There is nothing righteous about a building. There is also nothing righteous about a home or a living room. Most people agree that the building where people meet is not the church.
It’s funny though how 99 out of 100 individuals will emphatically nod their head and say “Right, the building is not the church.” But, then ten minutes later if you point to a religious building with a steeple on top and say, “What is that?” They’ll say, “It’s a church.”
Jesus said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart….,” (Matt 15:18). Out of their mouths, all of the time people say, “We are going to CHURCH”, or “Meet me at THE CHURCH,” or “That’s a CHURCH,” – because THEY BELIEVE in their heart that it’s A CHURCH. You might say, “C’mon, what’s the big deal, it’s just what we call it, we really know that the church is the people and not the building.” I’m not so sure about that and I’ll tell you why.
Our Words Represent Our Actions
Let’s take a look at your average group of people who meet in a traditional church setting. They have services twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays. They have a nice building they meet in. The building is outfitted with all the traditional markings. It has a sign out front with the name of the church. The sign contains a weekly, catchy, thought provoking phrase. The building has a steeple on the top. If not a steeple, then some other traditional looking top to make it look like a church.
Inside, the building has long benches for the audience to sit on. It has a raised platform or stage at the front. It has a nice wooden box for an orator to give speeches from. Behind the speech making box and stage, there is a big bathtub which is raised higher than the stage.
While in this building, we are to conduct ourselves in a certain manner. There is special, extra reverent conduct expected from you as you are in this large meeting room. It is frowned upon anyone to eat or drink a beverage in this meeting room. This room is considered sanctified, which is why it is called the sanctuary – which means that this room is set apart or holy. This meeting room is viewed as though God Himself were living in it.
Let’s do some experiments. Let’s remove all the pews. Let’s also remove the speech making box called the pulpit. All it is now is an empty room. How would this affect our meeting? Would it still seem like a church? Let’s say we sat on lawn chairs and the preacher stood on top of a milk crate. Would it now still be a real church?
Let’s say we took away the entire building. Let’s say a tornado picked it up and moved it to Kansas. Now remember, we all agree that this building is not the church. But what if this building were obliterated? What would be the response of the people who met inside it? More importantly, what would be the emotional response of these people? Would they say, “Our church has been destroyed?” And if this building were gone, how would it affect their fellowship and their practice of meeting together? Do we really believe that the church is really just the people?
We all agree with the concept that the church is the people and not the building – but only in concept. If you were to take away, change, mess up, or alter people’s sacred building, they won’t really feel comfortable.
People associate the building, the pews, the pulpit, the steeple, the baptistery, a pastor – all those things are necessary with “having a real church.” If you meet outside in a park, at 3:00 pm on Thursday instead of 10:45 am on Sunday, then you wouldn’t have a “real church.” If you baptized people in a lake or a river, instead of the bath tub behind the speech making stage, it would seem like the baptism was not quite as official or holy. In 1993, I baptized a man in a bird bath because it was all that was available. Was that baptism somehow less official than being baptized in a bathtub behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning at 10:45? In Acts Chapter 8, the Ethiopian Eunuch jumped out of his chariot and was baptized in some water right along side the road. The thief on the cross next to Jesus was never baptized at all, yet he entered into paradise. Perhaps we should consider if possibly God does not care about the things we care so deeply about.
“Well, Acts chapter 8 and the thief on the cross were during Bible times. Times have changed now”, some might say. Sure, things have changed. But they have not changed for the better. Why do we think that doing things differently from scripture is all of a sudden now more correct?
When Jesus walked the earth, He met outside and taught people in the middle of tremendous disarray. There were people sitting down in the grass. There were people sitting in trees. Some people were probably on their way to the market with their livestock and saw the crowd listening to Jesus preach. They would stop to hear what Jesus was saying and had their cow or chicken there with them as they listened to the message. No one was dressed up in a formal way. When Jesus spoke, there were babies crying, people in filthy clothes, and people walking around toward the back of the crowd.
Was it considered a church meeting when Jesus would preach to the crowds? Of course it was! The church meetings throughout the New Testament include meetings outside, meetings around a fire, meetings in homes, and meetings in buildings. Paul was in a church meeting one time, and while he was teaching, a young man was sitting in a window sill. Imagine if during the next Sunday morning service somebody decided they couldn’t hear as well from the back so they climbed up and sat in the nearest window sill? Someone would probably call security.
Here’s the point. The building is not holy. But we believe it is. If you meet in a park, meet in a home, meet in a fancy Catholic building in Rome, meet in a tree house, it’s all the same. Jesus said that “Where two or more are gathered together, there I am in the midst.” Do we really believe that? C’mon, do we REALLY believe that?
Let’s test it out. Could you meet with one other person, just one, on a Tuesday night in a park? You would read the Bible together, pray together, share hearts, worship God, and touch the Lord together. Would you consider that church? Be honest now… would you still feel like you have to cover your God base by going to the official church meeting on Sunday morning? Would you still feel like you have to dress up, sit on a pew, and listen to a sermon in order to feel like you’ve been in church?
Our actions sometime betray our right Biblical concepts.
Our religiousity runs deep. It’s all we’ve known, it’s all we’ve seen, it’s all we’ve been taught. It’s what we’ve believed for a long time now…even though it is unbiblical. What about all the other things you maybe unaware of that you believe and practice…. that may be unbiblical? The Holy Spirit will help you. But it sometimes takes tremendous honesty and courage to grow.
