The Social Church

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

I.          As you visit various congregations, you will quickly notice that there are differing beliefs held by various groups.

             A.         Some of these differences appear to be minor. Some quite significant.

             B.         I have notice as time moves on that the number of fractures have been increasing. I count at least four or five in the Omaha area alone.

             C.         One point of separation that I have noticed is over how we justify our beliefs.

                          1.          II Pet. 1:3 - God has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness.

                          2.          II Tim 3:16-17 - We are equipt for every good work.

             D.         One group takes a conservative approach

                          1.          “Tending or disposed to maintain existing views”

                          2.          They ask for justification for all practices, reasoning that if God has told us everything, then you must be able to find book, chapter and verse for every work.

                          3.          Therefore, for any practice, they first ask “Why?”

             E.         The other group, who constitute the majority, take a liberal approach.

                          1.          “Not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms.”

                          2.          They ask for proof that something is wrong.

                          3.          For any practice proposed, they ask “Why not?”

                          4.          Many works are justified by the good that is being done. However, good is defined as how people feel about the work and not by appealing to God’s definition of good.

                          5.          Practices are only denied if it is shown that harm is being done.

             F.         To illustrate this fundamental difference, let us look at the question of having meals in the meeting house.

II.         “It is a part of our duty to provide fellowship for the members.”

             A.         In a world where most people view denominations as social organizations

                          1.          They are glorified clubs which do good deeds in the world

                                       a.          Our government agencies will often tell people if they are having financial trouble to call churches for funds.

                          2.          Since denominational members are only loosely joined, they sponsor many practices which attempt to artificially create a feeling of fellowship.

                          3.          However, fellowship is a relationship between two people

                                       a.          It is having something in common, something shared

                                       b.          You cannot do fellowship

                                       c.          David was a friend of all who keep God’s Word - Ps. 119:63

                                       d.          Mutually encouraged by each other’s faith - Rom 1:12

                                       e.          Fellowship in the Gospel - Phil 1:3-6

                                       f.          Fellowship comes with walking in the light - I John 1:7

             B.         Some put kitchens and eating halls in their buildings

                          1.          But eating is not fellowship

                                       a.          Those in fellowship often eat together

                                       b.          But eating together is not fellowship

             C.         The church cannot provide fellowship

                          1.          It can encourage its members to be in fellowship

                          2.          But going through the motions of those who have fellowship will not generate fellowship.

             D.         If this is a work of the church, where is the passage that requires a church, by command, example, or inference, to provide eating facilities?

III.        “But, there is nothing against using the building for a common meal in the Scriptures.”

             A.         This is asking “Why not.” However, God has only said He has given us the all the things we should do. He has not stated all the things we should not do.

             B.         While not exactly the same thing, take a look at I Cor. 11:17-34.

                          1.          The Corinthians had misused the Lord’s Supper, coming together to eat instead of worship.

                          2.          Paul’s solution was not to wait until after the worship service.

                          3.          Paul’s solution was not to use the building on another day.

                          4.          Paul’s solution was not to build a separate facility for meals.

                          5.          He told the Corinthians to have their meals in their homes.

                          6.          When we come together each Sunday, it is to worship our God.

IV.       “We don’t have authority for the building, so we can do whatever we wish with it.”

             A.         If the building is not authorized, then no congregation should have one.

                          1.          Having a building without authority would imply adding to God’s Word – a sin!

                          2.          Notice then that this reasoning is “We are sinning already, so we can do additional sins without further harm.”

                          3.          Not a true Christian attitude.

             B.         However, the premise is false. We do have authority for a building.

                          1.          We are commanded to meet - Heb. 10:25

                                       a.          As we go through the New Testament, we find that the early Christians meet at the Temple in Jerusalem, they meet in upper rooms (rented facilities), they meet by a river bank, they meet in people’s homes, and they meet in schools.

                                       b.          None of these examples show that a building was purchased, but while each is widely varied, they have one thing in common: they had a place to assemble.

                          2.          Why did we purchase a building? Because it was cheaper than renting a facility and provides a stable location. In other words, the brethren chose this method, which satisfies the command, in manner a good steward would do with the resources provided.

             C.         This building was purchased and built for the purpose of worshiping God and teaching His word.

                          1.          These are things we can prove from God’s Word.

                          2.          If we want to use the building for any other purpose, we must first show that God authorizes it.

                          3.          We cannot naively say, well, we have nothing better to do with it during the off times?

V.         When we look at everything

             A.         There is no authority for sponsoring meals in the building, let alone purchasing kitchen equipment.

             B.         Without authority, then it is not a good work (by God’s definition of good). Therefore, it is wrong to do it anyway. It would be a sin.

             C.         In addition, there is no authority for the church to provide recreation centers, camps, and other social activities.

                          1.          These things are not a part of the mission of the church

                          2.          The church is only authorized to preach the Gospel, edify its members, and care for its members when they are in need.

             D.         Ralph T. Henley, dated April 1962, under the subheading “Fellowship Halls”

                          1.          “It is very difficult for me to believe that these are expedient when the world is lost in sin; when two-thirds of the world’s people do not know the true God, never heard of the Christ, nor seen a copy of the Bible. There is not enough money to support gospel preaching. Many nations do not have a single gospel preacher and many others have only one or two. . . . As long as there is one person in the world who has never had the opportunity to hear the word of God, how can elders of the churches justify spending the Lord’s money to build these halls of entertainment? I should think the food would stick in the throats of church members as they keep the halls hopping as class after class and group after group burn the electricity nightly. Money for such endeavors is justified since it comes from the Bible classes to buy the appliances, utensils, cabinets, tables, etc. Many of the church kitchens I have seen are more expensive than any I have seen in a private home. Elders and preachers argue that if the members don’t eat together they will not come to church. If they do not provide the entertainment for the church member’s children, then the devil’s crowd will. All of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by all the churches in this manner each year is equated and justified as one would justify a water cooler. Surely, such a man who resorts to such a low tactic is aware of it in his own mind and he needs to be an object of pity.”

                          2.          Under the subheading “Summer Camps.” “Recreation in a Christian environment is good for children but it is a work of the home and not of the church. It is my personal responsibility to furnish entertainment and recreation for my children. Yet preacher after preacher in increasing numbers is called upon to take time out to get ready for the ‘camp.’ He spends all Spring preparing his brochure of camp activities to be mailed to the city, county, and surrounding states. Then he spends his summer in a couple of camps. He leaves his preaching to gather up athletic equipment. All this hustle and bustle is justified on the grounds that a Bible class is taught there. Sometimes young people from Christian homes are baptized. Yet, the same preacher has a good air-conditioned building to use in place of the camp. He says that by using a camp one can entice non-members’ children and teach them. Let us not merchandise the gospel. Inherent in it is the only enticement needed to save. Let us not forget. If we must furnish entertainment to get the members’ children to attend church, then we have drifted farther than I believed.”

                          3.          “These statements are worthy of careful consideration. Someone said that a church that must rely upon ice cream suppers, tea parties, and chicken dinners for its growth is as cold as the cream, weak as the tea, and dead as the chicken!”

                          4.          “We state again that the church may build and maintain the facilities necessary to do everything which God has commanded the church to do. Before one can justify church kitchens, banquet rooms, or so-called fellowship halls, he must find where God has commanded the church to assemble to eat a common meal or for any social or recreational activity.”

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