Speaking Sound Doctrine

The Work Of The Church

VIII. Carnal Influences In The Church

A.    The Flesh And The Spirit

1.       Human nature

God created man with two parts: a fleshly, outward, physical, temporary part, and a spiritual, inward, rational, eternal part (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Ephesians 6:12).  The original New Testament word translated "spiritual" is PNEUMATIKOS {pnyoo-mat-ik-os'}, but the word translated "fleshly" (or "carnal" in the King James version) is:

SARKIKOS {sar-kee-kos'}, meaning: "fleshly, carnal 1a) having the nature of flesh, … governed by mere human nature … with the included idea of depravity,… pertaining to the … body: related to birth, linage, etc." (JHT).

This is the adjective form of the noun translated "flesh:"

SARX {sarx}, meaning: "1) flesh … of both man and beasts 2) the body … born of natural generation, … the sensuous nature of man … without any suggestion of depravity, … the physical nature of man as subject to suffering, 3) a living creature … whether man or beast, 4) …mere human nature … and therefore prone to sin…" (JHT).

2.       Wholesome or depraved

Conclusively, there are carnal pursuits that are lawful, such as working to meet the needs of the body with food, clothing, and shelter, and fulfilling wholesome desires for family and physical comfort (Romans 15:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 9:1-14).  Notwithstanding, though meeting the needs of the flesh is certainly necessary in life, an emphasis in fulfilling the requirements of the flesh to the neglect of our spiritual needs is unrighteousness before God (2 Corinthians 10:2, 3; Galatians 5:13-17; 6:8; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 2:18; 2 Peter 2:18; 1 John 2:16).

Conversely, there are also carnal pursuits that are inherently sinful, such as debauchery, fornication, drunkenness, and gluttony.  The faithful Christian will certainly put away the depraved pursuits of the flesh (Romans 8:1-8; 1 Peter 2:11).

The question to consider now is whether the wholesome pursuits of the flesh are included in the God-ordained work of the church as a corporate body.

B.     An Earthly View Of The Church

A worldly mindset about things pertaining to the church is the fundamental concept that moves the church today away from the spiritual work God has ordained for it.  Carnal mindedness centers on physical things: the needs of the flesh and concerns of the here-and-now.

1.       Modern-day Sadducism

The Sadducees were a sect of the Jews that did not believe in spirits, angels, or the resurrection (Acts 23:8).  Since the gospel message proclaims a risen Savior, the Sadducees were, not surprisingly, responsible for much of the persecution in the early church (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17, 18).  Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Sadducees still finds its way into the early church, as Paul frequently admonishes those Christians who deny the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

The results of Sadducism today are the teachings and practices in religious organizations that focus on helping men attain success in this physical life without regard to the spirit or a view toward the resurrection.  For example, most denominational outreach programs involve feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding victims, financial advice, or entertainment with little or no gospel preaching or exhortation to repentance.  Those carnal concerns are certainly good works, but if these things are the mission, the church has little in reality to offer a dying world lost in sin.

1 Corinthians 15:19  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

2.       Carnal mindedness

Our study has earlier shown that the only carnal work God reveals in scripture appointed for the collective church is to meet the essential physical needs of destitute faithful Christians.  Other than this, the work of the church is not carnal; it is spiritual: teaching the gospel and serving God in worship.  However, when carnal mindedness permeates the body, all kinds of other activities begin to be engaged for which the church has no scriptural authority.  Let us be reminded of admonitions from scripture against carnality:

John 18:36  Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."

Romans 8:5-14  For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God….

1 Corinthians 2:12-15  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3  And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

2 Corinthians 10:3-7 (NAU)  For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. 7 You are looking at things as they are outwardly….  (2 Corinthians 1:12)

Attention to the needs of the flesh has its proper place, but beyond the relief of needy saints, God has appointed these concerns not to the church as a body but to the individuals.  Let us look now at some ways that carnal influences come into the Lord's church today.

