Monday, June 17, 2013

The Church Building

On 30th March 2013, BBC reported, “…the doors of St John's Episcopal Church are open to hundreds of Muslim worshippers, arriving for daily prayers. The familiar sounds of Christian hymns have been replaced with Islamic prayer in the chapel this Friday lunchtime and the church priest with the imam from the neighbouring mosque.” 1 What’s your response to this? Some would welcome such a move, others may not have a view, and some traditional christians may express shock, disbelief, anger, and disappointment.

I once believed that ‘church’ referred to the building in which christian worship services are held. Little did I know then that the church is the community of the believers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

To understand this, let’s explore the Old Testament temple, which I believe is the precursor to the modern day church worship (I will not touch upon the “tent of meeting.”). Outside of sociopolitical compulsions, David considered the temple construction as a dwelling place for God, the Ark of the Covenant and the Tent of Meeting and its sacred furnishings (2 Samuel 7: 2, 5, 13; 1 Kings 8: 3-4), but Solomon built it. The holiness was ascribed to the temple when the Ark of the Covenant, Tent of Meeting and its sacred furnishings (institutional representations) were in the Most Holy Place, and when the glory of the Lord filled the temple (1 Kings 8: 10-12; 2 Chronicles 5, 7: 1-3). There was a tangible manifestation of God in the temple. Hence, the temple, without its institutional representations and the tangible manifestation of God, would not have acquired the intense holiness.

As days passed, the temple was used as state treasury, “emptied to pay tribute or filled and decorated with booty according to the power of the land.” 2 Let us also bear in mind that the Ark of the Covenant was “presumably lost during the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. There was no ark in the second temple (Josephus, BJ 5. 219).” 3 Finally this temple was destroyed by the invading Babylonians.

A vision of a new temple was given to Ezekiel, but was not built according to the vision (Ezekiel 40-43). The second temple was built, but its foundations were apparently inferior to the first temple (Ezra 3: 12; Haggai 2: 3). Antiochus IV Epiphanes set up a pagan altar or statue, which the triumphant Maccabees cleansed (1 Maccabees 4: 36-59). The institutional representations in the Holy Place were limited to the seven-branched candelabrum, the table of showbread, and the incense altar. This temple lacked the glory of the Lord that was present in the first temple. The main structure of Herod’s temple (third temple) was completed in 9 BC.4 This temple was destroyed in AD 70 by Romans. The candelabrum, the table of showbread, and other objects were carried to Rome. This temple too lacked the glory of the Lord. Thus the second and the third temples without the tangible manifestations of God lacked the intense holiness that was present in the first temple (cf. after centuries of covenant disloyalty, the Lord withdrew HIS presence - Ezekiel 8: 6, 10:18).

The Lord Jesus had two opposing views of the temple, on one hand he respected it and on the other hand he relegated the temple to a subordinate position. HE called the temple the “house of God” and considered it holy (Matthew 12:4, 23: 17, 21; John 2:16-17). On the other hand, Christ taught that HE was greater than the temple (Matthew 12: 6), and deemed the temple as an umbrella for Israel’s spiritual emptiness (Mark 11: 12-26).5 Christ also proclaimed the temple’s destruction (Mark 13: 1-2), thus indicating the unworthiness of the obstinate Judaism of the divine presence of God incarnate – the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the new temple was established in the congregation of believers of Christ (Matthew 18: 20; John 14: 23).

The Greek word “ekklesia” represents the New Testament church. Etymologically “ekklesia” means “to call out.” This supports the biblical doctrine of the church as a people called out, and separated from the world by God. “Specific Christian Assembly” is the New Testament meaning of the word “ekklesia.” The New Testament uses “ekklesia” in the sense of the ‘local church’ and ‘universal church.’ It is certainly not used for a Church building, or a particular denomination.

