Response to Three Articles Fellowship Halls

By Dick Blackford

The editor sent an article on this subject asking me to respond. I have decided to include two other articles that relate to the same subject, etc. This he did not and cannot do.

First Article

The first article is by Dub McClish, titled “The Use Of The Church Building.” It appeared in Power (June 1994), a publication of the Southhaven, Mississippi congregation On the Memphis area). Brother McClish says “the apostolic church enjoyed common meals called `love feasts’ (2 Pet.2:13; Jude 12).” He purports to know more about these feasts than the Bible tells us, so he goes outside the Bible to prove they were similar to the modem “fellowship meal” conducted in a so-called “fellowship hall” where members conduct birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, baby showers, have bake sales and rummage sales to raise funds for benevolent institutions, eat social meals, etc. Brother McClish has engaged in some wishful thinking. He stretches the imagination beyond the stretching point.

Argument From Scripture. Look at the two verses he gives to see if you can see what he sees.

2 Peter 2:13  “suffering wrong at the hire of wrong doing; men that count it pleasure to revel in the day time, spots and blemishes, reveling in their deceivings while they feast with you.”

Jude 12  “These are they who are hidden rocks in your love feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed them-selves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.”

First, brother McClish cannot tell from 2 Peter 2:13 whether “reveling in their deceivings while they feast with you” is referring to social eating separate and apart from congregational provisions or whether it is church funded. He would need to know this absolutely “beyond a shadow of a doubt” before he could even make the argument for churches providing a place for parties, pot lucks,

Second, in reference to Jude 12, this book of one chapter is addressed to “them that are called” (v.1). Throughout the chapter individuals are addressed and neither a local congregation nor its treasury are ever mentioned. Thus it is also impossible for him to show authority from his second passage for so-called “fellowship halls.” Read both passages in context and see if you can find congregational action and funds being used to provide such a feast. The very thing needed is missing. Let us itemize some assumptions made by brethren who use Jude 12 to justify their “fellowship halls.”

Assumption #1: That “love feasts” has reference to social meals and would include showers, birth-day parties, etc. Since this is the only occurrence of the phrase “love feasts” in the Bible, surely the verse or context must contain something on which to base such a claim. If social meals are meant, then what is so bad about “feeding yourself’ and doing it “without fear”?

Assumption #2: That “fellowship” in the Bible has reference to parties, showers, social meals, games, etc. “Fellowship” always has a spiritual connotation in Scripture. While one might find “fellowship” in a modem dictionary defined to include social gatherings, entertainment or banqueting, we need to be sure we are using it as it was used in the first century. This is the same mistake denominational folks make when looking into a twentieth century dictionary to find the meaning of “baptism” or “Christian.”

Assumption #3: That it is the work of the Lord’s church to provide social meals and other forms of entertainment for its members. Paul tells us the place for social meals. “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? … If any man is hungry, let him eat at home…” (1 Cor. 11:22,34). I am well aware that Paul had reference to their failure to distinguish between the Lord’s supper and a social meal. Paul could have said, “Let’s go ahead and eat the Lord’s supper and then we can have a banquet after the dismissal prayer!” That is what he needed to say to justify the so-called “fellowship hall.”

Instead, Paul makes a clear distinction between a church function (the Lord’s supper) and a home function (feasting). Social meals for the members and their guests were nowhere authorized as pan of the church’s work. Such a concept is of human origin. Those who originated such a practice may have had great intentions but Paul gives that absolutely no consideration. There are some “wonderful works” that will be condemned on judgment day (Matt. 7:22,23).

Instead of merely telling them to quit abusing the Lord’s supper with a social meal he tells them to sever the social meal from the church altogether. Brother McClish won’t tell people what Paul told them. It would condemn his “fellowship hall” where folks come together in facilities built and maintained from the church treasury to have parties, showers, social meals, etc.

It would be interesting to hear Dub McClish and those who share his position in a debate with a sabbatarian. Sabbatarians believe Acts 20:7 is referring to a social meal, not the Lord’s supper. The only way they could show sabbatarians that it was not a social meal would be to show that Paul condemned the social meal and severed it from the church altogether (1 Cor. 11:22,34). Hmmmm, maybe this is why some institutional brethren no longer believer Acts 20:7 is authority for the Lord’s supper. This would leave Acts 20:7 open to use to justify their “fellowship halls!”

Argument From History. He says, “historians indicate these meals took place immediately be-fore or after worship.” But he never quotes even one of them or tells us who they are. Never mind, uninspired historians are no substitute for Scripture. Besides, Dub confuses what was going on after the apostasy began with what was being practiced in the New Testament.

He Doesn’t Understand The Issue. He charges those who oppose eating in the building with “committing two faults: (1) they view the building rather than the people as the church, (2) they make a law where God has not made one.”

