Wednesday, 27 November 2019

What About Eating in the Church Building? (Part 2)

In our previous post we addressed the question: Is it contrary to God’s revealed will if a group of Christians eats a meal together under the same roof where they ordinarily assemble for worship? Darrell Hamilton believes it is potentially wrong, affirming: “The issue is over having large social gatherings in a church owned building where the facilities (e.g., a fellowship hall) and expendable goods (e.g., paper products, coffee, cups, cleaning material) are funded by the Lord’s treasury.”1

Darrell not only appeals to 1 Cor. 11:17-22 (which we analyzed in our previous post), he also observes that (a) the earliest Christians met in the temple courts but broke bread in their homes (Acts 2:46); (b) food and spirituality should be kept separate (Rom. 14:17 ff.); (c) providing a meal can distract from seeking spiritual nourishment (John 6:26-27); and (d) a few anecdotal observations. None of this, however, establishes a solid biblical case against the question at hand (read the above passages in context!). The main issue, as Darrell has noted, is having social gatherings (shared meals) in a facility purchased by the collective funds of the church.

Darrell states, “Our goal should always be to do everything because we are convinced that we are authorized to do that,” a statement with which I do not disagree. He then claims generic authorization for a church building, seeing that Christians are expected to regularly assemble together (1 Cor. 5:4; 11:20), requiring a place but no specific site is biblically enjoined. Since the treasury of funds collected by the church “actually belongs to the Lord,” Darrell reasons, “then it needs to be spent on things the Lord authorizes.” 

What About Love Feasts?

So-called “love feasts”2 were evidently an important part of the Christian experience in the NT (Jude 12). If 1st-century followers of Christ were expected to build loving relationships with one another (John 13:34-35; 1 Thess. 4:9-10; et al.), and eating meals together is one of the ways they did this, we obviously have a divinely sanctioned activity. The place is incidental, whether food is consumed in a separate location than the worship assembly (Acts 2:46) or in the same place (Acts 20:11), albeit at a different time.

Darrell suggests, “we take authority to build a building based primarily on the example that synagogues existed and were tacitly approved…” I disagree with his adverbial “primarily,” but if the existence and utilization of synagogues were tacitly approved by Jesus and early disciples, the same can be said of communal meals. If the treasury of funds collected by the church must “be spent on things the Lord authorizes,” facilitating a community of love and providing opportunities for edification and fellowship fall into this category. Whether it is called a “fellowship meal” or a “love feast,” when it fulfills its intended purpose, it cannot be disregarded or condemned by citing abuses.3

The well-known biblical text fostering Christian assemblies (Heb. 10:23-25) is certainly inclusive of corporate worship but cannot be restricted to it. Should we not firmly hold fast the confession of our hope at other times? Is it just during a worship assembly that we are to stimulate one another to love and good works? Do we encourage each other only as we worship together? If Christians meet outside the designated worship times for mutual encouragement and to build up love and engender service, is the exhortation of Heb. 10:23-25 being fulfilled or not? If so, can a church-owned facility purchased from “the Lord’s treasury” be used for this biblically authorized gathering? What if the setting of this gathering is a “love feast,” which is also divinely sanctioned?

Why is this even an issue?

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Darrell Hamilton, “Q&A: Eating in the Building,” La Vista Church of Christ (n.d.), <Link>. The article does not address water fountains, restrooms, or cleaning and maintaining church facilities.
     2 In Jude 12 the expression taîs agápais humōn is used in conjunction with the word suneuōcheomai (to “feast with”), thus “your love feasts.” See also 2 Pet. 2:13 (ASV, CSB, ESV, ISV, NIV, N/KJV).
     3 Darrell appeals to abuses of the ancient Jewish temple and synagogues by the carnally-minded (Matt. 6:2, 5; 21:12-13; 23:5-7; John 2:13-16), then attempts to draw an analogy with what he perceives as modern-day abuses of church buildings (citing, e.g., Rom. 14:15-17; 1 Cor. 11:21-22), particularly “church financed fellowship halls.”


