We All Scream for Ice Cream!

An area church made a big deal over school starting last month.  To mark this milestone a back to school bash was planned for Sunday afternoon in the church parking lot.  There would be hot dogs, hamburgers, a bouncy castle and, to beat the heat, the Kona Ice truck.  A good time would be had by all.

Is there anything Scripturally wrong with this, or is it just a matter of opinion or preference?  Are we who object to such antics  just joyless grinches, fuddy-duddies who are stuck in the past and refuse to get with the program? 

Practices such as these are based on at least three basic errors:

Error #1:  There is no blueprint for the work of the local church in scripture.  Thus we will either allow God’s word to guide us, or we will just do whatever we please.  Those who hold loosely to scriptural authority have bought into the social gospel theories that arose in the early 1900s.  Here is Wikipedia’s opening paragraph on the social gospel:

“The social gospel was a social movement within Protestantism that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, lack of unionization, poor schools, and the dangers of war.  It was most prominent in the early-20th-century United States and Canada.  Theologically, the Social Gospelers sought to put into practice the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:10):  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  They typically were postmillennialist; that is, they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort.  The social Gospel was more popular among clergy than laity.  Its leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of the progressive movement, and most were theologically liberal …”.

The millennial foundation of this movement gradually dissipated and what was left was a Protestantism that was more focused on social maladies than spiritual ones.  Of course, lip service was given to the spiritual by such statements as, “We will never convert the lost while they are hungry, poor or sick.  We cannot expect them to think about their souls until their physical suffering is alleviated.”  But the main emphasis was on the carnal.

The legacy of the social gospel movement is the evaporation of spiritual focus in many modern churches.  Witness the typical denominational “campus” comprised of administrative offices, schools, family life centers, playgrounds, gift shops/bookstores, kitchens/banquet halls/soup kitchens, homeless/single-mother shelters, banking ATMs, medical clinics, ESL programs, even retail outlets and chain restaurants.  The modern “pastor” must be trained as a business CEO in order to fulfill his role.

The elders at Centreville hold that this approach to the Lord’s church is without scriptural authority.  The new testament nowhere authorizes such  enterprises.  To the contrary, Jesus speaks with vehemence against those who so corrupted the temple.  The work of the church as outlined in the NT is not very complicated.  The church under apostolic guidance:

a) Supplied the material needs of its own indigent members (Ac 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1-7; 11:27-30; 1 Cor 16:1-2; Rom 15:25-28; 2 Cor 8-9).

b) Supported evangelists to preach (1 Cor 9; 2 Cor 11:7-8; Ph 4:10-18).

c) Sustained the spiritual health of the congregation via edification, teaching and worship (Ac 13:1-3; Gal 6:6; Eph 4:11-16; 1 Tim 5:17).

There is quite a lot of flexibility in how churches can go about their God-given work (rent/own buildings; pay preachers/elders; buy materials to facilitate the teaching process; etc.).  But it is incumbent on churches to ensure that they are materially connected to the mission at hand.  Building a basketball court and inviting the public to play is not evangelism; providing spaghetti dinners is not evangelism; opening a daycare is not evangelism.  This is tantamount to McDonald’s building a network of medical clinics across the U.S. in hopes that they might sell some hamburgers to the sick.  McDonald’s does what it does best:  it makes hamburgers, and those who are hungry go there for hamburgers, not antibiotics or X-rays.

Error #2:  There are no rigid guidelines to how church money is spent.  This is an outgrowth of error #1.  Many have a fuzzy, feel-good idea of spending church funds:  If it is a “good work,” then the church can do it.  But whoever gets to define “good work” holds all the (credit) cards.  The world is literally full of good works that are moral, beneficial, enriching and uplifting – many of them mentioned earlier in this article.  But the pertinent question is:  Are these things the work of the church, or are they the work of individual Christians as they discharge their personal duties to Christ?  A moment’s reflection should clarify this distinction. 

Consider this analogy:  A Supreme Court judge has a collective role as part of a formal judicial body.  This is signified on certain occasions by the wearing of a black robe, being empaneled with the others in a special venue, speaking as part of the majority or dissenting opinion.  But what a judge may do on his/her own time does not represent the Court:  travel, speeches, shopping, voting, etc.  A distinction remains between what judges can do as private citizens and what they are empowered to do in an official judicial capacity.  So it is with the individual Christian and the local congregation.

Error #3:  The gospel must be propped up with carnal interests.  This is perhaps the most offensive error of the three, for it denies the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16-17).  It is a corruption of the promises, hopes and warnings of God to posit that they have no meaning to the spirit of man unless his carnal needs are first met.  Such denigrates both the gospel and man himself.  Job is a profound example to the contrary.  God actually allowed extreme hardship to be inflicted upon him in order to teach him some spiritual truths.  His “felt needs” were not alleviated until later. 

It is wrong to say that we must feed, medicate and entertain the masses before they will listen to the gospel.  Carnality is only overcome when the spirit of man is moved by the truths of the gospel, and this doesn’t happen via his stomach.  Serving the public free ice cream will please those whose god is their belly (Ph 3:19), but all the ice cream in the world won’t convert them to the God of their soul.