Oh, Those Ungodly Fellowship Halls
Many "Churches of Christ" in most parts of the country have previously constructed or are presently engaged in constructing what have become known as "fellowship halls." The purpose of this article will be to investigate a biblical question in regard to this practice. The question is taken from a conversation recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels. Matthew's account reads: (Matthew 21:23) "Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, `By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?'" (The other verses are Mark 11:28 and Luke 20:2). Though the Lord did not answer the hypocrites' query, He sanctioned it as a valid question. It remains a valid question for all God-fearing people today who seek His approval in our lives. By what authority does a local church build or maintain a room, building, or other structure for the purpose of recreation and social functions?
I believe I have sufficient knowledge of history to understand the evolution of the "fellowship hall." In the transition of American society from a rural based economy to that of a more urban, industrialized people, churches faced many changes in their application of scriptural tradition. The Sunday evening service was one of those changes. City churches, comprised of factory workers and support staff, had to make provisions for members who could not attend the traditional Sunday morning worship period. It was not an easy transition, and many brethren, even today, have not all agreed on every aspect of that change, particularly as it relates to the observance of the Lord's Supper.
Another traditional transition had to do with the individual provision of a family meal on the Lord's Day. In the rural economy, churches would assemble for a morning service. Many families would bring their lunches to spread out, picnic style, outside the meeting house. After dinner, there would often be a period of play preceding an occasional singing followed by an evening worship period. As many had come some distance for this Lord's Day gathering with the saints, the afternoon services would conclude with plenty of sunshine left in the day for safe travel home and evening chores. Several factors being considered, the meeting house of the church would, of necessity, be used to accomplish all of the day's activities. From these austere beginnings evolved the modern day practice of building kitchens, banquet rooms, community meeting rooms, athletic fields and the ever popular gymnasium. Once the gate of the loosing of Bible authority is opened, adventurous men, like sheep to the slaughter, can and usually will go anywhere and everywhere.
Without commenting on the farmers of generations past, can anyone really say that what is going on today is even remotely similar to that now ancient practice? Even if it is, where is the authority?
The authority to assemble (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) includes the provision of a place to assemble, whether it be a home, a barn, a rented hall, a storefront, or a building constructed from the treasury of the local church. It also includes that which is incidental to the assembling of ourselves together; rest rooms, drinking fountains, lights, air-conditioning systems, etc. No scripture, though, can be produced to show authority for what we have going on in the churches today. There are at least two scriptural references to the saints eating together. Observe them. (Acts 2:46) "So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,..." They worshipped in the temple and ate their food from house to house. The church at Corinth had a problem with eating in the meeting house. They were abusing the Lord's Supper, turning it into a common meal, violating the will of God. To that problem Paul addressed himself and included this question, (1 Corinthians 11:22) "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" In these verses, reference to the saints eating a common meal was, in both cases, to be confined to the home. We know brethren ate together. The withdrawal of fellowship included the refusal to eat with the sinning, marked brother. 1 Corinthians 5:11 speaks of not "keeping company" with the offender and with such a person "not even to eat." The social interaction was separated from the spiritual.
Some would seek to include "fellowship" as a work of the church, and, based on that assumption, the "hall" would then be scriptural. The problem with this argument is that fellowship is not used in the scripture in a social way. Fellowship is a joint participation or sharing by Christians in a work. It is impractical and improper to say that we "jointly participate" in "jointly participating." The work of the church is wholly centered around spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our one and only mission is the salvation of souls. To that end we preach, both to the lost (Mark 16:15) and to those who are saved for their growing in the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). We come together to worship God and admonish each other to press on in our common faith (Hebrews 10:24). When it becomes necessary to help a brother so that he can carry on his life as a functioning part of the working family, the church is authorized and commanded to assist in his/her relief. The Lord's restrictions on that, though, are so vividly pronounced, that some churches rarely find themselves in situations where congregational effort is required. Faithful Christians see after their own family members, and the need is thereby met. (See 1 Timothy 5:8 & 16, et. al.) Fellowship enters into this effort when we, collectively, accept the charge of scripture to engage in a congregational work with all of its Biblical limitations (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 13:1-3; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
If honesty were to prevail, most people would admit that these meeting rooms and recreational facilities are acquired and maintained to serve the fleshly desires of the members of the local churches who have them. We want "our" fellowship hall to be just a bit bigger, a bit better than the one down the street. May we never forget, though, that the pressing questions still remain. (Matthew 21:23) "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?" If someone has the answer, please send it to me, and I will publish it next month.
E-mail Larry Fain
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