John T. Willis

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eating in the Church Building

It is amazing to me that people can present ideas that cause conflict in God's people. One of the many conflicts that arose in the Church of Christ denomination was eating in the church building. When I was a preacher at the Maple Hill Church of Christ in Lebanon, Tennessee from 1956 to 1960, the first year we had a Vacation Bible School [which most churches still have]. We had a committee to make the plans for the event. We had this in the evenings for a week. This lasted two hours each evening. We thought that it would be great to have punch and cookies for all the children that came for the VBS. We were excited about all the good things we can do to encourage our children. BUT one of the deacons at Maple Hill spoke up and declared: It is a sin to eat in the church building, so we cannot have punch and cookies in the church building. By the way, we were planning to do this in the basement area, which was large and convenient. I asked this deacon where this came from. He snapped back. It is clear in the Bible. Read 1 Corinthians 11:22: "What! Do you not have HOMES to eat and drink it? Or do you show contempt for the church of God?"

1. An argument like this and a position like this is an embarrassment for any church. First of all, these two lines are completely out of context. This deacon had no idea about the context. Often, people in the Church of Christ adopt an idea completely out of context.

2. Second, 1 Corinthians 11:22 means exactly the opposite of what this deacon argued.
    a. This deacon assumed that "the church of God" is a BUILDING. But we have repeatedly emphasized the truth and the church is NOT A BUILDING, but a group of people devoted to God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    b. This deacon did not finish this verse, which says: "Do you have contempt for the church of God AND HUMILIATE THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING?" "Those who have nothing" are clearly a synonymous parallelism of "the church of God."
    c. The REAL issue which Paul addressed was that God's people at Corinth gathered TO EAT TOGETHER and share their resources. But what happened is that the wealthy deliberately arrived early, consumed the meal, and left before the hard, poor workers to arrive. The issue here is certainly NOT eating in the church building, but refusing to have REAL FELLOWSHIP at meals with poor people. READ THE WHOLE CONTEXT in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
    d. The early church deliberately met together to share meals, and in the midst of these meals, they partook of the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. Jude 12 clearly refers to these "love-feasts." But when rich people considered themselves to be ABOVE the rest of the church, they refused to have genuine fellowship with the poor. Jesus Himself condemned the Pharisees for having this attitude--see Matthew 23:1-36; James 2:1-13. The Church of Christ denomination has a very long history of arguing that Christianity has nothing at all to do with "social activities," but ONLY religious activities, which they define as meeting for worship in a designated building, baptizing people, and the like. There are so-called missionaries who go into foreign countries. They offer food for the poor people in that country but ONLY after they agree to hear their particular view of the Bible. This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. James 1:26-27; 1 John 3:17-18 and MANY OTHER biblical texts make this clear.

3. At that time at Maple Hill, this deacon was painting part of the church building. I asked him: When lunchtime comes, where do you eat? Could you eat in the church building on a bench? He was there all alone. His response was: Absolutely not. That would be a sin. I said: Can you eat your lunch leaning against the outside wall of the church building? He said: Of course. I said: Can you go into the church building and lean on the same wall on the inside of the building? He said: NO. That would be a sin. WOW!!! I wonder if God is laughing out loud or crying about our views about God and religion and the church.

4. Bottom line. The Church of Christ has done and is doing some great things. At the same time, we have done many wrong-headed, incorrect, ungodly things. We need to recognize this fact, and admit to ourselves and the world that we are as fallible as any church ever.

Share YOUR experiences and shortcomings and thoughts and ideas and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis