Country Club Churches
by Tim Haile
February 21, 2001
The church you can read about in the Bible is far different than many of those seen today. Most of today's churches place a great amount of emphasis upon social programs and activities, including things like recreation and entertainment. The Bible says, "The kingdom of God is within you" and "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but peace, righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Luke 17:21; Romans 14:17). Jesus plainly stated, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). These passages show that the kingdom is a spiritual association of faithful Christians. The church is only social in the sense that friendly companionships and relations characterize it. Even so, the church certainly isnít a social club! People are guilty of adulterating the mission of the church when they use the church to fulfill their carnal desires to be fed and entertained. Jesus Christ did not leave heaven, take on a lowly human existence, and suffer and die on the cross so that we could build glorified playhouses.
Multitudes view religion and the church as a means of social interaction and fulfillment. From this misconception stems the false practice of spending the money that was collected in the name of the Lord on projects and facilities unauthorized by the Lord! Jesus said, "Why do you call me ĎLord, Lord,í but you do not practice what I say?"(Luke 6:46). If religious people are going to collect money by appealing to the Lordís name, they are obligated to appeal to the Lordís authority in their use of that money! Are gymnasiums, recreation halls, family life centers and fellowship halls authorized as a work of the Lordís church? What does the Bible say?
The Church Belongs To Christ
It is possible that some are acting on misconceptions stemming from the use of inaccurate language like, "Is that your church?" or "I wish you would come with me to my church..." The denominational mindset causes many religious people to view the local church in this very secular, "Your church" / "My church" way. This misconception allows them to think of the local church as theirs to do with as they please. People are not being taught the truth about Who the church really belongs to. Jesus said, "Upon this rock (the fact of His full deity) I will build MY church..." (Matthew 16:18). The next verse shows Jesus using the words "church" and "kingdom" interchangeably, and Colossians 1:13 refers to this "kingdom" as "the kingdom of Godís dear Son!"
1 Corinthians 15:24 says Jesus will maintain possession of that kingdom until the end comes. That time will mark the completion of Christís special role in human redemption. Since the church belongs to Christ, it is obviously His to do with as He pleases. After all, Jesus did purchase the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
To their shame, many religionists are using the Lordís holy name and purposes to satisfy their selfish and carnal desires. They misuse the word "Christian" by applying it to their recreational and social activities. They misuse the term "church" by applying it to their social organizations. They misuse the Lordís money by paying for things that have nothing at all to do with the divinely revealed work of the church. They have adulterated the religion of Christ in order to draw and please the crowds. The church building is not our little playhouse to do with as we see fit. We are bound and obligated to abide by the will of God as to what we do with that building. Authorized uses of church buildings are clearly set forth in the New Testament.
The Church Building is an Expedient
Authority for an assembly place is inherent in God's commands for the church to assemble. The church building is therefore authorized as a lawful expedient. Any passage of scripture that authorizes the church to assemble also authorizes the employment of facilities adequate to accommodate that assembly. We shall view several of these assembly passages in a later connection. For now, let us consider the basic concept of expediency.
An expedient is something that facilitates in the accomplishment of Godís will. It might be described as a more profitable way of doing a thing. In order for a thing to be expedient it must be (1) lawful (1 Cor. 6:12) and it must serve the purpose of (2) edifying (1 Cor. 10:23).
For example, songbooks are authorized by this principle. Since God has commanded singing in the assembly (Ephesians 5:19; Col. 3:16; Hebrews 2:12), songbooks may be purchased and used, because they expedite the implementation of that command. The command to sing authorizes the songbook. The same is true of a baptistery. An easily accessible pool of water facilitates in implementing the command of baptism. Rather than having to drive around looking for accessible water, we have the water at our disposal, in a convenient location. It is not wrong to baptize in a natural stream, ocean, lake, or pond, but it is much easier to have an adequate container of water readily available to us. The command to baptize authorizes the use of a baptistery.
The Use of the Church Building
The church building is no different. Its authority resides in its divinely intended use. This may seem simple, but this expediency is the one that is most often abused. Church members find a building with a large hall or auditorium extremely convenient for all types of social engagements. For many, it is inviting to seek some type of justification for using the building for any project or purpose that they like. They will argue that it is wasteful for the building to sit unused for much of the week. My! I wonder what these folks would have said about the Holy Place under the Mosaic dispensation? This facility was entered by only one man and at only one time a year (Heb. 9:7). Would they have complained to Moses that this was a waste of such an elaborate facility? Had they done so they would not have lived long!
