The elders of our church are in the process of drafting a missionary policy to assist us in decisions the church makes regarding missionary support. To help us, we read a book by Andy Johnson called ‘Missions’ (available to borrow from the church library). Also, I have begun a series of bulletin articles outlining some of the ideas that the elders are considering. We’ve seen that we should expect our missionaries to be members of a local church, have the qualities of deacons and elders and have a relationship with us at Drummoyne. Another characteristic of our missionaries is that they should primarily be supporting local churches.
The word ‘church’ means literally a gathering or assembly. So when the word church is used in the New Testament it usually refers to the assembling of God’s people. A church is not a building as we often think, but Christians meeting together. On the other hand, ‘parachurch’ is an organisation that comes ‘alongside’ the church. It is not a church but a support for the local church.
There are many parachurch organisations that tell the good news of Jesus and meet social needs. But God’s commands for such labours in the New Testament are mostly given to individual Christians within local churches, not parachurch organisations. In the New Testament we see assembled Christians following these commands. We see local churches teaching the saints, celebrating baptism and the Lord’s supper, proclaiming the gospel and providing material support to those in need.
It is the church that receive high praise from the Apostle Paul when he writes to Timothy: ‘Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
What is Paul saying? Firstly, by calling the church ‘the church of the living God’, Paul is certainly teaching that God manifests himself as alive when his people gather together.
Secondly, by describing the church as ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’, Paul is showing that the church is entrusted with proclaiming the gospel. The building images are helpful. Pillars and foundations are used to support something, like walls and a roof, and hold those things up before people. Similarly, God’s assembly is to hold up the gospel for all to see and believe.
Parachurch organisations are not described in these ways. The ESV Study Bible says about these verses: ‘This picture of the church is striking. The role of advancing the gospel is divinely given to the church, not (at least not in the same way) to any other body. Parachurch organizations have value, but they must support and not supplant the church.’
Thus the missionary giving of Drummoyne Baptist should have a priority for local churches. After all, it was Jesus who said: ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Matthew 16:18).
This doesn’t mean we cannot support parachurch organisations. But those that we do support should show that that they exist to support local churches, not that local churches exist to support them.