As we have seen in The Church Treasury, I: Benevolence, many denominations burden the church with responsibilities it has not been called upon to bear, especially in terms of benevolence to non-saints and the creation of unnecessary institutions to facilitate benevolence and evangelism.
Many denominations also burden the collective with other responsibilities, including healing the ill, educating children, and feeding people, among other things. We will investigate many different aspects of these responsibilities below. Before we do, however, it is important that we remind ourselves of two important principles that we establish in other sections.
In Instrumental Music: Silence Considerations, it is established that silence does not authorize or condemn in and of itself, but that there must be either corresponding generic authority to establish liberty, or specific authority to establish prohibition. The following practices come with no New Testament command that the church should engage in them; it is hard to say, therefore, how they could in any way be authorized and profitable for the church.
In The Church Treasury, I: Benevolence: The Individual and the Church, it is established that the individual and the church, while often sharing obligations, are not interchangeable. 1 Timothy 5:16 provides the principle that the individual is not the same as the church, for the individual is to be burdened with a believing widow so that the church can help others. Many of the practices concerning which we will speak are profitable for individuals to do; there is no evidence from the Scriptures, however, that the church has been burdened with these responsibilities.
Nevertheless, many times when people are questioned about many of the practices mentioned below, especially in terms of where the church is authorized to erect buildings for the purposes of healing, fellowship, exercise, etc., they will respond by wondering what authority exists for a church building at all.
It is a good question, indeed; there are no church buildings in the New Testament, nor is there ever a command to build one. The church building is really a liberty: an expedient for the assembling of the saints. The expedient is authorized from the New Testament by the clear commandment to assemble in Hebrews 10:25:
…not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.
The command establishes that we are to assemble; we have examples in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 that Christians assembled on the first day of the week to break bread and to have a collection, and that further assemblies could also be held daily if one so desired (Acts 2:46). Nevertheless, what do we see in regards to where we should assemble in the New Testament?
We see the following three examples in the New Testament:
- The Temple, from Acts 2:46:
And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart.
- Solomon’s Portico, from Acts 5:12:
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
- Houses of Christians, from Philemon 1:2:
…and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house.
We see from these three examples that Christians met wherever they could, and that because of the varying places, God has shown through His Word His indifference to where His saints meet. Thus, since we have generic authority concerning our meeting place, we have authority to build a building for that purpose.
Sections on this Page
- Centers of Education
- Kitchens/Fellowship Halls
- Business Enterprises
Some denominations create and support hospitals to care for the sick. Oftentimes it is argued that since Jesus healed the sick, the church can help to heal the sick. Is this what we see established in the Bible?
As individuals, if we have the opportunity to help some people who are ill, by all means we should do so. Such is what James expects in James 5:14:
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.
It is interesting to see that James expects the elders to pray over the ill person, and that it is the prayer of faith that shall save. James does not expect the church to build hospitals for this purpose; instead, the elders and the sick person are to trust in God.
Does the fact that Jesus heals people mean that we should build hospitals? It is clear that part of Jesus’ ministry did include healing the sick (Matthew 4:24), yet what was the primary mission of Jesus while on the earth? Jesus Himself establishes His purpose in Luke 19:10:
For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus’ purpose, then, was to “seek and save the lost”, not from their illnesses per se, but from their sins! Healing the sick was a sign for the people to realize that Jesus was the Christ. Many who were healed realized in the process the need to follow Jesus (cf. John 9). Nevertheless, Jesus’ primary purpose has always been to redeem lost souls, and the church is to carry on that mission (Matthew 28:18-20, Philippians 4:15-17). The church has nowhere been burdened with the responsibility of building and funding hospitals.
Centers of Education
Many churches today fund centers of education, be it for primary or secondary education, private colleges, or schools for religious instruction. Do the Scriptures indicate that the church has been so burdened?
Christians have the right to be educated; Luke himself was a physician (Colossians 4:14). We are also to be educated in religious matters, as Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15:
Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.
We are to teach and to learn (Colossians 3:16), but we never see a church erecting a facility for the purpose of educating anyone. The only New Testament examples of religious instruction involve the regular teaching and preaching in the assemblies of the saints (Cf. Acts 2:42) and Paul and Timothy, Titus, and others, when the more experienced preacher (Paul) continually taught Timothy and Titus while they worked with him in the churches and by letter (cf. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus).
The primary responsibility for the education of children lay with the parents of the child (Ephesians 6:4). If the parents decide to send their child to a public or private school to learn of secular matters, and instruct in religion in their home, or if they decide to home school in both secular and religious matters, well and good; they have liberty in that matter. Nevertheless, the church has not been burdened with the responsibility of training up children in secular matters, nor to create and/or fund an institution to teach children in any way, shape, or form.
