Church. What does that word make you think of? What images pop into your mind? The word, “church” is derived from old English and German words which mean “the Lord’s house.” Essentially, the word refers to a structure, a building. In the New Testament, however, that is NOT the word that is used in the original language. The Greek word that we see translated as “church” in the Bible is the word, ekklesia (which looks like this in ancient Greek: “ἐκκλησία”). Ekklesia never referred to a structure but to a people. It refers to the family of faith, not the buildings we construct and call “churches.”
Why is this important?
Throughout religious history, mankind has been in the habit of building temples. There have been multiple temples dedicated to seemingly countless gods. The idea is that the temple is constructed in order that these gods would have a home… an abode. To go to the temple was to go into the presence of whatever god the temple was built for.
When God first engaged the Hebrews, He brought them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Ultimately they established their permanent residence in Palestine. During all of these travels, they had tents in which they lived. They also had a tent dedicated to Him that we refer to as the “Tabernacle.” It was mobile and went with them everywhere they went. When they set up camp, they did so around the Tabernacle. Never… not once… did God ever tell them to build a Temple for Him. That was David’s idea much later on. David, out of his love for God, wanted to build God a house. He believed that since he had a place to live, it was only fitting that the God Who provided for them all had one as well. God gently rebuked him and said that His plans were the opposite of David’s. He didn’t desire or need a house but would indeed build a house for David. The house He was referring to, however, was one of family lineage. It wasn’t made from wood or stone, but of people and would bring forth the Messiah.
David wanted to build a temple anyway, but God forbade him from doing so due to him being a man of war. He said that He would allow for David’s son, Solomon, to build it. And that’s what happened. And God did enter into that Temple in all of His glory and make His presence known and felt.
Skipping waaaaaaay ahead to the New Testament.
When the resurrection occurs and then Jesus went back to the Father (which we call “The Ascension”), He sent His spirit to indwell His people… His ekklesia. Never one time was there a command to construct a building. Instead the command was to be in motion… always going forward with the Gospel… never anchoring down to a locale in order to establish a place “where God is.”
If you’re still reading, you likely are wondering what on earth I’m going on about. Why does any of this matter?
Because our idea of how the church exists is totally inconsistent with what He established it to be. He never intended for us to think of it in terms of real estate, buildings, and budgets. He planned on it always being an understanding that no matter where we were, there He was as well. He was not and is not confined to a place. When anyone has certain rules or preferences for things that go on “in the Lord’s house,” then they have illustrated a major misunderstanding of what and where the Lord’s House is.
This is not an attack on the church at all. It’s more of a redirecting of our energy and thoughts relating to it. A Temple (which is very similar to the modern day church building) gave the idea of a fixed and unmovable location. It presents as a permanent home where we go to visit God.
God’s design was never for us to park Him somewhere, but to be on a journey with Him. These buildings that we have are not evil in intention or usage. They are just often misunderstood. To answer the question above: yes. God is in the church… when we are. But when we cease to be there, He has no need to be there either. It’s just a utilitarian structure that facilitates our activities related to the worship of and teaching about God.
This is vitally important because this helps us understand that God is not in a church but is very much in His ekklesia. Peter refers to us as “living stones.” This is a clear indicator of an understanding that although we often think that we need to build church buildings, He has established His people long ago and is simply adding on and renovating as time marches forward.
Image taken from: http://www.countrychristianchurch.com/