Question:

Our congregation meets in a rented hall. Would it be wrong to make use of the facilities available for a potluck gathering? I understand that the church doesn't have authority to own a kitchen, but I was wondering why we couldn't rent the facility where we happen to meet for a meal that is separate from the worship service.


Answer:

It has been my observation over the years that in our zeal to live in accordance to the Scriptures, we will at times place more restrictions on our actions than does God. There is a curious statement found in Ecclesiastes 7:15-16, "I have seen everything in my days of vanity: There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time?" This caused me a great deal of confusion until I realized that Solomon wisely observes, "there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). A person who sets for himself a goal to live a perfect, sinless life has set himself up for failure. Only our Savior has lived a sinless life. Yet, some will strive so hard for perfection that they become afraid to do things because they might be wrong. In the end the person avoids committing overt sin by committing the sin of neglect (James 4:17). This was the sin of the Pharisees. They piled rule upon rule upon themselves and others in an attempt to avoid sin and ended up replacing the laws of God with the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-14; Romans 10:3).

In answering this question, let us return to the basics. Paul stated quite clearly that the services of the Lord are not to be used for social activities, such as meals. "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you. ... But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come" (I Corinthians 11:20-22, 34). The purpose of coming together is to worship God, not for the partaking of meals. This is the mistake many of our brethren have made when they built halls in their churches for common meals. I constantly receive invitations to hear the gospel preached, but the invitation always mentions that free food will be available. Some have mentioned to me how distracting the smell of fresh perked coffee and other savory things become near the end of services. Oh, and of course, some of the members excuse themselves for a few moments during the service to make sure the food is not burning out back. Brethren, when we gather it is to worship the Almighty God and not the appetites of man. Perhaps the worse example occurred at a gospel meeting at another congregation here in Omaha. The person asked to give the closing prayer at the worship was asked to also pray for the food that was about to be served afterwards, so there wouldn't be any delays.

We also know that it is not the work of the church to provide social entertainment for its members. God has not authorized the church to provide facilities in which to hold potlucks and wedding receptions. For a congregation to spend the Lord's funds on such material things would be wrong.

Yet, in avoiding this problem, we can make rules that God has not made. I have heard some say it is wrong to eat in the building. I don't know where that is found in the Bible. My office is in the building, and there are times I end up munching on a sandwich while I'm trying to get material put together because I've run out of hours in the day. If men are gathered to make repairs on the facilities, I know of no reason brethren cannot bring food to nourish these workers. It does not violate what Paul stated in I Corinthians 11 because the brethren are not gathered for worship.

In fact, Paul illustrates this by his own example. In Acts 20:7, the brethren in Troas gathered to partake of the Lord's Supper in a third story room. Paul spoke that evening until midnight. About that time, a young man fell out of a window and died. Paul raised him back to life, but notice what happens next, "Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed" (Acts 20:11). This was not the partaking of the Lord's Supper because only Paul is mentioned as eating. The Lord's Supper is a meal of which everyone partakes (I Corinthians 10:16-17). Also this meal was taken after midnight. It was no longer the first day of the week. But for our discussion, please note that the meal Paul ate was eaten in the same facility used for worship just a few hours prior.

From this I would conclude that so long as we keep worship distinct from worldly matters, it does not matter if the same facility happens to be used for multiple purposes. However, I don't believe this gives a congregation the right to use the Lord's money to build a multi-purpose facility. Church buildings are built as a convenient place to gather; one that usually saves the congregation money in the long run over renting a facility. The Lord's money must be spent in accomplishing the Lord's will.

Does this mean that a congregation cannot build a kitchen with the Lord's money? Actually, you and I can't make such a hard-fast rule. In Acts 6:1-4, the church in Jerusalem was responsible for the care of a large number of widows (see I Timothy 5:3-16). After all, it took six men to coordinate this one activity. Notice in Acts 6:1 they were serving food daily and in verse 2 they were serving tables. The implication is that meals were being served to the widows whom the church was responsible, likely at a central location. If a congregation needs such a facility to meet its obligation, and having such a facility would lessen the expense, I would have no objection to it being done. Does this mean that every congregation needs to run out an buy a kitchen and eating hall? Most likely not. There are not that many congregations so large that the number of widows on the church's rolls would make a built-in facility practical.

We do not need to make rules to clarify what God has stated. What we need is to spend time understanding the limits God has placed upon us and work within those limits.