Weddings and Funerals in the Meetinghouse—No. 2
By Weldon E. Warnock
Brother Ralph Williams said in a review of my February article on “Weddings and Funerals in the Meetinghouse” that “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.” But the issue is not one of authority (finding book, chapter and verse), but rather it is a matter of judgment. We are not talking about what the church may do, but what individuals may do in the meetinghouse. Certainly, the church has no business conducting weddings or funerals in or out of the meetinghouse. We are all in agreement here. But what individuals may do in the church’s building is another matter.
To ask for book, chapter and verse for a wedding or funeral in the meetinghouse is about like asking for Bible to comb your hair, tie your shoes, powder your face or manicure your nails in the meetinghouse. Where is there command, example or necessary inference for these things in the meetinghouse? Yet, we all do them (hopefully, not during the worship, however). The church would need authority to comb hair, tie shoes, powder the face and manicure nails, but not individuals.
Our brother states, “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.’” No, brother Williams, Jesus told the church what it could do when he revealed its authorized work—not what could be done in a temporal structure. This position eliminates any and everything in the building or on the premises that is not a work of the church. Is riding a bicycle on the parking lot a work of the church? Is playing ball by the neighborhood children a work of the church? Is public parking by the community while shopping or working the church’s work? Since none of these things is a work of the church, they must be barred from church property, according to brother Williams’ reasoning.
Forced to its logical conclusion, brother Williams view becomes an extreme and untenable one. It could be classified as a reductio ad absurdum. Putting this in plain language, it means, “disproof of a proposition, etc., by showing the absurdity to which it leads when carried to its logical conclusion” (Webster). Brother Williams’ position demands that everything not related to church activity must be kept off the church’s premises. No congregation practices this.
My comparison of weddings and funerals to socializing before and after services is parallel, brother Williams to the contrary. I did not say that they were comparable in every aspect, but they are parallel in that neither is a function of the church. Since some are contending that weddings and funerals may not be conducted in a meetinghouse because they are not works of the church, I maintained in my former article that neither may socializing, games by neighborhood children or parking of automobiles by the local residents while shopping or working, be done on the church’s premises because they are not functions of the church.
Brother Williams wants to make the socializing proper and permissible before and after worship on the basis of it being incidental. Webster defines “incidental” as “a chance or undesigned feature of something; casual; hence, minor; of secondary importance.” Thus, it appears that brother Williams has no objections to undesigned secular matters in the meetinghouse; just those that are planned. Maybe we need to start having unplanned weddings and classify them under “incidentals.” To say a thing is incidental seems to make it right. Seriously, we have as much right to perform a wedding or funeral in the meetinghouse and classify it a matter of judgment as we do to talk about hunting there and classify it an incidental. Neither one involves the church in an unauthorized practice.
Our brother said, “I don’t know of any churches or elders inviting the public to freely use the parking lot or the neighborhood children to turn the premises into a playlot.” Why don’t they stop the practice, then? If their failure to invite suggests that they disapprove, then they ought to terminate playing and parking on the premises. The fact that elders do not stop playing and public parking on the parking lot is evidence that they have no objections. How many churches do you think would turn down children’s request to ride their bicycles on the parking lot or deny a request for some business people to use the lot while they are at work? To be this narrow and restrictive would cast the church in a contemptible position in the community.
Who says that weddings and funerals are the primary issue, except brethren who have made them an issue? They are no issue with most of us, and I regret that they have been made a public issue. If I made children playing on the parking lot and socializing before and after worship an issue, they would be the main issue with me. I could say something like brother Williams said, “Of course how these questions are answered regarding weddings and funerals doesn’t really meet the issue of using the church’s premises for children playing and public parking. First, tackle the primary issue itself. THEN if these other matters need attention for consistency and truth’s sake, work at solving them.” Really, public parking and playing on the parking lot are just as much an issue as weddings and funerals in the building, and “for consistency and truth’s sake,” they need solving by the objectors of weddings and funerals in the building.
Some questions are in order just here: (1) Since brother Williams contended that the church’s facilities are “sanctified,” would it be permissible for a person to make a phone call on the church’s phone that is not related to church work? (2) Could a person get a drink of water when the church is not assembled in the building? (3) May the restrooms be used, other than during a service? These things are done in all buildings owned by churches of Christ that are so equipped. Are we to quit allowing these practices on the basis of the facilities being “sanctified”—that they are to be used only in conjunction with the church’s activity?
Although I am of the conviction that the usage of the building for weddings and funerals is a matter of judgment, there are some factors to consider as to what may be permitted on the church’s premises: (1) Is it morally right? Of course, this goes without saying. (2) What might the potential dangers be to involving the church in the practice later? (3) Would the people in the community get the wrong impression and thus hinder them from obeying the truth? (4) Has the main purpose of the meetinghouse been changed? It was built for the worship and work of the church. If it is used all week for individual projects and activities, has not the purpose for which it was built been altered? As the old saying goes, “The tail would be wagging the dog.” (5) Is the activity in good taste? Propriety demands, on the basis of the close proximity of the meetinghouse with religious functions, that certain things are out of place on the church’s property. Discretion would have to be used here.
In conclusion may I say that if a congregation saw fit to refuse a wedding or funeral in its meetinghouse, that would be its prerogative, but it has no right to try to impose its opinions or feelings on sister congregations and thereby disrupt the peace and harmony of brethren over such matters that are purely optional. We have enough legitimate issues without creating some superfluous ones.