Is it right for churches of Christ to maintain and support recreation and amusements? This question has been asked, and we propose to give an answer, with meekness and fear. Meekness requires submission to God's will; and the fear we have is that we might fail to teach God's word in simplicity and truth. In that meekness and fear only one answer can be given to the question stated,- NO.
It is not right for churches of Christ to maintain and support recreation and amusement. It is not right: it is sinful. In the light of the scriptures, no other answer can be given. The practice is wrong,- not because I/we say so, but because the Bible so teaches. There are some pertinent truths, well known to every careful student of the Bible, that establish the sinfulness of church recreational programs. We wish to state (with scriptural proof) some of these truths. If you, gentle reader, will give them honest consideration, you will not he left with any doubt as to their teaching.
The Church of Christ is God's true tabernacle. Christ is a minister of the true tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2). This is the divinely established sanctuary, or holy place. The holy place in which Christ ministers is none other than the church that he established.
The church and its appointments constitute the heavenly things of Hebrews 8:5. The priests served in the tabernacle of Moses, offering gifts and sacrifices (Hebrews 8:3). That which they served was a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. The law (and the worship that it governed) was a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1). The system of teaching that came after the law was the gospel, and the system of worship that came after the tabernacle worship was the church and her appointments. The propriety of speaking of the church and its appointments as the heavenly things is apparent when we reflect that the church is the heavenly kingdom, and that baptized believers are raised up to sit with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). The heavenly things constitute the realm of the authority of Christ which is described by "Head over all things to the church which is is his body." (Ephesians 1 :20, 22-23.)
The copy and shadow of heavenly things was sanctified by animal blood. This included the Book, the people, the tabernacle, and the vessels of the ministry (Hebrews 9:19-21). The text says that the heavenly things were dedicated, but that is the meaning of sanctification (see Thayer on "hagiazo"). A thing is sancified when it is separated from things profane and dedicated to God (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:13; 8:17). When a thing is sanctified it is made clean for God's service (Hebrews 9:13). An unclean thing is something not acceptable in this relation.
It is important that God's people be able to distinguish between things clean, and unclean; between things sanctified and things common (Ezekiel 22:26). Failure to do so cost Nadab and Abihu their lives ( Leviticus 10:1-3 ). The sons of Aaron were prohibited from drinking strong drink so that they could distinguish between the clean and the unclean (Lev. 10:9-10).
The church and its appointments has been cleansed by the blood of Christ. We have already shown that this is the heavenly things. The copy and shadow included the Book, the tabernacle, the people, and the vessels of the ministry. It included the altar and all that touched it (29:37). The copy was cleansed by animal blood, but the heavenly things by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19). The people of God constitute the church, and are set apart (sancified) by the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 5:25-26). The church as an institution is cleansed by blood (Acts 20:28). In this connection we should notice that each local church overseen by its own elders is a sanctified arrangement. The Book is sanctified (Hebrews 9:16-17). The appointments of the church are sanctified by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:24-29). He who despises the appointments of the church despises the blood of Jesus.
Profanity is the mixing of things clean and unclean. To fall to distinguish between things holy and common is to be guilty of profanity (Exodus 22:26). If the unclean touches the clean it does not make the unclean clean, but it does make the clean unclean (Haggai 2:11-14). The things that were clean in the tabernacle of Moses were those things that God put therein. The things clean in the heavenly things are the things that Jesus Christ has put therein. These are clean. Things that Christ has not put in this relation are unclean. The clean things have been so made bv the blood of Jesus.
Application of truth. What is wrong with recreation or amusement as a church appointment? Just this, such activities have not been cleansed bv the blood of Jesus. When a church of Christ operates a place of amusement, when it supports a basketball team, conducts a puppet show, or any such affair, it mixes the clean and the unclean. When such is done the unclean does not become clean, but the clean does become unclean. A preacher, or elder, who will bring into the church appointments any activity that Christ has not authorized is as profane as was Esau when he sold his birthright for a pot of red beans (Hebrews 12:16).
In any study of the scope of the scriptural activities of a church of Christ it should be remembered that the church is not only the true tabernacle, but that it is the kingdom of Christ. As a kingdom it is an absolute monarchy. Jesus Christ is king. He rules through his law, and his law is the New Testament (Hebrews 9:16-17). The King of the kingdom has never delegated legislative authority to any one,- not even the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14). The word of the King gives a pattern for the organization and the activities of each local church. The King is obeyed only when that pattern is followed. The pattern is followed when Christians are guided by the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1:24). The pattern is abandoned when men come to think of themselves as wiser than God. It is not within the scope of this article to discuss the pattern of organization, but rather that of activities.
There is a scriptural pattern of church activities. That pattern consists of the sum of the teaching of the New Testament. The pattern of church (local) activities include worship (I Peter 2:5), edification (Ephesians 4:16), preaching (Acts 20:7), and the care of its own needy members (Acts 4:35).
It is evident that the Lord did not consider such things as basketball, ping pong, puppet shows, picnics, etc., proper activities for his churches for he did not include them in the pattern that he gave. I am under the impression that brethren who conduct such may sometimes think that they are means of edification, but this is quickly eliminated. The word of God is adequate for the edification that the Lord wants done (Acts 20:32), and there just is no instructions in the New Testament to govern any kind of recreational program.
Recreation and amusement as an individual activity is one thing: as a church activity it is something else. We rnay have something to say later about individual recreation, but that is not our subject now. Church sponsored recreation and amusement is sinful. It is a common activity in a holy relation. It is an unclean thing mixed with things that are clean. It is rebellion against Christ because it is no part of the pattern that he has given.
Truth Magazine III:8, pp. 11-13