Christ, standing in the temple precincts called out people to HIMSELF (John 7: 37-38). HE emphatically stated HIMSELF as the temple (John 2: 21). Further, the body of the believers is also stated as the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6: 19; cf. Romans 12: 1-2). Therefore, the temple made of flesh and blood replaced the temple made of stones. We do not go into the temple to worship God, but we carry the temple to worship God in the community of the saints. This is the church.

So how do I respond to the sharing of the church building with the muslims? Do I vote for people or the building?

Since 2003, I did not consider the church as a building. I lived this belief and experienced the public wrath of the traditional christians. I was awarded a 6-month suspension from public worship, for providing oversight to an evangelistic hard rock concert that was held in the “church building.” The traditional christians considered this radical evangelistic event (where the gospel was proclaimed) as sacrilege, and even went to the extent of cleansing the church precincts of evil spirits.6 They disregarded people for the sake of the building!

Having been raised in the mainstream church that considers the building holy, it was initially difficult for me to comprehend such a radical deed of sharing the worship place with another faith community. But the building has lesser spiritual significance than people, so why not?

When 2 or 3 gather at my home to worship God, my home is a church building. I do have muslim friends, and would welcome any of them to stay at my home. But I would not prevent them from worshipping at my home, if such a need arises. If my muslim friend can worship at my home, then what prevents me from allowing muslims to worship from the church building?

Many christian worship services are being held in larger halls of hotels. In a hotel, there is a good possibility for a simultaneous occurrence of a christian worship, muslim worship, and even a sinful deed of a man satisfying his lust with a sex worker. Would the latter two destroy the sanctity of a christian worship? I don’t think so.

Many muslim countries have allowed the existence of churches. If such is their benevolence, why should a church close its doors to muslims? Shouldn’t the christian community also be benevolent?

These are however my secondary reasonings.

My primary reasoning is as follows:

(1) The universe is God’s dwelling place (cf. Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7: 49).

(2) The existential reality showcases God’s freedom to people to worship any entity of their choice irrespective of HIS pleasure, and that from within HIS dwelling place.

(3) If God says ‘yes’ to conflicting worship from within HIS dwelling place, why should man say ‘no,’ especially when the sacredness of worship has been taken out of building and brought into the realm of human body?

If the choice is between the building and people, my vote any day would be for the people. Do you agree or disagree? Please state your views, in case of disagreement.

May God bless us all. Amen.  

References:
1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21953899
2 New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed, p1169.
3 New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed, p82.
4 But the work continued until AD 64.
5 New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed, p1171.
6 This christian outreach event was deemed evil, because the hard rock (performed by christians) and its elements were considered evil.

Useful reads:
1. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/temple.html


2. Pagan Christianity, Frank Viola & George Barna. 

18 comments:

Mideast said...

Hi Pastor Raj,

Very interesting question. I suppose an answer to that question can be found on how much we believe that the dwelling place of God (His sanctuary) is in the heart of Man or in a building. If we believe completely that God's dwelling place is in the heart of Man, then one would allow Muslims to worship in Churches. Another point is that i have known small churches (the congregation) worship in very unlikely place such as shops, schools, hotels and even nightclubs.
If the building was more important than the heart of man, then some of these options would be none starters. But the belief has been that this is ok as long as the congregation truly seeks to do the will of God.

Raj Richard said...

@ Mideast: Thank you for your comments, and thanks to you for bringing up the point of churches meeting in places other than designated church buildings and hotels. Yes, I have heard of churches in all the places you have mentioned, and am not surprised at all. Am sure that God's anointing would be present in all.

Hope the mindset of traditional christians change. but that's possible only if they unlearn their traditions and learn to lean on God's Word completely.

All we can do is to love them and pray for them. :)

Sarah Bhuyan said...



Hi Raj,

You have mentioned, "I do have muslim friends, and would welcome any of them to stay at my home. But I would not prevent them from worshipping at my home, if such a need arises. If my muslim friend can worship at my home, then what prevents me from allowing muslims to worship from the church building? "

Pls. clarify, are you saying that you will have no problem if muslim friends worship their way of worship in your home ? If they request you to permit them to use your home for their regular or one off worship, you will have no problem ? Am I hearing right ?