Many churches today have built kitchens and/or fellowship halls to encourage fellowship amongst the saints. While it may seem like a good idea, has the church been so burdened?
Christians certainly should get together and have association with one another; hospitality involving the saints is commanded by Peter in 1 Peter 4:9. While we have examples of Christians getting together for social reasons, including the eating of meals (cf. Acts 2:46), nowhere do we see that the corporate church has in fact facilitated such association with a building or any other such thing. Further, we read the following in 1 Corinthians 11:19-22:
For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you. When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper: for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.
Clearly, the church in Corinth had division fostered within itself, and it would seem from this passage that some of this division was being caused by eating and drinking during their assembly. Paul here is delineating between activities while assembled and activities to be done at home: partake of the Lord’s Supper together; eat and drink at home.
Individuals are to open their homes and share meals with brethren; the church has not been so burdened.
When the matter of the fellowship hall or the kitchen is discussed, many times people will ask what is wrong with “eating in the building”. The matter is not about “eating in the building,” so to speak. Many times children require food during a long assembly; some people for other health reasons need to eat at specified times. There may be a time when people are working on the building and it is convenient to eat there. Nevertheless, there is a vast difference between an individual or two eating in the building for some necessary purpose and setting aside space in the church building or erecting another building for the sole purpose of preparing food and/or eating within. The issue is not about “eating in the building” per se, but whether or not the Scriptures have burdened the church with the obligation of facilitating the association of its constituents; no such authorization has been put forward.
Argument: The fellowship hall is an expedient for us to have fellowship.
Answer: As we have seen previously in The Church Treasury, I: Benevolence: Expediencies?, if one is going to have an authorized “expedient,” the expedient must be facilitating the fulfillment of a command. As with giving benevolence to non-saints, so it is with association: nowhere is the church commanded do such things. Yes, there are examples of the church getting together for a social function, but where do we see that examples are to be expedited? Where has the church been burdened with the responsibility of expediting the God-given obligations of the individual? The Scriptures indicate no such burden!
There are many denominations and churches that have built gymnasiums. Such facilities are designed to help better the physical bodies of the members and to provide association.
While 1 Corinthians 6:19 indicates that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” and therefore that it would be a good idea to keep the body in good shape, the Scriptures nowhere command physical exercise, even for the individual. Paul does establish that physical exercise does profit a little in 1 Timothy 4:8, and therefore a Christian certainly has the right to exercise. Nevertheless, since physical exercise is nowhere commanded, even for the individual, in the Scriptures, how can a church building a gymnasium for that purpose be justified Biblically? It is clear that the church has nowhere been so burdened!
In many larger churches today, it is popular for various kinds of businesses to be run within the church campus, somehow or another connected to that particular church. These businesses include coffee shops, bookstores, and other enterprises. Some denominations even serve as landlords or run investment corporations and may perhaps own and run facilities in no way connected to any religious purpose.
While it may be profitable for individuals to engage in business and to support their families (1 Timothy 5:8), the church has nowhere been burdened with the responsibility of operating or overseeing business enterprises. The Bible indicates that the church is to support its work by the freewill contributions of its members (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15), or in times of distress, money for benevolence from other churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15). There is no other Biblically approved way for the church to make money. We see no indication that the church ought to be involved in coffee houses, bookstores, real estate, or any other such thing.
Sometimes one or more of the above practices will be defended in the name of evangelism: the fellowship hall or the gymnasium or the bookstore or some other such thing may lead someone to Christ. Is such a sufficient justification for these practices?
We have previously discussed a similar matter in The Church Treasury, I: Benevolence: The Ends Justify the Means?. One of the important points mentioned regarded to what you convert people when you use food or medical care or a gym or other such things. Are such persons being converted to Jesus and His truth or to the various services provided?
Jesus provides a helpful illustration: after He has fed the five thousand, and the people have followed after Him, He says the following to them in John 6:26:
Jesus answered them and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled.”
While it is true that Jesus fed the multitude, the multitude was converted to bread, not Jesus. This becomes apparent as Jesus preaches some difficult truths in John 6:27-65. In John 6:66, it is clear that only the original twelve disciples remain with Him. Of the five thousand who ate bread, how many were converted to serve Jesus? Not one. If such was the result for our God and Savior, how should we expect to fare any better?
To build and maintain such facilities is by no means a profitable form of evangelism, and such is indicated by the example of our Lord Himself. We ought to preach the Gospel of Christ by promoting His spiritual truth, and not to try to attach the Gospel to some form of a gimmick or “bait and switch” concept.
- Fellowship Halls: Expedient or Hindrance?
- The Nature of the Church: Collective Responsibilities
- The Nature of the Church: Practices Overburdening the Church