The church and Recreation
The Church and Recreation
In the religious world many groups use the funds collected on the first day of the week to provide facilities in which the members recreate and share social meals together, and for many, the term fellowship means sharing a social meal. Does the Bible teach that the work of the church includes providing recreation and entertainment for its members? Does fellowship mean eating together? Consider the following usages of the term:
- Contributing to the needs of needy Christians: Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:4
- The relationship we have with Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Father: 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 1:3,6,7.
- There is no fellowship between believers and unbelievers: 2 Corinthians 6:14
- The partnership in preaching the gospel: Galatians 2:9
- Supporting those who preach the gospel: Philippians 1:5
- Sharing in the sufferings of Christ: Philippians 3:10
The English word fellowship and the Greek words behind its translation refer to a partnership, joint participation or companionship. Fellowship simply means partnership or joint participation and the context defines the type of partnership under consideration. Never do I find this term used in reference to eating a social meal together. Even when there was a sharing among Christians in material things in the First Century, such as the contribution for the poor saints in Jerusalem, the purpose was to help needy Christians rather than providing social activities for Christians.
The Work of the Early Church
Some have attempted to argue that fellowship is impossible unless the local congregation provides a place for Christians to socialize and share meals together. Yet consider the following observation:
“Missing, however, from the inspired record of Acts are efforts of the early congregations to meet the social and recreational needs of either Christians or unbelievers. Missing from the New Testament Scriptures in general is authority for local congregations to sponsor social or recreational activities from their collective funds…It is not the case that people of the first century had no social or recreational needs, but the congregations of God’s people mentioned in the New Testament evidently did not provide for those needs as a part of the work they accomplished as collective groups” (The Church and Social Issues, Allen Dvorak, Pursuing the Pattern, General Editor Jim Deason, 166).
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
In this context the apostle Paul condemns the Corinthian congregation for turning the Lord’s Supper into a social meal (11:20-21). Consider the following observations:
- Paul does not give the Corinthians the option of having a social meal together when they come together just as long as they keep it separated from the Lord’s Supper.
- If there exists authority for eating together when we assemble as a congregation, then Paul should have left that option open. In all other cases in the Corinthian letter, when the Corinthians were abusing something that was authorized, they were allowed to keep what is authorized. For example, they were still allowed to observe the Lord’s Supper and exercise spiritual gifts, even though they had abused such things.
“If ‘fellowship meals’ are a legitimate part of the work of a local church, the apostle missed an incredible opportunity to encourage such at the same time that he corrected their observance of the Lord’s Supper” (Pursuing the Pattern, p. 179).
- It is equally clear that the early church was not authorized to eat the Lord’s Supper in connection with a social meal.
- The only option that Paul gives the Corinthians for their social meals, is to eat such meals at home (11:22,34). “Paul’s rhetorical questions of verse 22 indicate that meals to satisfy hunger and thirst belong to the home environment – another example of the difference between what individuals and the local congregation are authorized to do” (Pursuing the Pattern, p. 179).
- If such social meals are to be clearly separated from our meeting together as a church, then:
The fellowship of this passage is obviously not referring to the church gathering to have a social meal as a part of its work or worship. They participated together in listening to the apostle’s teaching, prayer and observing communion. They also had fellowship in sharing with Christians in need (2:44).
The eating in this verse follows the same order as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. When individual Christians ate together it was in the context of the family or the home, “breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness”.
“When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left”.
From this passage some have argued that the church in Troas ate a social meal at the end of Paul’s sermon. Yet consider the following observations:
- “If the church, along with Paul came together for a social meal (as a church activity), then the apostle participated in this very practice that he had forbidden the Corinthians to do (1 Corinthians 11:34). First Corinthians was written during Paul’s third missionary journey while he was at Ephesus and before he set out on the return leg of that journey (passing through Troas). Second, the indication in Acts 20:11 is that only Paul ate – the verbs ‘had broken’ and ‘eaten’ are singular in number” (Pursuing the Pattern, p. 180).
Jesus and the Multitudes
From the examples of Jesus feeding the multitudes some have made the following arguments:
- Jesus fed unbelievers, therefore the church is authorized to provide social meals and social services for non-Christians.
- Jesus used food as a lure to attract people, so the church is authorized to use food and other physical things as a way to open up opportunities to share the gospel with others.
Yet consider the following observations:
- Jesus was not a local congregation. He was not acting as a church, rather He was acting as an individual. There is a difference between the work of an individual and the work and obligations of a local congregation. For example see 1 Timothy 5:16.
- Jesus actually rebuked the multitudes for following Him in the hopes of getting a free meal (John 6:26-27).
- Jesus worked a miracle to provide this food, and the purpose was to help people see that God was with Him (Acts 2:22).
- Jesus equally healed the sick, yet that does not authorize the local congregation to provide health care services for the world.
In 1951 B.C. Goodpasture wrote the following in the Gospel Advocate Lesson Commentary, “It is not the mission of the church to furnish amusement for the world or even for its own members… The church was not established to feature athletics… For the church to turn aside from its divine mission to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. Building recreation rooms, and providing and supervising recreational activities at the expense of the church, is a departure from the simple gospel plan as revealed in the New Testament… The church might as well relieve the parents of feeding and disciplining all the young people at church expense as to take over the job of entertaining and supervising the recreation at church expense” (p. 229).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017