Back in the mid 1940’s a movement was born that has worn the moniker anti-ism. This name was given because those of this persuasion were against many things. This nomenclature was given to them before I was born. I mean no disrespect by the use of the term anti.
A little history will perhaps prove needful. This movement had its roots in condemning how money was spent in evangelism. In 1952 the Highland Avenue Church of Christ in Abilene, TX, was presented a marvelous opportunity to preach the gospel on the radio. The church didn’t have the money, so the elders signed the contract at the radio station and sent letters to sister congregations for financial support in preaching the gospel. The money came in and the gospel was preached. This was the beginning of the Herald of Truth Radio Program.
In 1954, this same church was invited to put the Herald of Truth Radio Program on national television. Again, they didn’t have the money. So the elders signed the television contract and mailed letters to sister congregations asking for help. The funds came in and the gospel was preached. Eight years before this in 1946, a man by the name of Roy Cogdill, the father of the anti movement, preached a sermon in California condemning one church helping another church in evangelism. This resistance grew as individuals began to speak against these cooperative efforts and by the mid 1950’s the church was in a civil war.
They were guilty of making laws where God had made no laws. They had no respect for expediency as it relates to Bible authority. It is equally wrong to bind where God has loosed as it is to loose where God had bound. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 17:15, NKJV). Liberalism justifies wicked things like abortion, homosexuality, and the like. Legalism (anti-ism) condemns just or right things. Both are wrong!
There were multiple divisions within their own ranks. False doctrines began to be propagated on every hand. There arose among them the doctrine of “No Bible class.” They taught that it was a sin to divide the Bible classes into age groups and teach everyone on their level. Then there was the “anti orphan home” movement among them. They taught that it was a sin that would send one to hell for taking a penny out of the church treasury to feed a starving little child. Some said that it was a sin to preach the gospel to the church. Others said that the fruit of the vine had to be drunk from one cup or container. Again, there was no understanding of expediency. In evangelism money had to be given to the preacher. In benevolence the money had to be given to the elders. There were many webs of error that were all based on a failure to understand how the Bible authorizes.
Let’s notice the verse they abused then and continue to abuse today. “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Cor. 11:22). In this letter Paul was condemning the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Notice how Paul condemns their actions and attitudes in 1 Corinthians 11:19-21: “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” They were not doing what they were assembling to do, which was to eat the Lord’s Supper. They were not waiting on one another (1 Cor. 11:33). Some (the rich) were eating to the point of gluttony (KJV, drunken), while the poor were going away hungry (1 Cor. 11:21). They had turned the Lord’s Supper into a common meal, prompting Paul to tell them they were not eating the Supper of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:20).
It was in this context that Paul said, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Cor. 11:22). They had houses in which to eat their common meals. They had despised the church of the Lord because they were not sharing. The problem had nothing to do with eating a meal at the church building. The problem in this instance was that they had replaced the Lord’s Supper with a common meal and the rich were not sharing with the poor. Paul condemns this ungodly behavior. The rich were eating to excess and the poor were leaving hungry. How deplorable!
Paul asked a question in 1 Corinthians 11:22 that we must consider. He asked, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (emp. mine). The same verse which is used as a proof text to condemn eating in the church building would also condemn drinking in the church building. Eating and drinking are tied together by the coordinating conjunction “and,” which ties together two things of equal rank. If it is wrong to eat in the building, then it is also wrong to drink in the building.
If this is to be a mandate with no qualification from the context, then the only place one could eat would be at home. You couldn’t eat at restaurants, go on picnics, or eat on the job. Travel would be limited. You could be gone from home no longer than your ability to abstain from food. Business travel would be limited. What about the homeless? Where do they eat? What about people in hospitals? They must be brought home three times a day so they can eat and then be taken back. Why? Because one must eat at home! This is the implication of their doctrine if they take Paul’s admonition without any qualification.
Many congregations begin in homes (1 Cor. 16:19). Where are people to eat who do this? Did Aquila and Priscilla have to build a separate structure in which to take their meals? Why didn’t Paul correct this?
This is not just an oversight by Paul and the Holy Spirit because he wrote about churches who met in houses to the Christians in Rome also (Rom. 16:3-5). Church buildings as we know them today were not common in the first century. What church building is found in Acts 20:7-11? It was simply an upper chamber; to whom did it belong? Note that Paul both worshiped and ate in this same upper dwelling. The breaking of bread in verse 7 is the Lord’s Supper, while the breaking of bread in verse 11 is a common meal, both eaten in the same upper room. Apparently Paul did not know that it was sinful to eat in the same building in which he had worshiped. Was Mary’s house rendered unfit for meals? (Acts 12:12) What about Lydia’s house? Could they no longer eat there? (Acts 15:16, 40) The New Testament knows nothing of holy buildings used for Christian worship that were rendered contaminated because someone ate a meal in them.
Is it a sin to eat in the church building? The answer is no. It is wrong to make up laws for God.
Robby lives in Summerville, GA, and preaches for the Pennville congregation. He studied at the East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions in Knoxville, TN.