C.     Understanding Fellowship

The term "fellowship" appears in our English New Testament translations primarily from the Greek word KOINONIA, described as follows:

      KOINONIA {koy-nohn-ee'-ah} [noun form] "1) fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse 1a) the share which one has in anything, participation 1b) intercourse, fellowship, intimacy 1b1) the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office) 1c) a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship" (JHT).

Though this noun is usually translated as "fellowship" in our English Bibles, it also appears as "contribution" (NKJ Romans 15:26), "communion" (NKJ 1 Corinthians 10:16), "partnership" (NAU 2 Corinthians 6:14), and "sharing" (NKJ Philemon 1:6).

The verb form of this word, KOINONEO, gives us further insight and is described as follows:

      KOINONEO {koy-no-neh'-o} [verb form] "1) to come into communion or fellowship with, to become a sharer, be made a partner 2) to enter into fellowship, join one's self to an associate, make one's self a sharer or partner" (JHT).

This verb is rarely translated as "fellowship" (ASV Philippians 4:15).  Typical word usage includes "distribute" (NKJ Romans 12:13), "partake" (NKJ 1 Peter 4:13), "share" (NKJ Galatians 6:6), and "participate" (NAU 2 John 1:11).

Observe again that the definition includes "the share which one has in anything."  We understand that this centers upon a sharing, but the particular applications are diverse, as it can involve literally anything.  Therefore, the meaning is ambiguous without reference to some specific shared aspect of relationship or activity.  For examples: fellow workers share a common goal (Philemon 1:1), fellow citizens share a common country (Ephesians 2:19), fellow prisoners share a common fate (Colossians 4:10), fellow heirs share a common promise (Ephesians 3:6), and fellow soldiers share a common enemy (Philemon 1:2).  In the Greek writings of the Septuagint, KOINONIA describes those sharing their lives in marriage (3 Maccabees 4:6) and the sharing of words (Wisdom 18:8).  All these express fellowship in one form or another.

The term "fellowship" appropriately describes all kinds of sharing in anything: spiritual or carnal.  In spiritual fellowship, fellow Christians share a common body, a common Spirit, a common hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God, and Father (Ephesians 4:4-6).  In assembled worship, we pray, sing, teach, give, and take the Lord's Supper together.  In carnal fellowship, we might share our food, supplies, services, or time together in social and recreational activities.

The task before us now is to determine in what realms scripture authorizes fellowship within the church as a corporate body compared to authorized fellowship among Christians as individuals.  Remember that the term "fellowship" is ambiguous without reference to some specific aspect.  It is meaningless to simply claim that the church as a body is authorized to "have fellowship" without some specific application in view.  Furthermore, just because people have fellowship in one thing does not necessarily mean they automatically have fellowship in something else.  For example, people who are fellow soldiers are not necessarily also fellow citizens; perhaps they are only allies from different countries.  Likewise, just because the church as a body has fellowship in spiritual things does not necessarily infer that it also has fellowship in carnal things.  Furthermore, just because Christian individuals have fellowship in one thing does not necessarily mean that the church as a corporate body also has fellowship in that thing.

Let us now examine fellowship among individuals and fellowship within the church as observed in scripture.  If we are going to understand in what realms God has ordained fellowship within the church as a corporate body, we must continue to consistently apply the distinction between the collective church and the Christian individual as presented in scripture.

1.       Individual fellowship

Examine the following passages and note that these instructions are given to Christian individuals, not the corporate church:

Romans 12:10-18  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil.  Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Hebrews 13:1-16  Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels…. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:16, the words "distributing" and "share" translate the words "KOINONEO" and " KOINONIA" respectively.  Remarkably, in every case where scripture describes carnal fellowship, other than the benevolence of needy saints and wages provided for gospel preachers, it pertains to individual Christians, not the corporate church.

2.       Church fellowship

Now examine the following passages and note that these pertain to the church as a corporate body.

