The church. It is a North American icon. If you search the internet for images of a church you will see country churches and cathedrals, some made of stone and others out of wood. There will be lots of steeples and crosses.
If you drive around your city you will probably see a church or two, or ten, or twenty. Large and small churches. Traditional and modern churches. The one on the corner was renovated last year. One with an orange top was built more recently. And that old one made of stone was converted into a bed and breakfast.
Have you ever stopped to think about the significance of the church building? While they don’t seem to have the same appeal as they once did, with some folks shouting that they aren’t even necessary anymore, what would our attitude be towards the church?
Maybe you’ve heard it said that being the Church has nothing to do with a church. The capital “C” Church of Jesus is universal and timeless. It is made up of all who believe in Christ for their salvation and it is His spiritual Body.
It is a reminder that the workings of God are not relegated to the four walls of any one building. It is a call to leave the “church” and to enter and engage with a world that desperately needs the power and presence of God that goes with the “Church.”
While we recognize that the Church is not contained in a building we have to be careful to remember that our physical church building has a role to play as well. Some of the elements of that role can be fulfilled elsewhere. For example, our churches are meeting places for services, discipleship and fellowship. These elements are consistent whether we meet in a stone chapel, a rented hall, a converted movie theater, or the lunchroom of our neighborhood school.
Some congregations have chosen to forego the traditional building for one of these other meeting places. Yet no matter where the Church gathers together and calls “church,” the room or building we meet in is more than just a room. We have to recognize it as a special place that speaks to God and our community.
After the people of God returned from exile they had to build a new Temple since the one built by Solomon was destroyed. When the people gave up the building project, God sent the prophet Haggai to get them focused on it again.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:7-8 ESV)
The new Temple was more than a meeting place or an area set apart for offering sacrifices. God’s Temple was a place where He would take pleasure and a beacon to tell others about Him. So, too, are each of our churches, whether they are at the Holiday Inn or in a cathedral.
God’s pleasure in the Temple wasn’t based on its decoration or structure. This second Temple was smaller than Solomon’s Temple, yet God promised its glory would be greater. It didn’t matter if it was filled with gold or simple wooden paneling. What mattered was that it was in good repair and used for God’s service. At the time of the prophet’s message the Levites were already offering sacrifices and tithes were already being gathered. The sin of the people was that the building lay in ruins.
Those of us who have a standalone building or a rented space where we are the sole occupants, must remember that the condition of our building is something that God is interested in. He isn’t looking for a certain size stained-glass window. He doesn’t worry if the music comes out of an organ or an electric guitar. But He is concerned about how important His building is to us. And just how important the physical church is to a congregation can be seen by everyone who walks or drive past it each day.
If you don’t have a building or space of your own, consider this. The world wonders what you are doing in that room or building. But before they want to know about the God you are singing about, praying to and preaching, they are going to be looking at how you leave the space you are borrowing. Everything from the carpets to the bathrooms to the undersides of tables and chairs are going to be checked. And if the custodian starts mumbling “Not those church people again” each week, you also fail to bring God pleasure or glory.
What are you doing to make sure that God is pleased and glorified by His building, your ‘’church”? Maybe it’s time to add a little extra in the offering to make sure the paint is fresh or the roof isn’t leaking. Pick up some trash and offer to sweep or vacuum. If our buildings lie in ruins we have to invest in them again so that the world might see how much we value what God has entrusted to us. God is looking, and He wants us to be zealous about the “church” while we live as the Church.