Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 17, 1957

Concerning Church Buildings

Robert F. Turner, Gladewater, Texas

In recent years, as our tendencies toward a Social Gospel become more pronounced, the question is frequently asked, "Where in the New Testament do we find restrictions or regulations concerning the use of a church house? Since church houses are not mentioned in the New Testament, how can we find restrictions or regulations concerning their use in the Book?" Passing, for the moment, the matter of positive authorization — (the absence of a thing from the scriptures, does not necessarily authorize it) — the querist clearly reasons that the church building is a matter of expediency. With this I can agree.

It does not follow, however, that matters of expediency are without restriction and regulation. Such reasoning may lead to harmful and sinful conclusions which even socially minded brethren may regard as wrong.

Are all things which men call "expedient" to be received by the church? Of course not. The Christian church calls the mechanical instrument of music an expedient. Some Methodist scholars call sprinkling or pouring of water for baptism an expedient. It is not enough to simply "call" a thing expedient, but there must be some means by which legitimate expedients may be determined. One recent writer exemplifies that means by saying, "Is it wrong, therefore, to have church houses? It is not wrong. Christians are commanded to assemble. (Heb. 10:25.) This makes a place of assembly a necessity!

The principle, stated briefly, is this: "Law must precede expediency." Before we can declare a place of assembly expedient we must prove the assembly lawful. A baptistry can be justified as an expedient only after we have first proven baptism lawful. To use an example from church history, "playing" must first be proven lawful before the piano can be justified in the worship as an "expedient." Failing to prove "playing" lawful, we insist that the piano is not an expedient.

Now the same law which justifies the building of a church building, (a place of assembly) would, by the same principle, restrict and regulate its use. After all, it is the USE — the function and conduct of church members in the building — which dictates construction in the first place. If the church is commanded to assemble, the church building may be justified as a place of assembly. If the church is commanded to conduct physical culture sessions, then the church is justified in building a gymnasium. If the church is commanded to banquet, then the church is justified in building a banquet hall.

Obviously there may be some deviations from the basic principle here involved; "quibble-stuffing" that in reality is no deviation at all. A typewriter, purchased by the church for the purpose of carrying on the Lord's business, may perchance, be used for some minor personal correspondence. A mother may feed her infant child during the time of worship, actually using "church" electricity to warm the bottle. One could not charge, in seriousness, that the Lord's cause was seriously threatened by such procedure; even though we may steadfastly contend that the church treasury is not for the purpose of equipping a private business office, nor to furnish utilities for home functions for those families well able to care for their own needs.

To put it plainly, when a church plans and builds facilities for banquets or gymnastics she has misappropriated legitimately collected church funds. In the absence of law to justify the action, there can be no expediency in providing the facilities. We are not being honest with God when we use his law regarding assembly for the work and worship of the church, to justify the construction of facilities for premeditated functions for which there is no law. This is like (or, much worse than), asking for a "company car" — ostensibly for the purpose of carrying on company business — then driving the car on a private vacation tour. Surely the Lord has as much right to expect honesty among Christians, as the "boss" expects honesty among employees.

The battle which the church fought with digression some 50 to 75 years ago was a battle, or series of battles, upon the very grounds discussed briefly in this little article. (1) "Silent where the Bible is silent" — i.e., the "silence" of the scriptures on a particular theme does not "authorize" its incorporation into the work or worship; (2) and, "The Law of Expediency" — which is no "law" at all, for a thing must be first proven lawful before it can have "expediencies." But the people who then were advocating the missionary society, instrumental music, and a "social gospel" were in no mood to study or seriously discuss such principles of interpretation. Certain things they wanted, and certain things they were going to have — regardless.

And I am not unaware that today a plea for sober reasoning is frequently considered "old-fashioned." When a congregation embraces the "social gospel" — allows the "needs of the community" and "the needs of our young people" in domestic, civic, social, and materialistic affairs to take precedence over the spiritual needs of these people for forgiveness of sins, and preparation for eternity — then that congregation has no time for reasoning about what is lawful and divinely authorized. I can write freely here, for it is doubtful that such people will read this far in my article anyhow.

But thank God, there are still sober thinking, heaven concerned people who are anxious to please God. Such people will want to use their "building fund" for facilities that will improve the service of the church in her God appointed work. They will be concerned with faithfully doing God's will, not with competing with the denominations for "place" and "prestige" in the community. And, above all, when their building and necessary facilities are completed, they will USE them for the purpose for which they were constructed.