Observations on life; particularly spiritual

The church is like the temple

According to the dictionary, the word “church” is used to describe either a building used for public Christian worship, a church service, or a group of Christian believers. In practice, the meaning is given by the context in which the word is used. In this article we look into what the Bible says about buildings used for Christian worship.

The Jewish temple

Before the church came into existence in Acts 2, the Jews were God’s people on earth. Their main place of worship was the tabernacle or temple, which was also called the “house of the Lord” and the “house of God” (Ex. 23:19; Ps. 42:4; 122:1). This was a special building which was used for festivals, sacrifices, prayers and psalms. God gave detailed specifications for the building and its furniture. God was said to live in the inner room of this building that was only entered by the High Priest once a year. However, Solomon knew that God wasn’t confined to the building (1 Ki. 8:27; Acts 7:47-50). Some thought they were safe in Jerusalem because God would always protect the temple, but Jeremiah criticised this superstitious faith in a building rather than in God (Jer. 7:4-14).

Because of Jewish idolatry, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. After the temple was rebuilt about 70 years later, Jewish sacrifices resumed and they continued until the temple was destroyed once more by the Romans in AD 70. So the physical house of God, which was associated with animal sacrifices, was destroyed and it doesn’t exist anywhere on earth today.

From about the third century BC, synagogues were also used by the Jews for worship and teaching their law. As this was the inter-testament period, they are not mentioned in the Old Testament. By the time Jesus was born, most Jewish communities had a synagogue. Jesus and Paul both taught in synagogues (Jn. 18:20; Acts 17:2).

The early church

For a brief period the early church met together in the outer court of the temple (a large open area), until persecution drove them out of Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:12). Otherwise, the early church met in people’s homes. They were house churches. For example, there was a church in Priscilla and Aquila’s house in Rome and in Ephesus (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19) and in Philemon and Apphia’s house and in Nympha’s house in Colossae (Col. 4:15, 17; Phile. 2). It seems as though they may have also used public buildings such as the lecture hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-10).

For the following reasons, church buildings are not mentioned in the New Testament and there are no specifications given for places of Christian worship:

  • There was no longer any need for animal sacrifices at a particular place – Jesus was the “once for all” or last sacrifice (Jn. 4:20-21; Heb. 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:8-18)
  • Buildings are not essential to the Christian faith – after all it is the people who are important not the building they meet in
  • Special buildings are not required for small congregations that can meet in homes
  • Special buildings can be expensive and can’t move and reproduce quickly
  • Buildings can be a hindrance when the church is being persecuted

How the Christian church is like the Jewish temple

In the New Testament we learn that the people of the church are like a building. Paul told Gentile believers: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22NIV).

This metaphor or figure of speech reminds us of some important characteristics of the church. God owns it, the Holy Spirit lives in it and Jesus Christ is the foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Heb. 3:5-6; 1 Pt. 2:4-6). Jesus is also the builder and the “cement” that holds it together (Mt. 16:18). Each believer is like a living stone.

In particular, the people of the Christian church are like the Jewish temple:

  • God lived in the temple, the Holy Spirit lives in the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
  • The temple was a place of worship, the church are a people of worship
  • The temple was a place of sacrifice, the church offers sacrifices of praise and worship to God and service to one another
  • The temple was a holy place, the church is a group of holy people
  • The temple had great wealth and beauty, the church has a great spiritual inheritance and is being transformed to be like Christ

So the Jewish temple (which was the physical house of God) has been replaced by the people of the church (which is the spiritual house of God). In a metaphorical sense, any group of Christians are the house of God.

Written, October 2011

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3 responses

  1. I like the way you phrased this “God owns it, the Holy Spirit lives in it and Jesus Christ is the foundation”… truth

    God bless,
    Michael

    October 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

  2. I read your article Revelation Study (see “Bible studies” in top menu bar). It is very usefully for our Assembly Bible class etc.

    December 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm

  3. Pingback: Resources for Acts 19:8 - 10

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