By Frank Jamerson
The Authority For, And Use Of, A Church Building
Those who believe that the church can provide social and recreational activities use various arguments to justify their practice. We will notice first the authority for a church building (as some contend that there is no authority for them, therefore no regulations for their use), and then answer some of the arguments that are made for the church providing social halls and gymnasiums.
Buildings Are Authorized
Authority for a thing may be established by command or statement of fact, or by approved example or necessary inference. Everything we do in our service to God must be authorized in one of these ways (Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 3:16,17).
The authority to assemble (Heb. 10:25) necessarily implies a place of assembly. Therefore, a place is authorized by the command. Furthermore, we have examples of the early church gathering in houses, or places. “The place was shaken wherein they were gathered together. . .” (Acts 4:31). “And there were lights in the upper chamber where they were gathered together” (Acts 20:7).
The generic authority to provide a place authorizes a church to buy, build, rent or receive gratis a place of assembly. Those who say “there is no authority for a church building, therefore we can do other things that are not authorized” are misrepresenting the truth.
The authority to assemble, teach and relieve authorizes the church to provide whatever is involved in accomplishing these things. Running water and bathrooms are incidental to the purpose for which we come together (especially if you stay very long!). Some try to use these incidentals that aid the doing of what we are authorized to do as arguments for the church providing social meals and recreation.
It reminds me of those who want to justify instrumental music ‘in worship. They argue that song books’ tuning forks, lights and water fountains are not mentioned; therefore, instrumental music is all right, too. The truth is that they do not understand authority. Instrumental music is an addition to worship, not just an aid.
If it is the work of the church to provide social meals and recreation, then it can provide whatever is necessary or incidental to accomplishing those works. The church kitchen and gymnasium are not “aids” to worship, but to eating and playing, which are not works of the church. They are additions to the work God authorized for the church, just as instrumental music is an addition to the act of singing.
Some say, “We have the building, and it is not sacred, so why not use it as we please?” These brethren use the same argument that I use to justify churches providing meeting places, then they proceed to use them for things that are not functions of the church. What if someone said, “We already have grape juice and bread, and they are not sacred, so why not use them for a party?” Would that be a misuse? Why? Do you believe that the church could buy a little extra grape juice for those who want to have a social after services? Why not?
We are not talking about an incidental to assembling, such as a baby being fed, or children running on the property or a member going to sleep on the benches. We are talking about the church providing social meals, recreation parties or “nap time” for sleepy saints! Could the church provide beds and a dark room for members who desire to come together in air-conditioning for rest? Why not? If babies eating during worship authorizes church kitchens, surely brethren going to sleep (or children going to sleep) would authorize a motel room! (We believe that the church could provide the place and the food for needy saints, but that is not what modem day church kitchens and “fellowship halls” are used for.)
Those who believe it is right for the church to provide kitchens and gymnasiums (social halls) need to produce the biblical authority for the church to provide social meals and recreation, then the opposition to kitchens and gyms will cease.
Efforts To Find Authority For Such Things
(1) Some contend that “the word ‘fellowship’ authorizes eating and playing together.” One said, “While it was wrong to confuse common meals with the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11:11ff), this did not mean that the eating of common mesh together was wrong. . . . What better way for God’s people to demonstrate their love and fellowship than In the sharing of food and the eating of meals together as often as possible?” (Thomas H. Rook, via Bulletin, Enon church of Christ, Aug. 19, 1984).
1. No one objects to brethren “eating together.” It is good for people to eat and play together. Paul said that “bodily exercise is profitable for a little” (1 Tim. 4:8). The early Christians ate together often. “Breaking bread at home, they took their bread with gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46). It is good to “bring up children,” “use hospitality to strangers,” and “wash the saints’ feet” (1 Tim. 5:10), but the church is not authorized to provide the place or the materials necessary for these activities.
2. The word “fellowship” is never used to refer to social meals or recreation.
a. Koinonia is translated “fellowship” twelve times in the New Testament.
(1) Acts 2:42-“in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship. . . “a spiritual, not a social activity.
(2) 1 Cor. 1:9-“called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
(3) 2 Cor. 8:4-“the fellowship in the ministering to the saints”-the benevolent relief that indicated a spiritual relationship.
(4) Gal. 2:9-“the right hands of fellowship”-the endorsement of the work of Paul and others.
(5) Eph. 3:9-“to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery”-the joint participation of Gentiles with Jews in Christ.
(6) Phil. 1:5-11-“for your fellowship in the gospel”-referring to their support of his preaching.
(7) Phil. 2:1-“if any fellowship of the Spirit,” again, not social, but spiritual participation.
(8) Phil. 3:10-“the fellowship of his sufferings,” referring to Paul’s participation in them.
(9) 1 Jn. 1:3-“that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” Was the gospel preached so they could eat a common meal with Paul??
(10) 1 Jn. 1:3b-“yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
(11) 1 Jn. 1:6-“If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we He, and do not the truth.”
(12) 1 Jn. 1:7-“but if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin.”
b. Now, where is the passage that indicates that eating and playing together is “fellowship”?
c. The word koinonia is also translated “communication, communion, distribution” and to “communicate, ” but none of them refer to social meals or recreation.
d. In 2 Cor. 6:14, Paul said: “What communion (koinonia) hath light with darkness”? Christians who “walk in the light” have no “fellowship” with “darkness” (sinners). This does not mean that Christians cannot eat a common meal with sinners, but it does mean that such a meal is not “fellowship”! (The “company” and “eating” of 1 Cor. 5, is any eating or company that would indicate to the disciplined brother that you approve of his spiritual state. They were to change their actions toward the disciplined brother.)
e. Some churches build bowling alleys and billiard parlors by the same reasoning that kitchens and social halls are built. One man argued that “bowling is the best form of fellowship. ” I agree that it is a good sport for social interaction, but it is not the work of the church to provide recreation. It is wrong to build a bowling alley for the same reason it is wrong to build a kitchen.
f. To take the Bible word “fellowship” and apply it to social meals and recreation is a misuse of the word, just as it is to take the word “baptism” and apply it to sprinkling or pouring. We can have “social fellowship” with the world, but that is not what the Bible word means (2 Cor. 6:14).
(2) Some say: “It is edifying to eat and play together. Edification is a work of the church, therefore, whatever edifies may be done by the church.”
1. Again, this opens the door to any activity that man’s mind contrives as “good,” and is a misuse of the Bible word.
2. Acts 20:32-“And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up (The edifying comes from the word, not from coffee and donuts.)
3. Jude 20-“But ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith. . .”
4. Col. 2:7-“Rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught. . .”
5. Where does the Bible teach that spiritual edification comes from eating and playing together? If we include these things in “edification,” why not working together? Wouldn’t it be “edifying” to work with Christians? Does that justify churches providing jobs for members by operating businesses? (Don’t say, “that could never happen.” The denominations are doing it, and that is where brethren learned to draw crowds with church kitchens and ball teams!)
(continued next issue)
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, pp. 720-721
December 6, 1984