What We Cannot Learn by Reading the Bible No.2

Glendol McClure

In a previous article, we discussed the four points listed below and noted that we cannot learn from the Bible:

$          That “one church is good as another.”

$          Of the doctrine of “salvation by faith only.”

$          That the apostle Peter was the first pope.

$          That the use of mechanical instruments of worship is authorized in New Testament worship.

In this article, we will continue to consider this subject and we will investigate two other important issues that continue to plague brethren today.

First, we cannot learn from reading the Bible that it is a work of the local church to provide social entertainment! Just like the use of instrumental music in the worship is not authorized, the provision for social programs by a local church where funds are used from the treasury of a local congregation to promote, advertise or provide social entertainment, is not authorized in the New Testament. No one can find a direct command, approved example or necessary implication of any local church in the first century doing so.

Some will argue that “fellowship” includes social meals and gatherings in a facility provided by the local church (a “fellowship hall”), and they attempt to justify such a practice on this basis. When the word "fellowship" is used, many picture in their minds potlucks in the church building, coffee and donuts, and various social entertainment functions. But, not only is such a practice not authorized, to call such a gathering “fellowship” is inconsistent with the Bible definition of true scriptural fellowship.

Fellowship is never used in the New Testament in terms of social entertainment. According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the word “fellowship” is from at least 6 Greek Words. These words are: koinonia, meloche, and koinonos which are nouns, and koinoneo and sunkoinoneo which are verbs. Also, the word metochos, an adjective, is used and referred to by Vine. The noun koinonia is translated “communion” (1 Cor. 10:16), or “that which is the outcome of fellowship, a contribution” (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4). The noun metoche has the meaning of partnership and is translated “fellowship” (2 Cor. 6:14), and this word is akin to the adjective metochos. The noun koinonos denotes a partaker or partner or to have communion with, as used in Matthew 23:30; Luke 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:18, 20; 2 Corinthians 1:7; 8:23; Philemon 6; Hebrews 10:33; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:4. The verb koinoneo is translated did communicate” (Phil. 4:15), and the verb sunkoinoneo means to have fellowship with and is translated “ye had fellowship” (Eph. 5:11; Phil. 4:14), or “ye did communicate.”

But, one can have “fellowship” in things that are condemned. Notice Ephesians 5:11, where Paul said, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”

Hence, when brethren engage in a practice that is without Divine authority, they have “fellowship” with that which is “not in the doctrine of Christ” (2 Jn. 9). True fellowship is “in the light” and John said, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). To have “fellowship” in works for which there is no Divine authority, is to “walk in darkness and not practice the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6). The spiritual fellowship we read of in the New Testament was never social meals, games, entertainment and such like. Fellowship is used in terms of participation in, or the support of, the authorized works of a local congregation, namely, evangelism, edification, benevolence and discipline. Any “work” outside the realm of these four areas, is a work the Lord’s body is not authorized to engage in. The local church has no Divine authority to go beyond these bounds.

But some think that brethren who oppose having a kitchen and fellowship hall or a potluck in the building, or providing entertainment are a “stick-in-the-mud,” a “scrooge,” or an “anti-social introvert.” No, we are none of these! I enjoy getting together, as an individual, with other Christians. It is a treat to participate in a sport or go on an outing of some type with other Christians. I encourage members of local congregations to have potlucks and social meals together (but, not in the meeting house!). Or, to go on a fishing, hunting or golfing outing together (but, not forsaking the assembly to do so!). I applaud such associations with other Christians. But, when a local congregation collectively provides, sponsors and/or supports social activities using funds from their treasury, such actions are without Divine authority.

How do I know this? “The Bible tells me so!” Jesus encountered a similar problem during His personal ministry, with those who loved the social over the spiritual. He scolded some of the five thousand He had previously fed, saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (Jn. 6:26, 27). In the verses that follow, Jesus emphasized the spiritual not the physical! Further, Paul boldly dealt with this problem. For example, when he scolded the Corinthians for their eating a common meal to satisfy their selfish desires, rather than eating of the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine in remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross, he commanded them saying, “And if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:34).

Additionally, Paul addressed the eating of meats that would cause some weak brethren to sin by violating their conscience. He wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). And, he reminded the Corinthians that the Israelites perished in the wilderness, for one reason being that they “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” – putting the physical over the spiritual (1 Cor. 10:7; cf. Ex. 32:6). Likewise, many brethren are consumed with “social gospel gimmicks.” They are more concerned with sipping coffee or iced tea, a spaghetti dinner or some social or recreational function rather than partaking of spiritual food–pitting the physical over the spiritual. When a potluck or social gathering of members is planned, often you will see members you haven’t seen since the last such gathering. Sadly, many brethren are like the Israelites–their priority is to sit down to eat and drink, and rise up to play!

