When the behavior of some in the assembly is disrespectful or irreverent, how can I be helpful to them?
Drinking coffee or talking on cell phones during meetings (as reported by the questioner) is a discretionary matter. To be fair, though, I don’t think any elders in any assemblies I have visited would consider either of these behaviors appropriate during an assembly meeting.
In part, those who do these things may be trying to create an accepting atmosphere in which visitors will feel welcome. While this has value, a clear principle from Scripture has a prior claim: “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever” (Psa 93:5). “Holy and reverend (revered, awesome [ESV], terrible [JND]) is His name” (111:9b). Since His name is associated with His assembly (Mat 18:20), its character regulates the gatherings. “God is not the author of confusion (disorder, unruliness)” (1Co 14:33), therefore “Let all things be done decently and in order” (dignity, see Strong’s) (v 40). Behavior that lacks propriety and orderliness becoming to the presence of the Lord has no place in God’s assembly.
Three suggestions, then, may enable a believer to be helpful in such circumstances. First, do not let the behavior of others either shape your behavior (Rom 12:2a) or distract you from honoring the Lord (Psa 71:14, despite circumstances). Second, keep a right spirit, not becoming bitter against those whose behavior concerns you (Ephesians 4:31, 32). Third, communicate your concerns in a way that is positive and edifying (v 29b). If your communication is not likely to be helpful, say nothing, but find a way through prayer and waiting on the Lord to express your thoughts.
Should unbelievers or believers not in the fellowship do work around the Hall?
Noting a distinction between the building and the assembly will help in answering this question. Service that specifically deals with the assembly, its spiritual growth, and its teaching is the responsibility and privilege of those in that assembly’s fellowship. Some in the fellowship of other assemblies could also offer appropriate help.
Meals that the assembly provides or building maintenance are not specifically service within the assembly. In all such cases, the assembly is responsible to oversee these matters so that the assembly’s testimony is not compromised. The appointment of seven men over the daily ministration to the widows in the Jerusalem assembly supports this (Acts 6:1-6).
If an assembly hired an unbelieving contractor for some aspect of work on its building, this is entirely appropriate. The building is not the assembly. If an assembly pays individuals or a company to prepare or serve food for an assembly function, this, too, is appropriate. Two issues apply in both of these cases: the stewardship of funds and the preservation of testimony. The amount of spending involved should be within bounds consistent with handling funds specifically given to the Lord (2Co 8:5). The people involved should not be individuals or businesses whose character damages the assembly’s testimony (Romans 12:17b).
Within these boundaries, overseers must make discretionary decisions based on scriptural principles.
How do I respond when the overseers change their view in discretionary matters?
Issues of truth and consequent Scriptural practices are not discretionary matters. The application of Scriptural principles to specific cases is discretionary. Overseers guide the assembly in such decisions (Hebrews 13:7, AV mg.). Decisions regarding the seriousness of substance abuse, the determination of railing, the appropriateness of certain apparel (not the overseers’ taste), or the issues mentioned in the previous questions are discretionary. The decisions communicated by the elders and apostles in Jerusalem included this element (Acts 15:20, 21). Overseers will give account to the Lord in such matters whether they have gone too far or fallen short of the Lord’s will in these matters. No doubt, the overseers would love to be like the children of Issachar, “men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1Ch 12:32).
Circumstances, cultures, and mores change so that what is appropriate in one location or generation may not be the same in another. Therefore, at times, overseers may change their views, not about truth, but about the application of truth.
If a believer in the assembly does not agree with their judgment about changing the application of truth, he is responsible to first judge his own heart as to his motivation and as to the importance of the matter. If he concludes the issue is important, he is responsible to express this courteously and reasonably to the overseers (see the principle in 1Ti 5:1 for addressing older believers). When he has committed this matter to the Lord in prayer (Phi 4:6, 7), he is responsible to carry out the other behaviors in that passage (vv 4-8, rejoicing, yielding, thinking positively) and to submit to the overseers (Heb 13:17).
Must an assembly receive practicing homosexuals?
This may not be an issue currently, but will undoubtedly become an issue, if the Lord doesn’t come soon. The principle, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), will always apply.
As Christians, our relationships with others must always be courteous (1Pe 3:8) and beneficial to others (Gal 6:10). Supporting those who violate Biblical morals is neither beneficial to them nor pleasing to the Lord. The Bible is clear in stating that homosexual behavior is unclean (Romans 1:24, see Eph 5:3 for the use of the same word) and comes under the definition of fornication. Since fornication is a sin for which a person must be removed from the fellowship of the assembly (1Co 5:11; see also 6:9), receiving such a person violates the Word of God. This is not a matter that the changing mores or the legislation of society can alter. This is not a discretionary matter, but directly relates to revealed truth.