Use of Church Building

Donald P. Ames
Aurora, Illinois

In many places and in many instances, brethren have accepted a certain practice for so long that when one rises to challenge the authority behind such a practice it comes as a real shock. Answers as, "We have always done it that way," "It's ridiculous to bother to question something as trivial as that," etc., are frequent surprised reactions. Brother Leslie Diestelkamp, in this journal, produced many such reactions when he led the way to really focusing the attention of the brotherhood on the limits the church was authorized to spend its money in the fields of benevolence.

As has already been brought out many times, the fact "we have always done it that way" does not necessarily make it right; likewise, it does not make it wrong regardless of who may challenge it unless it can be shown to be without authority. The material in this article is not new to me, nor is it set forth in the spirit of dogmatism, but to raise the question, by what authority we do much of those things "we have always done that way." Your comments and scriptural arguments are invited in a study of this topic.

"The Building Is Not Holy"

Usually, when approaching the subject of the proper use of the church building, one of the first objections to be raised is that the building itself is only a building-there's nothing holy about it; therefore, there is nothing wrong with the practices currently being engaged in by brethren in many places. To the first idea, that the building itself is not holy, we readily acquiesce. To the conclusion we raise objections which we hope you will take into consideration. If right, we desire to bring it to brethren's attention; if wrong, we desire it to be pointed out to us.

While accepting the hypothesis that the building itself is not holy, one must not jump to the conclusion that whatever one desires to engage in is therefore perfectly acceptable. Although the building is not in itself holy, we contend that it is sanctified, or set apart for holy purposes. The only authority we have for building a building for the church to assemble in is on the basis of the teaching of the Bible that we are to assemble together for the purpose of worship ( Heb. 10:25). Assembling requires a place, be it rented, borrowed, or purchased. Whatever is involved in assembling is authorized as long as it isn't in violation of the word of God, (i.e., lights, heat, seats, etc.). In real warm places; other than a shelter from the rain, perhaps the out-of-doors is sufficient; in colder regions, inside protection is necessary. This may be provided by meeting in one's home (Rom. 16:5). When such becomes too small, it may become necessary to rent a place, or even to purchase one.

Of course men can go to extremes here and build a fancy building to try to "out do" everyone around. Such certainly is not pleasing to the Lord, Who desires His money to be used for the furtherance of the cause of Christ, and not to "out do the neighbors". Whatever would be a sensible, moderate accomodation is authorized by only one line of thought - a place to do what the Lord desires of us as an assembly.

But, where did this money to purchase the building, rent the hall, or provide such necessities come from? Since the act of assembling together becomes that of collective action, then the money for such would be drawn from that which was collected -a local congregation, hence from the .Lord's treasury or the Lord's money. That money, when given to the Lord is no longer ours to do with as we may please, but only to b2 used as we have the authority of God for. Since an assembly is needful to fulfill the work of the local congregation as God requires, money for a place of assembly is necessarily inferred.

Since the building is to be purchased or rented for the Lord's purposes, any other use than that authorized by the Lord is to be called into question just as readily as any misuse of the Lord's money in the fields of benevolence, edification, or evangelism. This does not mean if we rent a hall to worship in no one else can rent it from the same people for another purpose, but it does mean as long as we spend the Lord's money on it, it is limited by His authority. If the hall is rented full time, it is limited (set apart for a holy purpose) full time. If we only rent it one day a week, it would be limited on that day. But if we build a building with the Lord's money, then that building would be limited to the Lord's work as authorized by His word.

But, now to a few applications to modern usages:

For Picnics

Some brethren think nothing of gathering together once a month, every other month, etc., all come to the building and have real period of fellowship (modern language - association). As they fix the coffee, donuts and possibly other food, the kids have an inside place to run around, and all can be kept warm and dry in bad weather. Surely no one would be so "narrow-minded" as to question such good "Christian fellowship" as this!

Now, let us ask ourselves a few honest questions: Who is paying for this building, its upkeep, its bills, its repairs? Who's money is it? Well, it is no longer ours to do with as we wish; it is now the Lord's and coming from His treasury. That money was used to build a building. For what purpose? A place of entertainment? No, for the assembly of the saints - spiritual purposes. Then by what authority do I use God's money for my social entertainment?

Don't go off saying I'm opposed to brethren getting together and having social fellowship. But, we have no authority to spend the Lord's money on our get-together parties! Has the Lord authorized us to spend money for a place to have social get-togethers, or for a place to assemble to fulfill spiritual obligations as an assembly? If the former, then would someone please call the passage of scripture to our attention.

And while on this subject, some churches which have gone all out to buy a "church kitchen" as part of the building for these social gatherings would do well to re-examine how they have used the Lord's - not their - money. Brethren, does it make a difference, or are we permitted to rob God as we see fit?

