“Individual vs Church Action”

Richard Thetford

M any people have thought that whatever the individual Christian can do, the local church can do also. There are others that say that if the local church cannot do a certain work then neither can the individual. It is important for us to find out if this is so. Can a distinction be made between the individual and the local church? If no distinction can be made, then every command given to the individual is also the duty of the local church. I maintain that a distinction is made within the pages of the Bible. The student of God’s Word must recognize the distinction between the individual and the church or further study of the Bible will be accomplished with difficulty.The Word of God makes a clear distinction of what the church can do distributively or collectively. If there is no clear distinction in the Bible on what the individual or church can or cannot do, then we might simply ask this question: “If the individual functions in exactly the same way as the local church functions, why did God establish the local church at all?” There is definitely a distinction!

The Distinction

Let’s look at some passages in God’s Word that clearly shows that there is a distinction between the individual and the local church. As we examine these passages, let us do so with an honest heart seeking to understand the teaching of God. In 1 Timothy 5:16 it says: “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.” Who is to relieve widows? The individual or the church? This passage clearly shows that it is the individual’s responsibility to relieve the widow. Why? So the church is not burdened. This seems very clear to me. Now, let’s look at Acts 5:1-4: “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it, at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” While Ananias had the property it was his. Once he sold the property and brought a portion of the selling price and laid it at the apostles’ feet, it changed ownership and control. Now it belonged to the church. We should be able to see the distinction here. In 1 Corinthians 11:18 it says: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” This text clearly shows that individuals “come together as a church” (NASB). If they “come together as a church” isn’t there a way they act separately or distributively not as the church? In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus said: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” We should be able to clearly see that in these verses the individual and sometimes individuals are to act first in correcting this problem? Only as a last resort does the church enter into it. There are clearly some things the individual is to do and some things the church is to do.


When distinguishing what the individual and the local church may do in the areas of benevolence, edification, and evangelism, one MUST always act within the guidelines of Biblical authority. When one fails to recognize the distinction, then one will act without proper authority, resulting in a separation from God (Matthew 7:21-23).