Why Do Churches Have Buildings?

Why Do Churches Have Buildings?

We frequently get letters or calls from atheists and skeptics complaining about the amount of money churches spend on buildings. Those conversations never last very long because I agree with the atheist challenges on this issue. The critical question is, “Why do churches have buildings?”

In the Old Testament, there was great emphasis on a building as a place for God to dwell. However, knowledgeable people even then realized that God could not be confined to the “Temple.” In 1 Kings 8:27, Solomon said this about the Temple he built, “The whole sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you. Certainly this Temple that I built cannot contain you either.” In Jeremiah 7:1-11, the prophet deals with what people were doing and what God wants. His reference to the Temple at the end of his discussion is, “the Temple is nothing more to you than a hideout for robbers.”

John 4 describes a discussion between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. She was concerned about where people ought to worship. In verse 20, she points out that the Samaritans were worshiping on Mt. Gerizim, and the Jews were worshiping Mt. Moriah. She wanted to know which was the right place. Jesus responds that neither place is the answer for true worship because “a time is coming and has come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Biblical worship is not just something that happens in a building on Sunday morning. Throughout the New Testament, we see worship described in other terms. (See 1 Corinthians 10:31; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Colossians3:17; Acts 9:31.)

So why do churches have buildings where they meet and worship God? Buildings are vehicles to help Christians address the needs of others and to stimulate and motivate each other to be about their lives and work as Christians. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, the worship service was used to collect resources to meet the needs of others. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-30, Paul writes about communion. It is not just between the believer and God but between the members of the family of God as well. Paul says that without the mutual acts of communion, “many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

Meeting together for worship allows us to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Colossians 3:16 also tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” Finally, Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Paul then goes on to emphasize the importance of meeting together by saying, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some of you are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

God does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands as if He needed anything … for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-28). Worship is 24/7, not just on Sunday mornings. Why do churches have buildings? Buildings help Christians meet in worship and encourage each other to go out and spread God’s love to the world. Using massive amounts of money to provide a building where Christians can be entertained is painfully ignorant of the true nature of God and what God wants His children to do.

— John N Clayton © 2021

Holding “Church” Services in a Pandemic

Holding “Church” Services in a Pandemic

Ignorance can kill. That statement is so true that it doesn’t need any examples. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, some feel that their church is exempt from the medical facts. The “50 States” section of USA Today (Thursday, April 2) carried a report of Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana. He is holding “church” services despite government orders not to. Spell maintains that continuing to conduct services is “not any different from keeping the doors of Walmart or a hospital open.”

The first point we need to make is that the Church is not the building where Spell preaches. The Church is people, not a location. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” In Colossians 4:15, Paul sends a greeting to “Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” The first-century Church did not have a building or a single person who was dominant over everyone else.

The second point is that comparing the Church to Walmart or a hospital is a very ignorant thing to say. While all three are essential to human existence, two of them relate only to a part of our physical needs. You need Walmart or other stores only to get food or other physical essentials. You need a hospital only if you are physically very ill. You need the Church 24/7 for your emotional, psychological, spiritual, and social well-being.

In going to Walmart or the hospital, you rely on humans who are prone to make mistakes. When you “go to church” you are relying on God and His Word, which are always available, and are infallible. Once again, the Church is not a building and not dependent on a single human. The Church is people praying, singing, studying God’s Word, and serving others (See Acts 2:44-47). Holding “church” services by meeting together in one place is very good. But, when necessary, we can still do all of those things without physical closeness.

The third point is that bringing people into a dangerous situation contradicts God’s nature and His teaching. In Acts 12, we read about an angel releasing Peter from prison. The Christians were not exposing themselves to arrest but were secretly gathered in a home praying. Jesus frequently passed out of a situation that was dangerous to Him and others. He never exposed people to a dangerous situation, and His teaching was to avoid evil not to flaunt His power over it. When He rescued a woman from being stoned to death, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:11).

I would not impugn Spell’s motivation for putting his congregation in harm’s way, but that is not what the Christian community is called to do. Holding “church” services is not as important as being the Church.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

What Is Your Sanctuary?

Sanctuary
Where do you go to get away from the problems and pressures of life? Don’t say that you don’t have a sanctuary because we all do. It may be a “man cave,” or a place in the woods, or the bathroom, but there is some place where we escape. The problem is that the physical place we go to doesn’t get us away from the things we want to escape. Many people turn to a chemical solution to find our sanctuary. It may be alcohol, or pot, or a prescription drug. The problem with those escapes is that they can become what we need to escape from.

In the Old Testament, two different Hebrew words were used to identify the sanctuary. One was “miqdash” which means “a place set apart” where God was accessible to the people. The other was “qodesh” which referred to a place of physical separation. Both of these uses referred to a physical structure. It was a consecrated holy place–first the tabernacle and later the temple.

The Israelites identified the sanctuary as the “house of God.” (See Judges 20:18; 2 Chronicles 5:1; Ezra 7:20; and Nehemiah 6:10.) The limitations of a physical sanctuary are obvious. You can’t always be where the sanctuary is! I have a place in Hyalite Canyon in Montana where I love to go to when I need to get away, but it’s a long way from Michigan to Montana.

In the New Testament the “house of God” is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Peter writes, “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). First Corinthians 3:16 tells us that we “are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in (us).”

The church is not a building where we can go as a sanctuary. Second Corinthians 6:16 says that we, the church, “are the temple of the living God, even as God has said, ‘I will dwell IN them and walk IN them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’” Notice that God is IN us!!! God’s Spirit can take that which presses on us and change us so we can bear it. Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God makes that promise to us!!

We can be in our sanctuary any time and any place we choose. Frequently I will get in my boat and float down the river that flows behind my house where I can talk to God and watch the wildlife around me and feel removed for a while from the current problem. I can also go to that place in Hyalite Canyon beside the waterfall and be in my sanctuary. I can be in my sanctuary wherever I am because I am not limited by time or place. In God’s wisdom He has given us a way of escape that works.

I return to my original question. What is your sanctuary? Don’t rely on buildings or temples or chemicals or anything physical. “But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
–John N. Clayton © 2017