In the past few years, I have been searching for answers regarding multiple topics of Bible authority. These topics include ideas such as fellowship halls, giving money (from the church treasury) to establishments outside of the church such as orphan homes or missionary societies, and I also have asked myself if a church building in itself is scriptural. Could you provide some insight (for or against these topics) that will help clarify the authority we have on these issues? Thanks!
(Note: Some of the issues in this question are particularly part of conservative Church of Christ doctrine. Many denominations do not struggle with these issues.)
This is necessarily going to be a long answer.
I am in an interesting position in regard to this question. I have attended congregations that take positions on at least three different sides of the issue. I graduated from a college that was funded in part by money from church treasuries. I taught at a school on the grounds of an orphan’s home that was funded in part by money from church treasuries. So I have seen the question from many different sides.
The Bible does not address the issue of “fellowship halls” directly, because it does not address the issue of church-owned property. I personally have difficulty justifying spending millions of dollars on a building that will only be used five hours a week (not counting office space). It seems that if a congregation is not going to use the building more than just for assemblies on Sunday and Wednesday they would be better served to rent a hall for those few hours. If, on the other hand, they are going to use the building for multiple (scriptural) uses several days a week, then the expense may be justifiable. There is no record in the Bible of a congregation purchasing property or using their own building. But neither is there any scripture that would deny a congregation that right.
The question of “fellowship halls” is slightly different. While any place that a congregation meets could logically be called a fellowship hall, usually today that term refers to a specific room or building designed for group use that is sometimes a place where congregational meals are served (along with other uses). The big question is not so much whether a church can have such a room as whether a church can use it for things like meals. I attended one congregation that would not authorize the use of church property paid for out of the treasury for weddings, funerals, meals, or any use other than teaching members, teaching non-members, or benevolence to baptized believers (plus office use for the preacher, assuming that such use falls under teaching). Whenever we met for a meal with others in the congregation, we rented a school cafeteria and took voluntary donations at that site to pay for it; the theory was that member donations in such a situation did not constitute giving to the church treasury. The scriptural backing for this was 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.
When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
On the other side of the issue there are two arguments, one logical and one scriptural. The logical argument is that any collection of money (such as was made in the example above) from multiple members of the congregation for use for a function that is primarily or exclusively made up of members of that congregation (because they are members) could technically be said to be a contribution into the church treasury. Even though it never got reported as church income and was not collected in the regularly scheduled assembly it was collected from members at an assembly of members because they were members. That, to me, makes it an assembly of the church, and therefore that collection is the same as the one made on Sunday morning. The scriptural argument is that there is precedent for the church assembling for social activities and presumably using contributions (monetary or in-kind) to fund them.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Here we see the “functions” of the church as being teaching, worship, benevolence, and meeting the social needs of the members. The “breaking of bread” in verse 42 may be the Lord’s Supper (or may not), but in verse 46 is almost certainly not the Lord’s Supper. So the earliest church also gathered for meals, which were provided by individuals in the congregation or (as indicated in 1 Corinthians 11) by all members of the congregation in a “pot luck” manner (and thus a contribution into the church treasury).
The other part of your question deals with using funds from the church treasury for orphan’s homes, missionary societies (although I have never known a congregation of the churches of Christ to contribute to a “missionary society”), or, I would add, educational institutions. My good friend David Padfield argues that there are things that individuals may contribute to that cannot come out of the congregation’s treasury. His debate on this issue (part of which I attended) can be found at http://www.padfield.com/debates/deaver1.html. The affirmative position in this debate, however, was that it was the responsibility of churches (congregations) to support orphan’s homes, nursing homes, etc. as a means of teaching the gospel. I do not hold that it is a responsibility of a congregation (that is, that a congregation must support such things). The question usually comes down to whether a congregation has the option or choice to use its treasury in such ways. Brother Padfield’s arguments may apply in either case, so read that material for the one side. The other side of the argument is that 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 indicates that there was a church treasury, and that one use of the money paid into that treasury was giving aid to others (some would argue that such aid should specifically go to Christians and not to unbelievers). It does not, however, indicate what other uses were made of that treasury. To argue that it cannot be used for specific uses is to argue that a person knows more than what the scriptures tell us (a dangerous position to take).
This is a brief summary of the arguments and is in no way comprehensive. On the issue of children’s homes, senior facilities, and cooperative mission efforts, I would argue that anyone who believes in such efforts but not that they should be funded out of the church treasury may contribute individually to those institutions. Not all giving in the church is done on Sunday morning or into a formal church treasury. Probably most of the giving in the church is individual efforts (including ministries such as Minutes With Messiah, which receives no regular congregational support) rather than what is put into the treasury, most of which usually goes to building maintenance and preacher salaries.