Possesed By Our Possessions (7)
Jady W. Copeland
For several reasons, God arranged for his people to meet for worship, teaching, exhortation and fellowship in the spiritual work of God. We are to meet to remember the death of Christ for our sins (Acts 20:7). While Luke says the purpose of meeting on that occasion was to "break bread" Paul also preached. It seems probable to this writer that he tarried several days in order to meet with the brethren at Troas, perhaps at the expense of some valuable time, since he "was hastening, if it were possible" to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (Acts 20:16). The Hebrew writer gives another reason for meeting when he writes, "and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together" (Heb. 10:24-25). Meeting for worship, encouragement, edification and honoring God builds us up in the faith. Indeed we need each other.
But in order to meet, two things are necessary: (I) a place and (2) a time. Our study deals with the use of the Lord's money in providing a place for Christians to meet.
It is not accidental, nor is it insignificant that there is not a passage in the New Testament that mentions God's people owning a place of meeting. This is not to say that I believe it sinful for congregations to own buildings in which to worship. I am saying that since we know of no churches owning meeting houses, that emphasis in the New Testament was not placed on material buildings in which to worship. Emphasis was on worshipping God, and I am afraid that in our time too much emphasis has been placed on expensive buildings and that money has been unwisely used (if not actually sinful) in providing places of worship.
To illustrate what I am talking about, often elaborate buildings, fixtures, and expensive real estate have been bought when less expensive buildings on less expensive lots could have been utilized to serve the same need for brethren. What makes this even more questionable is that often these same churches will turn down appeals from brethren who need sup-port to go preach with the excuse that they "have no money." And they don't because they have spent too much on huge buildings, expensive fixtures, over-stuffed pews, stained-glass windows, etc. to make them "more comfortable" while turning a deaf ear to brethren begging for support to preach the gospel to nations that have never heard a gospel sermon. Brethren, think.
In the New Testament people met in "upper" rooms (whether rented, borrowed or what, we don't know), people's homes (1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16-3-5; Col. 4:15, etc.) and other places. The emphasis is on spiritual worship and preaching the gospel, not on the meeting places. Perhaps in our society and economy it is wise to build buildings in which to worship. But is it wise to spend more than necessary when the need for preaching the gospel is so great? I am fully aware that the amount we spend for buildings is a relative matter. I also realize that there is something to be said for a commodious building and one of which brethren are not ashamed when visitors come. But the person who is honestly seeking truth will not be so much attracted to the building as he is with the simple preaching of Christ and him crucified.
Meeting houses are expedients. W.E. Vine defines expedient like this: "(b) intransitively, to be an ad-vantage, profitable, expedient (not merely 'convenient') ... " (V. 2, p. 62). Buildings are profitable and definitely have an advantage in our world. But we all agree that owning one is not always necessary.
Some Things To Think About
It seems that some have the idea that a group must have a building before they have a church. The way some churches have done is to save up money for years in "hopes of someday starting a church." Brethren don't we have the "cart before the horse"? There is no need for a house if there is no church, and in my judgment the brethren who start meeting in a different place from the "old church" should build their own building when they are able to do so.
In fact I have known of some churches that couldn't afford a building and really didn't need one because of the lack of money and the peculiar situation.
In years passed brethren thought the building should be on a main artery through town so it "is easily visible." Perhaps this had some merit, but largely those days are gone. Good churches aren't "built" with fancy meeting houses. They are built by gospel preaching, dedicated people and scriptural work.
Another thing we need to consider. I think there is a connection between large, expensive buildings and the lack of true dedication to truth and spirituality. The reason I say this is that it seems when some people have moved from places where the "church is strong" (meaning there are many "churches of Christ") and they have large buildings to a city where there is a small church with a very modest building, they don't seem to be as dedicated as they thought they were. Are they ashamed of the building? Were they "going to church" in the former city because of the building, or the prestige that the church had in the community? Makes one wonder.
This is not to say that all who meet in large buildings are not spiritually minded and strong. Surely some are, but I'm afraid that some are so attracted to the material things of the world, that even in religion they put too much emphasis on the material things and too little on the spiritual.
For what is the building to be used? We have two extremes in this area an area where there is admittedly some "gray" areas. Obviously it is to be used for worship and teaching. Otherwise the money that was used was wasted. It can easily be abused by using it for non-spiritual purposes such as entertainment, recreation and pleasure. The Lord's money is to be used (as we noted in a previous article) for two things: preaching the gospel and limited benevolent work. Since we have to have a place to work and worship, the building is an expedient. To use it for other purposes would be a mis-use of it.
Yet do we often go to extremes in the other direction? Is it sinful to talk about non-spiritual things immediately after the services are over in the building? I doubt it. There is, in my Judgment, a vast difference in a friendly conversation in the building about what you did last night (even if it was going to a ball game) and building that building (or even a part of it, such as a basketball court in the "recreation room") and using the Lord's money for playing games. Let us keep in mind the purpose for which the building was built. Let us keep in mind what the Lord's money is to be used for. And let us use some common sense and the principles of God's word in making such decisions.
That's the reason we prefaced this series of articles with the purpose of Christ's coming to earth, and our purpose as his children in his plan to save the world.
And let us keep in mind the purpose for which meeting houses are built and that they are merely expedients in our work for the Lord. To meet for worship is necessary (Acts 20:7). To teach and spread the gospel is necessary. The expedients (such as the places and the methods) are optional and we need to keep in mind the difference. Let us not let the desire for big buildings and fancy fixtures take precedence over the goal set before us, and what our real purpose is in this world.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 12, p. 20-21