Issue #118 -------
April 12, 2004
I used to be very revolutionary, but now I
think that nothing can be gained by brute force.
People must be drawn to good by goodness.
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)
About three months ago, a reader from Tennessee asked if I was familiar with Watchman Magazine. Naturally, I responded that I am. The views expressed in this journal tend to be somewhat extreme (on the ultra-conservative end of the theological spectrum) when compared with those of the vast majority of brethren within Churches of Christ. Thus, as would be expected, their approach to most "issues" in the church is very legalistic. This reader wrote, "Talk about a bunch of folks who will argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Well, anyway, I remember reading an article about fellowship halls. One of the writers went on and on about how ungodly they are. I couldn't believe it! What are your thoughts on this? I look forward to your answer." The article in question was most likely by Larry H. Fain, who, in the Associate Editorial for the May, 1998 issue, wrote an article titled -- Oh, Those Ungodly Fellowship Halls. I will provide a few quotes from that article later in this current issue of Reflections.
So-called Fellowship Halls have been the source of much contention, and even division, among some within Churches of Christ for several generations. Some have suggested the primary "villain" behind the introduction of this "godless innovation" was brother M. Norvel Young, who, at a lectureship in Abilene, Texas in 1947, "encouraged churches to build new buildings, to build them in good locations, and to include in their buildings, among many other things, a large fellowship room and cooking facilities that would be near this large fellowship room. He followed that up with some articles in some of the papers that were circulated, lending his encouragement to the idea of building fellowship halls and kitchens" (Bill Hall, Kitchens and Fellowship Halls: What Was The Issue? -- a sermon appearing on the web site of the New Georgia Church of Christ, Rogersville, Alabama). Whether the "blame," either in whole or in part, for the rise of such facilities can be legitimately placed at the feet of brother Young is, of course, open to debate. Nevertheless, some brethren from previous generations did begin to promote the concept of a special facility, or a special location within our current facilities, where brethren could assemble to "socialize" with one another outside the parameters of a "formal worship assembly."
Most disciples of Jesus Christ have absolutely no problem whatsoever with such a facility, nor with the purpose for which it is designed. A few, however, DO. For these few, such a facility, and the activities that occur therein, are viewed as an affront to their God. Thus, they vehemently oppose the "godless innovation" of Fellowship Halls and declare they have no place in the work or mission of the church. The obvious question is -- Why do they feel this way?!
Some have taken their opposition to kitchens and fellowship halls so seriously, and to such extremes, that they have virtually set forth upon a "holy crusade" against them. One such militant crusader is a young man named Brian Yeager, who is affiliated with the Non-Institutional faction of the Churches of Christ and preaches for their little congregation in Butler, Pennsylvania. He has created a web site which shows pictures of these godless, evil "social centers," and, interestingly, he has placed at the very TOP of his list the "fellowship hall" of the congregation where I presently serve (Cuba Avenue Church of Christ). You might like to visit that web site and examine some of these horrid halls from hell:
Just imagine! Having such a diabolical structure at our facility!! Horrors! A facility where Christian brethren can come together and enjoy one another's company and share a meal? What were we thinking?! Have we lost our minds? According to these militant watchdogs, we will all be tortured in hellfire for zillions and zillions and zillions of years by our merciful, loving, fair, just and compassionate God for daring to show love to one another in a structure unmentioned in the NT writings. And if you think this is an unfair overstatement, then please write Brian Yeager and others like him. You will soon discover just how serious they are. This is a salvation issue to them! If you advocate fellowship halls and kitchens in your church building, you are lost. Period! End of discussion! Again, we are led to ask, "Why?!"
In 2001, Jeffrey Ledbetter, who preaches for the Indiana Avenue Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, wrote an article titled, Why We Don't Build "Fellowship Halls". This article appeared in his bulletin: The Indiana Avenue Proclaimer. He listed three reasons why he believed the construction of these "fellowship halls" was sinful in the sight of God. "First, calling the social life centers of denominationalism 'fellowship halls' is a severe misuse of the Bible sense of the word 'fellowship.'" It was his belief that the "digressives" had broadened the meaning of the Greek word koinonia to include "carnal" as well as "spiritual" events and activities. In other words, "fellowship" (as biblically defined) never includes such things as games, meals, parties, and other "social" events. To include the latter in the concept of "fellowship" was to reduce the biblical concept from the spiritual to the carnal. "This term 'fellowship hall' is really a misnomer. It may be for social fellowship, but it's not for the fellowship that the Bible talks about" (Bill Hall, Kitchens and Fellowship Halls).
This leads to the second reason they are rejected, according to Jeffrey Ledbetter: "We find the work of the church as defined by God's authority is spiritual in nature, not carnal, recreational or social." Larry Fain continued the thought in his article -- "The work of the church is wholly centered around spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our one and only mission is the salvation of souls. ... If honesty were to prevail, most people would admit that these meeting rooms and recreational facilities are acquired and maintained to serve the fleshly desires of the members of the local churches who have them" (Oh, Those Ungodly Fellowship Halls, Watchman Magazine, May, 1998).
