teach Christians how to be stronger (see Acts 14:22), and under certain limited circumstances help Christians in need (Acts 11:27-30). Interestingly, the record in Acts says not one word about helping non-Christians, or establishing any kind of social aid or welfare programs for them. These things were not even done in the name of gaining an audience to preach to. They simply are not part of the divinely authorized mission and work of the church. The world may be certain the church ought to do such, but it cannot produce book, chapter and verse showing that Christ wants us to do these works. Hence, instead of doing what the world wants us to do we must be true to the mission the Lord has given His church.

It is obvious that the church should do good. The question is "How does the church do good?" By usurping individual responsibilities? By robbing the church of the resources to carry out the mission Jesus gave the church so that we might impress the world, carrying out programs and initiatives that meet with worldly approval? Such cannot be good. Let us do as Christ instructs and know that obeying the Lord is always and ultimately complete good.