For Recreation

Another practice that is spreading rapidly in some sections of the country is the use of the building for a place of recreation, or even in some circles, for the money for such recreation itself to come from the Lord's treasury. The fact there is no authority for such spending seems to be so trivial that it is "meddling" to even call attention to it. "The children need some recreation; if the church does not provide it (or a place for it), they will get it elsewhere."

This reverts to the old theory of "doing evil that good may come" (see Rom. 3:8). These people seem to fail to realize it is not the work of the church to provide such - either financially or otherwise. As individuals, parents, this is our obligation; not God's (Eph. 6). If God had planned for His church to become a recreational unit, He would have made plans for such in apostolic days. As in benevolence, when individuals drop their share, rather than educate them, there are always those ready to say, "Let the church do it!" It's about time these brethren learned to shoulder their OWN God-given responsibilities, or end up as the goats of Matt. 25:31-46. Church gyms, contributions to swimming pools, roller skating parties (in the building or paid for by the church), etc., ARE NOT THE WORK OF THE CHURCH! Brethren, where is the authority?

College Singings

Another practice that has gone unchallenged in many areas is that of some of the various educational institutions supported by members of the church (and in some instances, contrary to the will of God, by churches themselves) to get a chorus together, tour the country to advertise the college, and visit churches in varying cities. The church building doors are thrown open and in they come, sing a few religious tunes, and if in a good mood, a few non-religious tunes for entertainment. Then usually follow statements about the school, and in some cases emotionally tinted pleas for support. And brethren never stop to think this may not be pleasing to God.

These schools are not the church. They are not doing the work of the church! They have no business being supported by the church! And, their singings have no business in the church buildings as they tour the country to advertise for the college. These educational institutions are private institutions and have as much authority in the church building as the Mormon choir, a barbershop quartet, or a denominational chorus. If not, why not? If a Methodist choir went about the country to advertise the Methodist Church, brethren wouldn't think of letting the church building become their place of operation. Yet, if "we" do it, it is different! Says who? As private, educational organizations, let them use private and public places for their advertising and fundraising campaigns, but keep the church building for its God-given purposes.

For Weddings

While many are willing to go this far, now they will balk, cry "narrow-minded," "meddling," etc. How one can conscientiously oppose the above and defend this as being acceptable is presently beyond me. Any argument on it being so trivial, etc., will justify picnics in the church building as quickly as they will weddings. We need to keep these expressions where they belong, in denominationalism, and study this in the light of God's word. "Things we have always done" have been, and no doubt will continue to be challenged as time goes on. The fact "we have always done it that way" doesn't establish any practice unless it can be justified by the word of God.

Weddings are basically a social rather than a religious affair. Christ pointed out ( Matt. 19:3-12) that such have existed "from the beginning," and hence they are not limited by or new to Christianity, being under God's moral law "from the beginning." About the only defense for weddings in church buildings I've heard to date has been that "marriage is authorized by God." But, WHEN was it authorized? In the church? No. Limited to Christianity? No. When? Marriage has existed from the garden of Eden, and the same law that will make it a part of the N. T. practice of things spiritual and to be engaged in by the church in the building will also permit the procreation of children and, the caring for the animals of the world in the church building also. These commands were given in the garden also and are as binding today as then.

Are we ready to follow it through to the logical consequences? If not, let us stop where authority ends.

For Funerals

Since funerals and the funeral sermon have generally been regarded as a means of comforting the bereft and for reaching non-Christians present, few have ever seriously questioned their functions in the church building. Yet, the obligation to relieve the distressed is again basically individual and moral in its nature. It is not limited to Christianity, and does not require collective action to fulfill. As for the latter goal of reaching non-Christians, rarely are their minds on the details of the sermon.

Since the Bible is silent concerning such in N. T. times, by what authority can we make it a part of our spiritual servitude to God today? Also, when a Christian dies, is the church under the same obligation if his wife is not a Christian? If she is violently opposed to the church? Remember, when he is dead, the church no longer bears any obligation to him. Individuals, not the church, have the obligation to offer comfort to the bereft. Where are the limits for the church, assuming it may act in this capacity also, wife, children, grandchildren, neighbors? Financial or otherwise? Again, to bring it back to the core, by what authority?

Also, individuals, and not the church, are the ones to send the flowers. The church bears no relation to the deceased, has no limitations or authority in either this or the funeral capacities. Let us keep the Lord's money only for those things He has authorized. Until authority for such can be produced, who are we to determine it is acceptable?

Before you cast the above comments off as "so much talk," and go your way without taking them into consideration again, let me urge those reading this material to get your Bibles and search for the authority. If it is there, we need to recognize where and why; if not, we need to be ready to abandon those things not authorized. The building isn't holy, but the use of it is. It is bought by the Lord's money and we have no authority to use it for any other, purposes other than those which. are part of our spiritual servitude to Him. If we can violate in one part, what determines the limitations? Why can't we do anything we desire, what stops us? I would like to invite your articles in a closer study of the proper use of the church building.

Truth Magazine V:6, pp. 21-23
March 1961