The third reason given by Jeffrey Ledbetter is, "We notice from the New Testament scriptures that it is sinful to 'go beyond that which is written' to authorize what we, as a called out group of God's children, do and how we do it." Anything, according to Jeffrey Ledbetter, that is not specifically found in the NT writings is "unauthorized," and is therefore sinful to practice. Even good works like "family counseling," says Jeffrey, "have nothing to do with the authorized work of the Lord's church," and are therefore abominable additions to God's divine purpose for His people. Social meals with brethren in a church building, family counseling in a church building, must all be thrown out. Why? Because, according to these patternists, one cannot produce a verse in the NT writings where the first century disciples did such things in a church building. If they didn't do them, then neither can we. Period! Welcome to Patternism 101.
The real issue behind this whole controversy, however, as Bill Hall clearly elucidates in his lengthy article, is one of authority. All other concerns are secondary. "What was the issue? Well, here basically is what the issue was: Is there New Testament authority for the local church to plan and provide materially for social activities in its program of work? There's the issue. If you cannot find the authority in the Scriptures, it's not a good work no matter how good it looks to us" (Kitchens and Fellowship Halls: What Was The Issue?). "So in order to have our kitchen, and in order to have the large fellowship room, what we've got to find is the authority for the local church to plan and provide materially for social activities in its program of work. That's what we've got to find" (ibid). He wrote, near the end of his article, "If we are really serious about making the local church according to the pattern given in the New Testament -- then let's rid ourselves of these things that have been introduced into the church for which there is no New Testament authority" (ibid).
This whole debate centers around hermeneutics. Even more specifically, it has to do with one's methodology for establishing authority. How do I determine what is and isn't approved by my God? Those brethren who oppose kitchens and fellowship halls employ a highly subjective and flawed hermeneutic known as CENI (Command, Example, Necessary Inference). In areas where there is divine silence with regard to a matter (i.e., God has said nothing about it one way or the other), they find their "authority" to either permit or prohibit based on biblical examples and the assumptions, deductions and inferences of mere men. God said nothing in the NT writings about kitchens and fellowship halls. He neither specifically prohibited nor permitted them. He was silent on the matter. Patternists are not content to leave it there; everything has to be nailed down in black or white. Thus, when God says nothing, they fill in the silence! They then turn to examples for their authority. If one can find a passage where the early disciples did something, and did so with God's apparent approval, then this practice is elevated to absolute LAW which becomes binding upon all people the world over until the end of time. Conversely, if one is NOT able to find an example of the early disciples doing something, then the assumption is made that God must NOT have approved of that action or practice, and thus it is forever forbidden as an abomination unto God. Thus, authority is established by human assumption!
Such is the case with fellowship halls. God said nothing, no example can be found of an early church congregation having one, therefore it is assumed by the patternists that NO AUTHORITY exists for fellowship halls, and for saints to have one today is a godless innovation that will ultimately cost them their eternal salvation. Those are some mighty huge assumptions, it seems to me; assumptions of fallible men who felt the need to ADD TO the teaching of God's Word in areas where God had specified NOTHING one way or the other! Brother Bill Hall wrote, "We are either going to take the idea of 'speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent' seriously or we are not" (Kitchens and Fellowship Halls). Bill does not practice what he preaches, however, for in the presence of biblical silence on the matter he has spoken in the place of God and condemned that which God has not.
I reject such a methodology of establishing "authority." I believe about all it "establishes" is the collective preferences and prejudices of some religious party or sect. These are then elevated to the status of LAW and made conditions of fellowship and salvation. Because such a process is highly subjective (based largely upon human assumptions and deductions), there will naturally be wide disagreement over what is "authoritative" and what is not! The reality is: not even the patternists can agree on this, and thus they have become perhaps the most divided and divisive bunch in all of Christendom. Factions, sects, schisms, parties and splinters increase with each new "authoritative assumption" of some self-proclaimed leader of "church restoration."
The inconsistency of such a patternistic hermeneutic becomes clearly evident in what these people ALLOW. It is a violation of biblical "authority" to have a facility where Christians may consume solid food, but it is NOT a violation of biblical "authority" to have a refrigerated drinking fountain in the building. One may acceptably consume liquid, but not solids. Larry Fain describes such things as drinking fountains as "incidental to the assembling of ourselves together" (ibid). Many, many years ago there even circulated among the congregations examining this question an article titled Willie the Water Cooler. It told the story of the poor little water cooler who was scared to death he would be booted out of church by the anti-kitchen faction. However, he was assured he had nothing to fear. Drinking in a building is okay; it is eating in a building that is sinful. Willie the water cooler could stay. It was Stanley the stove and Ralph the refrigerator that had to go.
