WHAT IS A CHURCH BUILDING?
1. Since we are celebrating our first year in this new facility, I thought it would be appropriate for us to use the occasion to ask, “What is a church building?”
2. It’s a much more practical question than it may seem at first glance.
a. To answer it, we have to think about what the church itself is, and what it’s for, and what, if anything, it can do with a building.
b. What’s more, we are dealing with something almost everybody associates with Christianity, but of which we read nothing in the New Testament.
3. But this is a question that has some meaningful answers.
a. It has to be approached by considering what it takes for the church to act like the church – to do what the church is to do.
b. When it is, the answers that emerge may explain why an occasion like this is cause for joy the life of a congregation.
1. A church building is a house in which a family may gather.
a. One thing the Bible makes clear is that God does not live in a building where people can visit him occasionally.
i. Human beings appear to have always been tempted to think they could construct a structure, put an image of their god in it, let him live there, and go to appear before him whenever it is convenient for them.
ii. But when Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem, he prayed, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built?” (1 Kings 8:27).
iii. And when Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and addressed the men of Athens, he declared, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24).
b. The Scriptures are just as emphatic, however, that the living God does dwell in his household, his family.
i. It is a living household, not made of sticks and stones or steel and bricks, but of people – a spiritual house built out of living stones (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4).
ii. To those who were in Christ at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God....In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19, 22).
iii. That family in whom God makes himself at home is otherwise called the church. Paul wrote to Timothy about “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
c. What we mean by “the church house” is that it’s a place where God’s family may regularly come together.
i. The Lord expects his children to “come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18), and he promises that when “the whole church comes together” he will be there among them (1 Cor. 14:23; Matt. 18:20).
ii. A building cannot be the church, but it can house the church when it assembles.
(1) I’m not saying we have to construct a building. We could rent a place, or we could meet outside if the climate was right, or if one of our members had a place that we could make work over time, we could meet there.
(2) We concluded that it was more expedient – “more suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance” – to have a house like this with enough space for the whole church and any guests who may be with us when we meet.
iii. That’s the first thing a church building is: a house in which a great family may gather to love and encourage each other and to draw near to their Father together.
(1) It’s not the house, but the people who meet there, that make all the difference.
(2) The beauty of holiness in their lives is a lot more valuable than the shape or size of the building.
(3) Respect the building like you would somebody’s house – and enjoy it like a family would its house – but remember that the church is way more important than its house!
2. A church building is a tool that a body may use.
a. The church is not only a family, it is also a body.
i. When the Father of glory raised up Christ and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, “he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22, 23).
ii. Both Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God “in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:16), so “there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (Eph. 4:4).
iii. Each member of the body is expected to do its part in “building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), and “when each part is working properly” their working together “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).
b. When the church is thought of as a family relationships are emphasized, but when it is pictured as a body the focus is on its work.
i. The idea is that we’re not merely individuals but “members one of another,” and that while we “do not all have the same function” we definitely each have a function (Rom. 12:4, 5).
ii. In fact, in that passage to the Romans the apostle offered several examples of what those functions could be: proclaiming God’s word, serving in some practical way, teaching about the Lord’s way of life, encouraging those who are having trouble believing they can do it, generous giving that makes other work possible, leading in the work, or doing acts of mercy in imitation of the Lord’s goodness (Rom. 12:6-7).
iii. The family comes together when its members assemble, but the body works together when its members function in all these ways.
c. If family gatherings can use a house, the body may use tools to accomplish its work.
i. A church building may be a tool used to proclaim God’s word, or to accomplish service projects, or to teach people how to live, or to encourage those who are trying, or to develop givers and leaders, or to engage in benevolent works.
ii. Remember that when the Lord tells us to do something, his command carries with it the authority to do anything right that is necessary to fulfill that instruction.
(1) The family must gather and may use a house to do so.
(2) The body must function and may use a building to do its work.
iii. But that means that the point has to be the work of serving God and building people, not the building. A church building can only be a means to an end – a tool to increase our efforts to do the work we’ve been called to do.
3. A church building is a base of operations for an army.
a. Be careful to understand what I’m saying here.
i. I definitely do not mean that a church building is a fortress to keep the world out and to provide us with a serene escape from life.
ii. I mean that it is more like a beachhead which gives us a foothold in the community and from which we can branch out to engage the world in the cause of righteousness.
iii. A church building can be a base of operations, but not the operation.
b. The church is an army of light which exposes the unfruitful works of darkness and overcomes them with what is good and right and true (Eph. 5:8-11).
i. Because light invades the darkness and makes things visible (5:13), this army is the aggressor, not merely a passive presence.
ii. We do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12), and we don’t wage war according to the flesh with physical weapons but with the truth which takes every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
iii. We are to be soldiers who have put on the whole armor of God so that we will be able to stand in the battle, and who have prepared ourselves with the gospel of peace so that we can contribute to the progress of the kingdom (Eph. 6:13-17).
c. A church building is of value only as it contributes to the success of that struggle.
i. It can be a staging area where the soldiers get their armor on and plan their campaign for good, but it’s not the battlefield.
ii. It can let the community know that we’re here and that we want to be a blessing, but it can’t take on the arguments and opinions that are against the knowledge of God.
iii. We have no use for a clubhouse within which to retreat from the world, but we have every need for a launching place from which we can engage our community on the field or real life.
1. We’ve been thinking of the church of the Lord as:
a. A family which needs a house in which to gather.
b. A body which needs a tool to use.
c. An army which needs a base of operations.
2. To whatever degree you can appreciate those pictures, you will have some appreciation for why we think of our first year in this facility with a certain sense of gratitude and rejoicing.
3. Perhaps you can also see something of a far more important matter: why you need to be a child in God’s family, a member of Christ’s body, and a soldier of righteousness and peace.