Authority for the Church to Own a Building
Having authority from God for the things we do is a very important matter. Nadab and Abihu offered fire before the Lord which He had not authorized and as a result were killed by fire (Leviticus 10:1-2). David and the nation of Israel transported the ark in a manner which God had not authorized and as a result Uzzah was struck dead for touching the ark (2 Samuel 6:1-10; 1 Chronicles 15:13). Saul offered a sacrifice to the Lord which he was not authorized to offer and lost the kingdom as a result (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Uzziah went into the temple and offered incense which he was not authorized to do and ended up dying as a leper as a result (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). All of these examples from the Old Testament remind us of the importance of having God’s authorization for the things we do. Colossians 3:17 tells us, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (NKJV). Everything we do must be done in the name of or by the authority of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, it is good for us to examine the question of whether a local church is authorized by God to own a building in which to assemble for worship and edification.
We need to first recognize God expects local churches to assemble regularly. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (NKJV). It is our responsibility to assemble regularly. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 contains instructions for local churches to have a collection of money on the first day of the week. Along with that collection on the first day of the week we read of how the early disciples came together on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). God has given the local church the work of edifying itself (Ephesians 4:16). Such edification takes place in part when we assemble to engage in acts of worship together (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Since God expects the local church to assemble regularly, it is necessary for the local church to have some place to assemble at. One cannot have an assembly of people without having a place where they are to assemble. God’s word has not specified the type of place where the local church ought to assemble. It could be a church would meet in an individual’s house. Churches may have met in schools (Acts 19:9). The church in Jerusalem initially appears to have met in the temple area (Acts 2:46). The variety of places used for local churches to meet with God’s approval demonstrate God has not specified a particular type of place where the church is to meet. Since meeting together for worship and edification falls under the work of the local church and the place is not specified, a local church could deem it is expedient to own a building in which to assemble for carrying out the work of the church (1 Corinthians 10:23). An expedient is not something that is required but is something which aids in the carrying out of a Bible command. In order for something according to the Bible to be expedient, it must first be lawful. We have established it is lawful to have a building and therefore it may be considered expedient for a local church to have one.
Since the authority for the church to own a building is based upon it being given the work of edification, evangelism, and limited benevolence (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:15; Acts 2:44-45), then the building is only authorized to be used for those things which the church is authorized to do as part of its work. Sadly, there are churches today, even those claiming to be churches of Christ, which use their buildings for social and recreational purposes. The Lord’s church is not involved in the work of providing social and recreational opportunities. Rather, such activities are said to be the work of the home (1 Corinthians 11:22, 34). Therefore, it would be sinful for the church to use its building to provide for a social meal or to use it to provide some sort of recreational opportunity. Other churches decide to use their buildings for weddings and funerals. Weddings and funerals are times when the word of God might be taught. However, just because the word of God might be taught on an occasion does not authorize us to use the church’s building for such things. If so, one could justify the building being used for many other things as well. Could we use the building for a birthday party as long as the word of God was taught on that occasion? Certainly not! Why? The birthday party is not a work the church is authorized to carry out just like the church is not in the business of marrying and burying people. Let’s recognize local churches have authority to own a building but let’s also be careful to use the building only for works which the local church has authority to be engaged in.