Monday, April 6, 2015

Of church buildings and temples

I'm reading 1 Corinthians 6. The verses at the end of the chapter, 19-20 are as follows:
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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We are familiar with that passage and no doubt can quote it. In this portion of the chapter Paul is urging the sexually aware and culturally lascivious Corinthian believers to forgo sexual immorality. He said that because the Holy Spirit is inside us, and that we are living temples of Christ, when we sin sexually we make Christ complicit in it in a way that no other sin does. (1 Corinthians 6:15).

In reading my commentary by John R. Rice, he went further in explaining. His focus in this paragraph is not on the body in which the Spirit dwells, making it the temple of God, but on buildings.

What's in a church building? If you're an Old Testament worshiper, everything, absolutely everything. If you are a New Testament worshiper, nothing. Absolutely nothing.

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We know that God spent an inordinate amount of ink and inspiration in the Old Testament recording the specifics of the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple's construction. We have an excellent idea of what they both looked like because of the monumental meticulousness in the OT regarding its dimensions, specifications, and adornments. Some of this information can be read in 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2, Exodus 38, and so on.

The Disciples looked upon the temple in Mark 13:1 and exclaimed over its majestic beauty. There is even much ink given to the construction, location, and adornments of the Temple in the Millennium Age (Ezekiel 40-41), even down to the number of cubits wide each door will be. Revelation 11:19 even mentioned God's temple in heaven opened up and the ark of the covenant being there.

But did you ever wonder why in all the New Testament, no specificity or even reference is given over to the construction, location, adornments of any church building? None whatsoever?

Here is John R. Rice:
It is significant that not a single church building is mentioned in the New Testament. Were there any church buildings? If so, God was particularly careful that no one should revere or honor them. God does not live in church houses. Many a home where Christians pray and read God's word and delight in His presence is more nearly a house of God than the church house. It is wrong, then, "to speak of reverence for the house of God." We should respect the rights of other people. We should see that services are decent and in order, without confusion. We should respect the man of God. But God has no temple on earth but a human body... ~John R. Rice, The Church of God at Corinth: Commentary in 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1973
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We note that the disciples met in the Upper Room after the crucifixion (Acts 1:13, Acts 20:8). When Apollos was expounding in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside to explain the Way more accurately. The verse doesn't say where they took him, just "aside." In Acts 19:1 Paul arrived at the interior of Ephesus and found some believers there. The verses don't say where. We know that early believers initially met in massive numbers in the outer court of the temple. (Acts 2:46). After Paul's discipleship grew, he quit the synagogue and reasoned "in the lecture hall of Tyrannus" for two years. (Acts 19:9).

We read in Acts 11:25-26 that

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
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Here Paul stayed a year, but again, no big deal is made of the building or place where they met. The church grew hugely, in fact this was where the followers of the Way were first called Christian, and yet...biblical silence on the building or specific location where this happened.

There were house churches. Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6), believers were gathered at Mary's house to pray (Acts 12:12), Lydia had a house church, (Acts 16:40), and so did Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3,5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Nympha hosted a church at her house, (Colossians 4:15). Philemon and Apphia had a house church. (Philemon 1:1-2).

We have absolutely no idea as to the size of these house churches, how regularly they gathered, what their gatherings were like.

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What we do know is that the early believers met in homes, lecture halls, the great outdoors, stadiums, synagogues, wherever they could. Even at the end of the New Testament when Jesus dictates His letters to the seven churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea they must have had a known building since presumably the letter-carrier would have known where to bring the letter. Yet we do not have any specificity of the 7 churches' size, dimensions, adornments, etc., unlike the Old Testament's attention to the details of the worship house.

This is because WE are the temple.

Churches today meet in rented school gymnasiums, storefronts, homes, brick buildings with steeples, clapboard structures large and small, majestic buildings, traditional edifices with bell towers, or simple square humble dwellings. It doesn't matter what the building looks like as long as the temple of people that are gathered are holy and worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Or own church was founded in 1892 and is brick with bell tower, with solid wooden pews, hymn-holders, red carpet, tin ceilings, a pulpit and other traditional architecture. I love it. I'm comfortable there. I love the tradition and solidity of the permanent location of a place that's immediately recognizable as "worship place." Yet our church voted to move to a larger facility down the road which is currently a factory by day. The Youth meet there every Wednesday night, and we hold special events intermittently there as we make the transition.

The Old Testament is loud and noisy about the Tabernacle and the Temple. The New Testament is silent on church houses. The obvious variety of the structures in which they met isn't the point. The point is that they, being the temple of God, met. And they did so continuously, joyously, even when persecution came. They gathered, prayed, baptized, learned, exhorted and proclaimed the Good News from lecture halls, homes, stadiums, hillsides, and temple courts. They met, these people who are the temple of God, they met. The building does not matter. We are His temple. This is what matters-

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)









1 comment :

  1. AMMMMEN! And even when I informally meet with one or 2 fellow believers, there is tremendous encouragement and edification, unlike with even the best of my unbelieving friends.

    Disrnr

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