Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 2, 1954
NUMBER 30, PAGE 2-3b

Eating And Drinking In Church Buildings

Charles E. Crouch, Birmingham. Alabama

Some of the brethren are evidently making a concerted effort to promote church dinners, and to encourage churches to build kitchens and dining room facilities. At least they are attempting to justify churches which have done so. A careful study of their articles reveals, however, that no effort is made to establish the scriptural right of churches as such to provide and direct purely social affairs or entertainments. Evidently they are not yet ready to affirm plainly that such activities are the work of the church.

The argument in their current articles runs something like this: (1) Having a church dinner is not necessarily "selling food to the community for the sake of gain." (2) "The place where the church meets does not become holy because the church meets there." Therefore, (3) it is scriptural for the church to provide, support, or direct social, recreational and dining room activities. Such a conclusion based on those premises is, to say the least, hardly justified. That is like saying that instrumental music in worship is scriptural because one has shown that two arguments made against its use are invalid. One might even prove that ten arguments against instrumental music in worship are invalid, but that in itself would not be scriptural authority for the practice.

It is fine to know that some who are building church kitchens are not yet willing to sell food to the community for gain. It is also good to learn that they know the difference between the church and the church building. Some of us have known this for years, but we still haven't seen the scripture which says that the mission of the church includes recreational or purely social activities. And those who would attempt to bring in such works under the guise of "fellowship" should study that term more carefully in its New Testament usage. Reference to the Greek koinonia (communion, fellowship, etc.) in any reputable lexicon or Bible dictionary will suffice. It is not here denied that church suppers would be fellowship. Neither would we deny that "fellowship" could be had in church-directed fishing excursions, church ball teams, church boy scout clubs, church-directed recreation camps, or even church-directed democratic clubs. There is fellowship in all such things. Hastings Dictionary of the Bible declares, Koinonia comes from an adjective which means 'common,' and, like 'communion,' it's literal meaning is a common participation or sharing in anything." (Emphasis mine, C.E.C.) All that we here deny is that a congregation of the Lord may include such works in her "fellowship program" with New Testament sanction for the practice. What this writer would appreciate is an article from some brother which approaches the subject of church dinners affirmatively, showing plainly his authority for churches as such to direct such affairs.

It may be true that some have objected to church dinners on the basis that such might lead to the selling of food for gain. But I would not consider that in itself a valid objection. Others may have opposed them on the ground that the church building is holy, and social dinners might spoil the sacred atmosphere. However, I can see no solid ground here for opposing church dinners. (Though we admit that the church house "does not become holy because the church meets there," yet we hasten to add that the church house usually is built with the Lord's money and "set apart" for the work of God. See sermon, "Sanctification — What Is It?", The Sermon Outlines of H. Leo Boles, 1849.)

Many of us have never labored under the delusion that a building becomes sacred just because the saints meet there to worship God. Neither have we ever opposed any eating or drinking on church property that was incidental to, and necessary for, a service or work which God has clearly ordained his church to do. Thus we believe a church house can be used after a storm to feed or shelter cold and homeless people, as did the church in Cotton Valley, Louisiana, a few years ago. We also believe a baby can be given a bottle of milk in the church house when the mother has come there to worship God. We also think that feeding a child a cracker during a worship service violates no scripture. It might even help the preaching at times. Neither do we oppose parents' giving cookies or lemonade to little tots during a long vacation Bible school, provided that is necessary to keep them from starving, or to keep them from getting too restless to study the Bible. Even Jesus fed the multitudes that came to learn the word of God, when there was no other reasonable way to assuage their hunger. In line with this belief, I have at times taken a drink of water and also a drink of coffee, when I was at the church building to preach or to study. A group of workmen engaged in painting a church building might also eat their lunch on the property, and no scriptural principle would be violated.

Surely our brethren can see a difference in the eating and drinking incidental to, and necessary for, the conduct of a divinely authorized service or work; and the eating and drinking in a gathering which has assembled under church direction for purely social purposes. For years we have explained the difference between the song book and instrumental music in worship, by showing that the song book (or its counterpart) is essential for singing; whereas, instrumental music is the introduction of a new and nonessential activity. There is the same difference between a drinking fountain in the church house and a "church supper" which is purely social in purpose. And we believe our brethren can see this difference. It appears, however, that they are attempting to establish an unscriptural practice merely by showing that two or three objections made by some brethren are invalid. Let me repeat sincerely: What some of us would like to see is an article by some brother dealing with the subject of church dinners in an affirmative and forthright way. Let him discuss it plainly, dealing with it as it certainly must be dealt with, showing unmistakable scriptural authority, if the practice is ever to be accepted by thoughtful Christians generally. Those sincere and earnest people who believe there is no New Testament authority for church-directed recreational or social gatherings might be convinced by such an article.

The apostle Paul clearly established, in 1 Corinthians 11, that some eating and drinking is authorized in connection with worshipping assembles; for example, the bread and fruit of the vine. Whereas, some eating and drinking is unauthorized in church gatherings, and hence must be done "at home," or as individuals. When Paul said, "What, have ye not houses to eat and drink in"?, he drew a line of distinction between private and purely social gatherings on the one hand, and assemblies for teaching and worship on the other. The common meal has its place in the former, but not in the latter realm. Furthermore, when these "private" or "purely social" dinners are held by church members in church buildings, it is impossible for the church as such to escape responsibility therefor. The fact is that they are regarded by all as "church" dinners, and indeed they are — but without God's authority.

In closing this article we quote the words of Brother N. B. Hardeman, spoken in Nashville in 1942: "Now, may I ask, what is the purpose of the church of the Lord? Suppose I discuss the negative side first. I may say some things with which you do not agree, but I bid you hear me regardless. I do not consider it a part of the work of the church to try to run the government. I am taught in the Bible to be subject unto the powers that be, just so far as I think they do not conflict with some law of God. Again, I say to you, with caution and thought, that it is not the work of the church to furnish entertainment for the members. And yet many churches have drifted into such an effort. They enlarge their basements, put in all kinds of gymnastic apparatus, and make every sort of an appeal to the young people of the congregation. I have never read anything in the Bible that indicated to me that such was a part of the work of the church. I am wholly ignorant of any Scripture that even points in that direction." — Hardeman's Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 5, page 50.