By Mike Willis
During recent years, a large number of local congregations have accepted a part of the social gospel. At first, this acceptance of the social gospel manifested itself in church support of orphan’s homes. Then, as the acceptance of the social gospel became more widespread, the local congregations started sending contributions to colleges. Now, the social gospel is in full control of the pulpits of a large number of churches. There are seminars being conducted for “Medical Missions Work,” the direct forerunner of “Church of Christ Hospitals.”
Another manifestation of the social gospel on the local level is church sponsored recreation. In years past, the Lord’s church was distinguishable from denominations in the area of the work in which each were involved. Brethren were taught in the past that the Lord’s church had no right to be involved in such activities as baseball (basketball, football, soccer, etc.) teams, parties (for whatever event), suppers, and other such works. Times have indeed changed when churches are no longer condemning denominations for being involved in these activities but are participating in them and defending their involvement in them. Despite the changes which have been made, these brethren claim that they are preaching the same gospel which they have always preached.
Examples of Church Sponsored Recreation
An old bulletin which I have on file quotes the monthly activities planned for the Eastside Church in Columbia, Tennessee. I do not cite this quotation as a means of embarrassing the Eastside Church above others; similar statements could be produced from the bulletins of a large segment of churches. Read it for yourself:
Monthly activities for the young people at Eastside Church of Christ have been planned according to Arnold Sexton, evangelist.
They are as follows:
A bowling party will be sponsored during the month of February, a skating party in March and a hay ride and wiener roast in April.
A young people’s sports day will be held May 24th with all local churches participating. Bible lessons will be held in the morning and the evening will be devoted to competition between the congregations.
A short trip has been planned for June 29th, a putt-putt golf party for the last of July or first of August and a recreation evening at the church between Sept. 2 and 7.
Another hay ride will be held in October, activities at the youth center are being planned for November, and December has been reserved to help others. The young people will gather toys for the poor, fix baskets and sing for the shut-in.
All young people are invited to take part in all these activities as well as the young people’s Bible Class each Sunday at 6:10 p.m.
A more recent happening which manifests this same acceptance of the social gospel and attendant church involvement in recreation is seen in the opening of the facility built by the Madison, Tennessee church. The facility is called a “Family Life and Education Center.” The rules laid down for the use of the rooms included the following:
1. Reservations for areas of the Family Life Center such as gymnasium, exercise room, classrooms, or sunset room, must be made through the office of the Youth Minister . . .
9. The gymnasium will be used for eating only by very large groups that have approval from the Elders. The fellowship room of the Family Life Center has been designed for class or organization suppers and banquets.
10. Team practice for approved church athletic teams will be scheduled with the Youth Minister (quoted by Connie W. Adams in Searching the Scriptures, February, 1979).
Ira North, editor of Gospel Advocate, is the preacher for the Madison church. I guess that this tells us in which direction the Gospel Advocate will be leaning toward further involvement of churches in the social gospel.
Book, Chapter and Verse Please
Throughout the years, brethren have been telling the world that the Lord’s church can give book, chapter and verse for everything which it is doing or else it will quit doing it. It occurs to me that some of the brethren need to give us book, chapter, and verse to authorize church support of recreation or get out of it. Where is the scripture which constitutes authority for the. church to build a gymnasium, a fellowship hall,, an exercise room, and other recreational facilities? Where is the scripture which authorizes a church to sponsor a baseball team?
My understanding of the work of the church is rather simple. I can give Bible authority for the church to be involved in the preaching of the gospel. It is commanded to support gospel preachers who work to convert the lost and edify the saints. Hence, there is Bible authority for the church to be involved in the works of evangelism and edification. There is also Bible authority fox the church to relieve the physical needs of its own members. The book of Acts contains several examples of the church working in these areas. Hence, the work of the church, so far as 1 know anything about, is limited to evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
If anyone knows of a passage which gives the church Bible. authority to be involved in church sponsored recreation, I would like to know about it. If there is such a passage, the church of which I am a member must be busy obeying the passage; if there is not a passage, those churches involved in these practices must be exposed as having departed from the revealed word of God.
The providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in Holy Scripture as one of the functions of the church. It is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and His apostles. The early evangelists had boundless confidence in the power of the gospel to draw people to Christ and, therefore, employed no carnal enducements to draw men to Christ. The congregations in the first century did not expect anything but the word of the Lord to be presented at the worship services.
Those who promote recreational activities sponsored by the church as the best means of drawing people to Christ insult the very people whom they intend to draw. The implication is that a purely spiritual appeal will not win people to salvation. The story of a loving Savior who laid down His life on the cross of Calvary to save mankind from sin is not a powerful enough message to reach them. Consequently, we will appeal to them with something more powerful, something which appeals to their carnal desires. With these presuppositions, the recreational activities are presented to win people to Christ. When people are drawn to recreational activities, let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that they have been converted to Christ!
I can think of no better way to conclude this article than to close it with the words of the B.C. Goodpasture. What he said was true when he wrote it and is still true today, in spite of the fact that in his latter years he departed from teaching the things which he wrote in the 1951 Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary. At that time, he wrote,
It is not the mission of the church to furnish amusement for the world or even for its own members. Innocent amusement in proper proportion has its place in the life of all normal persons but it is not the business of the church to furnish it. The church would come off a poor second if it undertook to compete with intitutions established for the express purpose of enterataining people. It would make itself ridiculous if it entered into such competition. Again, it is not the responsibility of the church as such to furnish recreation for its members. A certain amount of recreation is necessary to the health and happiness of the individual. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, it is said; and rightly said; but it is not the function of the church to furnish the play. The church was not established to feature athletics. Rather it emphasizes the principle that “bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things; having promise of the life which now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8) Sometimes one would conclude, from the emphasis given to recreation, that godliness is profitable for a little, and that bodily exercise is profitable for all things.
For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It is to degrade its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down on the plains of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and recreation, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows its head on the lap of Delilah, will it want to turn from its wonted course to relatively unimportant matters.
What was true of the Lord’s church in years gone by is still true of it. The Lord’s church still gives book, chapter, and verse for everything that it does. What has happened is simply this: some of those who claim to be the Lord’s church (i.e., Churches of Christ) have ceased to be the Lord’s church. Their departure from Christ is marked by such things as involvement in the social gospel. Like the socalled Churches of God, these Churches of Christ have simply become another of the numberless Protestant denominations. I think that there are a host of Christians among these groups who are fed-up with these apostasies. It is our prayer that they will manifest the moral conviction to pull out of these denominations and return to simple, New Testament Christianity.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 14, pp. 227-229
April 5, 1979