During the week of February 1, Huntsville, Texas was the site of the Asher—Berard Debate on Church sponsored recreation and entertainment. Bob Berard of Spring, Texas affirmed "The Scriptures teach that brethren may eat a congregational meal for social purposes in the meetinghouse purchased by funds from the church treasury." Jeff Asher of Amarillo, TX affirmed, "The Scriptures teach it is sinful for brethren to eat a congregational meal for social purposes in the meetinghouse purchased by funds from the church treasury."
The debate occurred in the community auditorium at the shopping mall in Huntsville, TX. Attendance was exceptional with numbers reaching more than two hundred several nights. The Fish Hatchery Road Church of Christ invited and endorsed Bob Berard. The Southside Church of Christ invited and endorsed Jeff Asher. The Northside Church of Christ in Livingston cooperated with the brethren at Southside by helping provide expenses for Jeff Asher and Elmer Moore.
The debate maintained a high plane. Both disputants were well prepared and presented their material effectively. The audience was well mannered and there were no points of order called. This type of discussion honors Christ and encourages brethren. We commend all participants and encourage others to arrange and engage in this type of Bible study.
The discussion centered on the definition of two terms. Once these terms were well defined, the audience was prepared to understand the points at issue.
Both Berard and Asher had agreed on the meaning of the term "social" before the discussion began. While the word has a broad meaning of human interaction, Asher had clearly informed Berard in writing before the debate that "social" in the propositions, took on the narrower connotation of conviviality, that which relates to feasting and drinking, amusement and entertainment. Thus, Asher did not oppose social interaction which must occur by definition when two or more people enter a room, but opposed the parties, games and entertainment provided by Churches of Christ for their members.
The other term that needed definition was congregational. Webster's Dictionary defines congregational as "pertaining to a church, conducted or participated in by a church." What were in view here were not just members of the local church in their individual capacities eating together. The issue was whether or not the local church from its treasury, under the oversight of its elders and using the servants of the church, could call, plan, fund, oversee and support these recreational and entertainment activities.
Berard followed the examples of Roy Deaver and Tom Warren in the cooperation controversy making his case from a constituent elements argument. This argument simply says, "If all the parts of a thing are scriptural, the whole thing is scriptural." Berard presented this argument in the logical form of a syllogism. Asher conceded that the syllogism was valid and that the major premise was true. However, Asher pointed out in the discussion that the minor premise was false. Berard did not have a total situation that was scriptural.
The total situation which Berard presented follows: (1) a congregational meal (Galatians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 5:11), (2) for social purposes (Philemon 22; Romans 16:3,5), (3) in a meetinghouse (Acts 16:34), (4) purchased by funds from the church treasury (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Berard contended that he had proven his proposition with the presentation of this argument.
Neither Galatians 2:11 or 1 Corinthians 5:11 are dealing with a meal that is planned, called, funded, overseen or supported by the local church.
The Galatians passage is the example of Peter withdrawing from eating with Gentile Christians. Prior examples of Peter eating in this way indicate that it was in a private home (Acts 10:28; 11:3). This is perfectly consistent with what we read in Acts 2:46. The saints came together for worship and took their meals severally in private homes. There is nothing in the context of Galatians 2 to establish this was a congregational meal for any purpose, especially for social purposes.
The argument from 1 Corinthians 5:11 "begs the question." That text commands brethren not to eat with certain brethren who are walking disorderly. What in the context necessitates that the meal eaten was a congregational meal? Asher asked Berard, "Is the eating in this passage your congregational meal for social purposes?" Berard answered, "It would be included if they had such."
The passages in Philemon 2 and Romans 16 establish that the New Testament church sometimes met in the homes of members. However, that does not prove that they participated in congregational meals for social purposes.
Berard argued that the saints who owned those homes could and did engage in meals for social purposes. He argued that they could entertain some or all of the members of the church in their homes for social purposes. Therefore, he concluded, the church that met in those homes could engage in a congregational meal for social purposes.