Image credit: https://prayingthelectionary.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/acts-242-47-they-devoted-themselves/

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

What About Eating in the Church Building? (Part 1)

Is it contrary to God’s revealed will if a group of Christians eats a meal together under the same roof where they ordinarily assemble for worship? Some would say “yes” and appeal to Paul’s directives to the mid-1st-century church at Corinth. The apostle writes, “No! For do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and dishonor those having nothing? Shall I commend you in this? I do not commend you! …. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home so that you may not come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:22, 34).1

Kyle Pope reasons from this passage, “Scripture prohibits or proscribes works and actions for the church assembly that it does not prohibit or proscribe at all times…. Eating together for hunger is good outside the assembly (1 Cor. 11:22a, 34), but to do it ‘as a church’ (NKJV) or literally ‘in the church’ (1 Cor. 11:18, KJV, ASV), beyond eating the ‘Lord’s Supper’ (1 Cor. 11:20), is to ‘despise the church of God’ (1 Cor. 11:22b)” (GA 37).2

The problem with this interpretation is the reading of these verses in isolation through the lens of modern-day religious experience, where the physical place of Christian assemblies is often regarded as intrinsically hallowed (contra John 4:19-24). However, Paul’s original intent is more clearly understood if we give attention to historical and literary context.

A Closer Look at Paul’s Exhortation

In the broader context (1 Cor. 11:17-34) the apostle is not upset with these brethren for merely eating together. His rebuke concerns defiling the Lord’s Supper by conflating the sacred and the common, and disrupting unity by segregating the church according to social classes. The assemblies had eroded to the point of no longer fulfilling their intended purpose; there was division, particularly between the more affluent members and the poor (vv. 17-22). 

The Corinth church evidently met in the home of one of the more prominent members (Rom. 16:23), also providing a venue for customary banqueting (1 Cor. 11:21, 33). Love feasts or shared meals among brethren were not uncommon in 1st-century churches (Acts 2:46; Jude 12). Apparently the Corinthian home-owner hosting church gatherings was inviting other affluent members to eat a meal prior to worship, before the less advantaged (incl. slave) members could arrive.3 They were over-indulging in food and drink while others were left wanting, and such partiality among Christians demonstrates contempt for God’s church (1 Cor. 11:22; cf. Jas. 2:1-9). If this is how they were going to act, they should eat and drink at home before coming to worship.

The communion service ought to signify unity (1 Cor. 10:16-17), but at Corinth it was engendering disunity. The congregational meal is another expression of unity, but at Corinth it was further promoting division. The Lords Supper is special and emblematic, not to satisfy an empty stomach, but at Corinth it had digressed into a feast of overindulgence. In response Paul gives corrective instructions to restore the sacred memorial to what it was originally meant to be  (1 Cor. 11:23-29).

Partaking of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily” would involve failing to reflect on the Lord’s death and having disdain for fellow-believers, thus “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27; cf. Heb. 6:6; 10:29). Judgment awaits those who fail to discern (distinguish between sacred and common) the body (1 Cor. 11:29), i.e., the Lord’s physical body that he offered on the cross (cf. v. 27; 10:16) as well as his spiritual body, the church (cf. vv. 17, 18, 20-22; 10:17; 12:12-27). Consequently, many in Corinth were spiritually weak, sick, and asleep (1 Cor. 11:30).

When assembled to eat, therefore, “wait for one another,” i.e., stop showing favoritism and neglecting the poorer members of the church (v. 33; cf. vv. 17-22). While the main purpose of Christian assemblies ought to be communion with the Lord and with one another, if this purpose is being diverted by physical hunger, then eat at home lest you stand condemned (v. 34a).

Present-day Application

The above directives still apply today. However, to claim this passage prohibits eating meals in a church building is far removed from its original intent. During the NT era there was no such thing as a “church building” in the modern sense. Writing from Corinth, Paul sends greetings from Gaius, “my host and the host of the whole church” (Rom. 16:23). If the Christian community at Corinth met in this brother’s home, where would he and his family eat if the church’s meeting place was supposed to be off limits? Where would the congregational meals be shared, if this were an actual prohibition, and what about the other house churches in the NT (Acts 12:5, 12; 16:40; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2)?4

Kyle Pope, quoted above, claims that eating together outside the assembly is permissible, “but to do it ‘as a church’ (NKJV) or literally ‘in the church’ (1 Cor. 11:18, KJV, ASV) … is to ‘despise the church of God’ (1 Cor. 11:22b)” (GA 37). This is a very curious deduction, not only in view of the broader context of the passage, but earlier in his article Kyle biblically defined the word “church,” and nothing is said about any temporal edifice in which the church assembles. 

In the very next paragraph Kyle writes, “Does any act that members of a church do constitute acting as a church, or ‘in the church’? No. We are Christians at all times, but if a group of Christians goes shopping, camping, starts a business, or goes to the movies are they doing these things ‘as a church’? No. What’s the difference? The stated purpose of the assembly” (ibid., emp. added KLM). If the stated purpose of an assembly is to worship, or if the stated purpose of an assembly is fellowship, the physical premises of either is irrelevant.

