Do you think it is sinful for Christians to own a meeting-house in which they come together to worship God?...Could the disciples incorporate in order to buy and own property, something like a church building? It seems to me we have this liberty in Christ and therefore, have a right to do it if we want to. Please comment. - Kentucky
The Bible does not address itself to this question directly, that is, God did not reveal His will on the matter of Christians owning a "church building." Therefore, no one can say with authority that "it is sinful for Christians to own a meeting-house." There are other factors to take into consideration which may lead us to conclude that a "church building" is not as good for us as we think.
Archeological evidences and early church history testify that no group of Christians erected a "church building" (were they following the Lord's wisdom?) until the middle of the third century and well into the great apostasy. It did not become standard procedure until after 325 A.D. We do not read about them in the New Testament, but do read where the disciples met in their houses (common living quarters). Evidently, they felt this arrangement to be adequate for the purpose for which they came together.
Meeting in houses simplifies things and eliminates questionable practices about which brethren tend to fuss and fight. Just think about all the "issues" people have divided over in the last fifty years, many of them involving "church property." Can you imagine Christians of the first century bickering over "can we eat a common meal in the same building where we meet?"; "can we break up into groups for a Bible study?"; "can women say anything while we are all together?"; "can we have a pool in the house large enough to immerse someone?"; "can we erect a cross, build a steeple, use stained glass windows, etc?"; and "can we use the building for weddings, funerals and scout meetings?" All of these "issues" fade into oblivion when you change the meeting place from a "church building" to someone's house.
All questions concerning the "church treasury" cease to be divisional factors when you do not have a "church building." There is no real need for a "treasury" when you are meeting in a house. There are no mortgages nor preacher salaries to pay, and operating costs are so small that an occasional "chipping in" can easily take care of them. Again, think of the devastation wrought by endless fallacious arguments made over "what the church treasury can and can't be used for." The first fallacy is that the "church treasury" is looked upon as the "Lord's Treasury." Nowhere in scriptures do we have this teaching. Everything belongs to the Lord. He did not command us to "keep His Treasury." This is purely fictional. There is nothing wrong with Christians pooling resources, but there is nothing from God that would make this obligatory, not even 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. This passage tells each one to lay something up at home (see this writer's "Lay By Him In Store," Examiner, Vol. 2, No. 6).
The second fallacy is that the innocent little "church building" begins as a simple expedient and then becomes an absolute necessity "to carry out the Lord's work." I have been told by some that in their judgment it would be impossible to do the Lord's work today without the use of a "church building," and that "it is absolutely necessary to the carrying out of God's will." Please assess what they are saying. God wants us to do His work and His will, and then FAILS TO TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING THAT IS "ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY" TO ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT: A CHURCH BUILDING! Amazing! Can you read in your Bible that "church buildings are absolutely necessary" to carry out the work of saving souls? Someone forgot to tell the early disciples that "it would be impossible to do the Lord's work...without the use of a 'church building'," so, they converted people to Jesus by the thousands, and by mid-century the gospel had been preached to the whole world (Col. 1:23). The difference was they converted people to Christ; we try to convert them to THE CHURCH, with its BEAUTIFUL CHURCH BUILDINGS!
The reason you do not read about "church buildings" in the Bible is because they are not essential for converting people to Jesus. We should have our attention focused upon Him. We should be talking to others about Him. Instead, we are trying to impress our neighbors with our "church building." We see to it that ours is larger and more elaborately furnished than our denominational friends. We think that if we impress the community with this "show of success" that they will come flocking to Jesus. Some may come, but not to Jesus. They will love the "building."
Here is an example of the "church building" mentality. Earlier in 1988, lottery began in the state of Florida. A brother "found" a lottery ticket in the parking lot of his place of business. It happened to be the "winning ticket for ONE MILLION DOLLARS"! (This is a true story!) This brother felt he should give "ten percent" to the "church where he is a member." Naturally, they were elated to receive the $100,000. Guess what they are going to do with the money? Support evangelists to preach the gospel in foreign countries? No-o-o! Give to the poor or the handicapped? No-o-o! Pay for Bibles translated into English to be distributed into other countries where people might learn the truth about Jesus? No-o-o! Surely, you can guess some greater things than these that can be done with $100,000. You give up? They are going to build a new "church building" that will cost ONE MILLION DOLLARS! You see, their old "church building" is an "eyesore," "dilapidated," and not as "beautiful" as their denominational neighbors. It matters not that the old building has plenty of room for growth. "THE NEW BUILDING WILL HELP PULL IN THE PEOPLE AND THEN WE WILL CONVERT THEM!" To what? (Whatever happened to "stewardship?") Brethren, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees!