Why did the New Testament Christians meet in homes? It is certainly not that a house is more righteous than a building. Once you see and understand the essence of body life and what church really is, you will see that THERE IS NO NEED FOR A BUILDING. In fact, it can hinder and get in the way. Also, once your eyes are opened, you will stop associating “being fed” with that of listing to a message once a week. The New Testament Christians were not “fed” by a three point sermon once a week by a paid professional.
What is the point of meeting together anyway? What is the essence of the church meeting? The purpose is to touch the Lord, to encounter Jesus, to be built up in faith, and to edify one another. When this happens, He feeds us. He edifies the church. We are built up and encouraged and He is blessed. The essence and point of the church meeting is more easily accomplished as we keep it simple and don’t include all the extras and unnecessary practices.
It’s Time to “Go To Family”
Many times in Christianity we use words or phrases which are not found in scripture. Phrases like “give your heart to Jesus, make a commitment to Christ, once saved always saved, lose your salvation, our church body, or the body of Christ here” – none of these phrases are found in the Bible.
Many times the idea behind such phrases was originally founded in scripture. But over time, we add to their meaning. Over long periods of time we create man made doctrines, and then we assume they are Biblical. Assuming that certain things are true without questioning them gets us into a lot of trouble in the church. Over time our words and phrases get packaged, re-packaged, and then packaged again. Many times the arguments and discussions we are having are not Biblical themselves. In other words, we are often asking the wrong questions. Or, the dilemmas we are trying to solve are based on assumptions that are in error themselves. Almost always, words and phrases we use that are not found in scripture are not scriptural ideas.
Huge ships are turned by very small rudders. Sometimes even the smallest error in our language (which reflects our thinking and our heart) can manifest itself with huge and consistent patterns of unbiblical practices in our lives. If you will learn to seek the Lord and examine the scriptures with no biases or assumptions, it will open a whole new world to you.
I would like to introduce to you another phrase not found in the Bible. Scripture never uses the words “go to church.” And it doesn’t use that phrase for a good reason. You cannot go to something you are. The early Christians understood this. But we don’t. Our lack of understanding in this area has caused severe and widespread damage. “But it’s just words,” you might say. If I said that God was a female, would you have a problem with those words? I would too. The words we use express what we really believe, and we live according to how we believe. Let’s look at the absurdity of our practice of “going to church” and how it negatively affects our lives.
The word church in the Bible is the Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia means “the called out ones.” If you further study the word, you will observe some interesting meanings. The word also has with it the meanings of a family, a people, an assembly, or a council. It even has the idea of a modern town hall meeting for deliberation.
We could substitute the word “family” for the word “church”. The church is a people. A family is a people.
Let’s say that after a long day at work, you were heading home to eat supper and then retire for the evening. And, you were going to do this inside your house with your spouse and children. Would you say, “I’m going to family?” No you would not. You would say, “I’m going to be with my family.”
Erroneously, church has become a function that we do on Sunday morning. Church has become an event instead of it being who we are. The word church has lost its meaning of family; the word has lost the meaning of us being a people. Going to church has become a weekly activity that we do. We’ve taken a word that defines who we are, a word that identifies us, and we’ve lessened it to an hour and a half episode that we do once a week. After the weekly church event, we then we all go home to our individual lives. It’s like going to the theatre, or going to school, going to work, or going to the grocery store. “We’re going to church!”
Look at it this way. If you are something, you are that thing everyday and you do what you are everyday. Are you a man? Then you never stop being one. Are you a woman? Then you never stop being a woman.
If you have kids then you are a parent. Do you ever stop being a parent? No. If you go to school, go to work, or you are at home, you are always a parent. You don’t stop being a parent because of where you are or what activity you are doing.
And here’s the point: As a parent you should always be actively parenting. You should be praying for your kids while at work. You should be planning things for them, thinking about their needs even when you are not with them. When you are at work, you are working to provide for their needs, when you are home with them, you are actively engaged with them and interacting with them. If you are a parent, you are always a parent and you do at least some sort of parenting activity daily!
Same with the church! If we are the church, you never stop being the church. You cannot be the church on Sunday at 10:45 a.m. and then not be the church Tuesday at 10:45 a.m.
When we call the building a church or say that “we are going to church” we are taking away from the fact that “church” is our identity, not something we “go to”. When something is our identity, we are that thing all of the time. When we “go to something”, we are only participating in that activity while we are there.
When we say “we are going to church”, we are practicing the exact error that is really in our hearts.
We have made something we are, into a weekly event. We’ve made the word “church” into an impersonal, shallow, intellectual, 2 hour a week activity.
Erroneously, we have our life at work. We have our life at home. We have our life of activities. We have our life with our church. We have our life with our friends. It is all become separate and compartmentalized.
If God has saved you and you belong to Jesus Christ, then your new identity as a person is now with the church.
The church, corporately, is now who you are. And you are to live the reality that you are the church 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.
We think growth as a Christian is learning more about the Lord, instead of knowing Him as a person. I can read a book all day long about who my wife is, but until I share her heart, and until I spend plenty of relationship time with her, I will not know her. Learning more information only teaches you about something. Experience is where true growth occurs.
In our day and time we know very little of intimacy. We know very little of how to be joined in heart and be truly knit together as a people of God, yet deep down, we all long for it. We have traded the intimacy of true church life for the falseness of an institution.
We are a living and breathing temple of living stones who encompass the true and living God. We are alive! Corporately, we are the very Bride of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, within and without. How offensive it is to call us a dead pile of brick and mortar. How it tells and exposes our lack of revelation of who we are, to say things like, “time to go to church.” If we are not using New Testament language, it is because we lack revelation to some degree. If our beliefs are in error, our practice and what we live are in error as well.
By Terry Stanley