At the Sunday morning service of a large church, I noticed streams of heavy mist floating in the air high above the platform made visible by bright floodlights below. Immediately I recognized it as an attempt to duplicate what is often called the “shekinah glory” of God seen in the Old Testament. After the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord guided them in the wilderness through a visible pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:20-22). It was the Lord’s visible presence in the midst of the Israelites.
While undoubtedly there was no intention to deceive anyone using this artificial man-made mist, it was possibly intended to make the worshipers there feel that every Sunday when they come to church they are in a “holy” place where God’s presence dwells. When Christians believe that their church building is in some sense the “House of God”, it will of course be special to them. When the pastor asks them to give generously to provide for a bigger or better facility, their hearts will be open. After all, doesn’t God call us to sacrifice to build or expand His House as the Israelites did for the construction of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament?
But Jesus declared His physical body to be the real temple of God—to be destroyed and raised in three days (John 2:19). And—interestingly—because of the unbelief and disobedience of the His people God allowed the Temple in Jerusalem to be completely destroyed in 70 AD by the Gentiles. (Is this a foreshadowing of things to come in these last days?)
And so New Testament Scripture declares that now our physical bodies are the true temple of God in which His Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are the body of Christ on earth, and God dwells in us. The true Church on earth is the body of Christ; we are the holy temple of God on earth. The true Church does not consist of man-made structures where Christians gather to worship.
But human beings have an inborn inclination to associate the divine—which is of course invisible—with physical objects and locations which can be seen and touched and with rules which can be followed to the letter. Because of this there is idolatry in all its myriad forms—from statues of Buddha and Hindu gods to statues of Mary; from fetishes and amulets and charms to rosaries and crosses. In the Old Testament the Temple of God on earth was indeed holy. But it was a shadow which has been fulfilled in Christ and his followers. The Temple no longer exists on earth. We the followers of Christ are now the temple of God on earth.
Despite this truth, we have a tendency to want to return to the Old Testament and the Law—to set aside one specific day only as holy, to designate certain men as holy and certain physical buildings as holy. It is much easier to believe in what is seen than in what is invisible. Some innocent servants of God, not knowing any better, will take advantage of this—unwittingly of course.
Some may teach that it’s God’s perfect (and only) will for us to “go to church” faithfully every Sunday morning, that only they are “specially anointed” to minister and lead the flock, that God’s House should be honored with the best furnishings and decor, and that tithes are to be brought only to God’s House every Sunday (and nowhere else). All of this is of course for the glory of God, something they believe most sincerely.
Unfortunately some fallible servants of God will be tempted to use such teachings to build their own personal kingdom on earth. Success in this endeavor will result in a very nice income and comfortable lifestyle as well as healthy self-esteem from being acknowledged as the pastor of the megachurch. But of course this is all “for the glory of God.”
The only “megachurch” we see in the early Church met at the Temple in Jerusalem. Interestingly, the Lord allowed it to be shut down and the disciples scattered through a great persecution in which Saul had a part.
Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
Once again it’s interesting to note that only after they were scattered by the persecution did the disciples begin to preach the gospel to the lost. That is how the gospel reached the city of Samaria through Philip. Some scholars have even speculated that the Lord allowed the believers to be driven out of the familiar and comfortable confines of the Temple megachurch in Jerusalem to be scattered everywhere so that at last—finally—they would begin to reach out to those outside of Jerusalem who never heard.
Only after that did smaller “house churches” begin to meet in the various regions where the gospel had spread far beyond Jerusalem. We see that as a New Testament pattern which churches today can and perhaps should follow.
In light of this, what does it mean to “build God’s House”?
Inasmuch as the followers of Jesus Christ are now God’s temple on earth, we should spend our resources to preach the gospel of Christ to all creation and to disciple all nations for Him. But today especially in the West we spend much of not most of our resources on the construction and maintenance of large church buildings. We have not obeyed the Great Commission, but instead are propagating the Western model of institutional Christianity. Instead of serving physical buildings, we should be building up and serving people—especially God’s people. We expand God’s House on earth only by preaching the gospel and adding to the number of souls who are saved.