November 13, 2018

What About Church Buildings?

Introduction

Recently a friend and fellow-preacher received the following email, and asked if I could offer a response. The questions raised by this correspondent, who shall be identified by the initials, “J. G.” are of interest to followers of Jesus Christ because they involve the issue of Bible authority. Disciples should be prepared to answer such questions regarding their faith and practice (Col. 4:6; 1 Pet. 3:15).

Hi Brother, I was wondering if in the light of the example of the New Testament of only using buildings that are “free for use” (i.e. The temple in Acts 2-7) and then members’ homes (Rom. 16:15; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15 and Phile. 2) if we all haven’t made a huge mistake - the belief that we can build “church buildings” at all. This practice diverts millions of dollars away from the Lord’s command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” toward our personal “creature comfort” and the fallacy that this building is somehow “sacrosanct” and can’t be used for this or that purpose. Thanks for any comments you might have on this subject. God bless you, J. G.

The Issue of Bible Authority

New Testament Commands

The church is authorized to use money from its treasury to fulfill its God-given tasks of evangelism, edification, and limited-benevolence. Evangelism may be defined as the preaching of the gospel, the good news of salvation; edification involves the building up of the body of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16). As an apostle and evangelist, Paul was supported in both endeavors (1 Cor. 9:3-7; 2 Cor. 11:7-9; Phil. 4:15-20). The New Testament church also offered assistance to needy saints, either in emergency situations (Acts 4:32-35; 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4), or in the case of widows indeed, on a permanent basis (1 Tim. 5:3-16).

Additionally, believers are commanded to regularly assemble (Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4-5; 14:26; Heb. 10:23-25; James 2:1-3; etc.). Christian worship involves preaching and teaching, praying, singing, as well as observing the Lord’s supper and laying by in store on the first day of the week (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-32; 16:1-2; Eph. 5:18-19).

New Testament Examples

Our correspondent asserts that New Testament disciples only used buildings that were “free for use.” Yet, how does one know? Such an assertion is based upon assumption, not upon revelation. In reality, the 1st century church assembled in a variety of locations, depending upon the size of a congregation, and surrounding circumstances.

  • Following the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost, believers assembled in Solomon’s portico in Herod’s Temple (Acts 5:12-16, esp. vs. 12).
  • As Paul travelled on his various journeys, he often preached in Jewish synagogues (Acts 9:19-25; 13:5; 17:1-3, 16-17; 18:1-4).
  • Coming to Ephesus, he preached in the synagogue for three months; afterwards, when that venue was closed, he reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).
  • When the apostle met with the saints at Troas, the disciples assembled in an upper room (Acts 20:6-12).
  • On other occasions, disciples like Prisca and Aquila, Nympha and Philemon opened their homes to the brethren as a place of assembly and worship (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15-16; Phile. 1-2).
  • Additionally, other references involve unnamed arrangements regarding the place of assembly (Col. 4:16 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1).

New Testament Inferences

In the aforementioned examples, were these places of assembly provided for free, or were certain costs involved? Scripture is silent on this point; the Biblical text does not say. Since we cannot know for certain, we should be cautious in making assertions one way or the other.

However, it is a moot point. The command to assemble necessitates a place, and authorizes such expenditures as are necessary. Likewise, the command to worship authorizes expenditures necessary to fulfill this divine mandate.

Although the church is a spiritual institution (1 Tim. 3:14-15; Heb. 12:22-24; 1 Pet. 2:4-5), it has obvious physical needs, as seen from the aforementioned commands and examples (see verses above).

It faces expenses involving persons. Regarding evangelism/edification, this authorizes the support of gospel preachers; also, in the realm of benevolence, this authorizes assistance to needy saints.

It faces expenses involving place. Regarding evangelism/edification, this authorizes expenditures for travel, and also the costs of providing a location for preaching, teaching and worship. Disciples may meet in free facilities; they may rent a place of assembly; they may purchase a building in which to worship. Depending upon the circumstances, any of these options could be viable. Furthermore, the church faces similar expenses in the realm of benevolence, in providing housing, hospitalization, or assisted living facilities for needy saints and/or widows indeed.

It faces expenses involving provision. Regarding evangelism/edification, this authorizes expenditures for song books, Bibles, teaching tools (sound systems, visual-aids, marker-boards, photocopiers, etc.) and materials (workbooks, paper, pencils, etc.). In the realm of benevolence, this authorizes the purchase of food, clothing, and other necessities.

The Issue of Cost

From one standpoint, building costs are significant; however, over time, if properly managed, they are considerably less than personnel costs. In a typical business enterprise, people are your greatest asset and also your greatest expense.

Consider the following comparison between the cost of buildings, and the cost of evangelism. For the sake of simplicity, financing and maintenance cost are not included, and support for preaching is here viewed as fixed.

Let’s assume that the cost of a new church building is $750,000. Spread over thirty years, the cost is $2,083 per month. If this same congregation supports their local evangelist $5,500 per month, and provides an additional $1,000 per month in outside support, this totals $2,340,000 over the same 30 year time span.

Yes, church buildings are expensive, but personnel cost are more so. Furthermore, expenses associated with a building do not represent a diversion of funds from the church’s central purpose, but are rather a means of fulfilling its divine mandate of assembly and worship, as well as providing a place for evangelism and edification.

Cost of Building

 $ 750,000.00

Years of Service

30

Cost Per Year

 $ 25,000.00

Cost Per Month

 $ 2,083.33

Local Evangelist

Support Per Month

 $ 5,500.00

Support Per Year

 $ 66,000.00

Support Per Same Time

 $ 1,980,000.00

Outside Support

Support Per Month

 $ 1,000.00

Support Per Year

 $ 12,000.00

Support Per Same Time

 $ 360,000.00

Local & Outside

Support Per Month

 $ 6,500.00

Support Per Year

 $ 78,000.00

Support Per Same Time

 $ 2,340,000.00

The Issue of Limited Use

As already seen, the work of the church involves evangelism, edification and limited benevolence. Expenditures to accomplish such work are scripturally authorized. However, social, secular and economic activities are excluded. Both Old and New Testaments distinguished between these realms. Jesus applied this principle of separation to corruptions of the Jewish temple (John 2:13-22; cf. Matt. 21:12-13). The apostle Paul applied it to corruptions of the Lord’s church (1 Cor. 11:17-22). In the first example, those who sold animals for sacrifice and/or served as money changers performed a legitimate business function, but such economic activity had no place within the Temple precincts. In the second example, common meals and social functions are a legitimate function of the family, but are not a part of the work and worship of the church.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope this exercise has been a helpful reminder of the importance of Bible authority. Bible authority falls into two categories: general and specific.

Sometimes, God’s commandments are generic. When the Lord does not specify exactly what He wants us to do or the method by which we are to obey, we may use any action or method that falls within the realm of the command. General commands and examples include all that is necessary to the carrying out of a command.

  • The command “go and teach” authorizes various means of travel: boat, chariot, automobile, airplane, etc.
  • Providing a place of assembly may be accomplished through using facilities that are free, rented or purchased.
  • Reverential posture in prayer may take various forms: bowing, kneeling, falling prostrate, etc.
  • The command, “sing and make melody in your hearts” does not specify style of harmony, meter, or pitch, allowing latitude in this regard.

At other times, the Lord specifies various particulars. When God identifies exactly what He wants us to do, or the method by which we are to obey, we are not free to do anything else, or use any other methods. Specific statements or examples exclude anything outside the scope of that which is specified.

  • In specifying singing and making melody in our hearts, other types of music are excluded, i.e., pianos and organs.
  • In specifying immersion as the scriptural mode of baptism, other forms are excluded, i.e., sprinkling or pouring.
  • In specifying unleaven bread and fruit of the vine, other emblems of the Lord’s Supper, are eliminated, i.e., coke and cookies.
  • In limiting the oversight of elders to the flock of which they are members, other hierarchical forms of organization are deemed unscriptural, i.e., the sponsoring church arrangement, along with synods, counsels and conventions.

The question of authority in religion is the most fundamental of all issues (Col. 3:17). Those who act without divine authority imperil their relationship with God (2 John 1:9). Therefore, we must learn not to exceed what is written (1 Cor. 4:6; cf. Num. 24:12-13). Let us give “Book, Chapter & Verse” for all that we teach and practice (1 Pet. 4:11).

Let us distinguish between general and specific authority, recognizing the encompassing nature of the former, and the restrictive nature of the latter. Let us also distinguish between doctrine and opinion, allowing liberty in areas of judgment, while demanding conformity to the divinely-revealed pattern.

About The Author

Mark Mayberry preaches in Alvin, TX at the Adoue Street Church of Christ.
You can find more of his Bible study materials at his personal website, MarkMayberry.net.

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