Thursday, April 8, 2010

#139-Church as the House of God....AKA as an attempt to time travel back to when we confined God to specific regions and locations

Preface: This very post has been brewing for a while. And it's been a long long time coming. Several individuals have written to me suggesting this topic be written, but I have just been really really nervous that I could convey the logic behind what is about to be written because it involves a need to go into the Greek of the bible, a bit of theological rambling nonsense and also if one has not heard the argument behind it, it can really cause a complete 360 of confusion....But that said, the truth does not forfeit itself so we can be comfortable in our own knowledge....

And in my hesitancy, I realized very quickly yesterday that I don't actually have to write much. In our most recent post, the topic that is addressed here was written about more eloquently and concisely than I ever could write. More or less this post is using these commenters own words as well as those that have been e-mailed to me. So, thank you Ryan Evans,  "Lee,"  "Chuckles," an anonymous, Stuart, and also someone who I will simply nickname Darwin (he has been a help on several posts now)....(if you want you want your real name inserted in this post , let me know)...

First, to better understand this post, let me go by way of overly-simplified analogy. Think back if you will to your childhood, at the height of our innocence and joy. Our biggest worries were scraping our knees and forgetting to brush our teeth. At this time the world was our playground, simply because our imaginations would run wild. A blanket fort became a magical kingdom. Our backyards became lands of milk & honey where trees were  our infinite leaps into the heavens,  and conquests of imaginary battles were devised with sticks as our weapons. If one was a female (though I could be becoming misogynist in my assumptions), there was no need for church or family because they could replicate such occasions on their own in their basement with their friends playing pastor or dad, lead musician or mom. Anything or everything was up to our mind to recreate and build a new. We were our own entertainers left to perform for an audience of no one and we frankly didn't care. 

But then something happened, we grew up. As teenagers we were not so self-reliant in our own imaginations. We had to go out on Friday nights to "do something." To stay home and play became absurd. We no longer provided our own entertainment but rather thrusted ourselves into the entertainment that our social environment provided, be it youth rallys, bowling alleys or youth rallys that ended in bowling alleys. We need the exterior world at large to provide our entertainment,  and somewhere in this process the magic was lost.

What does this have to do with church?

Well the point is that traditionally when we think of church, we think of our local building.  Quite frequently we refer to this building as “the house of God.” And in this terminology, a kind of constructed sacredness is built around it. The house of God then references our church where children are forbidden to run, gum is taboo, and countless other “do nots” are constructed out of reverence for this building  (see post on the No Fun Police). But at the same time, the House of God as we know it, is much much more than that.  This is the building(s) where most of us received the Holy Ghost, became baptized, worship, and find our callings in bouts of tears of joy on our knees as the alter.

This post is not made to bemoan the idea of church whatsoever. It is rather to place it in its proper biblical context.

And here is where I will defer to the comment section of our last post…

(See Rest of Post after Jump: Click "Read More" below).

Lee said (whose research is actually spot on):

the word "Church" in the text is 'ekklesia' and was translated as 'church" in our Bible. I'm not a Greek scholar, but according to several books I've read, it's a gathering of a group of people or an assembly. I did a quick google search just to check it out and google seems to agree with what I've read.
According to
In our English Bible the Greek word, "ekklesia" is translated in most places "church." The word "ekklesia" is found in one hundred and fifteen places in the New Testament. It is translated in English one hundred and thirteen times "church" and the remaining times it is translated "assembly."
In classical Greek the word "ekklesia" meant "an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly."(2) The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to "call out." In New Testament times the word was exclusively used to represent a group of people assembled together for a particular cause or purpose.
You can also check out
Also, according to QuickVerse (bible program) it says the same thing….

Living "according to the scriptures" is not NT Christianity, as much as is living in community with others, with the "scriptures" (read: law) inscribed on your heart. Though there are certainly requirements of God, the primary laws are love of God, and love of others. What better way to demonstrate the latter than to be in community with others? 
In short, the word for “church” in the New Testament is not referring to a building but rather ourselves as the “Called out ones” (literal meaning of ekklesia) as a community of believers.

