Today’s blog is about the fixation that all types of Christians often have with their church buildings. I think we tend to get really distracted with the things we create to help us reach toward God. I’m going to challenge some assumptions here…first, however, let me say that I love the Church.
The Church, as scripture describes it, is an organism. It is Christ’s Body, His physical presence, in the world today. Not to be confused with the churches (note the “little c”) that dot the real-estate landscape with bricks & mortar & parking lots. But the One True Church, comprised of all followers of Jesus everywhere, who have become brothers & sisters & inheritors of the Real Estate of God’s Kingdom in this life and the life to come. There is only one Church (“big C”); and although it includes local churches everywhere, it’s independent of the programs & organizations & buildings that Christians call “home.” If I’m being totally honest, sometimes I’m not that crazy about the “little c.”
I think we tend to get really distracted with the things we create to help us reach toward God. We’re blessed to live in a country where we have freedom to gather for worship as we please and build state-of-the-art buildings for weekly experiences that are absolutely amazing. It’s ironic, however, that these great benefits we take for granted in the wealthiest nation in the world haven’t seemed to make an appreciable difference in the percentage of adherents to the faith or the depth of their devotion to the ways of Jesus. Now you may disagree with that subjective “from my perspective” assertion, but I think that current statistics & cultural perceptions back me up overwhelmingly. I am not against traditional church buildings at all, they can be incredibly helpful tools; but I am against the notion that they are sacred locations where God’s Spirit Lives.
In the Old Testament, with the people of Israel, God was setting the stage for how He would work through them (the Jews) to bless the rest of the world. As part of that, He had them setup a Tabernacle, which later morphed into a permanent Temple in Jerusalem. This was God’s Dwelling Among Men. It was Holy and Sacred, two words that mean “set apart.” People came to the temple because that’s where God was, literally. But this changed dramatically in the New Testament with the work of Jesus to fulfill and supersede the law and its limitations. Remember all the crazy stuff that happened after the death of Jesus on the Cross? At that time, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom by the Hand of God Himself…symbolizing that the dividing barrier between God’s presence and His people had been eradicated (Luke 23:45). Before this, only the High Priest could enter the “Holy of Holies” once per year to make atonement on behalf of the people. After Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, His Spirit became available to all people!
The Church is not a building, an event, or an organization…it’s you. The church building you attend services at is only holy because God’s people are there; other than that, it’s just another building. Church services are meant to inspire & equip you to go and represent Jesus in your world, and whenever you’re with another believer (follower of Jesus, disciple, apprentice, Christian, whatever you call yourself), You. Are. The. Church.
One of the first amazing heroes of the Early Church was Stephen, a man full of faith & power & wisdom. He is known as the first Christian martyr. False witnesses were produced against him that claimed “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” Stephen fearlessly laid-out the development of God’s presence throughout the ages, ending with the fiery assertion, “…the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Then they killed him. His death became the lightning rod that sparked the first movement of “The Way of Jesus” outside of Israel, as individuals & families & small groups accepted their God-given identities as the Houses of God.
- “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
- “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)
- “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
- “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)