Conclusion

Jesus provided spiritual instruction to thousands of people before feeding them a meal in the same location (Luke 9:11-17). He shared a feast with his immediate disciples in the very room he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:20-29). Paul ate food in the same place he had just preached (Acts 20:11). Whether a church assembles in its own building, in a house, in a schoolroom, under a tree, or anywhere else, there is nothing inherently sacred about the physical locality. Worshiping together (including the Lord’s Supper) and eating together (excluding the Lord’s Supper) are two separate activities, and if each occurs at different times in the same place, no clear biblical teaching is violated. Creating a rule or prohibition to the contrary cannot be substantiated by sound biblical exegesis.

Another objection is raised, however, concerning eating in a facility purchased with funds from the church treasury, which we will address in our next post.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson, “Distinguishing Expedients from Additions: Opening Statements, Church Benevolence, Institutions, Cooperation,” GA 161:10 (Oct. 2019): 28-40; also Truth Magazine 10:63 (Oct. 2019): 22-34.
     3 Cf. 1 Cor. 1:26; 7:20-24; 12:13. The Corinth of Paul’s day was a Roman colony, and it was customary among affluent Romans to make distinctions between honored guests and less-honored guests, showing favoritism to the former.
     4 See K. L. Moore, “House Churches,” Moore Perspective (24 July 2019), <Link>.



Image credit: http://greenlanefilms.co.uk/totnes-community-potluck-2/

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Non-institutionalism (Part 2): Institutions and Cooperation

On Institutions

Affirming the prohibition of church support of institutions, Kyle Pope writes, “If there is no approved example of collective benevolence to non-Christians (or support of human institutions) in the NT, the same approach to biblical authority that leads us to mutually reject the instrument should lead us in unity to mutually rejecting these practices as additions, not expedients” (GA 35-36).1

Kyle seems to take the position that an “approved example” in scripture is required for biblical authorization, but where does this hermeneutical rule come from? Ascertaining the divine will involves more than just locating a specific account of action in the Bible. What about direct statements and necessary inferences? Instrumental accompaniment in Christian worship is unauthorized not only because there is no approved NT example; it further lacks any explicit or implied sanction. In the previous post we analyzed 2 Cor. 9:12-13 and Gal. 6:9-10, authorizing collective benevolence to non-Christians.

Kyle notes that the word koinōnia in 2 Cor. 9:13, variously rendered “sharing,” “contribution,” or “distribution,” is often translated “fellowship” and the same gift is described in the previous chapter as “the fellowship (koinōnia) of the ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4). Kyle then points out that the same word appears just two chapters earlier in 2 Cor. 6:14-15, and he reasons: “are we to conclude that Paul prohibits koinōnia with unbelievers, only to commend it three chapters later?” (GA 36). 

Sadly Kyle has committed a blatant exegetical fallacy here by ignoring his own prefatory remark, “Certainly, context determines the meaning of any word …” If 2 Corinthians chap. 6 concerns individual behavior and chaps. 89 are about collective activity, would Kyle still want to make this comparison? In chap. 6 Paul is forbidding unholy alliances with the unbelieving world. Everything he contrasts with Christian values in vv. 14-16 is descriptive of the pagan environment of mid-1st-century Corinth from which believers are to be cognitively and behaviorally separated. The Corinthian saints are being reminded to make a complete break, not with all their associations in the world (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10; 7:13-14; 10:27; 14:23), but with their idolatrous and sinful past (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:7, 14).2 By the time we get to chaps. 8–9 of 2 Corinthians, Paul is addressing an entirely different topic, and it is baffling that the positive employment of koinōnia in these verses would be proscriptively interpreted according to an unrelated usage in an unrelated text. 

If caring for widows is both an individual (family) and church obligation (1 Tim. 5:3-16) and constitutes, in part, “pure and undefiled religion before God” (Jas. 1:27a), would the same apply to orphan care (Jas. 1:27b) and other good works (2 Cor. 9:8; Heb. 13:21)? What about a Christian who is unable to provide adequate homecare for an aging widow but makes provision for her needs in a specialized geriatric institution? Has he fulfilled his family duty or is he religiously impure and defiled? Whether a good work is accomplished directly or indirectly, it is still accomplished. If funding a parachurch institution subverts God-given responsibilities or compromises congregational autonomy, it ought not be supported. Otherwise, each Christian and every self-governing church has the liberty to determine the most expedient ways to do the work God has commissioned us to do, including the employment of means.