One tricky verse that I had trouble with in this understanding was I Timothy 3:15- which says, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

It is in my research that seems to suggest a direct reference to the church as a building. But as Darwin pointed out to me in conversation, the verse is actually saying the House of God is the ekklesia (Church, called out ones)  of the living God. In other words, the house of God is to be defined once again as the community of believers. This understandings means that going to church is not to be a reference to our ‘church services” alone, but also when we the believers gather whenever and wherever it may be as an assembly.

Some may be arguing that this is all just semantics, but I argue that the theology behind our misunderstanding to Church can be not only contradictory to our revelation of the Holy Ghost, but it can also be dangerous.

First, I Corinthians 6 has Paul pointing out that we ourselves are now the temple of God. Similarly, we know that when Jesus died, the temple curtain was shorn symbolizing the death of the presence of God being defined by a temporal location. Rather, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Ghost reigned, God’s presence was not to be encountered not in location (such as the temple, tabernacle, or church), but rather by the believer himself. And church happened when these Holy Ghost believers came together.

When we think the church building itself as something sacred outside of the concept of the assembly of believers, we can develop an “in/out” mentality in church. In church, we reverence the “house of God.” That means these strict demands of reverence in church (e.g. don’t run), give us the sense that such reverence as believers is not demanded so outside of the building. We reverence the “house of God” in such instances and then think everything outside the walls is where the fun happens. The reality is the Holy Ghost goes wherever, and while we may choose to have a reverence for the assembly of believers, this does not mean the only place where such a reverence is to happen. Pot lucks, and youth camps technically demand the same kind of reverence for there is an assembly of believers.

The concept of the “house of God” to me becomes contradictory in terms of God had revealed himself before the day of Pentecost through temporal locations. First it was on Sinai, and then it was in the tabernacle and finally to the temple. Zechariah suggests that God’s location would expand to all of Jerusalem but be it still, His presence is finitely located. In such occasions, I think the term “House of God” is deserved.

However, if we begin to imagine our church building as such a venue as those prescribed in the previous paragraph (temple, tabernacle, Sinai), we negate the concept of the transcendence of the Spirit amongst all those who receive His spirit.

In closing, let us go back to the analogy of our childhood where our imaginations let our interactions with our environment have nearly infinite possibilities and the loss of the imagination in our teenage years where we relied on the entertainment from others for our own entertainment…

We can begin to imagine that if the church is known in our mind “as the House of God” we then come to rely on such a location for our spiritual reconciliation and advancement.  We lose the wonder of amazement of learning to trust in the Spirit (Romans 8, Galatians 4-5) that is within us. Closet prayers and meetings with church friends become the mechanism whereby we get by throughout the week until we can meet God fully at church. Yet, is this not limiting the possibilities of God’s gift of the Spirit fully working within us?

As Ryan stated, “if we are empowered as the church (as the “called out ones”), then we're more missional with our lifestyle - it's something we live day to day and we don't have to wait to 'bring people to church.' Because bringing someone to church doesn't really make sense; we could bring the church to someone, or bring someone to meet the church. 


  1. I recommend the book 'Pagan Christianity' by Barna and Viola. It goes into great detail about who and what the 'church' really is.

  2. Pagan Christianity is an interesting read, but it's not completely factual. Their research is lacking. Check out the response by Mark Driscoll. Still, they raise interesting questions. I disagree with some of their conclusions though. God engages in our culture - regardless of whether it's church culture or not.

    Joel - great post.


  3. Ryan,
    Glad you can be honest about the integrity of pop-culture theologians like Pagan Christianity. They do well with self-criticism, and that's healthy, but sometimes books like that jump conclusions prematurely.

  4. Great post. This is a big misconception.

  5. Wonderful post! What kind of revival would happen if we began seeing ourselves as the church instead of a building? If we let God out of the 4 walls, what would He do in our lives? Why do we feel the need to "bring people to church?" WE were commissioned to make disciples-to bring people to JESUS. We can do that anywhere and anytime. Maybe it's just easier to bring people to a building and let someone else (the preacher, the singers, God) take responsibility for their souls! Thanks for reminding of us our calling, Joel.