Acts 2:42  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

1 Corinthians 1:9, 10  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

2 Corinthians 8:4  …imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.

Ephesians 3:9, 10  ..and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,

Philippians 1:5  …for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,…

Equally remarkable, in every case where scripture describes fellowship within the church as a collective body, it pertains exclusively to the work of the church as we have outlined: teaching the gospel, assembled worship, and the benevolence of needy saints.  Carnal, secular fellowship is never indicated within the corporate church.

3.       Fellowship of both

Some of what God has ordained for the church He also authorizes for the individual Christian, such as teaching the gospel.  We therefore see in scripture the fellowship of individual Christians in spiritual things as well.

Galatians 2:9  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

The sound Bible student is reminded that simply because individual Christians have fellowship in both religious and secular things, it does not necessarily infer that the church as a corporate body also has fellowship in both things as well.  Such reasoning would be unsound.

D.    Social And Recreational Activity

The most apparent product of carnal mindedness in the Lord's church today is the notion that social gatherings for the purpose of common meals and recreation are God-ordained functions of the church.  There are bodies of the Lord's church today where the elders and deacons expend their efforts on planning such social gatherings as part of their management and service to the church.  Moreover, the Lord's treasury is also often utilized to pay for and provide the food and the venue for these gatherings.

1.       Necessary meals

A point of clarification is needed.  There are cases where the provision of food and the place to eat a common meal is authorized by the church, other than for the benevolence of needy saints.  This is when the eating is coincidental to gathering for the purpose of doing the work of the church.  The human body can only go so long without food, so if the task is time-consuming, the church has a right to act in this regard.  For example, if the elders have gathered for Bible study and are many hours together at the office in a church-owned meeting house, they have the authority to pause and eat a sandwich at their conference table.  They do not need to remove themselves from the church property to eat this meal.  If a group has gathered together for a large physical maintenance or construction project on the meeting house, they likewise have the authority to take the necessary nourishment right there and then.

A similar circumstance of principle appears in scripture.  In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, it is recorded that when Jesus hears of the death of John The Baptizer, He removes himself to a secluded place, but the multitude follows Him there.  Here, in this impromptu gathering, Jesus teaches them.  As the day grows late, the people desperately need food.  Instead of sending them away for food, which would bring His teaching to an end, He feeds them there with a miracle.

Someone might ask how much time in the Lord's work is enough time to validate a church dinner, who will determine the time limit, and on what basis will it be set?  These questions are beside the point, which is all about the purpose of our gathering together as a church in the first place.  When we plan worship assemblies to coordinate with dinner socials and invite guests, drawing them in with the prospect of food and good times, our problem is with carnality, not with determining how to establish some contrived time limit.  Remember that EKKLESIA is a calling out and summoning together for a purpose.  If the purpose is not the Lord's, it is not the Lord's summoning, and it is therefore not the Lord's gathering.  The multitude in Matthew 14 does not come together for the express purpose of taking a social meal together; else, they each might have brought their potluck contribution.  Instead, they gather to hear Jesus teach; the eating is coincidental.  If we will start being more spiritually minded, these issues naturally go away.  More will be discussed regarding matters of coincidence in later sections.

2.       Social and recreational church meals

The necessary, coincidental meals previously discussed are altogether different from the so-called church dinner socials conducted today by mainstream churches of Christ, which are typically extensively planned events for the very purpose of socializing.  If such activity is within the realm of the ordained work of the church, we should see in scripture an indication for it, either by a recorded command issued to the church, an approved example within the body, or a necessarily inferred expediency to a work of the church.  To the contrary, there appears a clear admonition against it.  When the Corinthian church apparently perverts the Lord's Supper into a common meal, Paul tells them to eat that kind of meal at home.  The point is that the church is to be concerned with spiritual things, not carnal:

1 Corinthians 11:18-34  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. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 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. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.  And the rest I will set in order when I come.