I have good enough reasons when I say ' no' if such a request is made to me whether it is my home or my church. I will associate with any type of people, but I have boundaries. No doubt at all. Church is not a building, but people who are called out. The called out people are different from the others. We do not throw out all the traditions completely. We certainly have to have a balance of
holding on to the traditions that matter and discard that which is
foolish.

What is the benefit or goal when one lets out their home or the church to people who are other than christians ? I am wondering .....

Sarah

Malcolm J said...

Hi Pastor Raj, it is indeed a shame that in the of Christianity barriers have been put up to include or exclude people, and traditionalists create more problems than we have a need for, I suppose that is why Abraham Lincoln said he was a Christian and did not belong to any denomination but to the teachings in scripture. Many Denominations seek to control their congregations, mainly for financial gain and pride and this has seen the break up of many "churches" that want to control a building yet the true building is the heart and that is where the control is either won or lost, in the end every man regardless of faith or denomination belong to God, I personally feel that the only two commands that should govern our lives is love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself, anything other than this is from satan who loves conflict disharmony.

Raj Richard said...

Sarah, Thanks for asking.

1. Yes, I will have no problems if my muslim friend who is my guest at my home, worships. Or even on a regular basis, as long as my home can accommodate. My faith will remain strong. My home will always be the place where God dwells.

2. You say that you will associate with any people, but with boundaries. Wasn't that the same situation with the Jews? They had an acrimonious relationship with the Samaritans and Gentiles. that was their boundary. But the Lord destroyed that boundary.

The pharisees n the teachers of the law also had similar boundaries with sinners. And Christ destroyed that also. So if God wants us to LOVE our neighbor without any qualifications, then why should man invent qualifications?

3. You said it right. We need to discard foolish traditions. How do you define "foolish?" In God's economy, love is the greatest tradition one should abide by. All other traditions that conflict with love is foolish. This is my take. We cannot just enjoy a Samaritan hospitality when we are wounded, but we are to love the Samaritans unconditionally. Is that what Christ taught?

4. On a different note, we do visit restaurants owned by people of other faiths - say, Hindu's. As much as I am aware, a few Christians wont even pray in a restaurant before eating. Most of the Hindu restaurants I have seen have the images of their pantheons and they even do a mini pooja of sorts in these restaurants. This is where we relish the food (of course, there is nothing wrong with it), sometimes even without praying. Is this sin? Or do I learn that God will not dwell in me since I have eaten in a Hindu restaurant?

Food for thought :)

Raj Richard said...

I agree with you big time, Malcolm. Thanks brother :)

Sarah Bhuyan said...


It is a pity Raj that when I spoke about ' my boundary', you presumed what my boundary is. You immediately came to the conclusion that ' my
boundary' is like that of jews and samaritans. I reject that. It would have been good if you had asked what my boundaries are.

You have asked me to define ' foolish'. I ask you to define ' love.'
Love does not say 'yes' always. It says 'no' too.

God said , " do not marry an unbeliever ' Why is that boundary there ? "Before you push the boundary, ask why the boundary was put there.

Sarah



Raj Richard said...

Sarah, thanks for responding. Here is my reason for assumption. Your whole point was to deny Muslims the privilege to worship in the church. So your boundary was "people of the other faith-in church." That was akin to Jews_Samaritans relationship. Am I wrong? If am, then please accept my apologies. But then please define your view.

I think the Bible defines "love" as "loving the unlovable." Am I wrong?

Marrying the unbeliever comes within the context of marriage. I dont want to open another Pandora's box here. So I will reserve that for another day. Marriage and co-habitation isnt apple to apple comparison.

Could you please now define your boundary? Also please define "foolish."

Your thoughts are very valuable, Sarah. We need to think everything through, and that's what you and I are doing. Keep this journey moving forward.

