By Joe R. Price
The following announcement was seen in a recent bulletin from the Salt Lake Valley Church of Christ:
Please don’t feed the ants: Anyone who brings food into the building is asked to be mindful of the fact that we have a severe ant problem. Please be sure to clean up the area in which food is served and make sure any to be left is sealed in air-tight containers (The Salt Lake Messenger, from the Salt Lake Valley Church of Christ, May 30, 1993).
I am sorry to hear of the ant problem these folks seem to be having. Ants are pesky things. And diligent, too. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; Consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6-8). It seems the ants have been harvesting their “bread” at the Salt Lake Valley Church of Christ with a good deal of success.
The suggested remedy for this ant problem is to clean up the food-serving areas and make sure the food left behind is tightly sealed. We all know this helps reduce the chances of ants getting to their next meal, but someone is sure to forget, and as quickly as they do those tireless creatures will once again make their presence known. Therefore, I would like to propose to these brethren a remedy which, if observed, will greatly reduce their ant problem. In fact, if this precaution is taken, in all likelihood the ants will soon go looking for their “bread” somewhere else. The solution is found in 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34. “What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall! say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I praise you not…. If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment.”
You see, there is a greater problem here than not feeding the ants. It is one of not feeding the people! It is a foregone conclusion in the denominations around us that a part of the work of a church is to provide social gatherings for its members and the community. Indeed, to suggest that it is not the work of the local church to plan, promote and provide social and recreational activities is viewed as narrow-minded to some and blasphemous to others. However, we are content to let the Bible answer the issue for us. And, we plead with our brethren in Salt Lake and elsewhere to respect what the Bible teaches on this important subject.
The local church has God-given work it is to be doing. Briefly stated, its work is evangelism to the lost (1 Thess.1:8; Phil. 1:5), the spiritual edification of its members (Acts 2:42; 20:28-32; Eph. 4:11-16), and benevolence to needy saints (Acts 4:34-35; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 1 Tim. 5:16). This is the sum of the work authorized in the New Testament by Jesus for the local church. Since we are to function only under the authority of our head (who is Christ Eph. 1:22-23; 5:24; Col. 3:17), we should be content with the work he has instructed us to perform in our congregational capacity.
But, for a variety of reasons, brethren have had trouble being content with the simplicity of the gospel as it relates to the work of the church. Whether it is to “be like the nations around them” (I Sam. 8:5,20) or to draw people together in the hope of teaching them the gospel and/or fostering improved relationships (Jn. 6:26-27,44-45), the result is the same. Additions to the work of the church are made. Disobedience of 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34 occurs. Good motives behind the church-sponsored and promoted dinners, get-togethers and “fellowship meals” do not change these facts. The end does not justify the means (Rom. 3:8). We must do God’s work, not our own (Eph. 2:10).
One common response to the foregoing position of no church-sponsored social functions is frequently stated thusly: “You are misapplying 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. The Corinthians’ problem was that they were abusing the Lord’s supper by introducing their common meals into the assembly. The church can promote `fellowship meals,’ etc. as long as these activities are kept separate from the assembly.” It is true that the Corinthians were abusing the Lord’s supper (vv. 20-21). Nobody denies that. But please look carefully at the remedy the apostle prescribes. He did not say “separate your church-sponsored meals from the assembly.” He did say you have houses to eat and drink in (v. 22). He did say let the hungry man eat at home (not at the “fellowship meal” in the “fellowship hall” after services). The remedy was to remove all common meals from their “coming together” (vv. 33-34). The work of the church is spiritual, not physical (cf. Rom. 14:17). Let the home supervise common meals (vv. 20,34). Let the church “come together” to partake worthily of the Lord’s supper (vv. 20,23-33).
Another often heard reason legitimizing church-endorsed social gatherings is this: “Only individuals are providing the food, etc. The church is not involved, since none of its money is being used to occasion the event.” Honestly now, were not individuals the ones who were providing the food in 1 Corinthians 11? Of course they were, for the Scripture says “… for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper… ” (v. 21). Further-more, the church is using its money when its building and facilities are used for the separate activity for pot-luck dinners, “fellowship meals” and the like. Since the building expedites (aids) the church in evangelism, edification and benevolence (these are authorized works for the local church, as noted above). The authority for church-promoted social activities is lacking in the Scriptures (Col. 3:17; 2 Jn. 9). Therefore, to use the building for such is to use it to aid in an unscriptural work.
Other defenses are offered, but when they have all been heard, 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34 remain. They are clear and decisive. Let the church be about the scriptural business of honoring the Lord’s death and promoting gospel preaching and teaching. Let the home be about the business of feeding the stomach and arranging social gatherings. God’s way does work. We need not tamper with it. We ask our brethren in Salt Lake and elsewhere to come back to the Bible way and stop adding to God’s word and work (Jer. 6:16; 10:23; Matt. 7:21-23). When you follow God’s way, you will not have to worry about feeding the ants. The church’s full attention can be given to feeding souls the word of God (Acts 20:28; Deb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2).
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 8-9
January 5, 1995