Notwithstanding, many in the Lord's church today claiming "enlightenment" are attempting to declare authority for church-sponsored social and recreational dinners from this text.  We will now examine some of their arguments.

a.    Argument for church dinner socials: "only wait for one another"

Proponents of social meals in the church today argue that Paul is not condemning social church meals but only condemning not waiting for one another when doing so.  To make their point, portions of the text are highlighted as follows:

18 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. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you…. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk…. 33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

This line of reasoning resides in citing the problem as stated in verse 21 alone: that some are eating all the food ahead of the others who are left with nothing.  Then, the solution is presented from verse 33 alone: that when you eat, you should wait for one another.  Everything else in the immediate and greater context is conveniently disregarded.

This proposition does not fully state the real problem, which is carnality (the source of the factions among them, 1 Corinthians 3:3) and their abandonment of the Lord's Supper (verse 20).  The full picture of what they are actually doing is probably not presented here, but whatever it is, it is not the supper that is the Lord's; they are substituting their own supper (verse 21).  We do know that some are eating their fill to the point that others are left with nothing to eat.  Assuming it is still just unleavened bread and grape juice (Matthew 26:26-29), why would they gorge themselves on this humble fare?  One reason is because they bring their hunger with them to church, which Paul mentions twice.  Now for the Lord's Supper, each participant only needs a morsel of bread (John 13:26, 27) and a share of his own juice in a cup (Luke 22:17).  This is not so much food that anyone should be filled or that it should become short in supply.  However, considering their carnal mindset, they are evidently taking the occasion to have a hearty breakfast, greedily fulfilling the needs of the flesh while humiliating those who get nothing.  This is not what Jesus intends for the Lord's Supper, which Paul fully rehearses in verses 23 through 29.

This proposition also disregards the complete solution to the problem which Paul continues to explain in verse 34.  A bit of conundrum is seen in verses 33 and 34, as Paul effectively orders them to come together as a church to eat but also orders them to stay home to eat.  The resolution of the apparent contradiction is explained by the different kinds of eating in verses 20 and 21, whether spiritual or physical.  Come together as a church indeed to partake of the Lord's Supper, but for the needs of the flesh, eat your own meals at home (verse 22 and 34).

The church-meal defenders propose that when Paul says "if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home," he means "if anyone cannot wait, let him eat at home."  A common tactic of false teachers is to change word meanings.  This is unconscionable word wrangling. 

Why would Paul order them in verse 33 to "wait for one another" if it were not an ordinary food-and-drink meal to satisfy hunger?  The word "wait" translates EKDECHOMAI {ek-dekh'-om-ahee}, meaning, "1) to receive, accept 2) to look for, expect, wait for, await" (JHT), which includes that we anticipate that some might be arriving later and make accommodations for them (1 Corinthians 16:11).  We can postulate some ideas about this, but there is certainly nothing in the language here that necessarily infers the eating must be a carnal meal for satisfying hunger.

Incidentally, in the New Testament, fasting sometimes accompanies prayer and important decision-making when attention to the work of the Lord is evidently deemed even more important than eating (Acts 13:3; 14:23).  To this point, when we meet together as a church, it seems that we ought to feel so overwhelmed by our spiritual purpose that we can set aside the carnal desire for food at least for the relatively brief time appointed for worship.

The church-meal defenders cannot cite a command, approved example, or necessary inference for the full-course dinners they take as a church function.  Nothing like roast beef or bean casserole is mentioned here.  If they would derive their authority from this text to do what the Corinthians are doing so long as they wait for one another, unleavened bread and grape juice is all that is specified on the menu.  However, this is not what they want to do.  Motivated by Corinthian carnal-mindedness, they distort the scriptures in order to fabricate a doctrine to their desires.

b.    Argument for church dinner socials: "only do not practice gluttony"

Some fellowship meal defenders claim that Paul is here only admonishing them against gluttony.  However, if he had meant to tell them simply not to over-eat in what is supposedly an ordinary meal, that's what he would have said.  Instead, he instructs them to eat their common meals at home.

c.     Argument for church dinner socials: "only do not pervert the Lord's Supper"

Some proponents of social meals in the church today also argue that Paul is not condemning social church meals but only condemning perversion of the Lord's Supper.  If this were true, Paul should have addressed the matter differently.  This would have been the perfect occasion for Paul to have instructed them to eat the Lord's Supper in their worship but eat their common meals in their "fellowship hall."  However, this he does not do but gives the instruction to eat their own meals at home.

