05 January 2015

Are you opposed to Church buildings?

It depends on what you mean by a 'Church' building. If you mean are we opposed to a body of believers meeting under a roof, then the answer is clearly no.

If you mean, do we believe that bodies of believers should have special set-aside even consecrated buildings with their own special architecture etc....? Then, the answer is no.

Church building arose in perhaps the 3rd century during the quiet period between the Decian and Diocletian persecutions but it did not begin in earnest until the period after the emperor Constantine's supposed conversion. At this point the floodgates opened and many pagan and extra-Scriptural ideas entered the Church.

Buildings represent what can be called both a Pagan and Judaizing influence. They're pagan in the sense that the Church is attempting to copy the pagan temple, erect architecture that makes a social statement... the steeple for example is in reality a symbol of power and this was all the more apparent when steeples were the tallest structure in a town. There are some people out there who use this argument and drift off into some kind of extreme interpretations about sexuality and power. Even though these arguments may miss the mark a bit and may even be less than accurate it doesn't negate the overall consideration.

Originally based on the Roman basilica, the early 'Church' buildings then began to develop along the lines of the mixed Roman-Germanic culture of the Middle Ages as well as the Judaizing tendency in both the Greek and Latin Churches. While on the one hand representing somewhat pagan ideas, they also incorporated a Judaizing element which sought to re-create the Jerusalem temple. Even today Roman Catholic church buildings essentially contain a Holy of Holies, a resident priest and altar of sacrifice.

This 'Temple' mindset is also demonstrated in how people dress up and approach the building with a certain reverence... like a temple. The auditorium is usually referred to as a Sanctuary which is something the Scripture knows nothing of. Nowhere are any of these things commanded and the theology represents some rather erroneous notions.

Groups like the Puritans and Quakers tried to remedy this by utilizing buildings known as Meeting Houses. This is more along the lines of how we think and yet we see little need to invest in properties and buildings when the Church can function just fine in other venues. Consciously a minority within society, numbers are not our goal.

The modern Church with its movie-theatre approach also represents a Paganizing tendency. Geared toward pop-cultural norms and entertainment it seeks to recreate a motif or atmosphere familiar with popular devotion. In our culture entertainment has taken on a practically religious character. It is our mode of communication and for many it is akin to receiving revelation and interpreting reality. Echoing this within the Church seems natural but has nothing to do with right Scriptural thinking.

While it's not necessarily a sin to meet in a move-theatre style auditorium, to deliberately set out to replicate this 'style' represent flawed thinking.

The bottom line is that nowhere does the New Testament suggest that we are to emulate pagan temples or the obsolete Temple of the Old Covenant. The only Temple in these Last Days is the body of Christ, the individuals and families who are united to Him. Our meeting is not a Temple-style service. We have no priesthood or altar. The building has nothing to do with what we are doing and cannot contribute to our worship. Just as we condemn Rome for making up things to 'add to' worship, those that treat buildings in this fashion fall into the same trap.

We've all attended Churches in 'Church' buildings. We're not suggesting that it's sinful to do so. But it's just one of many factors that have contributed to the confusion of our day, and sadly many congregations are burdened by large unnecessary and rather expensive structures they don't need.

It also ends up serving as a 'form' a structure which attempts to hold the body together. Man-made forms end up supplanting the work of the Holy Spirit. How many congregations would have simply folded and broken apart and yet continue on because they have a building to meet in? What's holding them together is not the unity brought about by the Spirit, but commitment to a creation and tradition of man's own making.

It is not irreverent to meet in a restaurant, home or hotel room. Our reverence is not comprised of vaulted ceilings, robes, or even emotional music. It's not something we can generate by either old or new forms which in the end are all extra-scriptural innovations. It's not generated by wearing a three-piece suit either, nor is it right to be 'seeker friendly' by dressing like we're going to the beach. We should dress normally and in a manner that is modest, being neither distracting nor disrespectful. We're not deliberately casual nor dressed up to attend 'an event'.

The early Church was comprised of quite ordinary people who often met daily.  They weren't running home to change their clothes. They were reverent and yet this was not found in dress or setting but in their hearts and in how they conducted themselves as the gathered body of Christ corporately approaching the living and holy God.