Summary: Compares the church to God’s Temple
THE CHURCH AS THE TEMPLE OF GOD
SEPTEMBER 28, 2008
One of the temptations we often fall into in the Church is to think of the Church as a building. In the New Testament the Church is never a building. It is always a group of people gathered to worship God and to build each other up as the Body of Christ. Most of the churches of New Testament times met in houses or rented rooms, though some met outside in the open air. For several centuries the Church did not have any kind of legal status. Illegal organizations do not build buildings and put their names on those buildings.
The New Testament uses a variety of images to describe the Church: the people of God, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the believers, the saints, the elect, and the field of God - to name a few. The New Testament also speaks of the Church as the Temple of God. It uses the metaphor of a building to describe the Church, but it is not the building, as a building, that describes the Church. It is the purpose and it is the function of that building—the Temple of God—that describes the purpose and function of the Church.
Temples were noteworthy for several reasons in the biblical world. They were thought to be the dwelling place of a deity. They were sacred spaces where sacrifices were offered and worship was given. Temples brought people together for a common cause greater than local, or even national interests. Usually, temples were the largest and most beautiful buildings in the city. They were monuments to the great devotion given to the god worshiped there. These characteristics of ancient temples gives us clues as to why the apostle Paul described the Church as the Temple of God - even though he knew very well that the Church was a people, not a building. First of all -
I. THE CHURCH IS A DWELLING PLACE FOR GOD.
Paul declares in Ephesians 2:22 that in Christ “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” The root idea of the word “dwelling” is house or home. The Church is to be a place where God is at home. This implies several truths. First, if the Church is God’s home, then God must be present in the Church. This means that Church is not primarily a place to talk about God or to do things for God. Church is a place where we are with God. And since Church is not a building, it is a group of people among whom God is present. If we gather for Church, but God is not present, the fundamental reality of the Church as Temple - has not happened. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul describes what should happen when an unbeliever or someone who does not understand, meets with the Church. That person “will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” When neither church members nor visitors recognize the presence of God, then Church as the Temple of God, has not happened among us.
A second implication of God being at home in the Church, is that God must be host rather than visitor. Because Church—the gathered people, not the building—is God’s home, He is in control of the activities and sets the agenda. One might think we are confused about whose home it is, because we often treat God as the guest - and act as if the Church belonged to us. If God is the homeowner, then His values will be those that are lived out in the Church. If God is the homeowner, the Church will become a reflection of His character and interests, not ours.
A third implication of God being at home in the Church is that the Church must be a place where God is comfortable. We do not have to prove ourselves at home. We are accepted for who we are. If God is at home in the Church, we will not ask Him to prove himself. We will accept Him for who the Scriptures reveal Him to be.
So understand that the Church first must be the dwelling place for God. Also notice how it is built.
II. THE CHURCH IS BUILT WITH PEOPLE.
Ephesians 2:20 declares that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The chief cornerstone was the first stone put in place in an ancient building. Its length and width edges had to be straight and perpendicular - because the walls were laid out by sighting along the edge of the cornerstone. Its vertical edge had to be straight and true - because the walls were aligned to that edge. If the cornerstone was not perfect, the walls of the building would not be straight and might collapse. Paul’s point is the Church always looks back to Jesus for our bearings. If we align ourselves with Him, the Church will be straight and will last. If we become out of alignment with Jesus, the Church will become warped and off kilter - and liable to collapse.