d.    Argument for church dinner socials: "they are the love feasts cited by Jude"

Proponents of social meals in the church today look also to the love feasts mentioned in Jude 1:12 for their authority.  Jude writes:

Jude 1:11-13  Woe to them!  For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. 12 These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.  They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; 13 raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

Similar language appears in 2 Peter 2:12-17.  Jude's phrase, "love feasts," translates the plural of AGAPE {ag-ah'-pay}, which in this form means, "love feasts, fellowship meals, meals in which members of a Christian community eat together in fellowship" (JHT).  The fact that Christians regularly share common meals together is not disputed; this is clearly presented in scripture (Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 2:12).  It is also not disputed that the brethren might call these occasions "AGAPAE."  However, there is absolutely no indication that this is the action of the church as a body assembled in worship nor that it has anything to do with the Lord's Supper.  Any such conclusion is derived solely from conjecture.

Jude's language is intensively figurative, so it is also reasonable that he is not talking about a feast with literal food but filling ourselves with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), the "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8), and the pure milk of the word (1 Peter 2:2) – gorging ourselves on the love of God (Ephesians 3:19) – and the evil deceivers are a hindrance to it.  With so much emphasis on spiritual food in scripture (John 4:32-34; 6:27-63; 1 Corinthians 10:3; Hebrews 5:12-14; 13:10; Revelation 2:7, 17), it seems unlikely for Jude to be concerned that their dinnertime is spoiled.

3.       Bible examples of social meals

The following scriptural example is cited by some as authority for dinner socials in the church, claiming that the fellowship here refers to the social or secular kind:

Acts 2:42  They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

There is nothing in this passage that necessarily infers social or recreational activity.  The teaching and prayer are clearly spiritual elements, so based on principles already established regarding carnality, sound reasoning accepts that the breaking of bread and fellowship are also spiritual elements: the Lord's Supper and other assembled worship forms, not a carnal meal.  This harmonizes the greater context, which indicates that they had common meals in their homes, not in church assemblies:

Acts 2:46  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.

In another case we see the church at Troas breaking bread together.

Acts 20:6-11  But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days. 7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep.  He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed.

The claim is made from verse 11 that, since they ate together in a church assembly, we have authority for church dinner socials.  We need to recognize the true purpose for the assembly, mentioned in verse 7.  Nothing in this text necessarily infers that the purpose of the gathering and the breaking of bread are for socializing.  Assuming by possible inference that this is a planned social meal presents some problems in harmonizing scripture.  Acts 2 says the brethren shared common meals in their houses, and Paul rebukes the Corinthians twice, ordering them to eat their common meals at home.

There are two other possibilities which do not violate these spiritual principles.  First, this could be an incidental meal arising by necessity from a gathering of many hours, as discussed earlier.  Another possibility is that the breaking of bread in verse 11 is simply the Lord's Supper, for which they had gathered in the first place.  Either way, this is not necessarily an example of a recreational dinner social such as we see in some churches today.

4.       A supposed expediency for evangelism

If a church has their focus not on teaching the gospel but on "winning commitments to Christ" (according to the English definition of "evangelism" discussed previously), they will begin thinking that any means or methods that get people baptized are expediencies for gospel teaching.  This gives rise to the doctrine of the "social gospel:" the idea that food, sports, and entertainment are evangelism tools.  However, food is not an expediency for teaching, because more than teaching is being accomplished.  Expediencies do not add anything to the essential action executed.  When Jesus feeds the 5000, it is not an expediency to His teaching, but it is something else in addition to it.  Besides, remember that the work of the church as described in scripture is not centered upon winning souls to Christ but on preaching the gospel.  Certainly, a church ought to be interested in making converts, but scripture reveals that the only way to do this is by teaching the gospel (Romans 10:13-17).

