In many congregations it is a common occurrence -- brethren assemble on the Lord's Day, sing songs, pray, hear a sermon and dismiss with prayer. Only a small number of those present leave. The rest go down a hall or stairway into the congregations "fellowship" hall. Aluminum foil is removed from sister Sue's meat loaf, sister Della's broccoli casserole and sister Rudy's fruit salad. A prayer is led and the food line begins. A feast is had by all.
Some brethren see nothing wrong with the above activities while others strongly oppose them. What should our attitude be toward "fellowship" halls and kitchens in the meeting house of the local church? Could the church build and maintain facilities for local saints to eat a social meal together?
This, and all other questions, must be answered from the standard we follow: The Bible. Since God now speaks to us in His Son Jesus (Heb. 1:1,2), we must "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17). We must have authority from our Lord for everything we say or do. We will come to the proper answer to our questions only by appealing to the authority of Jesus Christ, the New Testament.
We first must note specific commands of our King. For example, in Matthew 28:19 we find, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The Lord gave them three specific commands: GO-TEACH-BAPTIZE. These are things they must do to maintain fellowship with the Lord. But consider them further. He told them to GO. Did He specify anything about carrying out this command? No. They were left with the liberty to choose for themselves how they would go and by what roads they would get to those to be taught. We call this general authority since our Lord did not specify those things necessary to carry out the specific command. They were authorized to choose for themselves those things necessary to carry out the specific command so long as those things were lawful (cf. 2 Tim. 2:5).
He also told them to TEACH. Has He specified anything about their teaching? Yes. In this text He told them to teach "all nations." The teaching must not discriminate against anyone. In Mark's account we learn the Lord specified they were to teach the gospel, or good news, of Jesus Christ (16:15). There were some things which He did not specify. He authorized them, by general authority, to choose what methods they would use, how long their lessons would be, and what aids to use in teaching.
The same point is seen in the command to BAPTIZE. He specified how it was to be done by the very use of the word baptize, which means immersion or a burial. It must be in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Only those believe the gospel message should be baptized (Mk. 16:15,16). But He left it up to them as to whether they did the baptizing in a lake, a river, a pond, or a shallow creek, just so long as there was enough water to immerse.
The point I seek to make is we must first consider what has been specifically commanded by our Lord and then consider if He specified how to carry out the command. Only after considering all that has been specified on a subject can we consider what is authorized by general authority.
With these things in mind we consider what areas of activity the Lord has specified in the church may be involved. From Eph. 4:12; 1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Cor. 16:1,2 and other passages we see only three areas of activity authorized for the local church. They are EDIFICATION, BENEVOLENCE and EVANGELISM. In each of these three areas the Lord has been specific about some things while leaving other things to our discretion. Whatever the local congregation contemplates doing must be found in one of these three areas.
Many of those who advocate the local church may build and maintain a structure for social gatherings argue it is authorized by general authority under the category of edification. (I am aware of none who would argue it would fall under evangelism or benevolence.) They contend since some edification of he saints is produced from such gatherings, such gatherings must be authorized under edification. Let us focus on the subject of edification and note what it is, what has been specified to produce it and what has been left to our discretion.
The English word edification in our New Testaments come from one of two Greek words. The first, , is a noun and the second, , is the verb form of the noun. The basic idea from these words is the promotion of spiritual growth in other Christians. It is the act of helping another child of God to "grow up in all things" in Christ (cf. Eph. 4:15).
Our Lord has specified what is to be used to produce edification. Peter said, "as newborn babes, desire the sincere mild of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2). To grow up in Christ we must desire the word of God. To aid others in their process of growth we must take them the word or encourage them to spend time in study of the word.
Paul said, "we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying" (2 Cor. 12:19). The activities of his life will illustrate the kinds of activities that promote spiritual growth. He went about preaching the gospel; confirming, or strengthening, the saints by exhorting them to continue in the faith (Acts 14:22); praying for the growth of the saints (Phil. 1:9-11); and writing to them to aid in their growth (cf. Eph. 3:1-ff). In each case Paul either made direct use of God's word to build them up or prayed they would increase in their understanding of God's word to be built up. Only through the word can we edify or be edified.
Our King has been specific about what is to produce edification but He left certain things to our discretion. He has authorized us, by general authority, to use anything necessary to fulfill this command, so long as they are lawful. We may make use of printed materials such as study aids and bulletins; build separate rooms in our meeting houses to accommodate classes to teach and thus edify or purchase blackboards or audio-visual equipment to aid in the understanding the word of God. Whatever is lawful and would directly aid in edifying the saints is authorized by our Lord. We must be certain such things would aid in our understanding of God's will before claiming them authorized by general authority under the command to edify.
If it can be shown social meals would aid in edifying the saints, then "fellowship" halls and kitchens would be authorized as well as anything else necessary to provide social meals. Do social meals aid in our understanding of God's will? The answer is NO. Social meals promote physical strength, not spiritual strength. Do they in any way encourage the participants to meditate more on the work of God? They answer is again NO. The eating of a meal does NOTHING to encourage us to further Bible study.
Some would then respond it gives the brethren the opportunity to talk about Bible things. I certainly could not deny there would occasionally arise conversations about God's word than may in fact edify. But any such edification would clearly be accidental, since the gathering was to eat a social meal and not to edify. But consider this. IF social meals, supported financially by the local congregation, are authorized because they afford the possibility of a conversation wherein edification could come, then would not the local congregation be authorized to do just about anything if it afforded the possibility of an edifying conversation? Surely we can see there would be no end to what the church could do if it were so.
Since eating a social meal does not aid in edifying the saints, it is not authorized by general authority under the specific command to edify. Unless it can be shown where social meals are specifically commanded or where they would be a lawful aid to carry out some specific command, we cannot, as a congregation, support such.
Brethren, let us learn to be content with what the Lord has told us to do and stay away from the innovations of men.
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This page was last updated on Wednesday, November 04, 1998.