Weddings and Funerals — A Review
by Ralph D. Williams
Brother Weldon Warnock raised some good questions in his article, “Weddings and funerals in the meetinghouse,” in the Feb. 1973 issue. It seems more brethren are becoming concerned over these practices lately. Searching the Scriptures is to be commended for allowing the question to be searched openly.
It appears that three basic questions need to be considered as a solution is sought: (1) Are these activities a work of the local church? (2) Can church facilities be used for an individual / family need in providing for a social / domestic affair (1 Tim. 5:8)? (Though the state of marriage is ordained of God how it is entered is not). (3) Can the church facilities be used by a citizen to comply with his civil obligations? A marriage ceremony (of some kind not necessarily religious) is required by civil law.
The real issue is: where is the authority? If such practices are allowable a simple N.T. precept, example or necessary inference is all that’s necessary. Positive authority is needed, not a negative “what does it violate” approach (‘where does the Bible say not to play?”). Because brethren may like it, young people expect it, and churches “traditionally” practice it, doesn’t make it right.
In his second and last paragraphs, Brother Warnock recognizes that the church has an “authorized work” to do, and admits the building expedites such. Surely, none can challenge that principle. Then it simply remains to determine what the “authorized work” is and use the facilities accordingly.
I would take exception to the statement, “The Lord never did say what could or could not be done in a meetinghouse.” Jesus told us that when He revealed the “church’s authorized work.” Don’t forget it’s the work of the church that necessarily infers authority for a building to begin with! If the collectivity did not have a work to do requiring a meetingplace, no reason nor right would exist for such a place. Thus, the “work” and the “place” to do that work go together. Therefore, the “place” exists for only one exclusive purpose—to “expedite the church’s authorized work.”
To speak of brethren having a “taint of Catholic attitude” in acting as though the building were a sacred shrine on holy ground” is prejudicial and serves no purpose in clarifying the issue. All will agree the meeting place is not sacred as was Solomon’s temple. But still there is a principle of “sanctification” (a setting apart) involved. Is the Lord’s treasury not ‘set apart” to be used as He wills? Likewise are not those items purchased with those Divine funds “set apart” for the special use as the N.T. directs? Is it possible to be guilty of profaning such items by using them in a “common way” (Heb. 12:16)?
To compare weddings with “socializing” before and after services isn’t parallel. If a special social hour were scheduled and all invited to come for that purpose we’d be comparing things of like nature. This argument is somewhat like the liberals reply, “you have a water fountain in the building,” when we object to their kitchens and dining rooms. If a “socializing meeting” were called, Brother Warnock would have a parallel argument; just as our liberal kitchen-banqueting brethren would have, if we were to announce a special meeting around the water cooler. But in both cases we’re talking about individual doings which are incidental in using the building.
As brethren assemble, greetings are proper. Comments beyond that which is spiritually edifying would be a matter for the individual to regulate. Personally I try to refrain from secular socializing, and keep in mind the purpose for which we’ve assembled. Granted this isn’t always easy. If this area needs more emphasis, we should attend to it. But the point is a special service hasn’t been called for “social visiting” as for a wedding.
I don’t know of any churches or elders inviting the public to freely use the parking lot for the neighborhood children to turn the premises into a playlot. If someone came to the elders requesting such use, they ought to explain the lot wasn’t designed for such purposes and suggest the inquirer look elsewhere. If a brother requested his family use the parking lot for games to facilitate his son’s birthday party, I believe that would be more parallel to requesting use of the church building for a wedding. Wouldn’t we expect the elders to deny such a request?
Of course how these questions are answered regarding socializing and using the parking lot doesn’t really meet the issue of using the building for weddings and funerals. First, tackle this primary issue itself. Then if these other matters need attention for consistency and truth’s sake, work at solving them. But keep in mind the right or wrong of “weddings” in the meetinghouse isn’t answered by what incidentally takes place by non-members on the parking lot. Liberal brethren have argued to justify their secular schools and kindergartens in the building on the grounds that it stands idle so many hours each week. Our failure to utilize the facilities more fully doesn’t scripturally justify opening the door for unauthorized works. I agree we should use the building more for “special classes . . . (etc.) that comes within the church’s mission” (Emphasis mine-RW). Brother Warnock’s concluding words, as his beginning (2nd) paragraph, knocks weddings and funerals out of the building—unless Scriptural proof can be given that such are within the church’s Mission.