Fellowship (No. 3)
This is the concluding portion of a series of articles on what is generally spoken of as fellowship. In the two preceding articles we have noted the broadness in meaning of the word fellowship, and its limited usage in the scriptures. Thus we have seen the inadequacy of pointing to the broad meaning of the word itself as authority for activating the collective church in the social and recreational realm. That which authorizes too much authorizes nothing.
We also reviewed briefly the authority which exists for the building itself, and thus for every portion of the building, and noted how its usage must be limited to that for which it is authorized in order for the activity to be legal in that which is the property of the church. In other words, that which is acceptable in the home, the park, or anyone of a number of other places may be illegal when practiced with church support and sponsorship. We then began studying and evaluating some of the arguments men make attempting to justify the use of church facilities for these so-called periods of fellowship that are really nothing but periods of fun, frolic, and feeding. You are encouraged to read these first two articles before continuing this one.
In this article we want to notice more of the basic arguments that are made to uphold church activity in the social and recreational realm. It is not claimed that we have noted every one of the arguments that are used, but we have noticed the most prevalent.
Often as we oppose the usage of church property for these social purposes, we hear someone say it is only a matter of judgment, or expediency. This charge I specifically deny. It is no more a matter of judgment whether or not we build a kitchen and "fellowship hall" into a building for the purpose of gathering for "fun, frolic, and feeding" than it is a matter of judgment whether or not we build a gymnasium, swimming pool, bowling alley, et cetera for these purposes. There is no authority for the collective church to support and be responsible for any of these things. To engage in them is open rebellion against the authority of Christ, or refusal to accept the scriptures as sufficient authorization for that which we practice.
Now remember, we have been speaking about gatherings that are for the purpose of social and recreational entertainment. When, and if, it becomes needful to eat in the church building in order to accomplish that which the church is authorized to do the matter of judgment or expediency may become involved. This would be true in the same sense as a song book, a baptistry, or the building itself may be a matter of judgment. It is not true until the eating becomes a part of what is needful for the authorized activity to take place.
But while we are on the matter of expediency and judgment, we need to remember some rules that should guide our relationships together in such matters. The scriptures teach us that we should try to please others before we consider our own desires; that we would not engage in things that would run roughshod over the consciences of others; that we should do nothing that would tear down instead of edify; that we should do nothing that would cause a brother to stumble or cause division; and that an attitude of love, preference for others, and desire for unity in the body of Christ should prevail in all that we do. This attitude should never prevail to the extent that we would compromise that which is required by the scriptures, but rather it should prevail in the area of judgment and expediency. You are urged to read such passages as Rom. 10:12, 16; 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 1:10; 8:1-13; 10:23-33; 13:1-7; and Philip. 2:24 to see these thoughts clearly.
In the light of the foregoing, would the opposition of an elder, preacher, or teacher to such practices be just cause for "firing" him because of that opposition? Many Christians have seen where the practices in question (even those that might have been justified as needful for the work the church was engaged in at the time) have led, and are thus opposed to all of them simply because they deem them inexpedient. Their thinking ought to go deeper than this on some of these things, but even on this basis of expediency alone their feelings from that standpoint should be weighed heavily in the decisions that are made. Surely we all can agree that pressing a thing that is thought of only as an expedient to the dividing, of a church would be sinful. I know of no one who believes that it is absolutely a necessity required by faith for such practices to be followed.
Now suppose the church was widely made up of people who did think it wrong to eat in the building because they thought it sacred. (I do not believe this to be true, but am using this as an example.) What would these passages require of me if that were true?
Remember, expediency and judgment really enter only into the considerations of those things that are lawful. Nothing that is unauthorized can ever be expedient. All things that are expedient must first be lawful, or authorized.
Often if one opposes the inclusion of special facilities in a building for such practices he is immediately accused of trying to legislate where God has not. Since our spiritual lives must be guided by revelation in order to be acceptable to the Lord (Read Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12; Gal. 1:6-9; Pet. 1:3; and 2 Tim. 3:14-17) my plea is for the revelation which authorizes such. Where is the statement that shows the apostles practiced it? What command can be given? Where is the approved example? What passage necessarily implies that such is to be done, or may be done? Shall we forget about revelation on this matter? Shall we oppose a gymnasium complete with equipment, a football and baseball field-with balls, hats, gloves, uniforms, et cetera ? Why should anyone "legislate" against these things and not against the kitchen? What principle separates them?
