Sunday, October 11, 2009

church as people, not place

About "church" being people, never a place:
Wanted to repost this from the "Ask Dave" page of our church website, but reformatted so easier to follow.
Someone sent in this question several years ago:

You wrote: "The word 'church' is not used in Bible for a building or a Sunday gathering. So to emphasize this, we try not to say 'at church,' for example, because we are the church. "

Do not take this wrong... I am trying to learn all that is possible. You used the above sentence. I am trying to learn why... Yes I know each person is the ultimate church or should be. Yet to have a regular spot such as a "temple" or "building" seems to have been what is being said in the Scriptures below:

1)Yes I understand in the below that Peter IS the rock... but what did Peter do and build?
Matthew 16:18 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Acts 5:11-12 1 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. 12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. The outer courts were enclosed by magnificent colonnades. Along the east side of the outer court ran what was called Solomon's Colonnade; it was here that Jesus was seen walking during the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) and teaching the multitudes.

Joel 2:17 17 "Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar.
2)Question::" Was the 'temple, porch, altar' expressly denied by Jesus.. forbidden by Him?

One last thought. "Church" by it's pure definition means:
[Old English cir(i)ce , from a prehistoric Germanic word that is also the ancestor of German Kirche; ultimately from Greek kuriakon doma “house of the lord,” from kurios “lord”].

A scoffer's reply to some of your statements (about not saying "in church") might be: "Funny, Jesus used that term (church) several times while on planet earth...I thought He liked it."

Dave, just hit me over the head and point me in the right direction.

-(Name not included)

I certainly love you too much to hit you over the head. Actually, I would love it if all disciples had a 'head" like yours to ask just the right, intelligent and necessary questions. You have done so, and I certainly take no offense, only offer thanksgiving that we have a chance to explore these deep things together. Here we go. I could hope every Christian was as deep a thinker and as profound a wrestler after truth!

I do stand by my quote in your first paragraph, though I do recognize that I tend to make blanket statements for shock value sometimes, but that is only intended to "shock" us into how radical are the ways of Jesus, and how radically we have misunderstood terms like 'church." I had no intent of implying there was anything wrong with gathering publicly with other believers in a place.
But, no, in light of your comment in the second paragraph, it is NOT what the Scriptures you cite are suggesting, that "to have a regular spot such as a "temple" or "building" seems to have been what is being said in the Scriptures below." To have such a place and space is not in and of itself a problem (though we can sure trust too much in a "sacred spot"), but every text you quoted actually are the among the choicest texts to evidence the opposite case: that "church" is never defined in Scripture as "place," but always "people."
Let's dive into the Matthew text, with your quote and question to help frame us.

You said:

Matthew 16:18: And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church...").
Yes I understand in the below that Peter IS the rock... but what did Peter do and build?

Short answer: He built people.

But notice, his temptation, like ours, was to build a literal building when he didn't need to.
Remember on the Mount of Transfiguration, he said, "Lord, this is such a great place to be. Let's build a building to worship fact, let's build three." (Mark 9:5) In the very next verse, though, it is revealed that Peter only proposed this "building program" out of fear and an (in Howard Snyder's clever coinage) "edifice complex."
I know the Catholic tradition that Peter probably built some literally buildings later in his life, after becoming pope. Even if it is true that he eventually did so, it cannot be what Jesus was speaking about in this passage. First of all, since "church" is never a building in the Bible, he didn't mean any literal building. And secondly, Jesus said HE would do the actual building. But back to the top: Peter, like his Lord, built people..built them up.
In predicting that He Himself would build His church, Christ didn't mean literally building anything, since he obviously never built a building, and no serious Bible scholar would even imply that He did. He meant building "spiritually" His believing people.
The word "church" Jesus is quoted as using is the Greek "ekklesia" which means literally "called-out ones (people)" and has nothing to do with a literal building or place . No one in their wildest imagination who knew Greek would ever associate the word with a building. This brings up of course, your quoting the Old English, German word for church, translating "house of the Lord". To use an English and German definition for a word that the Bible defines in Greek can be very misleading. The idea of "house" is nowhere in the definition of the biblical word for "church". The European and American church has truly and tragically tripped up using definitions from their own languages, even though we all know the Bible was written in Koine Greek.
Your cited definition also quotes a Greek word "kuriokon doma", "house of the Lord". True, that is in fact Greek, and that is a fair way to translate it, but the point is that word is NOT in any instance the word used for "church" in the Bible. It is always "ekklesia", which again can only mean "called out people."
"Where is a house that You can build for me? There is none, says the Lord." (Note this Scripture is actually an OLD Testament one, Isaiah 66:1..amazing!)
Wolfgang Simson is profoundly articulate and prophetically accurate
(It's nice to be able to quote someone who says what you are trying to say, only says it BETTER) when he issues the following clamant call:

"From the time of the New Testament, there is no such thing as 'a house of God.' At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded us: God does not live in temples made with human hands. The church is the people of God. "
Source: page xvii of "Houses That Change the World", also found here on this website on the "Risky Reading"

And note 1 Cor 3:9: "You, God's people, are God's building."

Of course the church (=people) is called to gather in Solomon's colonnade, in homes(see, for example, Colossians 4:14: "the church that meets at her house"), and in other gatherings; but, on a very important technicality, that place is not "church." That is the church (that is, called-out people) gathering as the church. as in 1 Cor. 14:23 "when the whole church comes together."
As you know, most New Testament letters are addressed to "the church in Ephesus" or "the church in Corinth," or whatever city is involved. Paul obviously didn't write letters to buildings. So Matthew 18:17,"Tell it to the church," obviously means tell it to the church (Christians) when they are gathered as the church (not when they are "in church.").
You said,
"Peter IS the rock."

