In the November 1997 issue of the Gospel Herald we ran an article on the front page from the pen of Ron Halbrook answering the question: "Why no 'fellowship hall' or gym?" The article originally appeared in the Guardian of Truth. We felt then, and still feel now, that the article presented the truth. It was a good and timely piece.
However, several of our readers took offense arguing that their practices of church sponsored social meals, game and party rooms, and country club-like athletic facilities are authorized in the Scriptures. Several arguments were put forth in an attempt to justify the practices of many churches of Christ in the Panhandle area. We thought it would be profitable to analyze those arguments. We do so hoping to continue a dialogue on the subject with our brethren.
One sister suggested that she would much rather have the elders oversee and the local church provide this recreation and entertainment than the denominations. She thought it was better to have the members and their children together with other Christians than to have them down with the Baptists or Catholics. I agree that brethren ought to spend time in association with other Christians (1 Cor. 15:33). However, that does not authorize the local church to become the principle provider of the entertainment.
This is getting the proverbial "cart before the horse." What brethren need is a command, statement, example or necessary implication from the New Testament which authorizes the church to provide such recreation and entertainment. It is not "better" for the local church to engage in or provide anything that is not authorized. Following this reasoning we could bring any evil the members wanted into the work and worship of the church simply by taking it away from the sectarians. Would singing with the instrument in worship with Christians, rather that doing it with the Baptists and Catholics be "better?" Certainly not! Singing with the instrument in worship is not authorized whether we do it with the brethren or with the Baptists. Likewise, church sponsored recreation being unauthorized is necessarily evil.
The work of the church is clearly outlined in the Scriptures. The church is to be engaged in evangelism (Mark 16:15, 16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Thess. 1:8; Acts 13:2, 3, 26-30), edification (Eph. 4:11-16; Acts 2:41), and benevolence (Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-7; 2 Cor. 8:14, 15). Now, where do the social meals and family fun nights fit into this pattern for the work of the local church? The social meal is not evangelism because Jesus condemned the use of food as a means of attracting "disciples" (Jno. 6:25-35, 48-63). It is not edification because Paul said the church was not edified through meat or drink (Rom. 14:17-19), but rather through "the word of His grace" (Acts 20:32). Neither is it benevolence since those participating in it are not in need or having any needs supplied (Acts 2:44-46; Rom. 15:26).
Yet, brethren engaging in church sponsored recreation have tried to argue from several passages that it is authorized on its own merits. Thus, they would broaden the work of the church to be social and recreational. Let us look at these arguments.
"Breaking of bread in Acts 2:42 is a social meal." Read the text: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayers." Notice that with which this "breaking of bread" is closely associated, items of worship. Yet, my brethren who engage in the church social meal are careful to point out that "it is not a part of the worship." Well then, this cannot be their ice cream socials, Valentine parties, or Seniors Forty-two Tournaments.
The "breaking of bread" in this text is the Lord's Supper. By a figure of speech known as synecdoche, one element of the Supper stands to indicate the whole Supper. Compare 1 Corinthians 10:16 with the above text and notice that we "bless the cup" and "break the bread." In 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, Paul refers to eating the bread and drinking the cup; however, in 11:33 he just mentions eating, again synecdoche. It is apparent that the "breaking of bread" in Acts 2:42 is the Lord's Supper and not a church social meal.
"Breaking bread in Acts 2:46 is a church social meal." We will concede that the breaking of bread in this passage is a common meal and not the Lord's Supper. The term "breaking bread" is used in Scripture of both. We know this meal is not the Lord's Supper because it was eaten "house to house." The Lord's Supper must be eaten when saints "come together in one place" (1 Cor. 11:20) in order to "show" or declare the Lord's death (11:26). Yet, by virtue of that same fact, "house to house," we know it was not a church sponsored "fun night" at which the young people put a pie in Peter's face and John "clowned for Jesus." The Jerusalem church was not involved in the practices of my brethren in the Panhandle.
We would point out that the context of Acts 2:46 does not even remotely suggest the kind of frivolity that my brethren are engaging in as the church. Acts 2:44-45 indicates the brethren were individually sacrificing and giving to their needy brothers and sisters. These meals eaten together were expressions of hospitality rather than entertainment and recreation (Luke 14:12-14; 6:27-36). Are my brethren with these church party rooms (one Amarillo congregation boasts of having more "convention space" than the city including five kitchens) feeding the poor among the saints as the verse suggests, either as the church (Acts 4:35) or as individual saints (1 Jno. 3:17)?
"Paul participated in a church social meal at Troas in Acts Chapter Twenty." The phrase "break bread" is used twice in this chapter (20:7, 11). As in Acts 2:42, 46 the sequence of events determines the significance of the phrase in each case. "Break bread" in verse seven is a reference to the Lord's Supper. This is indicated by the facts that the saints come together in one place to do it (cf. 1 Cor. 11:20, 33), and that they came together on the first day of the week to do it (1 Cor. 16:1, 2; cf. Acts 2:42). Had Paul been wanting to eat a common meal with brethren there would have been no need to wait until the first day of the week (Acts 20:6, 16; cf. Acts 2:46). Thus, as in Acts 2:42, the association of this "breaking of bread" with preaching, the contribution and an assembly of saints together in one place indicates it is the Lord's Supper that the disciples ate.
