Friday, April 09, 2010

The Church's New Address

What is your church's address? If you attend church, you will probably tell me a street name where your church building is located. But that is not your church's address. 
The Temple in Jerusalem once had an address. But then Jesus came, superseded the temple, endured the following observations, and said this concerning its future: 
“And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”” (Luke 21:5–6 NAS95). 
And, unlike most people who made up the temple admiration society, I believe Jesus could have added, "and that will be a good thing." Our problem ever since the replacement of the Temple is this: we've consistently been tempted to go back; to recreate what was old as opposed to embracing what is new. No, I'm not in favor of blowing up or bulldozing church buildings. I'm neither a terrorist nor an arsonist. But our identification with church buildings has distorted the New Testament of the church.
God's temple, whether physical or spiritual, is where God meets with His people. That location is now "in Christ," and it takes place as the Spirit of God unites God's people with the risen and ascended Lord in spiritual relationship. To individuals, God says “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NAS95). This reference is singular, indicating that the individual Christian is, in a sense, a temple/meeting place with God. But in a larger sense, collected believers are a temple: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NAS95). This reference is plural, speaking to the collection of Christians at Corinth, as one chapter of a worldwide collection of believers who make up God's new temple. A tremendous summary of this "new temple" teaching is found in Ephesians 2, where unity and a dynamic energy are emphasized: 
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22 NAS95). 
Another summary, with implications relating to temple activities, is found in 1 Peter 2: 
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4–5 NAS95).
So your church's address does not contain a street number or zip code. Your church building can be located with that information, but not your church proper; not your church/people; not those who by faith in Christ are united in one body to God through His Spirit. This church is constantly on the move, dynamic and vibrant. They are constantly in dozens of places, serving their Lord and sharing their faith.
Here are some implications:
  1. Never again repeat the church growth mantra that the visibility of the building is critical to success. It is the visibility of Christ that is critical, and God did not design to display Christ in your church building, even if it is a historical cathedral or an architectural wonder.
  2. Don't allow yourself to spend more time and money on the building than you do on those who are and who will be God's people. I am not saying that we should not have a building. God created us with physical bodies, and we need buildings of various types that provide shelter. I am saying, if you spend more dollars and energy on the building than you do on the people, then something needs to change immediately.
  3. God's people cannot be identified primarily by who shows up in your building on any given Sunday. There may be many of God's people who don't honor the building with their presence. Maybe they are somewhere honoring God instead. Further, there are probably people in your building who faithfully wear out pew covers who are not God's people. The Bible certainly gives us serious indicators of who is a child of God. Church attendance is not a serious indicator. Fellowship is. Enduring one my sermons is not. Encouragement and exhortation are essential. But God did not ordain Sundays at 11, at this address, in that building. 
  4. Stop asking, "How can we get them to come?" Start asking, "To whom will we go?" We gather, somewhere, for prayer and teaching and fellowship, but we scatter for service and evangelism. If we creatively invite them to our building so that we can serve them and evangelize them, and then if they creatively decline, we cannot say that we've done our best. It is not our church building and location that have failed us. It is we who have failed our Master.

I am thankful for our church building. 
  • But I dislike how it defines us. 

I am thankful for the comfort and the convenience of our structure. 
  • But I regret that we expect the building to be a lighthouse for our community, when it ought to be Christians representing Christ. 

I am thankful for the simple beauty and functionality of our building. 
  • But I know something is wrong when we are more animated by maintenance issues than by missional concerns. 

It's nice to have a location and a schedule. 
  • I hate that we have become so predictable.

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