First, the issue is not “eating in the building.” It is whether the church can build banquet halls designed for baby showers, birthday parties, games, common meals, etc. There may be incidental occasions, such as benevolence, when eating in the building would become part of the church’s work. But that is not the is-sue involved in the modern “fellowship hall.” Second, Dub tries to cloud the is-sue with his prejudicial statement that we view the building rather than the people as the church. No one who has really tried to understand the issue would make such a statement. No one has taught more emphatically that the church is people (1 Cor. 12:14). It is the realm of the saved (Eph. 5:23). This distinction between the building and the people is often indicated on buildings where conservative brethren meet  “The church of Christ meets here.” The issue is whether entertainment is the work of local churches. It is brother McClish who won’t face the issue. He accuses us of believing in the sacredness of the building, yet it is institutional churches who often hold “dedication services” when they build a new building. That sounds like they believe the building is sacred! We don’t believe the building is “holy ground” but it is limited to the work God gave the church. He never gave it the work of entertainment. Third, who is making laws? When brethren like brother McClish say the church can build facilities for social meals, showers, parties, etc., it is they who have made a law where God made none. The word iniquity means “without law” (lawless). His practice is without a law on its behalf, the same as instrumental music in worship (I John 3:4; Matt. 7:22,23).

Who Believes The Building Is Sacred? Dub says “to eat food in a church building does not desecrate it; it is not God’s temple…” I do not say it is sacred or God’s temple. He never quotes any of us who have said this. It is a case of him whipping the “straw man” he invented. He goes out of his way to misunderstand the issue. Interestingly. brethren associated with Power. The Spiritual Sword, and Firm Foundation, are now opposing gymnasiums and family life centers. Why? Sounds like they believe the church building is sacred, doesn’t it? Is it because they view the building rather than the people as the church? How will brother McClish answer pro-gymnasium brethren when they make his argument that “to play basketball in a church building does not desecrate it, it is not God’s temple…” I suspect when they use these arguments on him he will quickly see that the issue is not that the building is sacred. Its work is simply limited to the work God gave the church. Neither banquet halls nor gymnasiums qualify.

Traditions of Men. He charges that we are following the traditions of men. We are no more guilty of this than he is when he insists baptism is only immersion. How-ever, it is the denominations which have traditionally had “fellowship halls.” Probably close to 99% of all denominations believe in or have “fellowship halls” where they conduct parties, social meals, etc. This is the source from which they were borrowed. It does not require Solomon to see who has been influenced by traditions of men.

Priscilla and Aquila “Dilemma”! The most classic argument given by brother McClish is that Paul’s order to “eat at home” would mean that Priscilla and Aquila in whose home the church met would have been both commanded and forbidden to eat in their homes! First, guess who is confusing the building with the people. Second, the house belonged to Priscilla and Aquila. The church (the people) met in their house. It was never a church building erected from funds from the church treasury. Until he can establish that the church paid for their house he has no argument and the problem he sees is imaginary. Third, Priscilla and Aquila having a place to eat in their home would no more authorize the church to fund, build, and maintain a banquet hall than having an instrument in their home would have authorized instrumental music. This is an argument of desperation.

The “Water Fountain” Argument.” Finally, he says,

Paul includes drinking as well as eating (I Cor.1 1:22). Strangely, those who object to eating in the building never object to a water fountain. Yet it is clear that they stand or fall together.

This is a “two wrongs make a right” type argument. Notice Paul indicates what they were drinking: “for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken” (v.21). It was his own supper (not a drink of water) which caused this effect. A water fountain is designed to facilitate a gathering of worshipers assembled for worship. A “fellowship hall” is designed to facilitate a gathering of people, not for benevolence, but hungry people who have come together to socialize, have a birthday or anniversary party, baby shower, etc. These do not stand or fall together. There is only one authorized meal that God intended local churches to pro-vide and that is the Lord’s supper. It is the only meal we eat which is not designed to satisfy physical hunger. (Incidentally, Barnes Commentary makes a strong argument that “love feasts” were references to the Lord’s supper. I wonder if he read Barnes when he was consulting sources outside the Bible.

Second Article

In a Spiritual Sword article (October 1993) by Wayne Jackson, titled “The Current Crisis,” under the subheading of “The Crisis of Radical Reactionism,” he says:

We have in mind at this point a group of brethren who might best be styled as the “radical right”  for lack of a better appellation. These are those who would make laws where God has not; … Let us reflect upon … this problem.

First, it is “personality” oriented. Like those at Corinth who had their champions (1 Cor.1:10-17), so there are those today who place their allegiance with some prominent preacher, editor, etc. They could not make a decent scriptural argument if their life depended on it, but they know with whom they are aligned. It is probably safe to say that most divisions in the church have resulted from personality influences; the issues came later.