What about restrooms in the church building? I asked a man once why they had restrooms in their church building, but not a kitchen. "Oh, that's different," he replied! One is acceptable, the other is not! So, apparently, according to such "logic," it is okay to excrete food in a church building, we just can't ingest it! Urinating and defecating in a church building is acceptable to our God, but just let someone eat a cookie in that same building and God will send them straight to hell. Go figure!!!
As the readers can probably easily detect, I have precious little patience with such foolishness. Such shallow, inconsistent, legalistic speculating and legislating have left the Body of Christ a dysfunctional, maimed monstrosity wherever such lunacy has gained control of the minds of undiscerning and gullible brethren. It must be opposed forcefully. Unless it is eradicated from the Body of Christ, it will continue to divide and dismember with each new twist on what is perceived to constitute The Pattern.
Brethren, the Pattern is JESUS! Did Jesus socialize in the course of His public ministry? Absolutely. And so may WE!! He "broke bread" with believers and non-believers whenever He got the opportunity. Inside a building or outside a building was irrelevant. This was a heart thing, not a house thing. What is wrong with God's children gathering together in a part of the church building, or even a specially constructed facility, to celebrate their oneness in Christ and to simply enjoy the company of their brothers or sisters? What is wrong with believers breaking bread with one another, regardless of WHERE this occurs? We are FAMILY, not FACTIONISTS, and we need to begin acting like it! We in the Body have fought over the building long enough; let's start fighting to build the Body. The only building that really matters is the building up of one another in love (Eph. 4:16).
Someone asked Bill Hall about the "Love Feasts" of the early church, which were meals shared among the believers during which time the Lord's Supper was also celebrated. His answer is the typical "dodge" of the patternists. He wrote, "I don't know what these love feasts were. The one thing I know is, there is nothing in 2 Peter 2 or Jude that suggests that they were activities planned by the church" (Kitchens and Fellowship Halls). With just a little research, Bill would soon discover how misguided his "knowledge" truly is. But then, many have their minds already made up, and they have little desire to confuse their convictions with facts.
Larry Fain, in his article for Watchman Magazine, suggested that "Our one and only mission is the salvation of souls." I would suggest that Larry has failed to perceive the fullness of the mission of the Lord's church. Yes, we must indeed share the gospel with those who are lost. But that is only a part of the mission of the church. We are also commissioned to care for one another, love one another, stimulate one another to love and good deeds, and help build one another up as we journey together to our eternal abode with the Father. Could we not legitimately declare that facilities which enable us to meet together as a family facilitate the accomplishment of this expanded mission?
Does Satan smile when saints socialize? Of course not! But, our Father does!!! His children need to be together, in all manner of settings (both social and spiritual), and if a group of His children choose to construct a facility to help them achieve this goal as part of their mission, and they can afford to do so, then God bless them! Brethren, we need to lay aside our silly sectarian squabbles over kitchens, halls, water fountains and toilets, and cease formulating LAWS where God has said NOTHING one way or the other. We are free in Christ to behave lovingly and responsibly in our walk with Him and with one another. May God help us to better appreciate this grace in which we stand!
From a Minister in Ghana, West Africa:
Don't be surprised about this letter. My name is ----------. I am the Minister of Wiamoase Church of Christ in Ghana, West Africa. I always watch your web site, for there I saw how effective that you are in the Lord's work. I have read some of your books and writings. I have get in touch with you, and please, if you could send me some copies, most especially, of Down, But Not Out? Thank you. How is the church in your area doing? How is America? May the Lord be with you. He should continue to give you strength and wisdom to produce more effective books.
I am really excited when I read the Reflections you send to me. In fact, it is very powerful and encouraging. Bro. Maxey, one thing that I will plea to you is, please, try to compile all of them in one or two written books for the future's sake. I beg you to try as much as possible to make it a complete book for us.
From a New Reader in Indiana:
A friend forwarded your April 7 Reflections to me -- The Gospel-Doctrine Debate. I found it most stimulating and helpful in my study and thinking about such topics. Please add me to your list as a subscriber. Thanks!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
I read your debate with the Baptist "pastor" -- The Maxey-Martin Dialogue. How could he ever hope to convert anyone with such sick arrogance! I mean, you were nice and sophisticated, but he was just plain rude. Thank you for defending, and contending for, the faith!
