Monday, August 26, 2013


Let's go to church."  My husband HATES that phrase.  If you knew him I'd tell you that he hates it like he hates VBS and the song "Lily of the Valley," and you'd shrink back in appropriate horror.  Since maybe you don't know him so well, I'll pick a different comparison. Saying "go to church" will provoke him nearly as much as saying some very foul and ugly word.  There may even be threats of mouths being washed out with soap.  

What's the drama about?  He believes and I've come to agree that our language betrays our understanding.  When we say, "go to church" we are talking about a place.  Whether we're talking about a campus, complete with student center and preschool, or an intimate outdoor chapel, "church" is never used in the Bible that way. 

There are two ways that the New Testament does use the word church.  First, Jesus used the word in response to Peter's confession.  He said that he would build his church on the rock of this truth: he is both God and King.  Luke picks up this theme in Acts 9:31 and 12:1 using "church" in a very general way to mean all the believers.  Paul is more explicit in Ephesians and Colossians.  In both books he uses the word church to mean all believers in all the world and for all time (for an example see Ephesians 5:23-25).  In contrast, the most common New Testament use of the word church indicates a local body of believers (Acts 8:1, 11:26, Romans 16:1-5, 1 Corinthians 4:7 and Revelation 1-3).

Recently, I read the motto, "it's not a religion; it's a relationship." I assume you've seen it too. I get the point.  Still it's not just a relationship with a flawless Savior.  Christianity implies a relationship with a flawed and messy church.  Church means the assembly of those who are called out of the world.  In other words, an assembly of Christians is a church.

It may be hard to prove a negative but if you take a quick look through a concordance, you'll see that there's no evidence of church buildings, cathedrals, chapels, sanctuaries, worship halls, or assembly rooms in there. Along with many other things including hymnals, microphones and air conditioners, church buildings are used to make worship more convenient. Convenient, however, does not equal holy. 

We would never imagine our powerpoint or our church van is holy, so why do we get confused about the buildings where we worship?  Because we're looking backwards. 

Under the old law, God interacted in worship with the people in one place.  At first it was the wilderness tabernacle for which Moses received the plans on the mountain. Later it was the temple that Solomon built.  They were not to bring their sacrifices anywhere else and the scathing indictment, "they worshiped on every high hill" can be found all through Old Testament.  This extra-temple worship was wrong both in its place and in its tendency towards mixing true worship and idolatry together.  Ezekiel draws the picture even more clearly when he pictures God in disgust leaving the temple in Jerusalem.  The temple was the place where God was. 

In the gospels the picture changes.  Jesus cleanses the temple and he calls it his father's house, but he also says that he's going to tear it down and rebuild it in three days.  It's as if, he, himself, is the temple.  The walking around place where people can worship God. Of course, as strange as the language must have seemed to the first hearers we know that is the exact truth.  Jesus was God.  He was the place where God was on earth. 

So when he left earth, ascending to be seated at the right of the Father, where did that leave us? What's the relationship between "church" and "temple?"  Our first hint is that Jesus says mysteriously that where two or more are gathered in his name, there he will be also.  Where the disciples are he will be too. (Matthew 18:20)

Along the same lines, Paul declares that the church is "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Think about this.  Once the temple was the place where God was in the world. Then Jesus was God in the world.  Now with the Holy Spirit indwelling the church the place where God is in the world is the church (1 Corinthians 3).

Not the building.  The congregation.  

Do you go to church?  

Of course you don't.  If you are a Christian, you are the church.  You are the walking around temple of the living God.  Made in his image, indwelt by his Spirit.  Not only that but you are on his roll sheet, otherwise known as the Lamb's book of Life.  You should be meeting with others around you who are also redeemed. They teach us how to love God and sometimes how much God loves and forgives in us. 

This entire month, I've talked about basic words.  Words we toss off without thinking.  I hope from now on your language takes a new depth.  I hope when you say,  "I'm a Christian" or "I've sinned" or "I was saved," you understand deeply what that means. And I hope you'll remember that "going to church" while admirable is altogether impossible!   

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