Asher pointed out that if Berard had an argument it was, "Whatever the individual Christian may scripturally do in his own house the church may do when it assembles in that house." Asher then proceeded to show the absurd consequences of that argument. For example, Acquila and Priscilla ran a tent making business from their house (Acts 18:3); the church met in their house (Romans 16:3,5); therefore, the church may enter business. Christians in Rome met in Caesar's house (Philippians 1:13; 4:22); Caesar ran a military dictatorship from his house (Acts 25:10,11); therefore, the church may run a government . Saints met in the house of Philemon (Philemon 2); Philemon owned slaves in that house (vv. 11-16); therefore, the church may own slaves.
Berard's argument on Hebrews 10:25 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 depended upon whether or not he established a congregational meal for social purposes. Berard contended that if the church may have these meals then the church may surely provide the place necessary and suitable for having these meals. In other words the church from its treasury may pay for whatever the church is authorized to do. This is how we authorize expenditures for a meetinghouse, songbooks, a baptistery and anything else the church purchases. However, Berard had not authorized the meals, so this element was a moot point.
Finally, Asher pointed out that all Berard had left of his situation was individual Christians sometimes ate in the same place where they met, something to which no one ever objected. It is not a question of whether or not infants can nurse in the meetinghouse, if the preacher can eat his lunch in the meetinghouse, or if workmen can take a coffee break while working on the building. The issue is whether or not the church can plan, fund, oversee and support recreational and entertainment activities for the members. This is all that it ever has been or will be—a matter of Bible authority.
Berard sought to establish authority for his congregational meal for social purposes by presenting another situation which Asher admitted was scriptural that involved a congregational meal—a congregational meal for benevolent purposes. Berard offered the following as proof: (1) a congregational meal (Acts 6:1-4), (2) for benevolent purposes (Acts 6:1), (3) and social purposes (Philemon 2), (4) in a meeting house (Acts 2:46; Philemon 2), (5) purchased by funds from the church treasury (Acts 4:34,35).
In conjunction with this argument, Berard had asked a question of Asher, "Would you admit that in Acts 6there was social interaction between the participants in these benevolent meals?" Asher answered the question, "Yes." Berard considered this a major concession.
Throughout the debate Berard tried to make the feasts, youth meetings, games, wedding showers and holiday parties he was defending equivalent to shaking hands and the pleasant conversation that might occur before and after an assembly among the members. Asher pointed out that "social interaction" is not the same thing as "social purposes" as defined in the proposition.
There is social interaction by definition when two human beings walk into the same room. Such must exist in any and every assembly of the saints. The Scriptures recognize this and even regulate its character (1 Corinthians 16:19,20; Romans 16:5-16). Asher pointed out that it was a misrepresentation of his position and a disregard for the definitions to try and make it appear that the benevolent meals of Acts 6:1-4 were the same thing as the eating and play parties which characterized Berard's practice.
Berard went on to argue that since Asher would accept a congregational meal with social interaction for benevolent purposes, he must accept the congregational meal for social purposes alone. He pointed out that the total situation that Asher accepted was the same as his total situation minus the benevolent purposes.
Asher made it clear that Berard was in trouble on that point. His major premise necessitated a total situation. If Asher granted there were social purposes involved along with the benevolent purposes (which he did not) that would not prove a congregational meal for social purposes only.
Asher had shown there must be a correlation between the elements as in establishing the plan of salvation. It can be shown that hearing (Acts 11:14), belief (Mark 16:16), repentance (Acts 11:18), confession (Romans 10:10) and baptism (Acts 2:38) are all for salvation. Following Berard's logic, the Baptist is just as saved as the Christian since he has a situation that has four of the five elements found in the Scriptural situation.