On Cooperation

Based on the presupposition that an “approved example” in the Bible is necessary for biblical authorization and a practice is forbidden if it “is not demonstrated in Scripture,” Kyle maintains that the only authorized agency of supporting the work of the church is “sending direct …. directly supporting …. sending support directly …” (GA 38). So if funding is to be “direct,” how is this realistically accomplished? Relief aid was sent from the Antioch church by a pair of envoys (Acts 11:30); benevolence contributions were sent by multiple churches through congregational delegates (1 Cor. 16:3-4; 2 Cor. 8:19; Acts 20:4); missionary support was sent by a plurality of Macedonian churches via Christian emissaries (2 Cor. 11:7-9); congregational support from Philippi was sent to Paul by a church representative (Phil. 4:18). If these are the only approved examples of how church support can be transmitted, would all other channels be disallowed and considered additions to the biblical pattern? 

Assuming we are not restricted to ancient modes of transportation used by 1st-century couriers, are modern-day churches bound by these “approved examples” of sending support by way of congregational delegates? Would the biblical pattern be violated by using banks, shipping companies, postal and delivery services, electronic transfers, et al.? Funds cannot be “sent directly” without some type of intermediary facilitation. Either we are bound by a particular method employed by 1st-century churches, or we are generally authorized to provide benevolent and missionary funding by practical expediencies that enable us to most effectively accomplish the work of the church. 

While there are numerous accounts in the Bible of cooperation among autonomous congregations, how this cooperation is to be administered or coordinated is not specifically addressed. Paul sometimes received financial support from a plurality of churches (2 Cor. 11:8), sometimes from a single church (Phil. 4:16), and sometimes he supported himself (Acts 20:34), but no administrative pattern is prescribed. A congregation whose leadership accepts the responsibility of supporting a missionary or benevolent need by coordinating the funds contributed by other supporting churches provides an expedient way to manage funds in a cooperative effort without sacrificing congregational autonomy.

The Antioch church sent relief aid to help needy brethren in the region of Judea, and they sent it to “the elders” (Acts 11:30). This benevolent ministry was accomplished in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 12:25), and even though there appears to have been a plurality of congregations in Judea (9:31; 11:1; cf. 1 Thess. 2:14), only the Jerusalem church is specifically mentioned as having elders at the time (15:2-6, 22-23; 16:4; 21:17-18). It is at least plausible that the Jerusalem elders received the relief aid from Antioch and then dispersed it among the needy brethren (or congregations) in the region. This would not have violated congregational autonomy but would have simply been an expedient way to meet the needs of all the brethren concerned. The point is: the needy Judean Christians ultimately received the benevolent aid, irrespective of how it was administered or distributed.

Conclusion

It all comes down to the way the divine will, as revealed in scripture, is to be ascertained. If the Bible is viewed as a storehouse of proof-texts to be selected and arranged to bolster a set of beliefs, the danger is allowing little consideration of context and authorial intent. The traditional “command, example, necessary inference” methodology is helpful but is also subject to abuse if arbitrary rules are created, along with the binding of inferences that are not necessary, producing faulty conclusions and needless brotherhood divisions.

 --Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson, “Distinguishing Expedients from Additions: Opening Statements, Church Benevolence, Institutions, Cooperation,” GA 161:10 (Oct. 2019): 28-40; also Truth Magazine 10:63 (Oct. 2019): 22-34.
     2 See K. L. Moore, “Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers,” Moore Perspective (17 Aug. 2016), <Link>; and “Have No Fellowship with the Unfruitful Works of Darkness,” Moore Perspective (28 Feb. 2018), <Link>.


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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Non-institutionalism (Part 1): Church Benevolence

My friend Doug Burleson has been engaged in a series of written and oral discussions with Kyle Pope about divisive issues among so-called “institutional” and “non-institutional” brethren, recently published in the October issues of Truth Magazine and Gospel Advocate.Doug, with whom I wholeheartedly agree, has done a masterful job addressing these concerns, and it is not my intention to try to “improve” upon the material he has presented. Nevertheless, these men were allowed only limited words and space, and I find it helpful to think through and express my own convictions about these matters. 

On Church Benevolence

In defense of his view of saints-only congregational benevolence, Kyle writes, “the record of Scripture is that collective church benevolence (i.e. help provided from the collection taken upon the Lord’s Day) was always given only to Christians…. There is no example of church benevolence to non-Christians—but also in the name for this collection—it is the ‘collection for the saints’ (1 Cor.16:1-2)” (GA 30).

Kyle seems to be reading the biblical text proscriptively (cf. also GA 36), thinking Paul’s allusion to “the collection for the saints” informs his readers that using church funds to help anyone other than Christians is prohibited. Contextually, however, Paul employs this descriptive phrase because the particular collection of funds he has in mind was intended for a special need involving a particular group of saints, viz. impoverished mid-1st-century Judean Christians (see also Rom. 15:25-31; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12). When Paul later directs his readers to pray “for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18), surely he is not implicitly forbidding prayers on behalf of the unsaved. When he commends those who have “love for all the saints” (Col. 1:4; Philem. 5), it does not follow that godly love cannot be extended to anyone else.