1 Corinthians 1:17  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….

Even in churches which deny that social and recreational meals are works of the church, there is occasionally a general carnal-mindedness that creeps in.  Even when the church does not pay for the food or the facility, if we accommodatively call our gathering a "church potluck," we unwittingly give a carnal-minded impression to others. 

Romans 14:17  For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:9  Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.  For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

We sometimes hear folks talk about church parties, church picnics, church weddings, church outings, and such like.  If we use the word "church" as an adjective while describing things that have actually nothing to do with the church or its work, it is a clear sign of carnal mindedness.  These things are fundamentally not church functions, and we ought not label them as such.

Unfortunately, many people seek a local church to join on the basis of the good social and family service programs they offer.  They are looking for good ball teams for their children, well managed bowling leagues, entertaining theatrics and drama, book clubs, day care, knitting groups, quilting classes, or business contacts.  Instead, when considering a local congregation, we should be investigating whether the body is standing for truth, refuting false doctrine, spreading the gospel, serving the saints, and following wise elders sound in faith.  God's intention is that the gospel should be enough to draw men into the church (John 12:32, 33; Romans 1:16), not food, fun, and games (John 6:26).

1 Corinthians 2:1-5  And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

2 Peter 1:16  For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Undeniably, gatherings for social and recreational activity can certainly create opportunities for gospel teaching.  However, when Jesus feeds the 5000 or washes the disciples' feet, He does so on an individual basis; it is not a corporate church function.  If an individual or a group wants to have a cook-out and volleyball party and then teach those gathered there for that purpose, they have every right to do so, but we ought not think the food and games have anything to do with teaching or that they are part of the church's work.

Consider also that if a persistently disorderly, impenitent Christian gathers with us to worship, he is exactly where he needs to be in order to hear an admonition that could lead him to repentance.  However, if a common meal is part of the work of the church and we are not to eat such with a persistently disorderly, impenitent Christian (1 Corinthians 5:11), then when it is time for the church dinner, we must escort him out and deny him from partaking.  This unreasonable circumstance is created by the unauthorized admixture of carnality to the spiritual work of the church in the first place.  Get rid of the carnal church practices, and this problem disappears.  Unfortunately, a church already not holding sound doctrine on church dinner socials will likely also not hold sound doctrine on withdrawing from the disorderly, and their lawlessness multiplies.

5.       Conclusions about social church dinners

If we look to the totality of rightly applied scripture for support of social church dinners, we find nothing.  To the contrary, we see that Christians individually shared common meals in their homes and that the church is not carnal but spiritual.  Men have for decades tried to find in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 11, and Jude 12 justification for church-sponsored social dinners, but it's just not there.  Such carnality is wrong-mindedness, and it is disgraceful to propose a similar perversion of which the Corinthians were guilty.  Consider now what attributes and inevitable consequences are associated with this carnal-mindedness.

a.    Self-assurance

Pride, arrogance, and conceit characterizes the carnal-minded Corinthians.  They hold the opinion that they are altogether spiritually strong and filled with knowledge and wisdom beyond others, but they are not (reference Revelation 3:17).  Paul chastises them with biting irony.

1 Corinthians 4:8-10  You are already full!  You are already rich!  You have reigned as kings without us – and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! 9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!

1 Corinthians 5:2  …you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned….

1 Corinthians 8:2  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.

Some gospel preachers that in the past have denounced social and recreational functions in the church are now defending it.  Claiming that their former convictions are based in rote traditionalism, they think they now know better than all before them, and they pity those they deem to be still blinded by ignorance.   However, upon examination, their defense is herein shown to be construed in unsound reasoning.

1 Timothy 1:5-7  Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

b.    Compromise

Taking a stand for sound doctrine is uncomfortable, and those that do are often persecuted.  To avoid confrontation, some will distort the truth to make it more acceptable.  This has the false appearance of working for unity, but it is actually compromise, the error of Balaam, who devised a plan whereby he thought he could obey God and please Balak for a reward at the same time (Numbers 21 - 23, 31; 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:14).