Second, we cannot learn from reading the Bible that forsaking the assembling of the saints is a trivial or incidental matter! The Hebrew writer wrote, “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” (Heb. 10:25). But, “not forsaking the assembling” is not the only point in this chapter. In fact, it is only a symptom of a more serious problem. The real problem being a heart that is “not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:21; Matt. 6:21; 15:8; 22:37). Notice some points made by the Hebrew writer in this chapter:

(1) After speaking of the superiority of the New Covenant (made possible by the blood of Christ), over the law of Moses and the offerings made “year by year continually” which could not take away sin, the writer said in verse 22 and 23, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” How do we do this? By, “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” (v. 25). The writer commands brethren to be present for all assemblies, so as to “exhort” one another. To forsake the assembling illustrates spiritual weakness and results in not “holding fast the profession of faith,” thus, setting at naught the ordinances of God. One way we profess our faith is through faithful attendance at every worship service possible. Our presence exhorts and encourages other members. Willful absence is disobedience and does nothing positive; absence only dampens the spirit of faithful brethren. Further, absence shows a weak, “wavering,” selfish attitude and lack of consideration for other members. Paul commanded the Philippian brethren saying, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3, 4). When members do not profess their faith through faithful attendance, then the Lord, on the last great day, will “declare to them, I never knew you” saying, “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).

(2) In verse 26, the writer said, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” When one willingly and voluntarily sins, after coming to “the knowledge of the truth,” one is in an apostate condition. Paul pointedly refutes the idea that a child of God can willfully sin and be approved of God when he wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it” (Rom. 6:1,2)? God’s law expressly forbids such actions! To make a decision to miss the worship services for trivial matters such as many do while on vacation (taking a vacation from the Lord) or engaging in recreational activities, or because “we had company,” or simply not attending when one is capable of attending, is to sin willfully. Such presumptuousness is a rejection of the only sacrifice for sin–the shed blood of Christ– “the blood of the covenant” (v. 29).

(3) In verses 27-29 the writer states, “But a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses: Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” The writer refers to the fearful state of those who have apostatized from Christ. Those who willfully sin display a haughty attitude. Those who apostatized under the Old Law were dealt with severely. Likewise, those who have learned the truth and turned from it will suffer a “worse punishment” (v. 29).

And, such members, by their actions, then, despise, detest, disdain, trample and trod upon the shed blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of grace”), and will be held eternally accountable.

(4) In verses 30 and 31, the writer says, “For we know Him who said, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” No one can escape the Lord’s vengeance, which will certainly be carried out upon these who are disobedient in any way (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Tim. 5:24, 25).

(5) Next, beginning in verse 32, the writer urges those to whom he wrote to remember the “former days” or days of faithful service and how they endured their former trials and tribulations. He speaks in verse 34 of the compassion, love and support they had had for the writer and he urges patience in doing God’s will so that they would “receive the promise.” He closes with a stem warning that the Lord will indeed come, and that the “just shall live by faith,” or an unwavering faith evidenced in part by those who do not forsake the assembling of the saints. Last, the writer proclaims the distaste by the Lord of those who “draw back,” saying, “but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (v. 38). He ends this chapter by stating his confidence in the Gospel, which will save the soul of the believer. From these few verses, it should be obvious to the reader that those who forsake the worship assembly commit a serious sin!

Finally, forsaking the assembling involves other sins which are more serious than some brethren care to admit. For instance, it is a failure to remember the Lord’s death in the manner He commanded– “in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:23-35; Lk. 22:19). It is a failure and refusal to teach and admonish “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). It is a failure to support the work of the Lord through laying by in store upon the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1, 2). Additionally, such negligence will likely cause weak brethren to stumble, and failing to assemble displays an improper example to others, resulting in a failure to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). So, in all likelihood, a stumbling block will be cast at the feet of some weak brethren. Note the warning of Jesus, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). Forsaking the assembling expresses an attitude of rebellion and stubbornness against the commandments of the Lord. Remember, King Saul was told by Samuel, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he also has rejected you from being king” (1 Sam. 15:23). Hence, those who continue in rebellion and stubbornness will be rejected by the Lord. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matt. 12:30).

In conclusion, we cannot learn by reading and studying the Bible that providing social entertainment is a work of the church or forsaking the assembling of the worship of the church is without serious consequences. The loss of one’s soul will result! Please heed these words of scripture: “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” (Col. 3:17). Why? “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God; and I also trust are well known in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:10, 11).