What about using the church building for pet projects, entertainment and recreation? Is such a use of the building authorized? May we use the building for exercise classes, arts and crafts classes, Boy Scout meetings, Tupperware parties, birthday parties, anniversary parties, recreational events, sporting events, and entertainment? Many people do, but what does the Bible say? As with the baptistery and songbooks, the church building is a lawful expedient. Since God commands the local church to assemble for various purposes, we are allowed to buy, build, or rent, and maintain a church building. The command to assemble authorizes a place or facility in which to assemble (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Cor. 14:23, 26). This would include church assemblies for:
1) Worship, including:
B. Singing (Ephesians 5:19)
C. Praying (Acts 2:42; 4:24-29)
D. Observing the Lordís supper (Acts 20:7)
E. Giving according to our ability (1 Cor.16:1-2)
2) The work of the church, including:
B. Edification (spiritual development of the saints including special teaching services and Bible studies) (Ephesians 4:13-16)
C. Benevolence (physical assistance to needy saints) (Acts 6:1-7)
3) Special meetings about church business, including reports about works in other places (Acts 14:27; 15:30)
May We Use the Church Building for Common Meals?
Some at Corinth had corrupted the Lordís Supper to the point that Paul said their practice was not the Lordís Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). Selfishness and greed had turned the Lordís Supper into a means of personal self-satisfaction. As a result of this perversion, the true purpose and significance of the Lordís Supper were lost. Paul told those saints that the Lordís Supper was never intended as a common meal. It was not for the purpose of satisfying oneís physical hunger. It was intended as a memorial, a weekly reminder of the great sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our sins. Concerning the question of where and when to satisfy our physical desire for food, Paul wrote:
"What? Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not" (1 Corinthians 11:22).
"And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come" (1 Corinthians 11:34).
Some people oppose this use of these verses on the basis that early Christians met in houses to begin with. They conclude that this nullifies any argument that one may make from 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34 to prove that common meals are not a part of our collective service to God. The Bible does teach that some Christians met in private homes (Romans 16:5), but one of the verses that teaches such, also says that some met in public buildings like the Temple (Acts 2:42). There are a couple of important facts that need to be considered in connection with 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34. First of all, no one can prove where the Corinthian saints met for public gatherings. Secondly, it doesnít matter where they met. In John 4:21 Jesus loosed the place of worship. The fact remains that Paul told the saints that they were to satisfy their physical hunger "at home!" The lesson is clear regardless of where they met. Eating common meals is not a part of our collective worship and service to God! Let those who oppose this interpretation of these verses explain to us what they do mean! Will they make arguments that render Paul's prohibitions in these verses as meaningless and pointless? Who is prepared to completely ignore Paulís clear statements in these verses? Regardless of the over-all position one takes, God's word remains clear. 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34 condemn the practice of having "church" meals for hunger or pleasure.
Jesus did not establish His eternal kingdom and provide us with authority for church buildings so we would have a good place to share meals and have parties. As we established above, church buildings are only authorized by those passages that tell us what we may do in those buildings. I have heard stories of people, usually women, leaving the assembly and going to work in the church kitchen in order to get an early start on the church "fellowship" meal! These people clearly demonstrate a greater concern for physical food than they do for spiritual food. Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God"(Matthew 4:4). The Church is the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is not a glorified restaurant. The Churchís emphasis should be on spiritual matters. This is the principle behind the following passage:
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17).
Church facilities, resources and moneys may be used to relieve the physical needs of saints (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 6:1-4; 11:28-30; Romans 15:25-27; 2 Cor. 8:4,14). No passage authorizes the use of church resources or funds to provide for the social and recreational wants or needs of the members, neither do any passages authorize their use in providing for the physical needs of non-saints. These passages emphasize the fact that two conditions always prevailed before any person was assisted from the church treasury. 1) The recipients were always Christians. 2) The recipients were always needy Christians.
What About the "Love Feast?"
Some contend that Jude 12 authorizes a meal known as a love feast. They assume that this was a congregational meal, in which all local saints participated, whether they were needy or not. If such were true, the practice of the love feast would contradict the passages that we have already addressed on the subject of benevolence. None of the above passages, or any other in the New Testament, authorize money to be taken from the church treasury to feed those who are not needy. Jesus said, "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). This means that the meaning of one passage cannot contradict the meaning of any other passage. Godís word is truth (John 17:17), and truth does not contradict itself. These things being true, what does the Bible teach about the love feast?