If 1 Cor. 16:1-4 establishes the only acceptable usage of the Lord’s day collection, was the giving to stop when this particular need was met? If the weekly contributions continued, were the collected funds only to be used to help impoverished mid-1st-century Judean saints, or in principle could cooperative benevolence be extended to any needy saints, whether foreign or local, thus beyond the original intent and specific wording and application of these verses? Moreover, would usage of the funds also be limited to providing for material needs alone? When Paul goes on to invite the Corinthian church to assist him in his ongoing work (1 Cor. 16:6; 2 Cor. 1:16; cp. Rom. 15:24), where was this support to come from? If the Lord’s day collection was intended for saints-only benevolence, how could funds from the same source be used to assist Paul in ministering to unbelievers (Acts 20:22-24; cf. 1 Cor. 9:11-14)? It seems there has been a dichotomy created here that is neither demanded nor supported by the biblical text.

If 1 Cor. 16:1-4 is proscriptive, what about needy families where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not (7:13-14)? Must congregational benevolent funds be withheld from destitute brethren to avoid helping non-Christian family members, or can church funds be used to assist these families inclusive of unbelievers? Is a specific example in scripture necessary to make this decision? There is no quandary here if 2 Cor. 9:12-13 is taken at face value, where brethren are commended for their liberal sharing with the saints and with “all.”Kyle suggests the “all” is “likely” a reference to saints outside of Jerusalem (GA 36), but he makes an assumption not explicit in the text. Perhaps Paul’s letter to the Galatians provides a better commentary.

The churches of Galatia received the same instructions on giving as the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:1). As charitable provision is both personal and communal (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 9:7-8), so too are the directives of Galatians chap. 6. Restoring the erring is an individual as well as a collective duty (Gal. 6:1; cf. 2 Thess. 3:13-15); burden-bearing is the shared responsibility of “one another” (Gal. 6:2) and oneself (Gal. 6:5); supporting gospel teachers is framed with singular terminology (Gal. 6:6), while cooperative applicability is not discounted (1 Cor. 9:11); the principle of sowing and reaping is worded in individualistic terms (Gal. 6:7-8) but is just as relevant communally (Hos. 8:7; 10:12-13; 2 Cor. 9:5-14). Doing good “to all,” beyond “those of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:9-10), cannot be restricted to an individual exercise that somehow prohibits collectivity. Six first person plurals are clustered together in these two verses, followed by the notation, “I have written to you [plural] …” (v. 11; cf. 1:2). Whether a non-Christian is helped by an individual donation or a pool of individual donations, the end result is the same and Gal. 6:9-10 is in no way compromised. 

Kyle says, “If something is authorized, but the exact mechanism to accomplish it is not specified we may consider something an expedient if it helps us accomplish the thing authorized” (GA 31). Charitable kindness “to all” is in fact biblically authorized, serving not only as a Christ-like evangelistic tool but as an expression of godly love.3

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Kyle Pope and Doug Burleson, “Distinguishing Expedients from Additions: Opening Statements, Church Benevolence, Institutions, Cooperation,” GA 161:10 (Oct. 2019): 28-40; also Truth Magazine 10:63 (Oct. 2019): 22-34.
     2 When Paul delivered the “collection for the saints,” there were multiplied thousands of believing and non-believing ethnic Jews in Jerusalem at the time (Acts 21:20). Later Paul reportedly describes the benevolent funds he delivered as “alms and offerings to my nation [éthnos]” (Acts 24:17), employing a descriptive phrase that earlier in the chapter (v. 2) and elsewhere in Luke’s writings (Luke 7:5; 23:2; Acts 10:22) is inclusive of non-Christian Jews. Further, the qualifiers “if you might approve” and “if it is suitable” in 1 Cor. 16:3-4 indicate some degree of flexibility in the process.
     3 Doug expounds upon this last point, citing passages like Matt. 5:45; Rom. 2:4; 1 Tim. 2:4; Tit. 2:11; 3:4 (GA 32, 39).


ADDENDUM: Several years ago my wife and I were in Singapore, and the brethren wanted to take us out to eat every night of the week. The first night we were asked if we liked spicy food, to which we answered affirmatively. Each night thereafter we were taken to restaurants that only served spicy food. Apparently our positive response was interpreted proscriptively, assuming we liked only spicy food and therefore didn’t like non-spicy food. An inference was made that was not a necessary inference.


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