Monday, August 25, 2008

The Church is not a "What," but a "Who."

One of the prevailing questions in my own mind, and perhaps in the minds of most church planters is, "What is the Church?"

I am constantly asking this question and searching the Scriptures in my own endeavor to plant what I believe God has given me vision for. Part of this vision, as I see it, is getting to the core of our Christian faith, that is, what really matters; stripping away the layers of false religion and man made traditions that have become sacred to us over centuries of church history.

As such, the thought of the Church being a "Who" as opposed to a "what" has been impressed upon me. There is a common tendency amongst Christ followers to view church as something outside of themselves; a place that we go to or the building where we assemble for the purpose of worshiping God.

The view and teaching of the apostles was far greater than the narrow concept we have of church. Paul addressed this issue in his epistles

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building (1 Cor. 3:9)

16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)

There was a tendency from the foundation of the Church to view the building and location as the church. This was one of the fallacies of the Jews, who viewed the temple as the place of worship. "We go to the temple to worship God." This mindset carried over to the church because human nature cannot grasp the concept of God living inside of them.

Jesus came to estabilsh a new kingdom that is spiritual in nature. His kingdom is not of this world and neither are those who dwell in His kingdom. The will of God was always to dwell with man, not in temples made with hands, but in temples of flesh made by His own hand.

From the beginning of time man has had this desire to build a place that he can see and touch; a place with walls, a location, a "what" outside of himself, where he can go and visit God, when all along God has wanted to take up residence within our hearts. In the Old Testament we read of a few good men who met God personally and worshiped Him; Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, etc. Even these men, as close as they were to God, developed a "what" concept of the kingdom of God. The Israelites carried a portable temple with them as they travelled through the wilderness. David wanted to build a temple, which his son, Solomon, ended up building.

The kingdom of God starts on the inside of a man's heart. That is the place where God wants to dwell. He never did reside in a building or temple made with hands. Because of our sinful nature God has always been on the outside, knocking to get in. Because of our hardened hearts God has had to speak through angels and prophets. Then he sent his Son to tear down the wall, or vail of separation.

We recognize that God has allowed "places" for man to worship Him. From the altars and the tent of meeting in the wilderness, to Solomon's temple and the synagogue, to the four walls and stained glass cathedrals of the church era, God has allowed man to erect these places for the purpose of visiting Him. But His intention from the beginning, from the creation of man was to be our God, dwelling amongst us. Adam walked with God, talked with Him, met with Him daily, until all of that was lost. Jesus restored what was lost through Adam, tearing down the vail of separation and giving us direct access, through Him, to the Father. You will have to read Romans and Hebrews along with Genesis through Deuteronomy for a full Biblical understanding of this concept, but it is a project worth undertaking.

So here I am, in 2008, striving to graspthe idea of "Who" the church is. God never intended for the place of His dwelling to be a "What" outside of ourselves, but a "Who." That is, the people of God, in whom He has taken up residence. We are God's field and God's building; a temple of His Spirit, not made with human hands, but molded and fashioned by the hand of God. This is why there is a God shaped whole in all of us. That God shaped whole is His temple; the place where only He can dwell. Nothing else can take His place. When Jesus is seated upon the throne of our hearts, we become the "Who" of His dwelling. We need not enter a building to worship God. We who are His dwelling place worship Him individually and collectively as we join together.

It is an erroneous thought to think we that bring God with us to church, for we His people are the Church. We may assemble in a building, a field, a cave, on a beach, in a vacant city lot, etc. but the place where we worship is not the church. We are the church!

The temple of meeting that the Israelites carried with them was a good picture of the church because it travelled with them wherever they went. Yet they still, for the most part, viewed worshiping God as an event, in a particular place with walls that they could see and hear and touch.

Anyway, that's what I'm thinking about lately; that idea of being a "Who" before God as opposed to a "What" is so much more comforting to me. God knows each of us individually and personally (Psalm 139) and invites us into a relationship with Him.