In an effort to answer the preceding and thus justify the church acting in the recreational realm insofar as the kitchen and the common meal are concerned, many brethren seek to identify such with the references in the New Testament to the "love feasts" of 2 Pet. 2:13 and Jude 12 in the ASV. We are told that the early church "met and enjoyed common meals in their places of worship;" that they received "a formal name" of love feast; and that there is abundant history to prove this. These bold assertions are made in spite of these facts: 1. The worship of the saints and their place of worship are not specified. 2. It is not necessary to infer that Peter and Jude were discussing common meals (Peter and Jude could possibly be using the references to these feasts in order to signify spiritual feasts since there are quite a number of figurative references in the same contexts-hidden rocks, shepherds feeding themselves, clouds without water, winds, autumn trees without fruit that are twice dead and plucked up by the roots, wild waves, wandering stars, springs without water, and mists driven by the storm -Jude 12-13 and 2 Pet. 2:17 ASV); and 3. No formal name is given or referred to here.
However, remember this. Regardless of whether the "love feast" is a common meal, or otherwise, there is nothing in either passage that makes it necessary that we infer a common meal in a building owned by the church. Remember, the collective church, its property, nor its worship are mentioned. These letters are addressed in the most general of terms and do not even hint at this being collective
functioning of the church, as such, in some particular place. Read the salutations to see that this is true, and compare 2 Pet. 3:1-2 with I Pet. 1:1. Keep in mind that our objection is not to Christians getting together for social purposes-including meals, games, et cetera-but rather against using facilities that are authorized only for the work and worship of the collective church for such. History is not abundant to show the early church met for such in buildings owned by the church; that is, not until after apostasy had taken place. What do we want to use that history to prove? It will also prove a pope, you know!
If you have followed the line of reasoning thus far you know that the assembly in a home, or any other place, is not condemned by what has been said, for it is not a place set apart for the church's use except at the time the service is being conducted. At that time it would he most expedient for the owner to be "throwing a big dinner" in one part of the home and trying to set apart the other portion for worship. Some time ago I suffered through a situation where my brethren tried to do that in the church building! The coffee was cooking (we could smell it through most of the preaching service); brethren were running in and out of the assembly trying to care for the meal that was in preparation; and some of the sisters had to leave, not to return. All of this was taking place while one of the services of a gospel meeting was in progress. If I had been an alien sinner there seeking to find the way to salvation it would have been difficult to determine whether the scriptures or the food was to be deemed most important!
Brethren, sometimes make an attempt to place the drinking fountain and the rest room in the same category with the kitchen, recreation room, or special "fellowship hall." The scriptures authorize that which is needful in carrying on the work and worship of the church. Judgment does enter in as to how conveniently these needs may be supplied. Shall we have a furnace or an old stove? Shall we have fans or air conditioning? or shall we "sweat it out" with neither? Shall we have a toilet "with flush" or the traditional path behind the building? Necessity demands that we have some of these things in order that things may be done decently and in order, I Cor. 14:40. Expediency does enter into this picture, but this can be true only as these things are lawfully used to enable the church to do that which the law of Christ authorizes. We ought to be as strongly opposed to the use of the drinking fountain and the rest room for the social gathering and period of recreation as we are to the use of the fruit of the vine purchased for the observance of the Lord's Supper for an appetizer before the common meal served in the "social hall."
Sometimes we hear people trying to justify this abuse of the house of worship with the thought that we can practice it because we do not have enough "fellowship" in most places unless we do. I read where one man said, "In the average congregation today about the only time there is any fellowship is when they go to worship on Sunday morning." It has been a long time since I have been associated with any congregation that was so "average!" We regularly have fellowship in worship at least four times each week, and for all who will attend. We often visit in one another's homes, sometimes go to the park for association, companionship, play, and eating together. Even in the broadest usage of the word fellowship it would seem that this would be having it more than just on Sunday morning when we go to worship at the church building. Could it be that some brethren are not willing to call this association and companionship and eating together fellowship except when it is in the church building? We remind you that in our study we have noted that the real fellowship of the scriptures is any joint participation, sharing, and communion in spiritual matters -the work and worship of the Lord's people.
But suppose Christians can be censured in many places for their lack of fellowship in the very broadest sense of the word. Does that justify the church taking over the social aspects of our lives? If so, what about all the other areas of life wherein God's people are falling short? A second wrong will never make amends for the first one.
When men place "Christian recreation" on the same plane with and parallel to, worship and work as a part of fellowship the door has been opened wide for church sponsorship of any good form of recreation. If not, why not?
Brethren, may we all study more carefully, and deliberate with greater seriousness before we prostrate the church for which Christ died to the trend of socialism and materialism that prevails.
Truth Magazine III:9, pp. 3-5