I do NOT want to state that am right and you are wrong. That's not my intent at all. Please understand that. I am willing to dialogue, based on the Bible. I am sure you are of the very same opinion too.

Thanks and God bless :)

Sarah Bhuyan said...

Raj,

Salt has to retain its saltiness. While it does the work of arresting decay in the world, it has to remain in its purest form or else it will be thrown out and trampled upon. How does the salt remain pure ?. If we assimilate everything in to our lives, we will lose purity. We go in to the world to do the work of preservation, yet retain our distinctiveness.

Jesus went out in to the community and preached. He did not throw open the door of the temple to people who worshipped other gods
neither was the door shut for people who wanted to come inside while the jewish worship was on.
I do not belong to the ' Qumran' community who completely separated.Neither will I bring everything in to my home. That is my boundary. It is not the hatred towards jews-samaritans, but my choice of saying no to worship of other gods in my home. If you are comfortable to have worship of other faith in your home, Raj you must be comfortable going to a temple with 1000s of gods on the walls, though they mean nothing.
What is the sign language to our children ?

Loving the unlovable does not mean we invite a potentially dangerous person in to our living room. Having a worship of other faith in homes - first of all, the question does not arise. If ever happened, our children are lost. I have no intention of saving the world if my child's life is in danger. I have no saviour complex.

Marrying the unbeliever is in the same context.
You are bringing an unbeliever in to your home. The children's life will be ruined. I have many live examples among friends.

Foolish traditions - no chewing gum, coffee, shoes and such things in the church.

I repeat my earlier question :

What is the benefit or goal when one lets out their home or the church to people who are other than christians ? We are goal oriented people with motives. What is the motive ?

Sarah

Raj Richard said...

Sarah, you are right. But when we mix with the world, we don't need to be impure - we dont need to assimilate anything and everything that's thrown at us. We are all in the world, but called to be NOT of the world. Moreover, no one can claim that we are pure, so we are impure anyway. In other words, we do not need to lose our distinctiveness.

Bible asks us to invite strangers into our home, so how do we create a distinction as to who to invite and who not?

I wouldn't mind going anywhere, for nothing shd deter me. The one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world. If a Christian is afraid of demons, he cant drive one out. Talkin to children is the responsibility of the parents. Children need to know what is right and what is wrong. Am not in the business of bringing up children in fear of the world. We are called to bring up children in the fear of the Lord, and to stand for the truth without fear.

As examples of foolish traditions, you are citing laws. Please cite traditions that are foolish.

The article in contention says that the Muslims needed a place to worship, so the church building was offered. Someone was in need and so a help was rendered. This is the simple motive.

Could you please tell me what is the motive of God when HE allows worship that abuses HIM? Why is God allowing that?

Sarah Bhuyan said...

I have made my view clear Raj. I have clear boundaries on who will be worshipped in my home. We are impure anyway, hence roll more in the mud is not my mindset. this has to be read in the context of what I have said earlier.

Inviting strangers in to our homes and allowing strangers of other faith to worship their god in my home are two different things. The word stranger has to be defined in the scriptural context.

I am concerned that I do not become a stumbling block to my child through my action too. I do not have a second thought on
this subject. In my home, only the true God will be worshipped.
I will associate with all, but an emphatic ' no' to any other form of worship in my home. The instruction is ' whatever i do, do it for the glory of God. In my understanding, any worship other than the true God in my home will not glorify God.

I do not have any thing more to add.
Thanks for reading.
Sarah

Raj Richard said...

Sarah, it's always a pleasure to hear your thoughts. Thanks for posting them.

My blog is about allowing conflicting worship in a church building, not home.

The aspect of home was brought in as an example. U hv to decide what happens in your home, that's correct and legit. None should intrude in that private decision. I totally respect every private decision. I should not and will not judge.

Once again, let me reiterate that my blog was not about home but church building.

Thanks again and God bless...:)

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