A Letter to Brother Hafley

By F. Furnan Kearley, Editor of Gospel Advocate

I read with interest your article in the Guardian of Truth, June 1, 1989. It was quite amusing and humorous in a number of ways. If the issues were not so serious it would be funny.

I concur with the contradictory position in which brother Jackson places himself and the inconsistency of it. However, I am sure that all of us have a number of inconsistencies, but I do belie e that you and those of your position also are caught in the same position of saying bathrooms, paved parking lots, etc. are alright, while rejecting a kitchen or fellowship hall as well as the gymnasium.

Since you presume to know what I believe and put two paragraphs of words in my mouth to brother Jackson, I thought I would take the time to try to share with you my true beliefs. By the way, I do believe that brethren should be very careful in trying to represent someone else’s position and putting words into the mouth of another. I hope you will consider publishing my own views since you have presumed to put words into my mouth and represent me as saying things I did not say.

Concerning the issue of the work of the church and what it may or may not do, I believe that we all are agreed that the work of the church basically consists of the three areas of evangelism, edification and benevolence. Worship, which includes edification, might be further subdivided as to a separate category of activity of the church.

I think we also agree that we determine what God has bound upon us by commands applicable to Christians, by approved examples woven together with commands and necessary inferences which lead to a clear, obvious and necessary conclusion that they are binding on Christians. (Of course, in this area we might have a great deal of difference as to exactly which examples are binding and which inferences are necessary. We agree in principle, but differ in some specific interpretations.)

Further, I believe we are agreed that some commands are generic and some specific. The command to observe the Lord’s Supper is generic and we may use our wisdom as to what kind of containers and how many containers to use. The command to sing is specific and excludes playing. In this conjunction, we are also agreed that we must honor and respect the silence of the Bible. Silence at times permits but at other times silence prohibits. Silence as to owning property and building church buildings is in the area of expediency and permits the owning of property and building of buildings. Silence as to bread and peas with the Lord’s Supper or instruments of music with singing is prohibitive.

It is, of course, in the area of deciding exactly what falls into the category of expedient, what is automatically included and what is automatically excluded that we have our great problems of difference. Due to the history of these problems it behooves all of us to be very tolerant and gracious to the other in discussing and applying these matters.

To become more specific concerning what I believe about the work of the church and what it may or may not build, I believe the elders of the church must ask and answer scripturally the following question before they ever spend a dime of money contributed by those supporting the work of the church: “What is the purpose for which this money is to be expended? Will it contribute significantly to the evangelization work, the edification work, the worship activity or the benevolent work for which the church is responsible?” If the studied answer is, “Yes, it does contribute significantly to these,” then I believe it is permissible for the leadership of the church to expend the money for that item or project. If the answer is, “No, it does not,” then the church and its leaders should not expend any money or energy for that item or project.

The church and its leaders should never expend money and energy for something simply because, “We always have,” or out of mere tradition.

I am enclosing a piece, “The Parable of a Lifesaving Station. ” This parable discusses the, progression of a station whose purpose was to save the lives of struggling, shipwrecked seamen as it made its transition from a lifesaving station to a yacht club or a social club. The analogy concerns how churches can loose their first love and first mission and purpose. They can gradually make a shift from being a soul saving body of Christ and become a social club or organization of religious people who have lost sight of the real meaning of Christ, the gospel and the purpose of the church.

I do not believe that this transition from soul saving to social club is made by the specific items for which the church spends its money or its time and energies. The transition is in the minds and hearts of the members and in the purpose for which they build or obtain these things.

Unless I am sadly mistaken, you approve the use of church funds to build a church building, to put in it bathrooms, maybe a nursery or cry room, to buy toilet tissue, paper towels and other amenities. You justify all of these on the basis that they make a contribution, yea, a significant contribution, to worship, evangelism and edification. I agree fundamentally provided the attitudes of the leaders and the members involves them in the necessary activities of worship, evangelization and edification. However, the moment a church quits really reaching out to save lost souls and do evangelistic work, the toilet tissue is no longer making any contribution to evangelization because the members are not evangelizing.

We could make a laundry list of items found on the expense sheets of various churches and these would include light bulbs, fertilizer for the lawn, air conditioners and many other things. There is no way of composing a list of material items the church might or might not buy until, first, the question is asked, “What is the purpose or use to which this item is to be placed? “

Consider the case of a paved parking lot at the church building. I believe that I have seen non-cooperative congregations with paved parking lots and cooperative congregations have paved parking lots, so I assume we agree that it is scriptural to build them. The justification, of course, would be that they make a significant contribution to worship, evangelism, edification or benevolence. I go along with that and would not seriously challenge it. Though, practically, the church where I preach did not have but a gravel parking lot for thirty-three years. Two years ago we paved the lot and I am certain that I cannot point to a single soul we have baptized since then for whom the paved parking lot over the gravel parking lot was a significant contribution to their decision to obey the gospel. I think we really built it for esthetics and our own members’ convenience. A few more people may come to Bible study and worship on rainy days because there is not as much mud, but, fundamentally, we have the parking lot because the members wanted it and could afford it and it is in keeping with the culture and community in which we live.

Let me contrast two situations and suggest which one might do the most good for evangelization, edification, benevolence and worship. First, a church buys a city block for $100,000, builds a 100’x 200′ building containing 20,000 square feet for $1,000,000. The church uses this building an average of six hours per week for Bible classes and worship plus a few offices every day. This totals about 312 hours for religious purposes for the year.

