Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the history of the church. If you would have asked me a few years ago what church I attended, I would have given you an address, told you how great our pastors were, and then I would have probably started ticking off all the programs and ministries that our church was involved in. It is true that when Christians gather as a congregation in a building on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning the building becomes a church because the Body of Christ is God’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is also true that when a group of Christians meet at Bob Evans or at Starbucks to study the Scriptures, pray or encourage one another, those buildings house the church. Jesus said that when two or more gather in His name He is there (Matthew 18:20) and that He is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18).
Before Stephen was martyred for his faith in Christ, he gave a quick run down of the history of the Israelites. I find it interesting that during Stephen’s inspired rant he talked about King David’s desire to build a house for God and the fact that God wouldn’t let David build the temple. It was David’s son, Solomon, who built it.
“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “‘Heaven is my throne, and the 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?” “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! – Acts 7:48-51
When Jesus was talking to a woman at a well and she asked if it was right to worship at a mountain in Samaria or in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Believe me woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21,23-24)
In his book, Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, author Frank Viola notes;
“Strikingly, nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia), temple, or house of God used to refer to a building. To the ears of a first-century Christian, calling an ekklesia (church) a building would have been like calling your wife a condominium or your mother a skyscraper! The first recorded use of the word ekklesia to refer to a Christian meeting place was penned around AD 190 by Clement of Alexandria (150–215). Clement was also the first person to use the phrase “go to church”—which would have been a foreign thought to the first-century believers. (You cannot go to something you are!) Throughout the New Testament, ekklesia always refers to an assembly of people, not a place. Ekklesia, in every one of its 114 appearances in the New Testament, refers to an assembly of people. (The English word church is derived from the Greek word kuriakon, which means “belonging to the Lord.” In time, it took on the meaning of “God’s house” and referred to a building.)”
In this book, Viola goes on to talk about the cost of maintaining buildings and staff and the fact that the way that we practice church on Sunday mornings is creating a church of perpetual spiritual infants who are being trained to be dependent on man and not on God. We hire and pay professionals to teach us, go out into the mission field for us, visit the sick for us, and to teach our children.
In a beautiful picture of the early church, Luke recorded the following;
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. – Acts 4:32-35
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of that church. Some, like Frank Viola, think that the institutional church is so ingrained with tradition that it is beyond repair. They think that it is time to scrap it all and start over again through organic house churches. Others believe that the way to get back to the church described in the book of Acts is through home groups. I’m not smart enough to know what the best option is. What I do know is that as long as men are involved in anything it is not going to be perfect because we are all sinners.
I see beauty in small groups building relationship and doing life and mission together organically in homes. I also see beauty in coming together as larger congregations and organizations to pool our resources, talents and spiritual gifts so that we can have a bigger impact in our communities and in the world for Christ. I also know that we can’t flip over a nineteen hundred year old table of tradition overnight. Only Jesus can do that.
Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23). I think that there are some walls that need to be taken down if they are not leading us towards obedience in Christ. I also think that if we smash down walls we better be careful with the bricks. Some would use the bricks to build new walls of dependence and others would use the bricks as weapons of judgment. I see a better way. Maybe we could use these bricks to make a path for the Lord.