Do you regularly attend church? Is church an important element of your life? If it is, have you ever asked yourself, “how important is it to be in church rather than somewhere else to worship?”
Most Christians who regularly attend church attend in an almost robotic, automatic manner. It’s Sunday, service is at, say, 11:00 A.M., time to get in the car and go to church. Upon arriving, the greetings begin; people enter the “sanctuary” and get settled in; the Prelude begins; maybe there’s even cross pew conversation about one’s morning or the previous week.
Then there’s the “Call to Worship ” and suddenly the attitude changes. Suddenly there’s a seriousness to what’s happening around them. If you’re from a liturgical tradition, as am I, there’s a Processional, replete with clergy, choir, possibly incense, even a processional cross. The focus of our attention “suddenly” becomes God. But is this truly how we are to understand what we are to be doing in church? Does being in a church, in and of itself, have no significance? Is the significance to being in church provided by us? By our subjective emotions, feelings, thoughts, and opinions of why we’re here and what we’re doing? Or is there something more actually going on?
When you enter a church do you think it’s simply a place where Christians can gather together, in a collective group, and together, by their presence give the time significance? Or, rather, when you enter church you realize that you’re actually, really, sacramentally, transcendentally entering God’s House, God’s Dwelling place, there meeting God because HE IS ACTUALLY PRESENT! As Christians, particularly if you come from an evangelical tradition, this element is given little significance because, as it is often said, “God dwells in me;” or, “We are the Temple of God.” That, in and of itself, is not wrong; but it is certainly incomplete.
I’m not going to cite all of the references, but Scripture makes it quite clear that there are a numerous elements taking place in our worship in church. From as far back as Eden, God established a physical, real, tangible, place where He is to be worshipped. The full expression of this manifested in the erection of the Tabernacle and then the Temple. These places were places where God’s people were called to worship Him. It was where God dwelled in the midst and among His people. God’s presence was recognized and known to BE THERE! In other words, when God desired a place to meet with, fellowship with, redeem, and be worshipped, He established a physical location for all of that to occur.
Even when we come to the N.T. and the fulfillment of all that that O.T. Law required, in Christ, a place for God’s people to worship Him was still required. A place where God’s people where commanded to meet with Him was never eliminated or abrogated – EVEN WITH THE FULLFILMENT of the temple imagery by Jesus. Hebrews makes it clear we are not to forsake the assembling of our selves together (interesting in that passage is that the term used for “assembling” in Greek means literally “synagoging” together). Notice also, that even though Jesus fulfilled all of the temple imagery, He still worshipped in the temple until His crucifixion. Notice that the Apostles, even though Jesus had fulfilled the temple imagery, still worshipped in the temple until it’s destruction in A.D.70, to which case they moved the “place” of worship, quite naturally, to the synagogue.
There is much too much material that needs to be discussed to fully unpack this matter, but suffice to say that, every Christian must understand that when they walk into church they are walking into God’s house, into God’s dwelling place, and being confronted with the very presence of God. I’ll close with Jesus’ own words:
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’
17 “Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?
18 “And, `Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’
19 “Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?
20 “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.
21 “He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. (Matt. 23:16-21 NKJ)