Have ye not known? have yet not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:21).
A very common matter in Christianity is the forgetting of origins of practices and concepts, both those that the Scriptures authorize and also those that have no authorization in Scripture. Many a practice and belief has its origin later than the time of the Apostles, and is either legitimate by Biblical liberty or given an air of legitimacy over time. One man’s innovation, after all, is a later generation’s tradition.
We could speak about the way this played out in Catholicism, with the Christmas and Easter observances, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and all the various rituals that find themselves more at home in a Roman or northern European pagan festival than in an assembly of Christians.
Instrumental music, also, along with the building of fellowship halls and gymnasiums and all other similar things found their origins far later than the original preaching of the Gospel. These innovations, clung to in the name of tradition and liberty, are not only foreign to but also unauthorized in the Scriptures.
While many a non-Scriptural innovation has been perpetuated over time, it is also problematic when legitimate exercise of Biblical liberty is distorted on account of people forgetting the origin of the authority. The greatest example of this would be the church building.
We read the following in Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh.
We are thus commanded to assemble, and in the pages of the Scriptures, we see Christians assembling in the Temple (Acts 2:48), Solomon’s Portico (Acts 4:12), and homes (Philemon 1:2). Since we have multiple, inconsistent examples, we can conclude that Christians have been authorized to meet in whatever way they deem profitable, and it is upon this foundation that the church is authorized to have a building. It expedites the command given to us above.
As time has gone on, many a person has neglected to remember that such is the origin of the authority of the church building. Human logic and standards are introduced: “using the building only 4 hours a week is not good stewardship”; “the church is people, not a building, therefore, we can use the building for whatever purpose we find profitable”; and so on and so forth.
Is it the purpose of the Lord’s people to find ways of expanding use beyond what is authorized? Is that consistent with seeking to do all things according to the name of the Lord (Colossians 3:17)? The building exists on precarious authority: an expedient based on generic authority. Christians have been commanded to assemble (Hebrews 10:25): they have not been commanded to have weddings, nor to have funerals, nor to allow the Boy Scouts in, nor to have a potluck together, or any such thing. It can be argued that in situations where brethren are poor, the church can offer the use of its building as benevolence to saints for a funeral service, and possibly a wedding; what other Biblical rationalization could exist for such things? If we are going to expedite examples, or inferences, or whatever we feel like expediting, should there not be established some “thus saith the Lord,” and some demonstration of necessity?
It is argued by many that having the building only to assemble on Sunday and Wednesday is an attempt to sacramentalize the building, as is seen in many denominations. It is not because the building is “holy” or for “sanctified use” that the examples above are problematic: the problem is that the building is based on the liberty of where we may choose to assemble. If anything, the use of a building for weddings and funerals lead to the temptation to associate the building with sanctified spirituality!
Let us continue to apply Biblical authority properly, remembering where the authority for practices, beliefs, and especially liberties, originates.
Ethan R. Longhenry