January 20th, 2021

Church: people or building?

By Submitted Article on October 17, 2020.

House of God

Second of three parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

Solomon’s temple was a much larger, stone-built replica of the Tabernacle. The furnishings of the Tabernacle were placed in the temple, but Solomon increased the bread tables and lampstands tenfold.

In the Most Holy part, he placed two large statues of cherubim, covering the ark of the covenant with their outstretched wings, including the two small cherubim on the lid of the ark.

After four centuries, the Babylonians destroyed the first temple. The ark of the covenant disappeared.

The second temple was built after the exile. In the first century before Christ, King Herod the Great did considerable renovations on this temple.

When Jesus was 12 years old, he stayed behind in the temple, questioning the scribes, while his parents thought he was with one of the family groups. His parents reprimanded him for causing them anxiety; he retorted that they should have known he would be occupied with his Father’s business.

Six days before his crucifixion, Jesus drove the merchants from the temple court, scolding them for degrading the place of worship to a den of thieves.

After the exile, only a small number of Jews returned to Jerusalem; the rest remained scattered over the Roman Empire. Their need for a place of communal worship led to the building of synagogues.

Those who could afford it travelled to Jerusalem to attend one of the Jewish feasts. Act 2:2-11 gives an indication of the wide variety of places they came from.

For the first three centuries, Christians did not have places for large meetings. Small groups gathered in private homes (Rom. 16:5, Acts 20:20). Periodic persecution forced them underground.

The Edict of Milan, issued by Emperors Constantine and Licinius in 313 AD, gave Christians freedom of religion. Now, they could have buildings for public worship. The most famous one was Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It is still standing, and is now used as a museum.

Many European countries have impressive cathedrals, like St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, and St. Paul’s in London. Today, these massive buildings serve more as tourist attractions than as places of communal worship.

The real church is not a building but people, followers of Christ. St. Paul called Christ the Head and Christians his body. Christ is at the right hand of God in heaven, but he does things on Earth through his body, the church.

Peter and Paul did use a building as metaphor of the congregation (1 Cor. 3:9-17, 1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 2:5). Each believer is a living brick built into God’s living temple.

The temple resembled our hearts. In the outer court, most are welcome. In the Holy part, only a few may enter. And in the Most Holy part, we are alone with God.

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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