by Mark Dunagan
Somewhere in the past, the idea entered the Church of Christ that it would be all right to take the funds collected on the first day of the week and construct a church building which would include such things as a kitchen and a large dining room or "fellowship" hall. These structures weren't built to feed needy Christians, rather they were built to feed and entertain already well-fed members.
Point to Note: I said that such an idea "entered" the Church of Christ because this concept hadn't always been in the Church. In 1951 (not that long ago) B.C. Goodpasture wrote in the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary (note: many of the congregations which now have "fellowship halls" are strong loyal supporters of the Gospel Advocate): 'It is not the mission of the church to furnish amusement for the world or even for its own members. Innocent amusement in proper proportion has its place in the life of all normal persons but it is not the business of the church to furnish it...The church was not established to feature athletics...For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It is to degrade its mission.... Building recreation rooms, and providing and supervising recreational activities at the expense of the church, is a departure from the simple gospel plan as revealed in the New Testament…. The church might as well relieve the parents of feeding and disciplining all of the young people at church expense as to take over the job of entertaining and supervising the recreation at church expense.' (p. 229) The Gospel Advocate Quarterly said in 1951 that such is sin. Two observations need to be made in response to this quote:
(a) To oppose "fellowship" halls and all the things which go along with church-sponsored recreation, is to hold the "common" view.
(b) Since congregations actually did split over this issue, who caused the division? Who took a "radical" position? Who placed a "fellowship" hall over fellowship with their brethren? Who said that having a kitchen in the building is more important than unity? (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Arguments That Don't Add Up:
A. The Love Feast: II Peter 2:13/Jude 12
It is argued that the "feast" mentioned in these two verses were church-funded dinners or potlucks, very similar to the modern church dinners which are served in a "fellowship" hall, where members conduct birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, baby showers, etc..
Points to Note: The idea that the "love feast" was a social meal connected with, following or before the Lord's Supper is a common denominational view.
(1) Such a view contradicts what Paul says about the Lord's Supper. Paul not only separates the Lord's Supper from a social meal, but he commands all such meals to be engaged in "at home" (I Corinthians 11:22, 34). Some contend that Paul is simply correcting the Corinthians abuse of "fellowship dinners", but that we are not to interpret Paul as saying that all such church-sponsored dinners are wrong. In response:
(a) Paul is correcting an abuse of the Lord's Supper!
(b) When correcting an abuse of something legitimate, Paul never completely outlawed the practice. Rather, he proceeded to regulate it. (I Corinthians 10:25-33)
(c) Paul never regulates "church dinners". He places all such social meals in the private sector. (I Corinthians 11:22, 34)
Notice what Paul didn't say. 'Let's go ahead and eat the Lord's Supper and then we can have a banquet after the dismissal prayer!'
(2) Even many denominational commentators argue that the "love feast" wasn't a social meal at all. Rather, it is simply another name for the Lord's Supper. 'When we come to Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 150) we find that in his account of church worship he does not mention the agape (love feast) at all, but speaks of the Eucharist (Lord's supper) as following a service which consisted of the reading of Scripture, prayers, and exhortation.' (I.S.B.E. revised. 'Agape', p. 66)
(3) Someone also pointed out that from simply reading II Peter 2:13 or Jude 12 (if this was a social meal) the text says absolutely nothing about where these feasts took place. Did such feasts take place in private homes or were they church funded?
(4) A recognized method of interpretation is to let the Bible interpret itself.
(a) The social meals of the early church in Jerusalem happened in the private homes of the members. (Acts 2:46 'and breaking bread from house to house')
(b) Paul places all social meals outside the assembly (I Corinthians 11:22, 34).
B. The Use of the Word "Fellowship":
It is a common assumption that the word "fellowship" includes social meals. I think many members of the church picked this up from the denominational world. Unfortunately, the word "fellowship" as used in the Bible is never used or attached to social meals or a dining hall. I find the word used for sharing in spiritual things. (Acts 2:42; I Corinthians 1:9; Philippians 2:1; I John 1:3) I also find the word used in reference to the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 10:16).
Note: If a social meal can be called "fellowship", then it also can be called "communion" for that is one way in which this word can be translated. I even find the word "fellowship" being used for sharing in physical things. But in those instances, the sharing was always to relieve a definite pressing need. (Romans 15:26; II Corinthians 9:13; Philippians 1:5; Hebrews 13:16; I Timothy 6:18)
C. The Church Sponsored Meals of Acts 6:
Points to Note:
(1) Such meals were for benevolent purposes. We have clear scriptural authority for the church to use its funds to house, clothe, feed, etc., members who are in need. (I Corinthians 16:1-2) But modern-day church dinners and "fellowship halls" are not for benevolent purposes.
(2) Such meals were only for needy Christians. Carefully note that the apostles never started the modern practice of using free food and recreation to draw non-Christians.
