Friday, February 10, 2012

Is church a building or a community?

The point has been made time and again in recent American Christianity, "church isn't a place, it's a community!" It's true, as far as it goes. And sometimes the point really needs to be made -- being a part of the church is about more than what you do in a building one day a week.

As we relearn that we are the "temple of God" it is essential that we not forget another important truth -- God inhabits specific places. God is not equally present in all places. Cain, Satan, and Jonah all left "the presence of the Lord" (Gen 4:16; Job 1:12; Jon 1:3). Ezekiel spoke of God's glory leaving the temple (Ezek 10-11). In Deuteronomy we read about "a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell" (Deu 12, 14, 16, 26). In Exodus God gave the people of Israel very specific instructions about worship. Those instructions included a place -- a meeting tent. God was said to dwell in that tent, foreshadowing when he would "tabernacle [pitch his tent] among us" in an even more immediate way (Joh 1:14). 

God also established holy times. These times were special times, sacred times, for God's people and for God himself. These times brought God glory and celebrated his name. These times brought life to God's people. 

The church is more than a building, it is people. Let's just not forget that the people have been given sacred places and times. 
God chooses a place because God has entered into history with a people for whom place is important. If place is important for people, it is important for God. To speak of presence in connection with place also helps preserve the personal character of the divine presence, for persons are always associated with places...The divine presence is thus not reduced to spirituality, as if the human personality were somehow the only fit place on earth for God's presence, or even the community apart from times and places. Place remains important for God because it is important for people and their relationships with one another. 

Frethheim, Terence E. The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Fortress Press, 1984.