Monday, March 4, 2013

When The Church House Is Just Another Building

I have spent thirty-six years worshiping in churches snuggled comfortably within both city and country communities.  With their stadium-sized crosses and towering steeples, it's obvious what the buildings are.  Still, they are situated right in the midst of life, itself, flanked on both sides of the pagan, sometimes invisible save for their sign, larger-than-a-house size, or Christian symbols slapped on the exterior.

My present church rests across from a large ball field and track.  Most Sundays when I walk into the building, there are dozens of parents, children, and coaches across the asphalt ribbon that divides holy ground from worship of athletics.  It still amazes me how close yet how far thousands come each weekend to the cross, but they never cross that solid white line. 

We live and die by those dividing lines, by the choice to turn left or right, whether literal like this one or metaphorical.

This Spring, I've been studying the second half of Ezekiel.  If you're a regular follower, you've probably noticed your Monday Morning Manna is 24 hours late.  I can promise it's not due to laziness but rather a fogginess I've encountered with great regularity these past month.  Trying to unravel the mysteries found at the end of Ezekiel's prophecy is like waking up in the morning and almost grasping the fuzzy outline of a thought found seconds ago in your dreams only to have it slip away in the mist of alertness.

The confusion isn't all mine, though.  In the last few chapters, Ezekiel speaks of what many believe to be a physical temple and a larger temple complex to come during Christ's 1,000 year Millennial reign.  Some believe Ezekiel is speaking of a spiritual temple.  Other scholars believe there are two temples yet to be rebuilt before Christ's return.

Ugh.  I want to just put it down, walk away with the defeatist attitude, "If people smarter than I am are confused, what chance do I have?"  But, again and again, I keep going back to the Scriptures.  Why?  Because God gave them to me--all of them, from Genesis to Revelation.

All--to me and you.  Skipping chapters/verses/books of Scripture we fail to understand would demonstrate a lack of faith on our part.  Who is to say the Spirit can't speak to us great knowledge and revelation through His Word?

And so, I read on, believing God will speak through the mist.  Of course, He does, though sometimes now with answers to the dozens of questions I have.  One of those glimpses through the mist came from Ezekiel 43 when God described His holy temple, a place where He would dwell with His holy people forever:

"this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die, by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger. Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever."

In this passage, God speaks criticism of temples past and how Israel has treated God's dwelling place as unholy.

Two specific critiques are that their kings' corpses and doorposts were located too close to the temple's threshhold.  Some scholars like Matthew Henry view these "kings" and "doorposts" as references to idol worship wherein idols were set up either in or near the temple complex, mere "corpses" in comparison to the One Living God.  Others believe these offenses were literal.  They cite kings' burials and King Solomon's personal houses (the kind that hid lifestyles of harlotry and idolatry behind their walls), both of which were constructed too near the temple.

Whether literal or metaphorical, the point is clear--the temple is to be holy, so holy that sinful practices should be nowhere near because they defile the temple, itself.

The logical application of this is that we are the temple of God, and, as such, should be just as holy.  We are to be a "city set on a hill"--bright, shining, removed from the darkness below in an in-the-world-yet-not-of-the-world way (Matt. 5:15). 

Paul tells us, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:1-2).  
This comparison isn't new, though.  Scripture is clear that our bodies as the temple of God should not house dead corpses of idolatry, harlotry, or anything considered an abomination to holiness. Yet, this passage makes me wonder not so much about our bodies as a holy temple but about our church buildings as needing to be considered just as holy for our worship.

No, I am not Jewish, and no, Ezekiel's message was not directed at me as a Gentile. I worship at a Christian church, not at a Jewish temple.  Likewise, God's presence doesn't dwell radiantly behind the veil in my church the same way it did in Israel's Jerusalem temple.   

Still, what if we applied the same idea of holiness to our Christian places of worship when we gather there before the Lord?  I don't think it's too far a stretch to say that any place set aside for the purpose of worshiping God should be treated as holy ground, whether that be brick and mortar, a stadium, or a tent raised above bare earth.

Yet, too often, the church is just another building for communal gathering, not a place of holiness.

How we treat the place where we worship says a lot about how we perceive God, how we perceive worship, and how we're personally doing on our path towards holiness.

I don't know for certain if God will one day criticize us for what we allowed to take place within His church house, but Ezekiel's warning is enough to make me cautious.

My worship of God must be pure. Holy. Set apart.......wherever that may be.  

Image posted by Ron here.

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