The Church 01: Not a Building

14May08

If you read the comments on the last post What is Church? – my genius friend Ryan Alan Young (from Redemptiovox.com) made several assertions on what defines church. I’m not convinced he’s right, at least it’s not obvious, so I’d like to discuss each one individually so I can better understand church. His first one:

Church is Not a Building

This seems obvious, right? Let’s make this VERY clear. Using scripture, explain why Church is Not a Building – or, if it is, why it is.

I say: Church is Not a Building, because:

Eph. 5:23
…Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. – The Church is taken as a whole, it’s Christ’s body. (see also: Eph 5:29, Col 1:18, 24).

1 Cor. 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. – All believers are part of Christs’ body. Christ’s body is the Church. Therefore, the Church is the composition of all of us – it’s certainly not simply a building.

HOWEVER, as I was reading through BibleGateway.com all the verses in NIV that have the word “church” – I got a HUGE amount of references to a specific church. The church at Corinth, the church at Ephesus, “the churches” (several times), “the churches in Judea”, etc.

What does this mean? I’ve heard that there’s The Church universal (big ‘C’) and the church – I guess this is a local church … ?

Still, it’s clear that a church is not a building either, I think. It’s a body of believers – regardless of where they meet.

So what’s a local body of believers?

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3 Responses to “The Church 01: Not a Building”

  1. 1 Corey

    Can’t it be both? We are all the church, every member of every local church is part of the body of Christ. Each has his part, and performs duty in that. But we also have our local church. That church can support missionaries, give aid to orphans and widows, and build up the body of believers with the Word of God. Local churches do exist in the bible, that is why we are given instructions about offices and discipline. But I don’t this we should see it as this or that, I think they are one.

    Just my thoughts

  2. 2 Ryan

    A couple of points on the front end this time.

    1. Usage of the word church in the new testament refers to a group of believers typically named for their geography. We know that the writers were not referring to a building because that is not what the word means. I cannot read original languages but there is no scholar that I can find who would suggest that ekklesia refers to a building. One source indicates that the word church began to be used to refer to a building around 300 ad, (roughly the time christianity became the state religion.)

    2. The early church was persecuted pretty heavily. They met in secret. This is how we know that after thousands were saved that the early church did not start renting out The Colosseum. If they had the church would have been pretty short lived.

    As for some ideas of what a local body is, here are a few:

    1. In the scripture it appears to be local, that is connected geographically.
    2. It is composed of diverse parts which are equally important.
    3. It is governed by elders and ultimately Christ.
    4. It is united in mission, we understand this since the very word ekklesia means ‘called ones.’ Also examples from the scripture and history demonstrate a common mission.
    5. It is a place of mutual accountability and support.
    6. It is a place where there is doctrinal agreement. This is more difficult today as the church has had about 2,000 years to fragment over doctrine. However in the early days the apostolic church modeled for us ways to handle disagreements of this kind. Thus I think it is fair to understand the local church as being agreed in doctrine, even if today that manifests as multiple local churches. (In the interest of staying on point I will not chase this issue any further.)

  3. I think we all agree that the church is not a building, though the way we talk (going to the church, house of God, ‘that’s a pretty church,’ etc.) certainly give the wrong impression and instruction to others. Also, it’s clear that the word ‘church’ can refer to both the universal church (all believers) and a specific congregation of believers.

    I think some better questions on this subject may be:
    1. are church buildings necessary?
    2. if so, how should our theology affect our architecture?
    3. what is the purpose of a church building?
    4. should churches go into debt to build church buildings?
    5. how does the building affect the church (giving, willingness to serve others, consumer attitude towards worship)?
    6. how does the building affect non-believers (responsiveness to the church, concept of church’s priorities)?
    7. if we really designed church buildings around the things seemingly important to Jesus in the NT, would they look the same or different than most of the ones we see now?

    Maybe these are just my pet peeves. I know there are several churches out there doing really cool and meaningful things with their buildings. It just seems our priorities are off, and our church buildings are the evidence. I guess it comes down to whether or not the building is a help or hindrance to people growing as genuine disciples. That could depend on the person, but this generation certainly looks at institutions differently than the ones that built most of the buildings we currently worship in.

    Building the kingdom of God doesn’t (necessarily) include building brick and mortar structures.


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