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Can Churches Provide Kitchen Facilities And Fellowship Areas In Their Buildings?

by Ian Coker

Questions of this nature tend to create confusion, ill-will, and all manner of reaction, as much out of a misunderstanding of congregational autonomy and freedom, as anything else. Tragically, it is often those who demand autonomy for themselves who wish to take it from others.

The Bible does not teach that a church has to have a kitchen or fellowship area, because, in point of fact, it does not teach a church has to have any building as such. Churches can, in pursuing worthy goals in their communities, decide it is not expedient to have such. Some congregations have been blessed by having individual brethren with home-based facilities that are spacious enough to allow the entire congregation to practice Acts 2:42, 46. This is all fine and good. But because a congregation chooses to operate this way does not necessarily imply that that congregation believes church buildings with kitchens and fellowship areas are unscriptural or works of the Devil.

But no one congregation is able to impose its own particular standard upon another whose situation is perhaps completely different. In Toowoomba we don’t have a fellowship hall as such - we use the auditorium for worship and fellowship. We see no need and have no plans to spend money on such (at the present, at least). We have a small kitchen area with a sink (used mainly for washing up the communion glasses), a hot water system (used mainly for heating the baptistry), a small fridge (used mainly for storing the communion food), and a microwave (used mainly for heating my coffee when I’m at the office!). We see no need and have no plans to enlarge it in our present circumstances.

But I could imagine a scenario where a kitchen of some substance might be very important to the work of a congregation - eg. emergency help in natural disasters, or in depressed areas where members practice benevolence toward large numbers of people continually. In a similar vein, medical facilities can be of great importance to a church in, say, a third-world country, whereas with our medical infrastructure we see no need.

I could even imagine a basketball hoop in the church parking area could be a valuable tool if the church was in a ghetto-type area that lacked space for neighbourhood children to play on. It could be a valuable community service to help keep children off the streets, but I would hardly be in a position to accuse that church of being in the sporting business! But we have no plans for such in Toowoomba. We do have neighbourhood children who come to skate on our parking lot - we don’t feel like we need to supply them with skateboards, but we are pleased to have them there, believing it is safer than the streets - and besides, how much real-estate and plant in the brotherhood sits around unused most of the time? Is this good stewardship? We also have some local workers who use our parking area during the week, as do some bowlers from the neighbouring bowls club, so that the roads and footpaths are not cluttered up. While we are happy for them to do that, we see no need to purchase their cars for them.

But the question under discussion is not the expediency of such questions, or the grading of the wisdom of each church in the particular use of their building and money. Rather it is a more basic question, the more important question of whether it is scriptural in the first place for a congregation to have a kitchen or fellowship area etc. If it is, then sister congregations need to allow congregations the freedom to decide how they choose to avail themselves of such options.

The Bible does not answer the question of kitchens and fellowship areas directly (i.e. specifically, by name). Therefore we must look for biblical principles by which we can decide the truth of the matter. And this is not an uncommon thing, for by a strange twist of irony, we must do this with respect to church buildings before we can ever discuss what we are going to put in them!

As Robert Turner said in the September, 1971 edition of Plain Talk, a church building is “an expedient, subordinate to the command to assemble:” I think most of us are of the persuasion that church buildings are scriptural on the basis they are an expedient to help us carry out the command to assemble. We have one in Toowoomba but I can readily envisage that in a larger city with higher real-estate values, it may be more expedient to rent a school, C.W.A. Hall, or use a home. Again, the local church is best placed to sort out the best approach for their needs.

Most congregations which have a church building use them no more than three or four times a week. On what basis is this expense justified? Purely on the grounds of expediency, there being no direct command to purchase or build one.

This is similar to the same expediency that allowed Jews to build synagogues throughout the world - and which, incidentally, Jesus was pleased to attend (Luke 4:16). The Jews even allowed Romans to make contributions to their synagogue - Luke 7:1,5 (Jesus preached in such - Mark 1:21).

My point is this, in case you haven’t already seen it: in justifying a church building we have already answered the question about kitchens and fellowship areas! All we have to do is find out whether the Bible teaches fellowship is a required church activity. I don’t want to beg your intelligence and knowledge by proving that God intended fellowship to be a part of congregational life since the beginning in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42,46). Since it is, then we must leave it to each congregation to assess their needs and decide how best to fulfil this requirement. I am not here arguing that it is not possible for congregations to overindulge in such amenities anymore than it is impossible for congregations to overindulge in facilities for worship.

