Weddings and Funerals — Review No. 2

By Ralph D. Williams

Brother Weldon Warnock and I agree the church is not in the business of providing for weddings and funerals. I’m sure we’d agree that such is an individual and family responsibility (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Tim. 5:8). Yet, when the meetinghouse is used for these affairs, who has provided the place? The individual didn’t spend his money to build the facilities. The building, seating, etc. were purchased from the Lord’s (church) treasury. If a church were renting a meeting place, would it be all right to use church funds to rent it an extra hour or another evening for a wedding?

Combing the hair and clipping a hangnail, like using the restroom or drinking fountain, need no specific authority. These are individual personal needs which are merely INCIDENTAL to the reason for being at the building. To have a parallel with a wedding one would need to announce that brethren were invited to gather with combs and clippers at a certain time for a special service of clipping and combing.

I’ll stand upon my statement that Jesus told us how to use the meeting house when He revealed the “church’s authorized work.” Obviously, the Lord said nothing concerning “a temporal structure” per se. Yet places of assembling are recorded in the N.T. (Acts 20:8,10). And the work and worship required of the church necessitate a place (1 Cor. 11:18-22; Heb. 10:25). Therefore when a place is rented or purchased with the Lord’s funds to do His authorized work, the question of HOW to use the place should be self-evident!

How shall we use the communion trays? Some seem uncertain about the building itself, but what about this aid to the Lord’s Supper? Would a sister decide to take the bread plates home to serve sandwiches at a bridal shower since the trays weren’t being used anyway? The reasoning of some would permit it. The question then is will we use an expedient (building, trays, baptistry) only for the use for which it was purchased with the Lord’s funds? In the business world, one who takes company property for his own personal use without authority is guilty of misappropriation. We don’t wish to spiritually misappropriate the Lord’s funds or property. That’s the very heart of this discussion.

Brother Warnock calls my view absurd because he carries it out to an “extreme and untenable” con­clusion, which he thinks is necessary. He says no congregation practices keeping off the church’s premises everything not related to church activity. (Is our standard of right and wrong to be what churches practice?) Certainly we can’t police the grounds or put up barbed wire to stop children from riding their bicycles or playing on it. But the fact remains the parking lot wasn’t built as a playground. Neither was it designed to aid shoppers and businessmen. Such uses are INCIDENTAL. If it’s a problem put up a sign: “church parking.” That states the purpose of this private property. If people violate it, we can’t control that nor would it be wise to make a scene over it. Because we can’t completely control what outsiders do on the premises doesn’t argue or justify planning and using church facilities in nearly anyway anyone may desire.

True, socializing before and after services is parallel to weddings in that neither are the function of the church. But they are not parallel where it would be significant in this discussion. “Socializing” or visiting is not a planned activity. Time is not set apart for it. Announcements and invitations are not extended for participation. A special service is not scheduled for that purpose. A request is not made of the elders that the building might be borrowed for such use. I’ve never heard an outsider speak of our “visiting” as they’ve been heard to speak about a “church of Christ wedding.”

The careful attention given to the word INCIDENTAL is important and appreciated. It means “a chance or undesigned feature of something; casual; hence, minor; of secondary importance.” Surely, this is part of the key in resolving some of the seeming difficulties in this inquiry. “Incidentals” are a fact of life; something we must live with. They are even found in the Bible. For example, in connection with baptism, who ad­ministered it and where were merely incidentals (1 Cor. 1:17; Acts 8:36). However, it’s a little hard to believe many brides would be satisfied with an “un­planned” (incidental) wedding. While “socializing” may be “incidental” much of that which I hear is an expression of “care one for another” (1 Cor. 12:25) and courtesy toward visitors (Gal. 6:10). The content of such visiting is indeed a matter of judgment. But this is not the same and I would object if the men wished to meet at the building one evening to talk about and show slides of a hunting trip.

Is it wrong to use the facilities purchased with the Lord’s money only for those things for which they were needed in the first place? Should the wishes of the public determine their use? I don’t find it narrow to kindly and politely tell folks that the church premises aren’t designed for general public use. Tell them (with a smile) if they want to park there to come Sunday at 9 a.m.! Right thinking people, respectful of private property, shouldn’t become offended at this truth. Of course, the first consideration ought always to be whether our practice and attitude is offensive to God.

Again, if the word “sanctified” causes misun­derstanding, substitute the words “ear-marked” or “reserved” with regard to the use of the facilities. Clearly none believe the building is like some shrine in which we must remain silent or whisper in hushed tones. The meeting place is “set apart” for the special work of the Lord. The worship that is rendered therein is truly “sanctified” in the strictest Biblical sense of the word.

In response to the three questions: the telephone, like the restroom, exists not specifically for “church work” but to facilitate those who assemble or are at the building at other times (cleaning, bulletin, studying). It serves one’s needs while there spiritually or secularly. I wouldn’t object if one phoned to check with the baby sitter, called a taxi or ambulance, etc. I would oppose a member coming to the building solely to make social or business calls. If one were at the building legitimately the use of the phone would be merely incidental. If a brother didn’t have water or bathroom facilities at home, I’m sure he’d be welcome to come to the building at any hour there was need. In such trying circumstances, he’d no doubt classify as a “needy saint” anyway, thus an object of church aid. But if one has utilities at home, why would he make a special trip to the meetinghouse? The telephone, water, restrooms all serve the incidental needs of those who have reason to be at the building, during services or any other time.

Again, brother Warnock and I agree when he writes in his next to the last paragraph, the meetinghouse “was built for the worship and work of the church.” Is it improper or “absurd” to ask brethren simply to apply that truth in practice? The building wasn’t built for public use by the Garden club, Rotary, 4H-club, Boy Scouts, ad infinitum. Therefore, the list of five rules or someone else’s ten rules aren’t needed to determine what activities may be permitted on the premises and by whom. The church has a work and worship to attend to. A place was necessary to ac­complish it. Therefore, let us be content to use the facilities for which they were originally acquired and authorized. While some may consider this a superfluous issue, others are concerned enough to investigate and discuss it calmly and brotherly in the interest of doing only what is right. Let us help ourselves and our brethren never to depreciate a question to the extent we fail to fulfill 1 Thess. 5:21.

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