1 Timothy 6:20, 21  …Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – 21 by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.

c.     Misleading influences

The social and recreational functions adopted in some churches have an appeal to the flesh, and those who are weak in the faith are thereby unwittingly lead into lawlessness.  These churches grow very large in membership and monetarily, and the growth is perceived as evidence of God's blessing.

Romans 16:17-18  Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

2 Peter 2:1, 2  …There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies … 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.

d.    Apostasy

One thing leads to another.  If sound doctrine is not maintained on social church dinners, it is inevitable that sound reasoning will be abandoned on any other doctrinal issue until a church will not defend immutable truth on anything. 

1 Corinthians 5:6  Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

2 Timothy 3:13, 14  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned….

e.    Judgment of condemnation

Refer again to the keynote scripture of this section.

1 Corinthians 11:30-32  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

We must be attentive to the seriousness of this perversion.  To act without divine authority is rebellion, and "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23).

2 Peter 2:1-3  By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

2 Peter 2:9, 10  …The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority.  They are presumptuous, self-willed.

2 Peter 2:17-19  These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. 18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption.

Questions And Thoughts For Review: Carnal Influences In The Church

1.    During the time of Christ and the early church, who were the Sadducees, and what were their significant beliefs contrary to doctrine of Christ?

2.    How are Sadducean beliefs manifested in religion today?

3.    Review the scriptures that describe carnal mindedness.  Make a list of the things mentioned as being the causes and results of carnal mindedness.

4.    Explain in your own words the meaning of fellowship as used in scripture.

5.    In what realms do the scriptures indicate fellowship within the church?

6.    In Acts 2:42, the early church is said to be continually devoted to the apostle's fellowship.  In what would have been this fellowship?

7.    Has God ordained the church to be involved in recreational, social, or entertainment activities?

8.    In 1 Corinthians 11, where does Paul instruct those Christians to eat their common meals for satisfying physical hunger?

9.    Is taking a common meal together in a church activity ever lawful?  If so, when?

10.  Is sharing a common meal together an expediency for gospel teaching?  If not, why – what is added, lost, or changed?


Some material in this study is derived or directly quoted from the following texts, which are suggested for further study and additional information:

      (BDB) "Revised Whittaker's Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon," 1906, 1997, Logos Research Systems, Inc.

      (JHT) "A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament," Joseph Henry Thayer, 1979, Zondervan Publishing House

      "Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament: Based On Semantic Domains," Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, 1989, New York: United Bible Societies

      "Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament,", Timothy and Barbara Friberg, 1994

      (WEV) "Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words," W. E. Vine, 1966, Flemming H. Revell Co.

      "A Manual Grammar Of The Greek New Testament," 1927, 1955, Dana and Mantey, Macmillan Co.

      LXX Septuaginta (LXT) (Old Greek Jewish Scriptures) edited by Alfred Rahlfs, 1935, the German Bible Society

      "New Testament Words," William Barclay, SCM Press Ltd., 1964

      (TBA) "The Bible Almanac," Packer, Tenney, White, Jr., 1980, Thomas Nelson Publishers

      (OED) Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com

      "The Bible in English: Its History and Influence," 2003, David Daniell

      "Walking By Faith," Roy E. Cogdill, 1957, 1967, The Gospel Guardian Company

      "Old Issues Do Not Fade Away – A Study In Centralization Of Churches And Institutionalism," Gene Frost, 1975, 1976, Gospel Anchor

      (M-W) The Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary Online, 2012

      Wikipedia: web-based free-content encyclopedia, 2012


Bible translations referenced in this work include:

KJV:      King James Version (1611)

ASV:     American Standard Version (1901)

NKJ:     New King James Version (1982)

NAU:    New American Standard Bible (1995)

YLT:      Young's Literal Translation (1862, 1898)

TNT:     Tyndale New Testament (1534)

Bible quotations in this work are from the NKJ unless otherwise indicated.  Anglicized equivalents of Greek and Hebrew words appear in all upper case characters with the approximate pronunciation following in braces.

Revised June 2022


Copyright 2012, Speaking Sound Doctrine