I don’t know why but some of my greatest epiphanies come while I am in the shower.
Buildings were never meant to be called “church”…
Sure, tens of thousands of buildings in the world are referred to as church buildings; they are dedicated places where people gather to encounter God and those who are a part of His family. However, in Acts 17, Paul says:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples build by hands.” (Acts 17:24)
And Stephen, in Acts 7:
“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?’ Says the Lord.
‘Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?’ ” (Quoting Isaiah 66:1-2)
So where then does the Spirit of God dwell if not in church buildings?
Paul writes this to the Corinthian believers:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
WE. ARE. THE. CHURCH.
The “temples” of our bodies were not made by human hands, as the psalmists declares:
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” -Psalm 139:13-14
I think we have done ourselves a great disservice by using the word “church” to refer to buildings, services and denominations.
Well, let me at least speak for myself…
I grew up hearing and consequently using the word “church” most often in reference to a building, a service, a location, an activity, a function… in the back of mind I knew the church was not any of these things but language is a powerful thing. Just as our hearts follow our money, (“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”), so our thoughts are shaped by the words we say and the language we use.
For this reason, I find it dangerous to say things like,
“I’m going to church on Sunday.” or,
“Church ends at 11am.”
Why? Because these phrases imply that church is an activity. One that has a starting and ending time. And a particular location where the activity takes place.
But “church” can (and does!) happen anywhere.
What about the rest of our lives, when we are not at a designated place called “church”? Do we cease to be the church once the church service is over or once we leave the church campus? No, of course not. But our language says otherwise.
We can go on using the word “church” to mean a particular place or service, we just can’t forget that the reality is, church isn’t either of these things. But it is so easy to forget this when 99% of the time we use the word, we use it to mean something other than what it actually is: people, gatherings of broken, sinful people who have met Jesus and taken Him up on His offer of forgiveness and a restored relationship with their Creator.
So where is the church?
It’s wherever you find a gathering of people who know and follow Jesus. The church is in homes, around tables at pizzerias, in pubs, underground, in forests, prisons, dorm rooms, serving the homeless and volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens…
Who builds the church?
Not us! Jesus declares in Matthew 16:18
“…on this rock I will build MY church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Notice He says my church…
He doesn’t says He will build multiple churches.
As the above passage also alludes to, not only is Jesus the builder but He is also the owner. The church is not a credit union where each member owns a share. It is a body that belongs to the head, who is Jesus. As it is written:
“And God placed all things under his (Jesus’) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22)
We are the church.
One church. Built and owned by Jesus.
Made up of people. His people.
Lead ultimately, not by humans but by Jesus Himself.
Where do you see the church at work around you?
Where do you see people loving on the poor and needy as well as one another?
That’s where the church is.
And for most of my life, I thought it was the pretty building on the corner with the steeple and stained-glass windows… it is there, but it is also in so many other places I didn’t see before!
There is something marvelously sacred about church buildings. These pictured above are just a few of the ones I’ve visited personally. I love the art, the serenity, the quiet whispering that naturally happens as people enter, recognizing they are in a special and holy place… I love the bells and the stories of saints and sinners alike that are told through the paintings, murals, stained-glass and statues that are so common, especially among European church buildings. But… in the end, they are buildings. Dedicated places for sinners to gather to pray and worship the Lord but, the buildings themselves are not the church Jesus intended to build. It won’t be the buildings or services what will be united in the marriage supper of the Lamb at the end of time…
it will be us, His people, His bride, His church.