Eating in the Church Building
P. J. Casebolt
For several years the Kenmore church has conducted an afternoon "sing" on the second Lord's day of September. On this day members prepare a basket dinner on the adjoining grounds after the morning assembly. This has been the practice for several years, although I understand that at one time the dinner was eaten in the church building.
During a recent meeting, with Paul S. Gray of Clarksburg, W. Va., doing the preaching, he criticized churches for not having such dinners in the church building. He contended that the church building should be used as a place of activity, although he did not explain just what he meant by "activity" nor did he place any restriction on what could be, done in the place of worship.
Although we had announced several times that we were going to eat outside, and although this fact was impressed upon him further after his sermon, he still persisted in pursuing the matter further by mentioning it on Lord's day morning when we had assembled for worship. He even went so far as to say that since it had begun to rain during the night that perhaps the Lord caused it to rain just to show us that we should eat in the church building! He insisted in his sermon Sunday night that he had come to Akron with no hobbies to ride. I wonder why brother Gray thought it necessary to absolve himself of "hobbyism." Was he coming close to doing what he would condemn as "hobbyism" in another?
Even if this is no hobby with brother Gray, he should not sow discord among brethren by preaching his opinions (Prov. 6:19). It has to be an opinion, for it is no part of "Jesus and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2). Since he has attacked the practice of not eating in the church building, I feel disposed to defend the practice of eating outside. When I saw that he was going to press his opinion in the public assembly at the hour of worship, and that before the outsiders, I determined to answer him on paper. I regret that some outsiders heard as much as they did.
The Rain Argument
I did not realize that the position of those who want to eat a common meal in the church building was so devoid of scriptural and logical argument until brother Gray suggested that the Lord sent the rain to drive us inside. I have heard those in sectarianism use acts of nature as proof (?) of conversion and as authority for a practice, but I thought gospel preachers knew better. I think brother Gray knew better too, but he was hard pressed. Jesus said that God ''maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt. 5:45). It is too' bed for brother Gray's position that Heb. 1:1 does not say: "God . . . hath spoken unto us in these last days by a rainstorm." The amusing thing about this argument was that while brother Gray was yet speaking, the sun began to shine, and we had no more rain that day.
The Water Fountain Argument
About everyone who wants to eat or play in the church building claims that such practices are parallel to drinking from a water fountain in the vestibule of the meeting -house. We are commanded to assemble for worship, which implies a place of worship. We have successfully argued for years that songbooks, lights, and water fountains are merely aids to the worshipper. Mechanical music would be another kind of music--an addition. Likewise, water fountains and restrooms would be aids to the worshippers and their children, but playing games and eating common meals in recreation hall and dining rooms would be other activities entirely, engaged in for different reasons. Who ever heard of the church assembling for an hour of "fun, fellowship, and frolic" around a water fountain or in a rest room? The one aids the worshipper in doing what God commanded; the other is provided for the satisfaction of fleshly appetites and is detrimental to a spiritual atmosphere. Could one make a trip to the dining room during the hour of worship, eat a bite, and then return to worship with the same degree of spiritual discernment that one has after making a trip to the water fountain? The water fountain and the dining room are not parallel--they are perpendicular!
Is it a Sin?
Is it a sin to eat in the church building? I know that it can be. I also know that it is not a sin to eat outside the church building. The real question is: "Can it lead to sin?" The time to quit a thing is before it leads to sin (1 Thes. 5:22; Jas. 1: 13-16). It was not a sin for Paul to eat meat, unless it offended the conscience of another (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). It offends the conscience of some to eat in the church building, or to see others do it. With them it is a matter of conviction. Those who think it is expedient to eat in the church building should decline in favor of those who do not. Even an outsider, or a weaker member would recognize an emergency brought on by an act of nature, an act of war, or some other catastrophe.
"The Church Is Not the Building"
This statement has been made so many times to impress sectarians, that some have gotten the idea that "anything goes" in the church building. The tabernacle and the temple were dedicated and sanctified (set apart) for a particular purpose (Ex. 29:43; 1 Kings 8:63). The temple was not God's people (Israel), but it was dedicated as "the house of prayer" (Isa. 56:7). The church building is not God's people, for no building can contain the Lord (1 Kings 8:27). Neither is the place of true worship confined to Jerusalem or the mountains of Samaria (John. 4: 21) . But, the fact remains that if we dedicate (set aside) a particular building for a particular purpose, and do so before God, the church, and the world, and then proceed to turn that place into a common center of recreation and entertainment, we have lied. If we are going to use a building for a gymnasium or a restaurant, then we at least ought to be consistent and dedicate it as such. Jesus drove those out of the temple who had turned the "house of prayer" into a "den of thieves" (Mk. 11:15-18). I suppose some will say that if the people had not charged such high prices for the sacrifices, or had given them away free, that Jesus would have let them alone.
The temple was to be regarded by all nations as a house of prayer (Mk. 11:17). We need to be careful when we know that the outsider and digressive brethren are watching our every move (Col. 4:5). We need to think more of the church, more of those seeking the truth, and those seeking an occasion to accuse us, than we do our own fleshly appetites and desires. I think that even an outsider would know the difference between the preacher or the janitor eating his lunch in the church building, and the church assembling for a feast. If not, I firmly assert without any hesitancy, that if my eating a lunch in my study would cause an outsider to offend, I would quit it. How can we know who is watching and what they are thinking? It will be too late to find out at the judgment. Let us abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thes. 5:22). It is disquieting to say the least, to have a preacher get up before outsiders, including members of the digressive Christian Church, and try to turn the place of worship into a playhouse or a restaurant, after you have told the same people privately and publicly that the church of Christ does not do such things. In the future, I will be more careful, and tell them that some churches of Christ do, and some do not.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It has been said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I do know that the devil tries to get into our hearts through "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2: 16). The devil tried this method with Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11). Once we have opened the doors of the meetinghouse for a common meal, what next? We will need a kitchen to prepare it, and a dining room to serve it. This will require money from the treasury of the church, the Lord's money. Maybe the next set of elders, or the next generation, will allow some music or other entertainment while we are eating. This will require a stage, and instruments. After a while, someone will want to move it all upstairs where the water fountain is--after all, they are "parallel," you know. Then, someone will suggest moving the piano into the auditorium "just to get the pitch." Where will we draw the line? Where would you draw the line? You say it will never happen? But it did happen! The church has gone through this before, and if' we take fire in our bosoms; we can be burned again (Prov. 6:27). Even if we see that the practice is getting-out of hand, and try to stop it, I doubt if we can do it. I know we cannot do it after we are dead. May God be longsuffering just a little more, until we can quit spending so much of our efforts in sitting down to eat and to drink and rising up to play, and start concentrating once again on the necessary things--the word of God and the mission of the church (Ex. 32:6; Lk. 10:42; 1 Pet. 2:5-9).
Truth Magazine VII: 4, pp. 12-13, 24