Berard did exactly what Deaver and Warren have done with the constituent elements argument, equivocate on the term scriptural. Asher demonstrated this by presenting Berard with a challenge to explain why Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church was not a scriptural designation for the church. The church is (1) a tabernacle (Acts 15:16), (2) missionary (Acts 13:3) and (3) baptist (Acts 2:38). All of these elements are scriptural, that is, contained in Scripture. Asher chided Berard saying, "When you explain what is wrong with that scriptural name you will have shown what is wrong with your own scriptural situation."
This illustration shows that there must exist a relationship between the elements. If not, it is just so much stringing together of Scripture. Berard's proof for a congregational social meal is as shaky as the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
Berard took the position that the love feast of Jude 12 was the congregational meal of his proposition. However, he did little beyond asserting the claim. Asher on the other hand showed that the love feast of Jude 12 and the corrupted Lord's Supper of 1 Corinthians 11 were the same.
There is a striking similarity between the two texts. Both in Corinthians and Jude, the participants are irreverent (1 Corinthians 11:20,21; Jude 12), discern not the Lord's body (1 Corinthians 11:29; Jude 4), are spiritually weak (1 Corinthians 11:30; Jude 19), eat in such a way that they displease God (1 Corinthians 11:20; Jude 12), are in need of discipline (1 Corinthians 11:31,32; Jude 22,23) and should stop their sinful practice (1 Corinthians 11:20,34; 2 Peter 2:13).
Asher went on to point out the meal in 1 Corinthians 11 was actually Berard's congregational meal for social purposes. It was congregational, that is, participated in by the church as a church function (11:20). It was a common meal, a meal to satisfy hunger (11:21,34). Moreover, it was for social purposes, feasting and entertainment (11:18,22). These meals were designed for the pleasure of the wealthy without regard for those who were poorer—a purely social distinction for personal pleasure (11:21,22). As a church function, the Apostle Paul said such was not to be done—they were to go home to eat.
Berard tried to establish a congregational meal separate from the Lord's Supper. Asher asked, "What meal were the Corinthians to eat at home in verse 34?" Berard affirmed it was pre-meal eaten before they came together for the congregational meal for social purposes. Asher observed that if anyone came to a church potluck hungry he was guilty of sin.
Neither 1 Corinthians nor Jude 12 authorizes anything. Both of these passages are dealing with churches that are engaging in apostate practices. In the case of Corinth the solution is clear, eat at home. The only thing authorized is the thing abused properly practiced. Thus, there is authority only for the church to come together and eat the Lord's Supper.
Before the debate was over Berard was in trouble over the gymnasium. Asher asked Berard if it was scriptural for the church to rent a gym, have an assembly there and then provide the place for fun and games afterward. Berard answered in the affirmative. Asher then pressed him on what grounds Berard could oppose what he called "the flesh pampering, mega-dollar family life centers."
Berard said he opposed the FLC on the same grounds that Asher would oppose a $50,000 water cooler—cost effectiveness. However, Asher turned this on Berard observing that he was doing the very thing he had accused Asher of in his first speech—making laws. If the church is authorized to entertain the youth and the seniors with games and parties, and the Scriptures do not specify how it is to be done, then the gym is a matter of liberty and those brethren who oppose it are guilty of ANTI-ISM. Bottom line—Berard would not oppose a gym as long as it is a little one.
There was much good to come from this debate. Brethren studied an important issue that has divided them. We urged unity, not based on compromise, but in what the Bible teaches. Brethren were presented with both sides and encouraged to study on their own. Brethren that have not known one another before or that have been apart for many years came together in a trusting environment of goodwill and mutual concern. This has opened the door for continued dialog in the Huntsville area. We emphasized the common ground that brethren share. Brethren Asher and Berard have a great deal in common. We need to recognize these areas of mutual faith and be encouraged to overcome our differences. A willing heart will go a long way toward promoting unity.
Berard and Asher have tentatively agreed to debate the cooperation question in the year 2000. We look forward to it.