Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 22, 1962
NUMBER 29, PAGE 5,13b

Using Church Facilities For Weddings

O. C. Birdwell, Jr.

It is difficult to enter into a study such as this without some sort of bias or outside influence. Most people are influenced to some degree by former practices, relatives, friends, and often by doctrines and practices of religious neighbors, and denominational churches. In this study, as much as possible, let us lay aside every preconceived idea and biased thought and see if we can do some objective, constructive study on the subject.

First, let us note that all we do in religion is to be done by scriptural authority. That is, what we do is authorized in the scriptures. Consider some illustrative points.

(1) Christians are instructed to sing. (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12) Vocal music has been specified. Since instrumental music has not been authorized either by command, example, or inference and being another kind of music, it is not used. Inherent in the command to sing, is the authority for song books, notes, etc. The command to sing demands that we have songs and other necessities incidental to carrying out the command. All that is essential to carrying out the command is authorized by the command.

(2) The New Testament authorizes baptism. (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38) The command to baptize demands and authorizes a place of baptism. The place may be a lake, river, ocean, or a pool inside a building. If the place provides enough water for immersion, the command may be obeyed.

(3) Christians are commanded to assemble. (Heb. 10:25) Early disciples came together on the first day of the week. (Acts 20:7) There is no doubt but that they met in different type places and buildings. They met in the temple, in private homes, and obviously, in halls, both public and private. The place of meeting has not been specified, but it has been authorized. Authority for the place is included in the command to assemble. It would be ridiculous to contend that a place of church assembly has not been authorized because such would make it impossible for us to obey the command to assemble.

Most will agree that the work of the church has been specified. The church was not instituted and left in the dark concerning what she is to do. All the work of the church comes under two headings: (1) teaching and (2) benevolence. The teaching of the church is to be directed to both non-members and members. The benevolence of the church, the collectivity, is limited to the saints. Facilities and methods for doing this work have not been specified. Do not confuse methods and organizations. The organization has been specified. The local church is the only arrangement given for doing any work assigned to the church. But the local church must have facilities for doing its work, and authority for needed facilities such as buildings and classroom mater-al is included in the command to do the work.

The church is also a worshipping institution. "Unto Him be glory in the church." (Eph. 3:21) In the assembly there is singing, praying, giving, scripture study, and communion by eating the Lord's Supper. All things necessary in engaging in this worship are authorized.

Thus far we have observed that all we do in religion must be authorized; that the work of the church has been specified; and that the church is to worship God; hence, we conclude that the church is a working and worshipping institution and the church is authorized to provide everything necessary in its worship and work.

Now, let us turn our attention to the customary wedding and ask this question: Of what does a wedding consist? Consider three things that will be listed and considered in order.

(1) Civil requirements. This is not optional, but is demanded by the state. Laws vary in different states and nations. But In most states the ceremonial requirements are minor and would necessitate only the time that it would take one to pronounce a man and woman husband and wife and sign the required document affirming such action and mail it to the registrar.

(2) Social requirements. The word "requirement" might be left off for this part is purely optional and left up to the individuals. Included under this heading would be the pomp, procession, love song, candle lighting, fancy decorations, and reception. Much more might be included; this would depend on the customs. In the days of Jesus, one of the main parts of the wedding was the wedding feast. In those days, the preliminaries and proceedings required several hours and was a period of love songs, feasts, and festivities.

(3) Religious teaching. There was no formal religious ceremony in the Hebrew wedding in the days of the early church. (See The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. III, p. 1998.) Also, the New Testament is completely silent concerning any role the early church might have played in weddings. Obviously then, the early church had no part in the weddings of her members other than in teaching them the scriptural requirements for marriage and the home. It is doubtful that anyone ever thought about using a church building for a wedding in the days of the apostles. Use of church buildings for weddings was begun by those who contend that marriage is a "church institution" and that the church has a right to rule and regulate it, and has been accepted and practiced by most denominational bodies. The idea is that if it is in the church building, it is a "church wedding." But the church is already the bride of Christ and is not in the marrying business.

Which of the above three things that may be part of a wedding would be included within the scope of the work of the church? The church may provide for and engage in Bible instruction. The church, then, might provide facilities for teaching on marriage and the home. This, however, would leave out all the pomp and social ceremony that has become the custom in most weddings. The idea that a wedding arrangement that is almost wholly a social and customary function may use church facilities, in most cases costing the church money, and be justified by the fact that a passage or two of scripture will be read, is not based on sound reasoning. The social aspect of any function could be just as readily justified with the same type reasoning. Most any civic or social gathering has a religious devotional or some kind of Bible teaching connected. Would it be permissible to use church buildings for any function if a few minutes were spent on religion? Few brethren will agree that such would be right.

That the church building may be used for special services, and for lectures on announced Bible subjects is not denied. Neither should we be so unreasonable as to conclude that in connection with regular services there are never to be any announcements that are not directly connected with the service. There is a difference in having a religious service with an incidental announcement connected and in having a social gathering with a brief Bible reading thrown in.

For example: If a beloved evangelist were leaving a congregation where he had labored for several years, the brethren might want to have a special service at which time the preacher would deliver his last sermon. At the close of the service one of the elders might make a brief speech in honoring the preacher. Would it be wrong to have such a service? Most would agree that such a service would not be a misuse of church facilities and funds. Now, change the example and make the meeting a social affair given in honor of the preacher and conducted in the church building. Who would contend that such a meeting would not misuse church funds even though the preacher might make a brief speech and even quote a little scripture?

For another example, consider what is generally regarded as a funeral service. I do not deny that it would be right to preach the gospel in the presence of the remains of a deceased relative or friend and that, in a church building. But I do believe it would be questionable for the building to be used for eulogies and non-religious speeches. Such services should be conducted in the home or funeral parlor. The church is not in the funeral parlor business.

As the church building may be used for the special teaching services mentioned, it also may be used for a special sermon on marriage and the home. But this service could not be a social gathering and would not include the usual social ceremonial procedures and love songs. Many good spiritual songs for such a subject may be found in the regular books. A good sermon could be preached on the subject of marriage. Few would object if a brief period were taken at the close of such a service to unite a man and woman in the bonds of matrimony. Such a service would be a teaching service with a few minutes taken for the marriage vows; whereas, the usual procedure calls for a social service with little or no Bible teaching included. There is a difference!

In considering customary use of buildings for weddings, many questions could be asked, such as: What about non-members using the building? Unfaithful members? And members who have been withdrawn from? If the building may be used for a place to sing love songs and to light candles, why may it not also be used for the reception? If the social part of one function may be performed there, why not permit other social gatherings? But space will not allow further discussion in this paper. Thoughts are presented here to provoke attention and study. Let us continue to study this and all other matters, and allow truth learned to guide and direct our steps.

— 4946 N. Garfield, Kansas City, Mo.