The same church (and I have a specific congregation in mind) buys 100 acres of land for $50,000 and builds camper cottages, bathhouses, a dining and rec hall and several other facilities for $450,000 for a total of $500,000, one-half the cost of the church building in town.

In these latter facilities they conduct a Christian camp 12 weeks during the summer and ten weekends in the spring and ten in the fall. During the summer the campers average seven hours per day in chapel, Bible class, singing training ‘ devotions and other direct evangelistic and edification activities. This totals 42 hours per week and 504 hours for the summer. The 20 weekends have 12 hours of direct spiritual activity for a total of 240 hours.

The Christian camp over a one year period accomplished two and one-half times as much teaching, edification and evangelization as the church building located in town. It cost only half what the church building in town did. Which is the best use of the Lord’s money? Both of these are operated completely by the church and are completely under the control of elders. No para-church is involved.

Concerning the gymnasium, about which you talked so much in your article, I have never stated a position publicly orally or in writings so far as I can remember. This is simply because it has never been an issue with which I have been concerned or where I have been and no one has asked my views concerning it. Since you attribute to me views about it without knowing what they are, I thought I would tell you. Before I would take a position on whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, to build a gymnasium, I would need to see a thorough justification paper indicating clearly what the purpose for this was, how it was to be intended to be used and what was hoped to be accomplished. I would like to see some evidence from a similar program and how many have been led to Christ in obedience to the gospel, how many people have been retained in the church and how they have grown spiritually as a result of the use of the gymnasium. If I could be convinced that the gymnasium makes a significant contribution to the worship, edification and benevolent program of the church, I would be for it. I would not at all be surprised but that a good, well planned program conducted in one could make it more valuable than our paved parking lot which cost $20,000.

Furthermore, I do consider fellowship to be a part of the work of the church. I know that we agree that disfellowship is a part of the work of the church. However, there can be no disfellowship unless there is first fellowship. Now, obviously, I know that fellowship is a sharing in Christ Jesus, but it does include growing to love, appreciate and care for one another. This cannot happen sufficiently with people looking at the back of one another’s heads in a formal worship service or in a Bible class where a teacher is lecturing and again people are looking at the back of one another’s heads. Genuine Christian fellowship comes when people are involved in one another’s lives or working side by side and shoulder to shoulder in the cause of Christ, but fellowship does include getting to know each other, sharing our work, our hobbies, our families and other interests and activities. It is only when people really grow to love one another that they are going to miss one another enough for disfellowship to have any meaning. Fellowship, then, in the full total sense of the word, including friendship and brotherly love which is one of the Christian graces, is a part of the work of the church.

I certainly am on no campaign for churches to build gymnasiums. The campaign I am on is for churches to use their buildings to the glory of God more than four or five hours per week. I believe it is a sin for a church building to sit 95 percent or more empty 162 hours per week. Church leaders will have to give answer to God in the judgment for having wasted the Lord’s money in building costly edifices and refusing to use them.

I believe the churches should be conducting daily Bible schools. Some might use the term, “Childcare institutions,” but by childcare I do not mean the secular type. I mean a situation where the church takes advantage of the opportunities provided by our culture and offers haven to children from 7:30 in the morning to 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening. During this time the children should be told Bible stories, shown video cassettes of Bible lessons, played audio cassettes of Bible lessons. They should sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They should memorize verses. They should learn, learn, learn all they possibly can about the Lord Jesus Christ, salvation and his church. They should learn to love one another and have the love of Christians showered upon them.

Then I think it would be good when the children are age six for the church to use its church building to continue to operate a Christian school and to watch in behalf of the souls of the children by teaching them all subjects from a Christian standpoint of view rather than turning them to the public schools that are filled with atheists and infidels and many ungodly, immoral people. (I am delighted for every Christian who is teaching in the public schools, and we need more and more, but I know from study and experience that there are far too many teachers who are exerting a wrong influence on children, teaching them evolution, humanism, materialism and other forms of ungodliness that undermine the faith of the children.)

Hebrews 13:17 says that leaders in the church watch in behalf of the souls of children and must give account for them. Leaders of our present generation have watched many a child have his faith destroyed by evolution while saying it is a sin for the church to teach the child science. It is far better for the church to teach the child science from a Christian point of view and help the child develop a good trade by which to make a livelihood in a Christian environment along with Bible teaching then to send the child into an environment that destroys his faith and soul.

Now, brother Hafley, you know a little bit more about what I believe. Obviously, these matters are very complex and still I believe it would be difficult for you to put words into my mouth and fully represent what it is that I believe, teach and practice.

While I did enjoy some of the humor in your article, I do want to mention that I think your reference to brother Guy N. Woods was not in good taste. I will assume you meant it as a humorous one, but I believe that it is not appropriate humor for a Christian to think that it would be just as well for another Christian to be dead.

May the Lord bless you abundantly in your studies and may we all study together to love the truth, seek the truth, find the truth, know the truth, obey the truth and be united in the truth.

You may know brother John T. Lewis and brother Ed Holt who are two of my most beloved mentors. I had total respect for them and have every reason to believe that they will be in heaven and, therefore, I certainly extended to them the right hand of fellowship. I am afraid that before their deaths they did not extend to me the right hand of fellowship, but I extend to you my right for you to believe and practice as you do, following your conscience. I hope that you can grant me the same as a brother.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 3, pp. 77-79
February 1, 1990