Fellowship (No. 2)

Ray Ferris
Racine, Wisconsin

In our last article we discussed the matter of fellowship primarily from the standpoint of the usage of the word in the New Testament, and contrasting the thinking of the present generation with that usage. As we noted, usage of the word does not mean authority for the collective church to practice everything the word is broad enough to cover. This no more truth than arguing the collective church is to practice everything the word baptism is broad enough to cover because it is used in the scriptures. We must, rather, use the word as authority only for the practice of that which the context establishes as the point of discussion. The fellowship of the scriptures has primary reference to things of a spiritual nature and plane, and does not refer to our social and recreational activities any more than to sharing and joint participation in business activities.

In this paper we shall begin to notice some of the arguments advanced by men in an effort to establish justification for the church providing facilities for social and recreational activities, or usage for these purposes of those facilities provided by the church for worship in the form of teaching singing, prayer, observance of the Lord's Supper, and sacrificial giving to the Lord's cause.

Authority For A Building

However, let us first notice the principle upon which authority for a building rests. I trust most of us are still ready to agree that the church is authorized from the scriptures to provide facilities for its edification in worship, and to do all things that are the particular responsibility of the collective church.

Instruction in the scriptures for assembling, for exhortation, edification, provocation to good works, prayer, giving, etc. necessarily implies a place for such assembly. We have teaching for individuals in the church to assemble for such, instruction to control such collective groups, and admonition to the elders for their oversight of the feeding and edification of the assembly or flock. Read such passages as Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 14:1-40; Eph. 4:11-16; Acts 20:17-25; and I Pet. 1-4. Since a place is essential, it is a matter of necessity that some place be provided in some way for this collective action. It is authorized, and is therefore lawful. The fact that all Christians are admonished to "entertain strangers" and "Let brotherly love continue" does not in any sense necessitate the action of the collective church and thus authorize church hotels for there is not any necessity for collective action for every Christian to obey this command. This duty is taught in Heb. 13:1-2.

There is ample evidence to show that the early churches used a variety of places in their worship and work for the Lord. They met in the temple at Jerusalem-Acts 2:46; they met in the houses of private individuals in such places as Jerusalem-Acts 2:46; Rome-Rom. 16:5; Ephesus-l Cor. 16:19; Laodicea-Col. 4:15; and Colosse if that was the abode of Philemon - Philemon 2. We may assume the collective church accepted no responsibility for providing any of these places for worship, but it is only an assumption. Jesus established the principle that the place of worship was insignificant in John 4:20-24. Thus we see authority for some place, and expediency for the particular place. The church may occupy a private house in its assembly; it may rent a public hall; it may meet in the open field; or it may provide a building of its own. This place of worship is clearly one of judgment or expediency. Acquisition of property by rental or purchase does not in any way add to the actions of the church when it meets in this collective capacity.

The church is responsible for what happens in borrowed or rented quarters only during the period of time in which it has such quarters, borrowed or leased. It is responsible for, and contributing to, everything that is practiced in the building which it owns, whether intentional or not. The church may rent a hall for worship in certain hours during the week. The hall may be used for a public dance in other hours when the church does not have it leased. The church has not contributed to, nor encouraged the dance. The church may borrow the living room of a private home on Sunday or any other day, that is at other times used for a party in which to play games. The church has not been a contributor to the party in any way. Such is not true when the church owns the building and is thus responsible for what goes on therein at all times. There is no authority for such a building except as it is used in, and set apart for, that which is the particular and peculiar responsibility of the collective church.

Value Of Social Functions

With these thoughts before us, let its notice now some of the arguments set forth in efforts to justify the use of church facilities for social and recreational activities. Men often point to the great joy of companionship and association Christians can have together is a proof that the church is to provide such. To emphasize this we hear the claim that Jesus believed in good and wholesome recreation and social activities. It is even pointed out that some of the Lord's most effective teaching was done while a common meal was in progress. Again, we are reminded that the church often met in homes and perhaps other places where common meals were eaten. Thus it is argued from these points that the church is authorized to act in like manners.

It has seldom been my lot to meet or know Christians who would deny the value of the association and companionship we can have with other brethren. I Cor. 15:33 teaches that our close companionship will affect our overall lives. However, to make this authority and justification for the church to provide facilities for such companionship and association is to authorize the function of the church in any field of such relationship. To point to the church meeting in places that were used for other things does authorize worship in places originally designed for something else. It does not authorize other things in the place that was designed for, and consecrated to the worship and work of the church.

Nearly all will agree that some good "wholesome recreation" is necessary to the proper functioning of the human body. There may be a great deal of controversy about what some call good and wholesome. It may even be shown from the scriptures that bodily exercise is profitable to some degree, I Tim. 4:8. No doubt, Jesus engaged in social and recreational functions to some extent while here upon earth. Paul uses the sporting arena as an illustration of spiritual truth upon a number of occasions. See I Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:13-14; and Heb. 12:1. Are we ready to accept any kind of "good and wholesome" recreation as all right for the collective church to support? or do we want to confine this recreation to the "banquet hall" in the church building? If one is acceptable to the Lord, what principle of scripture can we cite to condemn any other? Why may we not have a gymnasium for recreation if we may have a kitchen and "banquet hall" for such? Yes, why may we not have a fully equipped stage for the "puppet shows" and a TV set for the "recreation room" along with a radio and record player? It will be only one small step for some congregations then to sponsor a dance in this recreation room, for a great number of the members, including some elders, preachers, and teachers, will not oppose such worldliness in many places right now!

