By Herschel Patton
Brethren who feel that it is the mission of the church to relieve the whole world and to provide social benefits in the form of banqueting and recreation have often charged those of us who object with believing the church building is sacred. They have said, “If an accident happened in front of the church building, you would let an injured person die because the church phone couldn’t be used for calling an ambulance, water for relief provided, or the building for shelter from the elements.” Since the church pays the phone and water bill, they say, “If the church provided these, then the church is doing something that we say is not its mission.”
This actually happened while I was preaching during 1973 with the Jordan Park congregation in Huntsville, Alabama, right in front of the Jordan Park church building – a three car accident. No one died, but a man was injured – severely cut. It was raining, and the church building (porch) was used for shelter. The phone in the church building was used for reporting the accident, and water from the church building was used for the bleeding man. Now, I preach, and the Jordan Park church believes that it is not the mission of the church to serve as a welfare agency for the world – that the church is not to support and provide that which is not its mission. So, did the Jordan Park church, in the above case, contribute to an unbeliever and use its facilities for an unauthorized thing?
This matter involves the using of an expediency. The church building is an expediency, authorized by the command to “assemble.” Who has the right to make laws regarding an expediency – e.g. “It must be rented” “of brick” – “of wood” -“painted white” – “have a steeple,” etc.? Here is a place where good judgment and charity must be employed, not a Scripture. To force on others an opinion, as if it were Scripture, to the disturbance of peace, would be sinful (Rom. 14:15).
Churches often use expediencies to expedite work, such as the church building, and then there are “incidental” uses of an expediency which do not involve the church in its mission.
The church parking lot is often used by people who live nearby, are visiting, have business at an adjoining place, but this is not in the purpose and plans of the church, and the church, having neither purposed nor planned this, is not engaged in providing parking for the general public. If the church purposed a parking lot for public parking, it would then become a function of the church – an unscriptural function.
I recently visited a neighboring congregation during a meeting, and during the prayer there was suddenly the strains of instrumental music flowing from the public address system (an expediency provided by the church for more effective teaching). The system was picking up signals from the local radio station. Was that church providing instrumental music with the service? Of course, the church was not providing that, though it owned and had installed the system bringing it in. There was no purpose and plans for this on the part of the church. It was just something incidental. Likewise, the Jordan Park church did not purpose its building, with the plumbing and phone, as a first aid station. These facilities were used for this, all right, on the occasion mentioned, and may, sometime, be so used again. But it was not a case of the church purposefully engaging in something that is not its mission.
I have preached in meetings where the brethren habitually had “dinner on the ground” on the beginning day of the meeting, and a few times, when it started raining, everyone went into the meeting house, turned some of the benches around, facing each other, spread the dinner and ate – in the dry. Was some scriptural precept violated? I think not. That church building and the benches were not purposed and planned by the church as a place of eating together, and the church was not providing for “eating together” as part of its program of work. Such action was nothing more than an incidental use of an expedient, not at all involving the mission and work of the church. This is all together different from a church purposing and providing proper facilities for banqueting, recreation, a kindergarten, or anything else not in the prescribed mission of the church.
Because liberal brethren who do purpose and provide things not in the divinely revealed mission of the church, in an effort to justify themselves, often point to some of these “incidentals” on our part, some brethren have backed into radicalism and absurdness with reference to the use of church buildings. Some are saying that church buildings cannot be used for a wedding, funeral, or even an announcement concerning some activity that is not a work of every New Testament church. I have already mentioned “incidental” uses of an expedient where churches are not the participant. Concerning weddings and funerals in the church building, I believe these can be justified either as the church using an expedient in its work or as incidentals not involving the work and mission of the church.
True, you do not read of weddings or funerals in church buildings in the New Testament. But teaching is one of the things to be done that involves “place.” What would afford a more effective time for impressive teaching on the sacredness, sanctity, and permanency of marriage than a wedding? The “wedding” could serve as an object lesson, like the little child Jesus one time used to enforce His teaching on humility. And, when would more impressive teaching concerning the certainty of death, eternity, and the need for preparedness, be done that at a funeral? The church building is not expected to be a funeral parlor or wedding chapel, but for actions involving an assembly for teaching and edifying. The wedding or funeral is simply an occasion for teaching. The church may not be obligated to furnish you a place to get married in, but your marriage can be an instrument for some very effective teaching which should be the chief objective of those charged with using judgment about incidentals.
On the other hand, weddings and funerals may be looked upon as incidental uses of the church building, granted to others. The activity is purely a family affair – planned and arranged by them – apart from the church’s program of work. The church would no more be involved in this than it would in secular education if the school building burned down and the elders granted permission for classes to be conducted in the church building for a temporary time, with the school paying for the utilities and incidentals used. Granting permission for such uses of the church building would involve discernment concerning who, what, and how.
The church is not engaged in the work of social and secular activities when announcements are made about these things in the church building or church bulletin. The church building public address system, and bulletin are for teaching and edifying, which would involve teaching and admonishing people about important actions in their personal lives. If it is important for parents to “nurture” their children “in the Lord,” it is proper for preachers, elders, or teachers to tell them so, warning of the dangers of infidelity and immorality in schools of learning and even identifying and recommending places where these dangers are at a minimum.
If the Bible teaches that Christians should seek out, and provide for their children wholesome social and recreational activities, it is proper for spiritual teachers to announce, identify, and encourage such, even in the church building while the saints are assembled. The church is neither contributing to nor furnishing secular education, or social endeavors, when parents are instructed and informed of where and how they may discharge their duties in this realm. In fact, there is Bible precedent for using the time and place of assembly for informing saints of personal duties. Paul wrote letters to the Colossians and Laodiceans and said for the letters to be read at each place and then exchange the letters and read (Col. 4:16), which letters contained numerous instructions to be followed by various individuals in their personal activities. For instance, the Colossian church was not contributing to or doing the work of Masters when these were instructed, at the reading of Paul’s letter, to “give unto your servants that which is just and equal” (Col. 4:1).
Instruction may be given saints at the church building, or in church bulletins, about Catholic aims and the dangers of one with these aims standing in the room of highest authority in the land, as was often done a few years back during an election campaign, but this is not comparable to the church building being used as a campaign headquarters. This would be putting the church, with its building, into the work of conducting an election campaign, which is not its mission.
A church is not making a contribution to, or helping do the work of a hospital or clinic when announcements are made in the church building about a need for blood donors and instruction about where and how to make the donation.
It is radicalism, indeed, for brethren to conclude that the church has engaged in something not its work when announcement and instruction is given in the church building, or bulletin, about an educational, medical, or social need wherein Christians have a responsibility, or to look upon some incidental action, not purposed or planned by the church, and say “the church has apostatized from its mission.” It is good to carefully weigh all matters and always follow the prescribed path, but let us not try to make laws regarding expedients and incidentals and read into certain actions what is not there. Such action leads to strife and indicates we are the “nuts” that many charge us with being.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 13, pp. 403-404
July 7, 1983