|Volume 19 Number 4 April 2017||
Are Kitchens Authorized?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone poses the question, “Are kitchens authorized?” Presumably and based on past and current “church doctrines,” the inquiry does not refer to cooking appliances in one’s home, but rather in a church building. The question, then, is, “Are kitchens authorized to be in church buildings?” By the word “authorized,” we understand the petitioner to refer to what is “authorized” in the Word of God, and even perhaps more refined to what is authorized in the New Testament portion of the Bible.
Doubtlessly, anyone who ever pondered this question has done so sincerely and only wants to do what is right according to the Word of God. I would not criticize such an admirable desire. Yet, sometimes apparently mankind troubles himself over matters that do not have their origin in biblical doctrine, or they concern themselves with inconsequential things rather than with clear doctrinal teaching. Our Lord found some in His day during His earthly ministry who exhibited these characteristics. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24 NKJV). Certainly, we neither mean to judge anyone’s motives nor to call him a Pharisee. We would simply point out the tendency for humans to show a lesser regard for distinct biblical doctrine while showing an inordinately heightened interest in comparatively minor matters. In addition, on occasion, some non-biblical things are aligned with minor matters as though they are a part of biblical doctrine when they are not.
I submit that the proposition about kitchens in church buildings falls into both of the categories above. In the first place, whether a church has a kitchen in its meetinghouse is not on par with weightier facets of Christian doctrine. More importantly, kitchens in church buildings do not pertain to biblical doctrine at all. Well-meaning Christians erroneously, though sincerely, have mishandled the Word of God in this case. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV).
First, note that there were no church buildings for about the first 200 years after the establishment of the church. Consequently, whatever so-called “proof texts” to which one might refer in the New Testament are mishandled when applied to a worship setting that did not even exist until hundreds of years after the New Testament epistles were penned.
Secondly, the most often presented “proof text” for “doctrinally” prohibiting kitchens in a meetinghouse pertained not to a “location” but to the “activity” of worship—the assembly.
For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. …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. 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 Corinthians 11:18-22 NKJV)
The word translated as “church” in this passage refers to the worship “assembly” of a local congregation of the universal church of our Lord. It does not refer in this place to either a building or to a location. The word translated “house” refers to a family’s residence, “home” (Matthew 8:6) or “household” (Philippians 4:22), in which normal family activities transpire—including eating one’s meals.
Be it remembered that the early church assembled for worship either in a public place or in private homes—long before there were any church buildings. The apostle Paul did not deliver a startling and far-reaching declaration that Christians in whose homes the local congregation had assembled for Christian worship could no longer eat in their homes. The issue in the surrounding context of 1 Corinthians 11:18-22 has to do with combining together the distinctly different activities of eating meals and of observing the Lord’s Supper in Christian worship. The apostle Paul forbade that abuse of the Lord’s Supper and of Christian worship.
The New Testament uses the word “church” in three distinct senses: (1) the universal church over which Jesus Christ is the Head (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18), (2) when referring to a local congregation (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2) and (3) the assembly of a local congregation for worship (1 Corinthians 14:19, 23, 26, 34). The apostle Paul was not addressing the speaking of “tongues” in a building or a location (v. 19), but rather, he was talking about a worship assembly. In verse 23, Paul perceived of the local congregation assembling in “one place”—referring to the assembly for worship. Verse 26 identifies a worshipful activity—singing—when the local congregation comes together for worship. In verse 34, the apostle did not forbid Christian women from speaking in a location or in a building, but he used the word “church” to refer to the assembly for worship by a local congregation. When one handles aright the Word of God and understands the use of the word “church” where it refers to the “assembly,” then he will not make the mistake of construing 1 Corinthians 11:18-22 to be a doctrinal teaching that forbids kitchens in church meetinghouses.
Thirdly, there exists a biblical example—with apostolic approval—of Christians eating a meal in the same location or building in which they had worshipped.
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. …When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. (Acts 20:7-11 KJV)
The passage begins with the worship assembly on the first day of the week, which specifically mentions worshipful activities referring to the Lord’s Supper and preaching. The quotation above concludes with brethren returning to the same location where the congregation had been worshipping after the young man had been restored to life. Then, the local congregation ate a meal together—in the same place where just shortly before they had worshipped.
It does not matter to me whether brethren choose to eat in a church building or whether they prefer to refrain from doing so. Yet, the question is not a doctrinal matter. Well before anyone worries himself over whether kitchens are authorized in church buildings, he ought to ponder if the church buildings themselves are authorized since they did not exist for the first 200 years after the establishment of the Lord’s church.
Yes, the church building as well as the kitchens that may be in some of the meetinghouses are authorized by New Testament Scripture, when valid hermeneutical practices or biblical interpretation is used to understand the Word of God properly. However, the local judgment of a congregation will determine whether its meetinghouse has “a kitchen.” In addition, even many things that are authorized or permitted by Scripture can be used unwisely.