From a Minister in Washington:
Al, I say keep your Reflections going! We need people like you to drown out the loud voices of fear (like Mr. John Waddey, one of the most arrogant people I have ever talked with). We need people like you to raise the standards of service to our God. If that means some change, so be it.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
As usual, a hearty AMEN, Al. Unity is something that I feel God has really laid on my heart for a while now. If we could just do what you have said, we would be such a force to be reckoned with. I believe that what we are seeing in our country now, with the decline of morals and the persecution of Christianity, is part of God's plan. I think, given what is happening right now, the urgency of reaching the lost and encouraging the saved is higher than ever. It is so important to put aside sectarian differences and work together to accomplish our goals. Jesus said a kingdom divided cannot stand, and right now we are far too divided. There is a lot of work that we, as Christians, need to be doing, far too much to be fighting each other!!!
Al, God has really blessed your ministry. In the space of a little over one year, you have gone from sending your Reflections to a few people you knew to several thousand worldwide! You have a way of reaching people on the most basic of levels and getting them to think ... not necessarily agree, but to think ... and THAT is what is important.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
I really appreciate, and fully agree with, your comments on the gospel-doctrine debate. There's entirely too much argument about words within the diverse Body of Christ. Paul warned Tim about that, didn't he? Our Savior proclaimed the Good News most succinctly in His response to Nicodemus. We should remember: if it ain't Good News, it ain't Gospel. On the other hand, as you pointed out, our Savior pronounced, in what we call the Great Commission: Go ... Teach.
From a Reader in Canada:
Al, I believe Jesus sent you to me to keep me from falling away. I had been so low for so long and was always looking up for help that didn't seem to be coming. Then you and your writings arrived in my life. You are a super source of strength and clarity in your Reflections. I need your material almost daily. Through your eyes I can now see Jesus without seeing the people [the church] who hurt me so deeply. What is more important is that I have been able to trust again. Thank you, Al, for helping me to see the Light at the end of the tunnel, and for helping me be able to hear again the knocking of Jesus at the door to my heart. I really love you, Al ... you have been a savior to me!
From a Reader in Arizona:
Al, What a great article! Your last paragraph -- "It is my prayer that the day will come when brethren, barricaded in opposing fortresses, will cease firing upon one another, leave their camps, and meet together to dialogue with each other, with mutual love and respect, about their perceived differences. The family of God has been dysfunctional long enough; it is time for squabbling siblings to grow up and begin behaving as mature sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. We must lay aside our pride, and our party preferences, and join hands in sweet fellowship at the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Lord, hasten that day when Your Son's prayer in John 17 is finally realized among Your children!" -- Is also my prayer. It's time we remember who the real enemy is -- any teaching that denies that Jesus is God's Son and our Savior.
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Was I surprised or what? -- To see my reply to your article on worship (which appeared in the Readers' section of Reflections #113). You refer to me as a Reader from Unknown. Just thought I would let you know that "Unknown" is New Jersey. I have served as an elder in NJ for the last 12 years. Keep up the ministry you allow the Lord to work through you. If you are ever in New Jersey let me know. We have an extra bed and plate.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Your timing is unbelievable! I have tried to make some of the same points regarding the distinction between the Gospel and doctrine in class discussions recently. It's amazing how much some want to make the two equal for fear of their "doctrines" losing a degree of status. While I respect everyone's ability and desire to discuss various issues, scruples, personal applications of the Truth, etc., it is disturbing to me for them to raise their teachings (doctrines) to a level of law, and then have that law be placed beside the Gospel of GRACE and TRUTH.
It is my conviction that this type of approach is why they (we) stumble over the "stumbling stone" (Romans 9:32). Is it any wonder that some never respond to the Gospel when it is diluted with various and sundry "issues," and why those who do respond so quickly lose their focus? If the Gospel of our Lord was presented in its simplicity, allowing it to be planted in sincere hearts, we might see the Lord's Body grow. Of course, we would also have to avoid planting the weeds and thorns of a sectarian spirit in those same hearts. I can't help but think we may be guilty of bringing some to the Lord, proselytizing them into our Movement, and, as Jesus said, "...travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15). That may be extreme in some cases, but I don't think I'm far off in others. Thank you for reinforcing these truths with additional references from the Word. You are a tremendous source of encouragement, brother.
From a Minister in Texas:
Just wanted to comment on a past article: "Neophobia and Neophilia" (Reflections #99). I am not so certain that many of "our" brethren are so much afraid to change as that they perceive change as a departure from the "truth" as they know it. Thus change is the "lie" versus the "truth." I tend to down play the "issues," and keep the brothers in the Book. It seems to work here at least. Of course you realize that I had to decide that my allegiance was to Jesus first and not to church orthodoxy. It seems to me that making that decision was a turning point in my life and ministry. God bless you and keep up the good work. (P.S. -- I am in Romans 7 this Sunday morning and we are reviewing your Issue #106 -- "The Law of the Husband." Thanks again!)
From my Critic in Alabama:
Al, you are really ignorant of how to read the scriptures. I am truly surprised that you are this ignorant of scriptures. I'm really glad you're in New Mexico and far away from the population of the USA. You are a dangerous man in the Lord's vineyard.
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