However, there is a second eating in verse 11. Observe that it occurred after midnight (20:7) "on the morrow," that is, the second day of the week. The only one said to have eaten at this time is Paul, the entire assembly did not eat. Paul's eating was justified in that he was hastening to Jerusalem (20:16) having preached all night (20:11). Can my brethren make Paul's incidental eating here into their church sponsored socials, parties and teas? If what Paul did here is parallel to anything, it is nursing a child or a workmen eating his lunch in the building. There is no authority here for a local church baseball team to play with the denominational teams, or a gymnasium for the men's racquetball club.
"The church at Corinth engaged in social meals." That in which the church at Corinth engaged was an abuse of an authorized practice. We recognize that abuse does not prohibit the thing authorized. Furthermore, whatever was abused is what was authorized. What these brethren were abusing was the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:20, 22, 34). Therefore, all that was authorized was the Lord's Supper properly observed. There is no authority for the church social meals.
It is surprising that brethren would come to this passage in order to justify their practice. Twice in this context Paul tells these Christians to go home and eat their social meals. Read it: "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 ... And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation" (1 Cor. 11:22, 34).
Some argue, "Well, our social meals and entertainment are done after the worship and away from the place the saints assembled." While it would certainly be wrong to transform the Lord's supper into a pot luck for the assembly that does not even begin to address the issue. Where is the authority for the local church to build, maintain or support kitchens, gymnasiums, tennis and racquetball courts, clowns, coaches, baseball and basketball teams, athletic equipment, Valentine parties, ladies sewing circles, men's breakfasts, ad nauseam? The first day of the week contribution has a purpose, the funding of the authorized work of the church. When the elders of the church expend those dedicated funds for non-authorized works they violate the word of God.
"The church social meal is authorized by the 'love feast' of 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 12." Scholars offer at least six explanations for the love feast: (1) the Lord's Supper, (2) a social meal associated with the Lord's Super, (3) a social meal separate from the Lord's Supper, (4) a benevolent meal as a function of the church feeding the poor among the saints, (5) a social meal as a function of the home to which all the disciples were invited, (6) a benevolent meal as a function of the home for the purpose of feeding the poor among the saints. Now, we will be quite happy for the advocates of "church social meals" to solve the difficulty.
"The church social meal is parallel to the priests eating the sacrifices under the law." When one resorts to the Old Testament in order to prove a doctrine or practice he implicitly admits that he does not have new Testament authority! We are under the gospel of Christ, not the law of Moses (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:6-13). To seek authority from Moses on this matter opens the gate through which every sectarian golden calf has entered. If we can have the priestly meal we can have the priests.
Whatever solution our brethren pick must be consistent with the principles of 1 Corinthians 11:22-34. We cannot set Scripture against Scripture. It is apparent there is no church social meal contemplated in the phrase "love feast."
When objections to the social meals, entertainment and recreation are raised some always reply, "Well, we have always done this since way back when I was a child." I admit that there was a time when it was quite common to have "Sunday Dinner on the ground" after a morning preaching service. However, when that practice was going on, it took the better part of a day for most people to get to the meeting house. Furthermore, after lunch there was usually an afternoon of singing and another preaching service. I might add that these preaching services were not the twenty-five minute variety common in the churches today. The dinners on the ground of our parents' and grandparents' day were not a forty-second cousin to the church sponsored recreation of our day. What was done in the past as an incidental thing to the Sunday assemblies does not authorize the social meal.
But, for the sake of argument, let us say that what our parents and grandparents did was exactly parallel to modern church sponsored recreation. Does the antiquity of the practice make it right? Many of your parents and grandparents worshipped with the instrument. Does that make it right? Our friends in the Christian Church could argue that it is right to do so because they had always done it that way. Brethren, we surely ought to know that past practice is not authority for the church (Matt. 15:1-9).
The current trend in churches toward church sponsored recreation and entertainment has resulted in our using the "language of Ashdod" (Neh. 13:23-24). You will remember that the Jews after the Captivity returned to Canaan and many married the women of the Ashdod. The result was that the offspring of those marriages spoke half the time in the language of Ashdod and half in Hebrew. They were unable to fully speak the language of the Jews.
So it is now. As a consequence of embracing the social gospel of denominationalism, we are no longer able to speak in biblical terms. Brethren refer to this recreation and entertainment as "fellowship." Yet, the Bible never calls this type of carnal amusement fellowship.
Biblical fellowship is:  communion with Deity (1 Jno. 1:3,6,7; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor 13:14),  communion with the saints in Christ (1 Jno. 1:3),  communion with Christ in the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 10:16),  sharing in suffering for Christ (2 Cor. 1:6-7; Phil. 3:10),  partnership in the work and worship of the Lord in the church (Acts 2:42; 2 Cor. 8:23),  partnership in financing the Lord's work (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 6:18),  partnership in preaching the gospel by supporting a preacher (Phil. 1:5; 4:15),  distributing to the needs of the saints ( Rom. 12:13; 15:26-27; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:13; Heb. 13:16). Not once in the entire Bible does "fellowship" refer to a common meal or recreational entertainment. To use it in that way is to speak the "language of Ashdod" and reveal a carnal concept of the church (Rom. 14:17; 8:6).
There is not one Scripture that authorizes any of the activities associated with church sponsored recreation, entertainment and social meals. The only time church sponsored social meals are mentioned in the Bible they are condemned. Appeals to the practice of our parents are without merit because they are either vain attempts at perverting the past practice, or appeals on the basis of tradition.
It is our desire to have brethren discuss this and other divisive issues with us. It will not suffice to dismiss our treatment as "judgmental" or "opinionated." Ours has been an appeal to the Scriptures for book chapter and verse. We would welcome a reply of the same character.
Brethren, we are drifting!