A New Argument For Church Recreation
It has been the traditional and age-long practice of innovators to introduce their various projects and programs into the life of the church, and then later on, when the innovations are brought under attack, to attempt to devise arguments and defenses for the things questioned. Instrumental music in the worship furnishes a classic example. Instrumental music was not urged upon the churches because anybody for one moment thought the law of God required it or even authorized it. Its introduction was motivated purely from a desire "to hold our young people," or "to improve our singing," or "to be more in harmony with the general practice of our Christian neighbors." Read the literature of the 1860's to 1890's and see the reasons advanced for its introduction.
It was only later — many years later, in fact — that the innovators came around to trying to prove that "psallo" included an instrument; or that it is impossible to sing "psalms" without an instrument; or that the whole question is in the realm of expediency, etc., advancing the arguments and ratiocination which have become familiar to us all.
Now, we are witnessing the same procedure in the matter of "church recreational programs." These softball teams, ping-pong tables, church gymnasiums, archery classes, hiking clubs, and various athletic and recreational projects were first introduced among the churches of Christ in our day with the avowed and openly stated objective of "holding our young people." They have been promoted for several years on that quite frank and honest basis. But now comes a new twist. The promoting brethren are now beginning to argue that these recreational activities are a part of the mission of the church; and, that being so, any congregation which does NOT have a "fellowship and recreation program" is falling short of its God-given duty. This argument has begun to appear more and more often in some of the gospel journals. In the Firm Foundation last November, Brother J. L. Calvert contended that the "fellowship" of Acts 2:42 authorizes the building of "fellowship halls" (Dr. J. W. Roberts suggests the name "banquet halls") for use of the congregation in having social and festive activities. A Houston church recently announced such a gathering for "fun, food, and frolic." Dr. J. D. Thomas in his book, "We Be Brethren", strongly defends these "fellowship halls" as a scriptural aspect of congregational life.
Recently, in California, we have come up against the latest and newest argument for church ball teams and church sponsored "fellowship and recreational" programs. This argument is being used by some of the preachers out there who are trying to promote the youth rallies and other "social gospel" projects. It declares flatly that since everybody understands the mission of the church is to "recreate man in the image of God," the man who opposes church "recreation" is actually opposing the very thing the church was established to accomplish!
The brethren using this defense of their projects have confused recreation with regeneration. The church's mission is spiritual, not carnal; her object is to save the souls of men, not to rejuvenate their bodies. Her interest is in creating a Christ like mind in men (Phil. 2:5), not in building Samson-like muscles. Her sacred worship is around the Lord's table, not around the wrestling mat, the ball park, or the swimming pool. Her "fellowship" is "in the gospel" Phil. 1:5), not in coffee and chicken salad. Her heroes are Paul and Peter and James and John, not Charles Atlas, Babe Ruth, and Esther Williams. Her ideal is a godly character, not a world champion athlete.
Our California brethren using the "recreation is the church's mission" argument do not realize that the Bible gives us in precise and simple terms the way or method by which men are to be "re-created". It is by the gospel — not by a puppet show. "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new." (2 Cor. 6:17.) If he is a new "creature", he became such by being "recreated". "That "re-creating" came about by his "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth." (I Peter 1:23.)
We almost feel we owe an apology to our readers to have to set forth such simple and elementary truths. They are so well known and so obvious that we would have supposed every Christian on earth, even the newest and youngest babe in Christ, would have understood. It is the 'gospel" by which men are saved, regenerated, recreated — not banquet halls, swimming pools, or pumpkin pie.
Many congregations have been deceived and duped into this "fellowship and recreation" mania on the assurance (by men who ought to know better) that such things are insignificant and pose no threat to the purity of the church. Be not deceived. This wild enthusiasm for a "social gospel" kind of religion will lead inevitably to a "social gospel" congregation — with all the liberalism, unbelief and worldly-mindedness characteristic of such churches. The church of our Lord has a holy and sacred mission on this earth. That mission is spiritual and not carnal; the method for accomplishing that mission is the gospel, not a gymnasium. Her task has to do with sanctifying the heart, not with satisfying the stomach. "Fun, food, and frolic" have a legitimate place in life, but their place is not as a part of the mission of the church.
Gospel Guardian – March 26, 1959