We have had some few things to say in this publication concerning the practices of many so called churches of Christ. I would call those churches liberal not in a defaming way, but in a way to describe their actions, their practices, and their behavior. Labels and name calling are both non-productive means of dealing with controversy. However, identifying false teaching and erroneous practices is something that must be done in order to serve the people of God and to prepare them to meet the dangers that beset us all in this generation.
We are not immune from the digressions that have faced our brethren in years past. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is the lack of preparation. Ill prepared people are people bound for destruction. When otherwise good people seek to do things without Bible authority, the rebellious attitudes are shrouded by the good deeds sought to be authorized. However, one cannot manufacture authority out of the seeming goodness of any action. Remember the scenario the Lord presented in the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" Jesus knew whereof He spoke when He said there would be many using the same argument. Ultimately Jesus said that no matter how wonderful the deed, action without authority is sin and will result in eternal departure from the presence of God.
I read an interesting bit of talk among some preachers on the Internet the other day. An honest inquiry was made concerning the propriety of having a storage place for food stuffs inside the meeting house of the saints, for use in the distribution of food to the general community. I really thought that such would incite a rainstorm of comments against such a practice. Such was not the case. One brother opined that he could see nothing wrong with it, and that was about all that was said. Needless to say, I was surprised and felt the need to add my two cents worth. What follows is my contribution to that discussion along with expanded thoughts.
By what authority does a church procure a building? By procure, I simply mean that a congregation either buys, rents or otherwise occupies some structure as a place of assembling. Authority for such a thing is wrapped up in the idea of assembling. Note the following passages:
The gathering of saints necessarily infers a place of assembling, thus giving authority for the saints assembled to procure the place.
What is to be done in the place of assembling? Assemble, of course; assemble to do what the first century Christians did when they assembled. They came together to worship God. Acts 20:7, "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight." Here, the disciples assembled to worship. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come." In order for a collection to take place, there must be a coming together. There are other passages, but these will suffice for the point.
Are there other reasons to assemble or are there other actions authorized to be performed in the place of assembling? When the saints were assembled in 1 Corinthians 5 (see above quote), they were commanded to withdraw from (deliver to Satan) a sinning brother. The church, in Acts 6, came together to consider the matter of the business of caring for the needy widows. Business meetings in the building are certainly authorized.
Another use of the building that comes to mind has reference to the work of a preacher. Many churches which own a building also provide an office in that building for the preacher to have a place to do his work. (If a church can support a preacher, the church can provide an office in which he can work. 1 Corinthians 9:14, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.") In the provision of that office, the preacher has authority to do in that office what he deems expedient to his work. He may have a radio, stereo, etc. in that office and may even listen to music or talk while he works. Others may find that personally offensive. Each to his own. These are things, however, that are appropriate to an office which would not be appropriate at all in any other setting in the building. (You wouldn't play a radio or stereo in worship service. Many churches, however, do play sermon tapes, audio and video, in teaching. No problem here. It is an expedient to the command to teach. Some would feel uncomfortable with watching a sermon on a video player on Sunday night. That is understandable, but "be convinced in your own mind" (Romans 14:5). When that is the only source of teaching, and it is for some struggling churches, we do what we must do. Also, sometimes, a preacher might even take a meal inside the office. Many preachers take a sack lunch to their office just the same as an accountant might do. It is expedient. Eating in the church's building is not always sin. There is a difference, though, between a preacher taking a meal in his office as an expedient and the church providing a kitchen for that purpose or a "fellowship hall" so that all the members, or even a portion of them, may also partake in a meal. There is a difference between these two activities, and they should be easily discerned. They may not be, but they should.
Another issue that comes to mind, in the use of a building, is the question of weddings and funerals. While that is not the topic of this article, the principles involved relate directly to the authority for the building in the first place. I believe that a building can be used for those things. That is merely my opinion on the matter, but I believe it is consistent. No wedding that I might perform inside a church building would have instrumental music. The marriage ceremony is ordained of God. American tradition notwithstanding, the reception (wedding feast) does not have to be in the same building as the marriage, and I believe it would be sinful to have that reception in the building the saints have procured for worship assemblies. The Supper (Revelation 19) is not where the marriage takes place. For some people married in church buildings, that is the only occasion for them to be a captive audience for the teaching of the Bible on the marriage relationship. Hopefully those cases are rare, but it is still a captive audience. The primary objection, as I have heard it, is that the wedding, as a social event, is not the kind of assembly for which the building was procured. Funerals are a bit easier to justify. They are not social, festive occasions. They are somber, comforting, sobering occasions where the Bible is read, the gospel is preached, and we honor those to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7).
By what authority, then, do we provide a community food chest in the building? We assume that the work is voluntary. No one will surely claim that the church MUST provide a community food chest. Then, we seek a convenient place for the food to be stored in a pantry so that hungry people may be fed. Is that the work of the church? Is it, rather, a Christian duty that falls to the individual? 1 Timothy 5:16, "If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, let her assist them, and let not the church be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed" (NASB). I cite this passage simply to show that a difference exists between individual and congregational action. Why will not some individual make room in his garage or basement or office to provide a place for food to be stored to feed the hungry in the community? Why is the church's building always the dumping ground for these voluntary works. What does that activity tell the community? There is only one thing that it could tell them. The Church of Christ (and they do not know that the building is not the church) is the place to get food. The Mayfair Church of Christ in Huntsville, AL (large liberal institution) is on TV now every year collecting coats for the community. It is a collection point as well as a distribution center for what no doubt is a worthy activity for Christians to do (clothe people warmly in winter). But by what authority is the local church involved? Book, chapter and verse, please. The keeping of food in a pantry in the church's building is the first step in a downward spiral that leads from feeding a few hungry people that come by the building to setting up a soup kitchen for every welfare recipient in the county to come get religion and a free meal.
Stick to the authority we have for a building and we will walk by faith. Venture into other waters and you have digression. If Christians want to start a pantry for poor people, leave the church alone that it might be about the business of saving souls. That is our purpose for being here. Romans 7:4; 1 Timothy 5:16.
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