Well, we need to park there a minute, and closely examine that assumption. Bear with me. Peter the rock? Maybe that's what Jesus meant. But not necessarily. Jesus did not say, as He could have, "Peter, you are the rock." He said instead, "You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church." When Jesus spoke here, he was using a pun and play on words: "Peter" in the biblical language is "Petros", the word for "small rock or pebble." The word he used for "Rock" is almost identical ("petra"0, but this definition is decidedly different; it's the term for a large rock. So He says, "You are a little rock, and on this big Rock I will build my church."
He did not say, "on you, Peter(Petros)," because He used the other word for rock(petra).
It is not dogmatically clear what Jesus was referring to when he said "on this rock".
Here are the main options/interpretation:

1)by 'on this rock', He meant Peter (this is the Catholic position: that thereby Peter is the first pope).
2)by "on this rock" he meant the confession of faith that Peter just proclaimed ("You are the Christ".(verse16) that the "rock" to build the church on is the rock-solid confession that" Jesus is the Christ."
3)a combination of 1 and 2
4) when He said "this Rock" , He meant Himself and maybe literally pointed to Himself. In other words, "I tell you, Peter, that you are a small rock. But on this Big Rock (Me, Jesus), I will build.."
5) a completely different interpretation, which I'll work on explaining later (just don't want to get too far off the main point at hand).

Working against interpretation #1 is the fact that no individual..Peter or any individual is the rock/cornerstone. only Jesus(1 Pet 2:4-8 and Eph 2:20).

"What did Peter do and build?", you ask.
Note, Jesus said that HE (Jesus) not Peter or anyone else would build the church. But Peter was a leader..who, along with other leaders, allowed Jesus through them to build up His people, the church.
In the New Testament,. the "temple" is now us:
1 Cor 3:16: "You are God's temple" .
2 Cor 6:16: "We are now the temple of the living God."
Eph 2:21: "The church people rise up to be God's temple."
Acts 17:24: "I, God, no longer dwell in temples made and built by human hands."
The Lord couldn't be more clear. Yes, the early believer still sometimes went to the temple, while it was still standing (Acts 3:1), but if we had asked any one of them what they meant by the word "church," it would not even cross any of their minds to mention a building. There is no such thing as a "church building" built until hundreds of years from this gospel.

Regarding your question #2:

"Was the temple, porch, altar" (quoted from Joel) expressly denied by Jesus...?.

Again, an excellent and vital question. I think in a sense the simple, but too simplistic, answer is "yes, " but a more correct and nuanced answer is that He totally transformed the definition, tenor and application of these terms in the current New Covenant. He Himself has literally and spiritually fulfilled these Scriptures. So their Old Testament pattern being seen as normative for today is quite expressly "denied", though you have noticed I have chosen other more positive terms.

This passage from Joel is obviously an Old Testament command regarding patterns of worship. So yes, it has been quite clearly superceded. That's precisely what the New Testament book of Hebrews is about. It speaks so often of the "new and better way"! We now have a "better hope" (7:19), a "better covenant (7:22), "better promises: (8:6), "better sacrifices than the old ones" (9:23), a 'better word" (12:24).
Now, in the New Testament, we (after and under High and Ultimate Priest, Jesus) are the priests,
(Rev 1:6, Rev 5:10 spell this out), and we no longer need a literal, physical porch and altar to approach God. (Note, I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with a place where believers meet for worship; of course not. But there is something inherently and tragically wrong in thinking we need a place to reach and worship God).

Hebrews 9:11-14 proclaims boldly that now that Christ has made His sacrifice "once and for all," The temple way of doing worship is abolished forever. "Jesus 'SETS ASIDE' the old way of doing worship to establish and inaugurate the new way" (Heb 9:9). I capitalized "set aside" to dovetail with your question about "expressly forbidding." It sounds like He did indeed in essence forbid it; if No One less than Jesus has "set something aside," I don't want to "go there". King James is stronger than the NIV I have quoted: "He TAKES AWAY the first system." Living Bible: "He CANCELS the first system." Revised Standard: "He ABOLISHES the old system.." Strong, and strongly needed words.

"The law is only a shadow of the good things that have come. not the realities themselves, " according to Hebrews 10:1. Such is "the old way of worship which can never forgive sins." So yes, Jesus did forbid the "temple, porch, altar" way of worship because in God's own words, it is not even "reality."!!
There is no longer in the Old Testament, literal sense, a place between the porch and altar. Remember when the curtain in the literal temple was torn in two when Jesus died? That meant the temple system of worship, of needing a human priest to mediate was over forever. And to revert or backslide into that system as our ultimate means and trust would be what the Bible expressly calls
throughout the book of Hebrews a "danger," "peril." I m not saying, you (the one who asked this fine question) are doing that; just clarifying why the implications of a correct answer are so terribly significant.

Finally, an answer to your scoffer:

"Funny, Jesus used that term ( church) several times while on planet earth...I thought he liked it."

Well, scoffer, contrary to popular opinion. even the opinions of many non-scoffers...Jesus did not, by a long shot, use the term "church" several times.

He only used it. shock..TWICE during His entire earthly ministry
(Both passages were discussed above: Matt. 16:18 and 18:17, and both clearly show that He never meant a "place" but "people"). Slim pickings! However, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he liked (and loved) the word "church". because the church is His people! "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself completely for the church." (Ephesians 5:25).

Hope this helps. Blessings again for your keen question. It enabled me to focus my own thinking. And I still refuse to hit you over the head! (:


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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!