Any student of the scriptures is also aware of the fact that Jesus taught many lessons while engaging in a common meal. However, all of these things are completely irrelevant to a discussion of the prevailing custom in many places where the church building is made a social and recreational center. That which the Lord practiced in His individual life does not authorize the collective church to act in the same capacity. Jesus also taught lessons while on the sea in a boat. Is that fact an argument for the Church to buy a lake and proceed to engage in the sport or business of fishing in order that the truth may be taught while the fishing trip is made? Note again Paul's usage of the games and athletic events of the day to teach lessons. Is this to be construed as authority for the church to begin conducting track meets? Brethren, let's face it. We know the fellowship of the New Testament is not of such a nature, and we know that if we open the door for one, something else will enter. Some churches now have church supported ball games, youth rallies, puppet shows, banquets, etc. How can we exclude some and not the others? How can we support one and not all?

Church Building Not Sacred

Much of the argument made in behalf of these social and recreational functions with church support is an effort to tear down an imaginary straw man. We hear brethren wax eloquent in showing that the building is not sacred, and pretending that all who oppose usage of the building for social functions mistakenly think the building is a holy place. It is thus argued that one who opposes such use of the building is either ignorant or inconsistent if he approves of such activities in other places but not in the church building. In this connection we nearly always hear the accusation that this line of thinking is something we borrowed from the Catholics because, they say Catholics think of the building as the house of God.

It has never been my misfortune to know a Christian of any maturity in the Lord's body that argued against these practices because he thought the building was sacred. There may be a few, but it is more likely that this is a "whipping boy" thrown up as a smokescreen to take attention away from the real issue. The practice is not questioned because of the "holiness" of the place, but rather because of the lack of authority for the church to support such. Any time it becomes needful in the functioning of the church to meet for worship and work for a common meal to be eaten in the building it is authorized by the same passages that authorize the place for such worship and work. Until then, there is no authority.

We can all see that the purpose of a church building must be to aid in performing the work of the church. The building should be designed for and consecrated (set apart) unto that purpose. This does not make it a holy place, but does establish the purpose and intent of its existence. Any other usage of it then becomes a misuse of it so far as its reason for existence is concerned. The very brethren who strive the hardest to make the building some social and recreational center will often engage in a "dedication service" for the building whatever that is. I wonder, unto what do they dedicate the building in such a service? Is it unto the community as a civic center? or is it to the service of the Lord in the manner which he authorized? Neither will it help to say it is inconsistent to oppose these things in the building if we approve of them elsewhere. We approve the exercise of the body in swimming in privacy out on the river somewhere. Does that justify building a bigger baptistry and keep it filled and heated for use of the people as a swimming pool? (I probably should never have suggested it for someone will be doing it soon if they are not already!)

The most amazing thing about this whole line of argument is the claim that we borrowed this defense from the Catholics. This never ceases to astound me. The practice of keeping the building free from social, recreational, and entertaining activities was never borrowed from any Catholic Church of which I have had any knowledge! We borrowed from them the very practice that is being questioned -- the use of the building for purposes other than worship and work! We probably would not have thought of the ones we have if it had not been for the Catholics and other denominations having them. We are often just like Israel of old in our efforts to be like "the nations" about us. You see, there are portions of the building to which the Catholics do "attach sanctity" and others that they do not. In these others, anything goes, and I do mean anything! There are congregations of the Lord's people who are trying to enter the race with them, except that, I trust, we are still trying to keep our activities on a little higher plane. However, it is probably only a matter of time until we read of one of the congregations of the Lord's people (?) conducting a public dance in the recreation room, fellowship hall, banquet room, or whatever it is called.

For every brother in Christ who mistakenly thinks of the building as the house of God there are probably at least two who think of the auditorium where the whole church assembles as the sanctuary. I have even heard some preachers use this terminology too. We repeat, there is no part of the church building that is holy and sacred, and therefore not to be used for such purposes because of that holiness and sacredness. However, every part of the building is consecrated to that which is the specific duty of the collective church, or else there can be no reason for its existence in the first place. Let us not do as the Catholics and other denominations, and endeavor to divide the building into that which is consecrated (the sanctuary or auditorium) to service to God, and that which is not consecrated to the service of God in work and worship. Neither should we corrupt any part of the building by using it for that which is unauthorized.

The Lord willing, we shall plan to conclude this discussion in the next paper by considering whether or not this is simply a matter of judgment; whether authorized by the "love feasts" of the scriptures; or whether or not the fact that little fellowship (actually companionship and association together) exists among brethren in many places justifies the church in functioning in these realms. Remember the fellowship of the scriptures is not social and recreational.

Truth Magazine III:8, pp. 13-16
May 1959