I say again, if a congregation can justify the spending of thousands upon thousands of dollars on land and buildings, as well as the continuing rates and maintenance expenses, solely for the purpose of assembling for a few hours a week for worship and Bible study, it’s hard for me to imagine why any could deny the right to use the building for the purpose of fellowship - particularly when it makes the building more practical and of better value. I know some congregations have a hierarchy of comparative levels of importance of worship and fellowship, but they don’t do that on any scriptural basis. The Bible commands both.

And again, I am not saying that churches must incorporate fellowship areas in their buildings. In Toowoomba we often have fellowship lunches in local parks and B-B-Q areas, but we also choose to have them in the building from time to time for the same reason we worship in the building - sometimes it rains, blows, gets cold, is dark etc.

I asked a brother one time whether it would be right for us to move the seats back to the walls in the auditorium to create a fellowship area. Realising it would be foolish in the extreme to say that seats (how do we justify them and their expense?) have to remain in certain positions in a church building, he answered ‘yes’. Yet he believed it was wrong to have a ‘fellowship area’ in the building. So, as you can see, the issue was really condensed to an issue of expediency and value judgments of stewardship. That is, it was alright to have a fellowship area provided one did not spend money on it beyond what was spent for the worship area! Whilst we all think that wisdom will die with us, and have our own pet peeves and ideas about what the church should spend its money on, we must not make rules where God has not made them! Since we can justify a fellowship area by expediency, would it then make sense to say that we could use the fellowship area for worship but we couldn’t justify a separate worship area? And you know, a kitchen area is so simple and inexpensive. Regulations require toilets, so plumbing is a part of any church building and to run a line to a tap over a sink is hardly major capital expenditure.

It’s interesting to walk through church buildings and consider what is there. A brief look around our building in Toowoomba revealed toilets, TV, tract-racks, telephones, tape-recorders and typewriter; signs, shelves song books and sills; mirrors and motormower; pigeonholes, photocopier and projectors; video-player and vacuum-cleaner; radio and rubbish bins; cryroom with cots, classrooms and clocks; whiteboards and blackboards; heaters and fans and a fax machine; fire hose, filing cabinets and fire-extinguishers; not to mention Bibles, books, maps, gardens, noticeboards, potplants, over head projector, buckets and brooms. It seems we have so many things not specifically mentioned in Scripture that we have little difficulty in justifying by the expediency principle. Brother Turner went on to say in that same article that he believed the church building could be used for weddings and funerals, even though he called a wedding a ‘social-civil’ affair. I doubt whether many of us would argue with him on that, and so it seems the question usually gets reduced, not to whether we eat and drink in the building, but to a question concerning the church’s treasury. Many who would not object to eating and drinking in the church building, would do so if any money from the treasury was spent on such. The church treasury has always been a problem: Judas objected to Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive ‘ointment’, saying that it would have been better sold and given to the poor. “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (John 12:6).

Forgetting the treasury for a moment, what would we say if a brother wanted to bless the body of Christ by paying for a ‘fellowship extension’ to the building, complete with sink, taps, fridge and oven? There would be some who would argue he could spend his money in a better way, but, again, that is a matter of opinion.

If Mary could pour out a working man’s yearly salary in one brief expression of love, with Jesus’ approval, who are we to judge what a brother may be pleased to do? So, the brother puts on the fellowship hall and the church now has use of the area. Do they sin in using it? On what basis? Brethren can’t use the treasury argument on that one. Now suppose the brother couldn’t do it on his own and so he enlists the aid of some others to supply a fellowship hall. Would this be alright? Suppose the whole congregation chipped in to provide it? If this is not right, why is it not right when the whole congregation can ‘chip in’ to provide worship facilities? What is the magic ‘cut-off’ number that turns it from right to wrong?

But getting back to the treasury. What is it and where is it defined? It is often used as a synonym for the “Lord’s money”, but what is the Lord’s money? Isn’t it all His and isn’t it the case that he has been pleased to place us as stewards over it? V.P. Black visited a congregation one time where a brother confided in him that “someone has been stealing the Lord’s money” (meaning from the plate). The man was shocked when Brother Black said that it was happening in congregations all over the land! What he meant was that when brethren don’t give as they have been blessed, they are stealing the “Lord’s money”. But, you see, brethren don’t think it is the “Lord’s money” if they withhold it. And I’m convinced that brethren wouldn’t be so finicky about how the ‘treasury’ is spent if they gave more. Usually the treasury cupboard is so strapped, only ‘essentials’ can be financed.

