By Ron Halbrook
(NOTE: Immediately after my article “Why No Fellowship Hall or Gym ” appeared in the 2 Nov. 1989 Guardian of Truth, I received a letter from a young preacher who has already studied his way out of many aspects of institutional liberalism. Being unsure on the matter of fellowship halls, he offered some typical questions and arguments used to defend them. He did not want to appear to be “severe and critical” but explained, “What you have in your hands is the result of many weeks of frustrated study. ” Believing that other honest souls share the questions posed by this good brother, I am publishing my response to him.)
Thank you for your good letter of 3 November 1989. You have both a right and a duty to question all who teach (1 Jn. 4:1-6). When you have Bible questions to pose to any teacher, he has the obligation to give Bible answers (1 Pet. 4:11). Every teacher by the act of teaching invites investigation, criticism, and review, and anyone who complains about it when it comes is not worth his salt. I commend you for being open and not hesitating to question me.
Authority for Church Building
1. Where is there authority for a church building? Every command authorizes automatically the details (time, place, etc.) necessary to carry it out. Details need not be specified.
|Bible Command||Includes Details to Facilitate|
|Saws, Hammers, Measuring Line, Etc.|
|Garments, Pool – Baptistry, Etc.|
|Table, Containers, Etc.|
|Assemble For Worship – Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34||Time, Place (Borrow, Rent, Build, Buy)|
|Church Provide Social and Recreational Activity
|Time, Which Activities, Facilities (Supper & Party Room Called “Fellowship Hall,” Gym Called “Family Life Center,” Etc. – Hunting Lodge, Fishing Lake, Etc.)|
The line is drawn at providing an adequate and convenient facility for doing what the church is authorized to do. Bathroom, classroom, etc. facilitate the activities authorized for the church, but supper-party rooms and gyms facilitate social meals and athletics, activities not authorized for the church. If the latter is authorized, put your finger on the passage as we do with singing.
Koinonia: Social Recreation?
2. You imply that “social recreation ” might somehow be included in the New Testament usage of koinonia. Of the passages you listed, which one authorizes the church to conduct social recreation?
a. Hebrews 2:14? Jesus shared the flesh-and-blood body of human nature. Nothing about local church action here.
b. 1 Corinthians 1:9? We are called into a spiritual relationship with Jesus. Nothing about gymnastics or supper parties here!
c. 1 Corinthians 10:16? We share with Christ in the Lord’s Supper. This is church action, but do we facilitate the Lord’s Supper by providing facilities to conduct ball games and ice cream suppers?
d. Philemon 17? Paul and Philemon share a spiritual partnership in Christ as fellow laborers in the gospel (cf. v. 13). Does this mean that through the gospel they were called to sign up for a church league ball team and would be partners in the next church chili cook-off?
e. Philippians 4:15? Philippi shared with Paul’s labors in the gospel by financial help – i.e., supported him to build barbecue grills and basketball courts in the name of the church?
f. Galatians 2:9? Peter and Paul acknowledged their common faith and common labors. They shook hands to start a church football game? They held a common stick over a fire to roast a hot dog at a church party? They agreed to organize church recreational programs among both Jews and Gentiles in preparation for the church-wide olympics?
g. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11? No form of koinonia is used in this whole chapter!
(1) The church acted by publicly turning the sinner over to Satan. Individuals are told not to undermine what the church did by having the sinner as a close associate in social activities.
(2) Does this somehow imply the church, rather than the individuals in their own personal activities, was providing social and recreational gatherings? If so, perhaps the point is that the church should not let the sinner get into the “fellowship hall” for the next ham supper, or to buy a coke from the church’s coke machine, or to play a game of ping-pong in the church’s exercise room. Would this authorize church “bouncers” to police the church’s social activities?
(3) We must call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways (1 Pet. 4:11). The effort to bootleg the Bible word koinonia into 1 Corinthians 5, and then to bootleg church action into the arena of individual responsibility, all reminds me of hearing a liberal preacher use Hebrews 13:2 to justify these social gospel programs. He defined “entertain” to include everything from parties to athletics, and then assigned it all to church responsibility!