The "church building" appeals to the group's PRIDE. It is our "memorial" to our supposed love for God. It goes beyond something that is "expedient;" it serves as our "showcase." It says, "We are as successful as any other denomination in town." We want the world to know that we are a first-class church institution, and we have the "corporate headquarters" to prove it.
One of the most tragic things that happens in the wake of this "church building" mania is that a large part of the "contributions from the saints" goes to pay for it. The largest part of the collections goes to preacher salaries. Very little is left for true, worthy causes. Two things usually take place as a consequence of this "church building" infestation: (1) the "church" is heavily indebted for many years and feels too strapped to finance legitimate "good works;" and/or (2) the brethren become complacent with their "church building" religion. Even though the largest part of every dollar contributed to the organization goes to pay for buildings, maintenance and preacher salaries, each one is content that he/she is doing what God wants him to. What work do YOU DO for others OUTSIDE THE "CHURCH BUILDING" ASSEMBLY, apart from the "Church Treasury?" What money do YOU SPEND reaching the lost and helping the needy OUTSIDE THE "CHURCH BUILDING?" If you do and/or spend money on "works of God" OUTSIDE THE "CHURCH BUILDING," you are a rare person indeed.
There is a day coming when the vain and ambitious elders, along with the promotion-minded, reputation-seeking, professional preachers shall give an account for this evil work. It is evil because it takes funds away from the TRUE WORKS OF GOD: SAVING LOST SOULS AND MINISTERING TO THE POOR AND HELPLESS! "Church buildings" serve selfish, human pride. They are totally unnecessary. The first century Christians never built them. God never made provisions for then. The early church went out to the people with the glorious message of good news about Jesus; but we try to coax them in and win them over with our magnificent structures of wood, stone and glass.
But, you say, "It is a matter of liberty," even as you have in your letter to me. But did not the apostle Paul warn, "Only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another" (Gal. 5:13)? And, in another place, "All things are lawful; BUT NOT ALL THINGS ARE EXPEDIENT" (1 Cor. 10:23)? Stewardship entails a great deal of judgment and latitude, but the bottom line is that the steward shall give an account of his work to the Lord. He will be asked to justify the spending of millions upon millions of dollars on "church buildings." Can you see the judgment scene where we shall be asked to give an account of our works? "Many will say to me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not build for you the biggest, finest, most luxurious church building in our land, and did we not impress and attract the most important, the most influential, the most wealthy people of our community, and by your name done many wonderful works in that church building, like singing, praying, preaching, giving money and administering your Supper?' And then will I profess unto them, 'I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'"
And where will you stand on that day, my sister and brother? Will you be up there with the rest, trying to justify the misappropriations of funds the Lord entrusted to you? Or, will you plead "INNOCENT BY IGNORANCE?'' Jesus said, "Let them alone: they are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both shall fall into a pit" (Matt. 15:14). Please pay attention to these serious matters. You will be held responsible for relinquishing control of your contributions. It is taught by many that "when your money goes into the plate, it is no longer your responsibility." THAT IS A DOCTRINE OF SATAN! It is designed to throw you off balance. Making a contribution makes you responsible. You are saying, "I support the programs of this church." If 90% of all money collected goes for properties and the hired preacher, you are making a statement with your donation: "I agree with this spending." For this, you will have to answer someday.
You ask in your letter, "Could the disciples incorporate in order to buy and own property, something like a church building?" Yes, they can, but it is fraught with dangers, as we have seen. It begins so innocently until pride takes over. But, there are still many other factors I have not addressed that enter into the equation that argues against the use of a "church building," at least in this writer's judgment. The early disciples were not confronted with this question. They never bought or owned property together, as a "church." As long as someone had a house to share, they had a place to meet.
As far as Christians forming corporations is concerned, I see nothing "sinful" in this per se. Christians can incorporate and establish good, moral, and ethical businesses, such as schools, publishing houses, real estate ventures, radio and TV stations, etc. I mention these in particular because they all have possibilities for propagating the Word of God. They can lead to "sinful" works, to be sure, but are not "sinful" per se.
Yes, we have liberty in Christ Jesus, and thanks be to God for it. But, let us not become a slave to what the "church building" has come to represent. In today's "organized religion," the "church building" is the property of the "Local Church Organization," which has its ruling body (Eldership, Board of Elders, Bishops, etc.). Each organization has its own name (Church of Christ, Independent Christian Church, Baptist Church, etc.), and sets forth its own creed or doctrine (published or unpublished). According to the theory, you must "work out your own salvation" through one of these "Local Church" units in order to "do the work and will of God." That means attending "all the services of the church" in one of these "church buildings." It means obligating yourself to help pay for one of these MILLION DOLLAR "CATHEDRALS" that brethren are building today. It means putting yourself in submission to "the church" and all their man-made laws. Yes, thank God we do not have to be enslaved to the imaginations of men, because we have liberty in Christ Jesus! Only use your liberty to glorify God and His son. Amen.