D. But It Is A 'Good Work':
Often you will hear the following in the attempt to justify church-sponsored social meals:
(1) 'But churches that build kitchens, dining rooms, gyms, etc., grow!' But a certain kind of growth means that you are on the wrong road. (Matthew 7:13) In addition, churches that teach Premillennialism, Calvinism, and the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, also grow. In fact, such churches grow faster and bigger than the ones who merely opt for "fellowship" halls.
(2) The Bible defines what is a "good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17). Nowhere in the Bible do we find church-sponsored social meals, recreation, or "fellowship" halls.
(3) And to me here is the real "rub" of the social gospel of liberalism. According to certain people, church dinners and "fellowship" halls are mandatory for church growth, evangelism, and maintaining unity in the congregation. Lest anyone object that I used the word "mandatory", let me point out that congregations and individuals, who advocated such innovations, thought they were so needful that they divided the church over them. The argument that they were just a "method" or an option doesn't fly because you don't divide the church over an "option." Advocating even a matter of moral or doctrinal indifference to the point of division is a sin. (Romans 14:15-16; 19-20; I Corinthians 8:9-12; 10:31-33) But the problem is, the apostles didn't view such things are necessary. The social gospel casts the apostles and the first century Christians into an "unspiritual" light. Listen to the following statement: 'The Jerusalem church ... had no youth minister, no family-life center, no activities director, no day-care center, no choir, no band, no orchestra, no music minister; it had no soccer field nor gymnasium; it had no marriage counselor, no senior's minister, and no chariot ministry.' (Guardian of Truth, 'Full-Service Churches', Irvin Hummel, 4-2-92, p. 24) You see, the social gospel of liberalism makes the first-century churches look like they weren't on the cutting edge. It makes the apostles look apathetic, unspiritual, and "lacking vision", for they never advocated such ideas. Liberalism is forced to condemn the Christianity practiced in the first century, for it was completely void of all the things that people claim the church can't survive, grow and minister to the needs of Christians and non-Christians without.
E. The Building Isn't Sacred:
Points to Note:
(1) You would be hard-pressed to find a group of people who have spent more time and effort in trying to teach people that the "building" isn't the "church" than conservative brethren. Many of us even phrase our signs, 'The church of Christ meets here'.
(2) Listen to the following: '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!' (Guardian of Truth. 'Fellowship Halls', Dick Blackford, 1-19-95, p. 17)
(3) While the building isn't "holy ground" at the same time it must be recognized that since it was purchased with the first day of the week funds, it can only be used for those things outlined as the work of the church in the New Testament. That is, the building can be used for edification (Hebrews 10:24-25) (i.e. worship/bible study/song leading classes, etc.), evangelism (I Timothy 3:15) (gospel meetings, preaching, etc.), and benevolence for Christians. (I Corinthians 16:1-2)
F. The Claim That We Contradict Ourselves:
A huge "theological" proposition in recent years has been whether or not it is right to eat a meal in the "church building" ... 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…' (The Spiritual Sword, 'The Crisis of Radical Reactionism.' Wayne Jackson. 10-93) First of all I want to point out that Wayne Jackson has written some excellent material. Unfortunately, on this issue, he has found himself defending something that can't be defended. And when you place yourself in such a position, you are forced to make an argument that will come back to haunt you.
Using the above argument others could just as easily contend: This writer knows a case where brethren were involved in building a meeting place. As they worked some of them listened to music on the radio. The day they moved into the facility, rock and instrumental music in the worship services became a sin! Or, what if one of the brothers had instructed another in some aspect of construction while the building was in progress? Can the church then use the building to teach classes on electrical wiring or plumbing? 'The day they moved into the facility to worship, teaching drywall classes on the premises became a sin.' Or, what if while installing and testing the baptistery for leaks, one of the members laid back and relaxed in the cool waters to get relief from the heat? 'The day they moved into the facility it became wrong for the church to provide a place to swim!' You see brethren, the issue has never been: can the church have a drinking fountain, can the preacher eat his lunch in the building while studying, can the members bring a drink or snack into the building while working on a classroom room, copying off materials, cleaning the building, etc… Anyone can see that such things are vastly different from purposely designing a room for people to eat or recreate in.
But in this whole discussion, a real contradiction is often overlooked. Think about this one: If a church can build an auditorium which will function as not only the place in which to hold worship services, but will then easily convert into a gym or dining hall after services. Then why can't the same congregation build a large baptistery, which will not only be used to baptize people in but can also be used to swim in? Hey, if people accept the argument that eating together is necessary for real spiritual growth, then why can't we equally argue that a "Church of Christ hot tub" is necessary for congregational harmony?
As we close the reader should note that many who embrace "fellowship" halls and church kitchens are in opposition to church gyms. But such a position is contradictory. Calling a church dining room a "fellowship" hall doesn't make it any more Scriptural than calling a church gym, a "Family Life Center". Biblical authority can't be cited for either. The above arguments are desperate attempts to hold on to an unscriptural practice. 'It plays well to an audience determined to have their banquet halls at all cost regardless that it serves to perpetuate division' (Dick Blackford, p. 19).