Second, the radical right makes issues out of non-issues. A huge “theological” proposition in recent years has been whether or not it is right to eat a meal in the “church building.” The Pharisees in all their glory were never so ridiculous. This writer knows of a case where brethren were involved in building a new meeting place. As they worked each week, they had lunch in the partially completed structure. The day they moved into the facility to worship, eating on the premises became a sin! .. .

Third, the reactionary right is highly suspicious. With some of this mentality, one is considered guilty until proven innocent. These brethren, as zealous as they are for the body of gospel doctrine, know little of trust, under-standing, or compassion.. .

This piece is unbecoming of a man of brother Jackson’s capabilities. Most of his writing is excellent. The change in attitude and attempts at argumentation suddenly become bizarre and desperate when trying to defend unauthorized practices.

First, no one’s Christianity should be “personality” oriented. But brother Jackson needs to be reminded that it was the eminent B.C. Goodpasture, editor of “The Old Reliable” Gospel Advocate who advocated that brethren who oppose institutionalism be branded with the “Yellow Tag of Quarantine” and to quit using them and their writings. The majority lined up with the venerable editor’s wishes, including those aligned with the paper for which brother Jackson writes. Which came first, the issues or the personality influences?

Second, he says, “They could not make a decent scriptural argument if their life depended on it.” Did you notice brother Jackson made no argument from Scripture? He didn’t even try to make the feeble attempt brother McClish made with 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 12.

Third, brother Jackson, like brother McClish, wants to make the issue “eating in the church building” rather than churches funding and maintaining facilities for social meals, parties, etc., misnamed “fellowship halls.”

Fourth, he knew a case where brethren were building a meeting place and had lunch in the partially completed structure. “The day they moved into the facility, eating on the premises became a sin.” Notice he does not address using money from the Lord’s treasury to erect kitchens and banquet halls for social meals, birthday and anniversary parties, baby showers, etc. He tries to make the issue merely eating in the building. Now look at some parallels:

Imagine a Christian Church preacher relating the following incident: “This writer knows a case where brethren were involved in building a meeting place. As they would take a break on the premises one of them would play his harmonica. The day they moved into the facility to worship, playing instrumental music became a sin!”

Or, imagine this from a pro-gymnasium brother: “This writer knows a case where brethren were involved in building a meeting place. As they worked, the little boy of one of them dribbled his basketball through the structure. The day they moved into the facility to worship, playing basketball in the church building became a sin!”

Or this: “This writer knows a case where brethren were involved in building a meeting place. As they tested the baptistery, one of their children played in the water. The day they moved into the facility it became wrong for the church to provide a place to swim!”

How would brother Jackson answer such strong arguments? When he strongly opposes instrumental music in worship, church gymnasiums and swimming pools, how does he react when he is accused of knowing “little of trust, understanding, or compassion”? His comments on this are nothing more than attempts to spread his prejudice.

Third Article

This one by Gary Grizzell, titled “Is There Bible Authority For Church Support Of Gymnasiums?” appeared on the front cover of Contending For The Faith (Oct.93). It is an excellent article. I agree with every word. Every argument he makes against gymnasiums is also valid against “fellowship halls.” He says there is no command, example, or necessary implication for gyms. Same for “fellowship halls.” In showing that edification is a work of the church he rightly observes “this edification is a spiritual building up as opposed to a physical building up.” But that applies to feeding the flesh (banquet halls) as well as exercising the flesh (gymnasiums).

Finally, he quotes Dan Jenkins:

There are those who are determined for the church to build gymnasiums and pay for them out of the Lord’s treasury… There are still members . .. who have a great devotion to truth, and for one to announce that a gymnasium is to be built would immediately cause alarm as they remember truths they have heard since their youth. A new label is “Family Life Center.” However, such does not change the truth about these projects, they are still gyms and there is no Biblical authority for them.

Likewise, a new label for banquet halls and party rooms has been discovered. The label is “fellowship halls.” Giving something a “scriptural sounding name” does not make it scriptural. Such does not change the truth about these projects. They are still gyms and banquet halls and there is no Bible authority for them.

Many brethren who oppose gyms but defend banquet halls were among those who pushed for “fellowship halls,” benevolent institutions, and sponsoring churches and can remember when they began to be practiced generally. These brethren are part of the “restructure” and served as “change agents” in this regard. They just don’t want as much restructure as others want and they are trying to put on the brakes. Use of 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 12 are simply desperate attempts to hold on to that part of the social gospel. It plays well to an audience determined to have their banquet halls at all cost, regardless that it serves to perpetuate division.

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 2 p. 16-19
January 19, 1995