1 Corinthians 11
The argument is made that the "love feast" or "feast of charity" was the basis of Paulís instructions in 1 Corinthians 11. They argue that the Corinthianís abuses of the feast do not negate its scriptural legitimacy. They tell us that, "Paul did not condemn the church meal, per se, he only condemned the inconsiderateness of those who neglected their brethren." This is a presumptuous and circular argument. It assumes that church meals are fine as long as brethren are considerate of each other and they donít supplant the Lordís Supper with that meal. Notice, however, that Paul did not condemn the "common-meal" practice merely on the basis that some were inconsiderate of others and that the Lordís Supper was ignored. He condemned the practice because it took a practice (the common meal) that was a work of the home and made it a work of the church! Today, many of us are criticized for issuing the same warning to churches that Paul issued to the Corinthian church. The warning is, if you are hungry, eat at home.
A simple reading of pertinent verses in 1 Corinthians 11 will show that not only is the common-meal practice not authorized as a church activity, this chapter actually condemns the practice! Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians:
(20) "When you come together in the same place, it is not to eat the Lordís Supper,
Dear friend, the only "meal" that the New Testament associates with Christian fellowship is the Lordís Supper. Moreover, even though it is called a "supper," Paul makes it clear that this meal is not for the purpose of satisfying oneís physical hunger. That is to be done at home (vs. 22, 34). Had these Christians come under the heading of needy saints, like the drought victims in Acts 11:28-29, the church could have scripturally fed them, but these brethren were not in that condition.
Jude spoke of certain Godless individuals in verse 12 as being, "spots in your loves feasts." Some have asserted that this "feast of charity" must necessarily refer to the practice of eating a common meal during times when saints were assembled. It is more reasonable to explain this as a reference to Lordís Supper. If Jude was addressing this common-meal practice, he certainly did not condone that practice, for to do so would have been to contradict Paulís commands regarding oneís responsibility to eat common meals at home. It is untenable that the saints, to whom Jude wrote, were acceptably engaging in a practice that Paul elsewhere condemned! Again, "the scripture cannot be broken." Who do you believe, the social gospel advocates, or the apostle Paul?
What About Using The Building To Help Needy Saints?
As we have already observed, the church may use its monetary and physical resources to help needy saints. If those saints are in need of food, the church may feed them. If those saints are in need of shelter, the church may house them. If those saints are naked, the church may clothe them. Based upon the passages we have already examined, there is nothing wrong with the church either providing a meal, or paying for a meal for needy saints. Since the scriptures authorize this form of (limited) benevolence, the church is at liberty to use their building in whatever way that is expedient to accomplish that task. In extreme circumstances, the church may even rent other facilities in order to carry out that scripturally authorized work.
Remember The Church's Primary Mission!
The church is a spiritual association, not a social institution! The Bible says the universal church constitutes the body of the saved. Paul wrote, "Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). Acts 2:38 and 41 tell us that when penitent believers were baptized, the Lord "added them to the church." "Saints" (holy ones) are people who have been "obedient to the faith" (Romans 1:5,7; 16:26; Acts 6:7). The "saints at Rome" were such because they had "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" which was delivered to them (Romans 6:17-18, 3-6). As a result, they were made "free from sin."
Paul also tells us that there were "saints at Colossae" (Colossians 1:2), but notice the language that is used to describe their conversions. Paul said, "For he has delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). This "domain of darkness" refers to the grip of sin. Like the saints at Rome, those at Colossae became saints by meeting Godís conditions of pardon. At the point of their justification, God transferred them from "darkness" into the kingdom of Christ. Notice the interchangeability of the following terms:
B. God adds the saved to the church (Acts 2:47)
C. God transfers the saved to the kingdom (Colossians 1:13)
The words: body, church, and kingdom are used interchangeably in the above passages and all of the terms emphasize a special and spiritual relationship with Almighty God. Friends, this is God's purpose for the church! According to Ephesians 4:12-16 it was established for the purpose of enabling faithful men and women to "reach the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of Christís fullness." The church was designed by God, built by Christ, and revealed by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of human redemption. Jesus shed His sinless blood for His church, not for some glorified play house.
It should be obvious to all of us that the church is not about food and fun, it is about salvation! The church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). It is not a country club that is designed to pleasure us with feasting and entertainment. God calls upon us to reject the social gospel concept and strive to view the church as Godís holy Temple and Christís holy bride.
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