“Dear pastor, we would be grateful if you can allow us to use your church auditorium for our Sunday worship service since you only use it on Saturday. Our church building was recently destroyed by a rainstorm. I trust that since we serve the same God, our request will be granted.” Your friend, Bishop.
The question above was redirected to me by a friend and colleague minister. At first glance, one is tempted to overlook the delicacy of the problem to think of it as menial. On the other hand, there are some who will treat it with a stern “No!”. In whichever way, the pastor has to respond to the request, either favorable or unfavorably. But how?
To start, let’s try to identify the main problem in the question. Why should it be so hard for an Adventist church to rent its church facility to another denomination of the Christian faith? Isn’t it a Christian virtue of love to rent out your church house to those without? Does the Bible or Spirit of Prophecy (SOP) forbid it? Or contextually, will it be an affront to the members in that geographical context?
In fact, there are no Biblical or SOP injunctions against this request. Well, some may try conjecturing scripture to theologize the matter. However, in the best of my knowledge, such a quest will end in futility or unmitigated conservativism. What will seem objectionable to some Adventists in this particular instance may include (1) the sensitivity and sentimentalism over the worship style, (2) how Adventists characterize themselves in doctrines and the SOP, (4) and some Adventists’ perception on persons of the other faith.
In this article, I shall offer two main systematic approaches to help my friend to resolve this problem. First on scriptural ethics, and second, on ecclesiastical orders. My conclusion will offer a practical “how-to-deal” approach to the problem.
First, in the light of this quarter’s Sabbath School, the Bible teaches us to treat all men with love and kindness. Kindness is an attribute of God (Ps 69: 16, Lk 6:35). It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22-23). Paul received acts of kindness from pagans (Acts 28:2). Christ’s followers are advised to put on kindness (Col 3:12). Kindness is an indispensable quality in the building of a sound human society. The Church is a social unit planted in the society of persons. By its acts of kindness, the church exerts its mission and influence upon the community around her. Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritans of His day castigates any segregational dogmas (Jn 4; Lk 10; 17: 15). We won’t forget the golden rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 7: 12). In every ethical dilemma, we should ask ourselves: “What will Jesus do?” In order to avoid a convulted doctrinal interpretation, let’s follow the example of Christ, He was kind to everyone without sorting.
Second, is there any Adventist church that worships in other Christian denomination’s facility? Yes, and uncountable. My own English Church in Geneva (Switzerland) is renting the temple of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Geneva for more than two decades. They’ve been a blessing and really supportive of our ministry in their facility. Even as I write, we’re looking forward to rent another church from the Geneva Protestant church. We’re in a very poor financial condition to even purchase a land. Again, there are several Adventist churches that rent their church house to other Sunday denominations. Both the Adventist church in Geneva and Lausanne rent their facility to other Sunday Churches. There are countless of such stories around the world.
In the time of Ellen White, the Adventist Church in San Francisco had rented their building facility to the Presbytarian church following a destruction of their church facility by fire. In recounting how the Adventist Church building survived the disaster, Ellen White wrote: “I cannot express my thankfulness that the Lord preserved this large meetinghouse through the earthquake and the fire. We appreciate it now very much. The church is rented to the Presbyterians for services on Sunday. This makes it a little inconvenient for us at times, but as their meetinghouse was destroyed, they feel very grateful for the privilege of using ours” 1.
The following excerpts is coming from an answer the White Estate gave in response to a similar question:
The current (1997) edition of the Seventh-day Adventist Minister’s Handbook (formerly called the Minister’s Manual) has the following two paragraphs on p. 194:
“Long-term rental of our buildings to other churches or organizations should be approached cautiously. Such rentals may lead to misunderstandings, cause extra wear on the building, and always increase maintenance and utility costs. Sabbath school leaders grow impatient over strangers rearranging their rooms. Members may not like the difference in methods of worship and messages preached. Congregations that rent their church in order to raise additional income are almost invariably disappointed.
“However, if another church group has lost their place of worship, letting them rent your church for a time may be the Christian thing to do. If you do rent, put every part of your agreement in the most precise written document possible, to help prevent hard feelings later. The conference/mission may insist that their executive committee approve this document.”
The question before us is nothing new or strange to the Adventist world community. Therefore, it shouldn’t be treated as such. There will be instances whereby the need will arise for an Adventist church to rent their church house to other Sunday denominations. From Biblical counsels of being kind, and how several of our churches are being blessed by Sunday churches in this respect, it’s a Christian thing to rent out the facility to bless others to worship God. The Christ movement is such a big family and we should daily foster our fraternity with other Christians.2 To those who want to rent out their churches to Sunday worshipers, I’ll suggest the following:
1. All Adventist church buildings belong to the local conference. After the Church board has agreed to rent out the facility, the local conference should give approval before it takes effect. The Church Board can refuse the request if it deems fit.
2. The pastor or Elder should make the matter clear to the church members to avoid any unnecessarily complaints and criticism. It will not be wise to bring such a matter before majority voting.
3. There should be an official contract with a specified period. This will help the local church to terminate the contract in case the terms are not met by the tenants.
4. Worship is sacred so the place of worship. Caution is needed as to how the place of worship is treated. It’s wise to set out some rules to maintain decorum. Ellen White says, “There should be rules in regard to the time, the place, and the manner of worshiping. Nothing that is sacred, nothing that pertains to the worship of God, should be treated with carelessness or indifference.” 3 The place should be given to churches with high reputation since we’ve had reports of church leaders implanting juju under pulpits and church premises.
5. The local Adventist Church should exhibit a Christlike friendship to the tenants of the facility by making them feel comfortable and welcomed. Setting out rules doesn’t mean restrictions and control. Renting a church house to others can be a way for others to know more about the Adventist Church.
As a consequence of our Christian faith, we should always be willing to be kind by renting out our church buildings to other Sunday worshippers, especially in cases like above. Let’s not confuse the temple of structures with the temple of the Lord. God does not live in temples made of human hands (Acts 7: 48). You are the temple of God (1 Cor 3: 16). Who has rented your temple? How clean is your temple? I think these are the most important questions in your life.