Sometimes ideas from meetings, reading, radio, tv, and podcasts coalesce, and deepen my thinking. Over the past few weeks, I have read articles about people who I consider ultra-spiritual, and met with some of them online. They talk about their own spirituality and some talk about the great work that the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. I am very appreciative of their emphasis, but I think they overemphasize their spirituality to the detriment of their bodies and the work that God is doing through them.
During the same period, I participated in several internet meetings about the future of the church. The discussion inevitably arrives at the idea that we will no longer need these imposing, expensive church buildings in the future. We are reminded that the authentic church is not the building, but the fellowship of the believers, the body of Christ. The climactic verse for many is when Jesus said that he will build his church. He did not mean these buildings that one sees on so many corners in our villages, towns, and cities. I agree with the idea, yet I think that they are going overboard with their ecclesiology (understanding of the church).
Why do I think that they are going overboard?
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In the Old Testament, we are commanded to love God holistically with our bodies, minds, and spirits. In the New Testament, Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12 that we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—as spiritual sacrifices. He also tells us that we should live holy lives because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Even when Paul talks about our inner man being renewed and our outer man decaying, he does not eliminate the body (2 Cor. 4:16). It is still important. It is indeed this decaying, old body that will experience both mortality and immortality. Blessed are those who die in the Lord, we read in Revelation 14:13. If the spirit does not die, it means that God will bring those mortal bodies back to life transformed and eternalized.
In those recent meetings, several people mentioned that we will move away from church buildings in the future and worship the Lord in different ways. I am appreciative of that concept; when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, he said that the time will come when the true worshippers will worship the Lord not in Samaria or Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth. Yet, we see the Lord Jesus Christ doing lots of teaching in synagogues and temples and in the book of Acts, we find that the new apostolic church worked quickly to find places to meet in temples, rented spaces, and in the homes of affluent men and women.
A number of years ago, I was at the dedication of a new church building. There were many homilies (short sermons) for this occasion and one pastor reminded the congregation that the true church is not this building, but us worshipping together as the body of Christ. The pastor of the church, who had built the church himself, leaned toward me and said, “It is easy to say those words unless you spent three years building this place brick by brick!” I am aware that there are many small congregations that can hardly afford to maintain their church buildings, and an excess of church buildings in other communities.
What intrigues me and revolts me are people who talk against the church while taking a salary from it. I find this almost unethical! If one no longer believes in the church, then one should not make their living there. If the future of the church is no longer in the church buildings, why do we still ask churches and church members to support this ineffectual work?
No matter how spiritual we may become, we humans will never be strictly spiritual beings, even in heaven. No matter what the church looks like in the post-pandemic future, there will be both buildings where God’s people will worship and new, evolving ways to gather. The future cannot avoid the past, and the past cannot declare that it is the only reality.