And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… —Ephesians 4:11
Thus, the work of Christ’s church is to attend to Christ in the larger culture. Christians should think of themselves as servants (δοῦλος) of Christ (Romans 1:1). Christians are to run errands for the Master, to do the Lord’s bidding, to wait on Christ like a servant, in the midst of whatever we are doing, whether at work, in worship, at home, and during recreation. Again, we are to wait on Christ like a waiter waits a table, and this is to be our central occupation. Is is not that we wait on the Lord in the midst of whatever else we are doing, like we are waiting for a bus. Rather, we are to do nothing else, to do everything for Christ’s sake! Serving Christ is to be our central occupation, and everything else we do is to help perfect and complete that service. Christians are Christ’s servants, and this service to Christ is Christian worship, regardless of place or time.
God’s intention is for the body of Christ to become the corporate body of humanity, which then becomes by definition the heart of human culture. Christians are to separate themselves from the evil influences of Sin’s culture by replacing those evil influences with the godly influence Jesus Christ manifest in faithful believers.
Hebrews 10:25 cautions Christians to not neglect to meet together, and while such meetings are central to every church, they are not identical with regard to what we call today church membership. Hebrews 10:25 is simply the call to meet regularly with other believers—anywhere, not just at church, and not just with your local church. Jesus encouraged such meetings when He said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). The church is manifest wherever Christians meet in the name of Jesus Christ.
To be gathered in Jesus’ name means to corporately manifest Jesus’ character. Whenever we invoke Jesus’ name we ask to be inhabited by His character. Those who meet in the name of Jesus Christ commonly confess their love and submission to Christ. Such meetings are tantamount to the meetings and gatherings of the servants of Downton Abbey.1 The sole purpose of the servants in Downton Abbey was to attend to the wishes, well-being, and directions of the Lord of the manor. Similarly, Christians are to attend to the wishes, well-being, and direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of human culture (Matthew 28:18-20).
And the purpose of such meetings is “for building up the body of Christ” (v. 12). Every Christian church is to be engaged in such building up or edifying (οἰκοδομή) of the body of Christ. But no single church or denomination can ever lay claim to being the whole body of Christ—nor the head of the church, for Christ is the Head, and He sent His representative, the Holy Spirit to serve in that role. Every church must avoid thinking and acting as if it alone is the whole body of Christ or the Head of the church. Rather, each Christian congregation is a part of the body in the same way that each individual member of a church is a part of that local church. Individual Christians are the living stones (1 Peter 1:5) of a local church, and each local church can be thought of as being a living wall, floor, window, door, etc., a part of Christ’s whole body. Every part of the body is required to be what it is in order that the body may be whole. And no part is the whole, rather the whole manifests in, through or as a different measure than the parts.
However, it is important that we don’t think that Paul’s understanding of church work is limited to working with what we call churches today. Rather, a fuller understanding includes what we call work—jobs—as being whatever we do to occupy our time. The work of Christ’s church is to care for Christ’s people, which includes business, production, manufacturing, research, etc. The things that develop the economy are the things that provide for God’s people. And these things are also the work of ministry.