Questioner: When I asked one of the men later what was the difference in what we did and the church giving the family money, the answer was it wasn’t the churches money since it never went into the churches bank account. But when I asked “but aren’t we the church? We’re the same people who a few minutes before we’re inside the building – he brushed me off.
I think this is a hard thing to figure out. To me, the answer all boils down to purpose. The local church corporate is an artificial entity, a legal person. The only way the church corporate acts is when the members purpose to act as the church or the members collectively authorize an agent or agents to act for it. Most commonly the corporate church acts through its officers. A deacon spends church money to buy paper or soap. Another deacon spends church money to buy class material. The elders decide to pay the preacher (or not). Sometimes the church purposes to act as a cooperative collection of individuals such as in singing, praying, studying God’s word, giving, or partaking of the Lord’s supper. The church acts in that manner because each individual acts in concert with the other brethren to accomplish a common purpose.
Whether the church acts as a cooperatatve collection of individuals or whether it acts through agents, in either case the church collectively has decided to act as the church. The reason “the church” may be said to do such and such is because the assembly has decided to do such and such as the church. “The church” could engage in a worship service, have a dismissal prayer, and adjourn en mass to the river bank to spend a leisurely afternoon fishing. You could say that church worshipped, but you could not say the church went fishing. Why? Because the church purposed to act as the church in worship. The members of the church did not purpose to act as the church to go fishing. A group of brethren decided to go fishing, but it was not the church fishing, even though the membership of the corporate church and the fishing party may have been the same. If the brethren announced at the services that the church would adjourn and resume service at the riverside with fishing poles, then the church went fishing. However, the church did not do it unless they purposed to do so as the church.
Questioner: For a long time I could not see a distinction – except for the fact we were not inside the ‘church’ building during a ‘formal’ service.
James: It is a matter of what the church purposes to do. The church only acts when it purposes to do so.
Questioner: I’m wondering if this is something individual saints can do and facilitate this work by doing so in a group but not facilitate the work by doing it as a ‘church’?
James: I have never understood the brethren’s complaint about some brother publishing and selling a religious magazine or running a religious school that charges tuition. The Rabbis taught Jewish children, and their parents paid him to run the school, because they knew he could not teach if he had no means to make a living, and they needed their children to get a good Jewish education. If a brother or group of brethren run a school and did not purpose to act as a church, then what is the problem? Is it sinful for two brothers to work together at an occupation that touches in some respect on religion? Don’t individuals have a responsibility to train their children? Is it sinful to send a child to a religious school in carrying out the father’s responsibility? Anyway, I can’t see a problem unless these two brethren form a church and claim their work is the work of the church. Then there could be a problem. Parents do not compete with the church when they teach their kids, and neither do schools compete with the church when they teach kids. The problem with schools is that they inevitably drift from their founder’s principles into more liberal, mainstream philosophy. My view is, as long as the activity is legitimate for individual Christians to engage in, then two or more Christians may work together to make a business out of it.