I’m not suggesting that the church ought to get involved in spending money on everything that individuals may be pleased to. The church does have a primary function in the world that directs its spending. A church that used its treasury in providing entertainment for the world has a twisted priority. But for the life of me, since fellowship is part of what God has commanded for the church, surely the church ought to be willing to invest something to aid this activity. Surely the church can fellowship in homes, but so can she worship, and we feel justified in spending for worship facilities. What I’m suggesting is a little consistency in our thinking.

So much of our distinctions between the ‘Lord’s money’ and ‘our money’ is arbitrary - i.e. according to our own personal whims and fancies and perceptions. When the church in Toowoomba has a fellowship meal together, we are faced with two basic options - either one provides the food or everyone contributes. Usually we opt for the latter as it is fairer (generally speaking). but what have we done? Haven’t we created a treasury of sorts out of which we have supplied food for a fellowship meal, whether eaten in a home or not? The individual components of the case say that we have - individual members have contributed to a common cause, which is exactly what happens in our regular contributions. Why then can’t we provide the food for such out of the regular treasury? Usually for no other reason than we would feel uncomfortable about it and that the regular contribution is already ear-marked for other projects. If we say we have robbed the treasury to feed ourselves, where did the money come from? Isn’t it money that members could have put in the treasury over and above their regular contribution?

I’m not advocating a system that destroys personal responsibilities (1 Tim. 5:4, 8, 16), but rather addressing the question of the church collectively fulfilling a congregational activity. I suspect many of the arbitrary views held on this subject have come about, in part, because of the prevalence of smaller congregations which do not need fellowship areas and/or kitchens to carry out the biblical injunction to fellowship - a member’s home is quite adequate. But I don’t think there was a member’s home in Jerusalem that could house the congregation for either worship or fellowship. (Apparently they used the temple’s precincts - Acts 2:46). If we were members of a congregation that numbered in the thousands we might have a different view on the need for fellowship and kitchen facilities.

I heard of a brother of many years ago who did not think it was right to eat in the church building. A preacher by the name of W.L. Totty was visiting and this brother asked him about eating in the church building. He replied, “It is alright, otherwise the mothers with babies in the assemblies of the church would have to leave to feed them, for if they fed them in the building they would not be bringing them up in the nurture of the Lord, if it is wrong to eat in the church building”.

G.K. Wallace arrived at a building to preach a mission and a sister in the Lord accosted him and said, “Brother Wallace, this church has a kitchen in it!” He acted surprised and said “You don’t mean it!” Thinking she had him on side she said, “Yes, it really does!”. Then Brother Wallace asked, “Who baptised the kitchen?”

Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth in 11:34 of the first letter has, on occasion, been used to say that it is wrong to eat in the church building. A little thought will reveal that if Paul is restricting eating for hunger’s sake to the home, then we cannot lawfully eat at another’s home, go on a picnic, or eat at a restaurant! And, if the church in that locality met in a brother’s home, could he obey the supposed injunction to not eat in the church building? I think we can understand that Paul is simply giving advice to counter an abuse in their fellowship caused by the factions there.

Having made mention of that point, I firmly believe we have made progress on that point over the last 30 years. Most brethren now accept the idea that the church building is just a building and we do not violate it by eating in it. For some, the issue is not “Does the church have a right to eat in its meeting place?” but “Does the church have the right to eat together in fellowship meals?” There is no great doctrinal stress on this because it is a ‘given’ that fellowship, whether in Old testament or New, in eastern or western culture, includes the idea of sharing a meal together. 2 Peter 2:13 and Jude 12 are obvious references to this practice. It is a ludicrous position that says Christians, who enjoy the finest and closest fellowship in the world, cannot eat together. It’s funny how members of the church will sit down to celebratory meals as part of fellowship with their physical family, but invent some rule eliminating such from fellowship with their Christian brethren.

I think, though, that these are few and far between, and that most can understand that a basic definition of fellowship Includes the idea of eating together. (It’s funny, those who accuse the church of gluttony and worldliness in so doing, don’t seem to think they are guilty of the same things when they feast with their relatives and friends).

So the issue really comes down to whether the church, in practicing her God given right and expectation to share meals together, has the right to provide the place and means to eat them. I believe she does, but I will leave it up to each congregation to decide whether they want a fellowship hall and kitchen.

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