Social Aspect in Acts 2:42?
3. You refer to the “social aspect, ” apparently to suggest brethren being together in any and every way. Acts 2:42 and Hebrews 10:24-25 do indeed show the importance of being together, but these passages refer to spiritual activities provided in the assembly. Social activities are needed but belong to individual duty and not the work of a local church (Acts 2:46 distinguishes their assemblies in the temple area from their social gatherings at home, as does 1 Corinthians 11:34).
a. Yes, brethren can be taught to extend hospitality to each other in their homes. Let the church teach it, just as we teach the responsibility of parents to earn a living to provide their children’s medical and educational needs, but the church does not operate a business for parents to work in, a school to teach math and science, or a medical clinic or hospital. We can teach people the benefits of social activities and good, clean recreation without obligating the church to provide such activities.
b. As to finding conservative brethren weaker and more divisive than liberal churches, remember that your sampling is rather limited. I travel around the country and find many strong, vibrant churches preserving the distinction between the church’s spiritual realm and the individual’s social realm. I also see many liberal churches with their superficial “social fellowship” which are eaten up with apathy, false teaching, upheavals and controversies occasioned by their social activities (how far to go, who will run them, how to keep them going, etc.), and compromise. A liberal church in San Antonio, Texas recently surveyed all the churches of Christ there and found the conservative churches with no social programs to be far more active and consistent in their work than the liberal churches with their social activities. The study gave special attention to the correlation between “extra activities” and the degree of interest and involvement manifested in the Lord’s work. They found that the more extra social programs a church had, the weaker and less consistent it was!
c. I have lived and preached full time in ______________ (state where young man lives) for eight years. . . . I have many dear friends in the state. Every area of the country has certain strengths and weaknesses. A pronounced weakness among many churches in ______________ is the tendency toward friction and factionalism centered around the great emphasis given by some men through the years to trying to establish certain matters of personal choice as law (head covering, kneeling, a sin to vote, no Lord’s Supper at Sunday PM service, etc.). Patience, forbearance, and teaching on Romans 14 will ameliorate this problem, but introducing the apostate practice of church socials will only compound the problems.
If One Thing Is Unauthorized, What Then?
4. At times you slide toward the approach which says since church buildings seem to be unauthorized and we have them anyway, we can have church socials too even if they are not authorized. This would only prove we cannot have either (1 Pet. 4:11). The church owning a building is not specified but it is authorized because the church is authorized to provide for worship and teaching. Social activities, athletics, and entertainment do not constitute such worship and teaching, therefore the church has no authority to provide a place for such activities – nor to plan them – nor to oversee them.
Revelation Draws the Line
5. The church must make some arrangements for a place or it cannot provide worship and teaching of the truth. The activities authorized are specified, but the arrangements and provisions are not specified. They are authorized but not specified. Therefore, the church can borrow, rent, or build a place for worship and spiritual teaching. If we had authority for the church to engage in social and recreational affairs, it could borrow, rent, or build a place. The line as to what kind of “room” or place is provided must be drawn where the Bible authorizes one activity but not the other.
|Revelation Draws the Line!|
|Build Ark (Gen. 6:14)||Excludes||Build Tower|
|Gopher Wood (Gen. 6:14)||Excludes||All Other Woods|
|Lord’s Supper First Day (Acts 20:7)||Excludes||All Other Days|
|Priesthood – Levi (Heb. 7:14)||Excludes||All Other Tribes|
|Church – Spiritual Work||Excludes||Social & Secular Activities|
Is Social Activity Spiritual Edification?
6. The effort to slip social activities in under the guise of spiritual edification opens the floodgates to apostasy. Some people enjoy suppers, parties, and gyms, but other people enjoy association in golfing, fishing, hunting, camping, working on old cars, wood working, etc. When you said, “. . . it includes a whole host of activities,” you said a mouthful. Can you see all the things the church will have to plan, provide, finance, build, and oversee? If such is truly spiritual edification, why can’t we read of the New Testament churches providing such things (with or without special buildings for it)?
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 6, pp. 163-164, 184
March 15, 1990