"Serving Food Successfully In Today's Church

Wm. E. Wallace
Indianapolis, Indiana

The above title is the heading of an article in the February issue of "Protestant Church Buildings and Equipment." The article offers an excellent presentation of a well-organized church kitchen and the philosophy thereof. Our paper will be primarily concerned with the kitchen philosophy, but we make passing mention here of the elaborate church-kitchen suggested by the magazine. Suggested equipment for feeding 300 people includes 104 items besides tableware. Due consideration to room decor and sanitary matters call for professional counsel. Community wide services for various organizations may demand a professional kitchen staff. Verily, verily, the kitchen phase of a congregation's work may be the major function of a local churcha local church of the "social gospel" type.

It is declared, "From its very beginning the church has been involved in serving food. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians ate together 'with gladness and singleness of hearts."' Apparently assuming that serving tables in the early church was primarily social and that Christians eating together represent church provided banquets, the author advances the church kitchen philosophy. He speaks of "orienting them (new membersWEW) in the life of the church" via the church kitchen and of the social intercourse made possible by the church kitchen. "Out of this," said he, "enduring church loyalties resulted and church membership was enlarged." A prominent church leader is represented as declaring "a pot of coffee shared in an informal gathering within the church building could well be more meaningful than singing the TE DEUM in a formal service in the place of worship." This is what's wrong with the church kitchen!

When Christians are militant they naturally react against practices, which strike them as being detrimental to the New Testament way. It is the aspect of the Christian calling which moves us to raise voices of protest against such deviations as those reflected in the church-kitchen philosophy. We realize that the church building is not the church. Our criticism of the church-kitchen philosophy involves the desecration of the mission of the church, not a supposed desecration of a building. Our opposition to the church-kitchen philosophy is against the same kind of sins mentioned in Ezekiel 22:26: "Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean.

Recently a bulletin from an Indianapolis church reported: "About the best estimate available shows about 250 who brought their food and ate together in our basement at noon with wonderful experiences of acquaintance and fellowship. We earnestly encourage all of our members to avail themselves more fully of these wonderful opportunities. There are great things in store for us all in our church life at Fountain Square if we will but enter into them, things well beyond the highest dreams of many of us."

It appears that the "great things" of the church life, of which the bulletin speaks, consist of "food" and of "eating together." We do not call in question the charitable or incidental use of church property as to eating and drinking. It is the purely social and entertaining use of church facilities that worries us. Church designing, church financing and church planning of social facilities and social functions are unauthorized by Him "who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11 b).

The "wonderful experience of acquaintance and fellowship" under church auspices may indeed provide "great things" as to banqueting and recreation, but are they calculated to create and preserve the distinctive and peculiar characteristics of a genuine church of Christ?

The congregation cited above surpassed a goal of 500 on the day of the "social fellowship." Would the goal have been surpassed without the social attraction? The congregation has fallen far short of the goal each Sunday since the eventseveral months back. If such social attractions are withdrawn from the work of the congregation would there still be "great things in store" in the "church life?" Could the church experience "great things" in the "church life" without the social facilities and the church sponsored recreation?

A discussion with the preacher of the above mentioned church brought an admission that the use of the phrase "church life" in connection with the meal was not a good usage. We must observe that if the meal is not "church life" then it is not church business and thus the church has no business providing for such business.

We must recognize the difference between the spiritual distinctives that make a congregation a church of Christ and the profanations of these distinctives by secular and social activities. Church provided facilities for merrymaking and church sponsored fun feasts are not within the holy and exclusive functions of the church for which our Saviour gave his precious blood and over which he reigns as "head over all things" (Ephesians 1:23).

Church amusements and merriment may have value as to numerical increase in attendance and "church loyalty," but not to the development and preservation of the peculiar features of a "peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). If it takes church sponsored merriment to make a congregation grow numerically, it seems certain that the congregation is neither growing by individual conviction of truth nor by personal commitment to Christ.

I find no fault in the normal family, community and secular grouping of Christians in recreational and social eventsbut this is something that the New Testament does not include within the purposes and functions of the church.

I find that most defenses of the church-kitchen philosophy miss the point of opposition. For example, the following appears in the book "The Church is Building" (by J. M. Powell and M. Norvel Young, Gospel Advocate Co. 1956). "The idea that a toilet facility, a drinking fountain, or a kitchen stove can in some way 'desecrate' a building is foreign to the whole concept of New Testament Christianity which presents the church as a body of redeemed people rather than a holy edifice erected by men's hands" (Page 411). As pointed out before it is not a supposed desecration of a building, which arouses our criticism, but rather a desecration of the function of the church. In the same book the church-kitchen philosophy is defended: "In the good old days we used to enjoy having dinner on the groundsthe fellowship room is simply a convenient way in which dinner on the grounds can be enjoyed in all kinds of weather" (Page 117).

If the "fellowship rooms" are mere necessary conveniences like water fountains, rest rooms, windows, air conditioners and pews there would be no opposition to them. But they are more. They can no more be defended on the basis of convenience than can instrumental music in worship be defended as a mere aid. Church "fellowship" kitchens and church banquets are neither benevolent in design, nor evangelistic in thrust nor are they calculated to edify in the New Testament sense of the word. Therefore they are not within the authorized sphere of the work of the Lord's church.

The "gobbling, gabbling and gifting" occasions in modern church work are quite foreign to the purpose and functions of the church you read about in the Bible. May God help us to separate between the holy and profane.

TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 3, pp.12-14
December 1966