NOTE: I will be using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible in this Learning Activity.
I believe that this Learning Activity has the possibility of being a real eye opener to many of you who read it. I am going to share with you some small details in the Scriptures that I see to have a gigantic impact on how we look at the institution of church.
Let’s start by looking at some Bible passages in the Old Testament. In particular these passages will be Old Covenant and therefore there will be an emphasis on the physical as opposed to the spiritual. that means that while we in the New Covenant have an eternal, 24 and 7 presence of God in us, those in the Old Covenant had no such indwelling of God! Instead, God instituted a method by which He would meet with the Israelites by coming in specially constructed meeting places that will be described briefly below. As you read these accounts pay close attention to how involved God is in this entire plan of His.
- The Mosaic Tabernacle – This was a portable tent like structure that was used by the Israelities as they wandered around in the wilderness after leaving their captivity in Egypt.
“Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel, and said to them….let every man among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded: the tabernacle, its tent and its covering…” (Exodus 35:1-11).
“Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished; and all the people of Israel had done according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses; so they had done” (Exodus 39:32).
“So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. For throughout their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Exodus 40:33c-38).
I have left out huge amounts of text in between the above citations that you may want to read to became familiar with the Mosaic Tabernacle but the above is adequate for my purpose to illustrate how God desired to meet with His people Israel and this was the manner in which He accomplished that in the Old Covenant.
2. After the Nomadic travels of Israel God directed the construction of a more permanent dwelling place among His people. The first of two structures was known as the Solomonic Temple that was built in the City of Jerusalem. This Temple stood from 1000 BC to 587 BC when it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Bible text may be read from the area of 1 Kings Chapter Five through Chapter Nine. Here are a few of the salient points I would like to point out.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel. So Solomon built the house, and finished it” (1 Kings 6:11-14).
Other than the main point I want to make using the above passage, which is God’s involvement in the building of this structure, take note of the language about keeping the commandments and ordinances (Old Covenant) and dwelling among (but not in) the children of Israel. Both of these statements are in sharp contrast with the New Covenant!
“When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon had desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the Lord said to him, I have heard your prayer and your suplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9:1-3).
Here again we can see God’s approval of the structure and the Temple activities that would take place in that Temple.
After the first Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar we later find that a replacement was built for the one that was destroyed.
3. Jewish tradition places the Second Temple being built in 350 BC, however scholarship places it during the period of 536 – 516 BC.
You can read of its numerous troubles in its construction in the book of Haggai, but the significant statement in that narrative is the following:
“The latter splendor of this house (the Second Temple) shall be greater than the former (the First Temple), says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity (spiritual prosperity, not material prosperity), says the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:9).
The above passage is quite significant but a bit obscure to the Bible student unless we add to it the following:
“Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). This passage provides the context of Haggai’s statement. The Second Temple would be (1) the time and place of John the Baptist coming as the forerunner to Jesus, (2) the Lord (Jesus) will come to his temple, (3) He, the Lord, would be the messenger of the New Covenant! These events are what would make the Second Temple greater than the First – it had nothing to do with architecture!
If anyone doubts the above the next passage should erase those thoughts.
“And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer; but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12, 13).
Some will argue that the phrase “of God” is not in all Bible manuscripts and that is true. But even eliminating those two words does not negate the next reference to “my house!” Jesus is calling the Second Temple His house! He is putting His stamp of approval on that temple.
“He (speaking of God) built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded for ever” (Psalms 78:69). And what were His sanctuaries? The Mosaic Tabernacle and the two temples in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant! They were His sanctuaries.
But the Temple was not the only place of meeting in Jerusalem and its environs during the time period of the second temple. The spiritual leaders of that time had also built a series of synagogues for the Jewish people to gather in. Lets look at how Jesus referred to the synagogues.
“And he (Jesus) went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity” (Matthew 9:35).
“Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17).
“And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39).
“And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:15).
When I studied the above passages about the way in which Jesus makes reference to the Jewish synagogues I could not help but wonder why He referred to the Mosaic Tabernacle and the two Temples as “His” but yet He referred to the synagogues as “their?”
My conclusion was that He was involved and put His stamp of approval on the three places where He met with His people, but the synagogues were not His doing but rather the idea and work of man! It was not that He totally rejected the synagogues as it is stated that He and the apostles went to the synagogues to teach the people (and perhaps it was almost the only place to make contact with the religious leaders of that day). I can not help but wonder if the man made institutional church is in a similar category today because the New Covenant clearly states that God has a different set of standards as to where His presence is today. What are those standards by which His presence is with His people?
“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands…” (Acts 7:48).
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, within you…” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
“in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2: 21, 22).
“and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house…” (1 Peter 2:5).
The passages above reflect the New Covenant understanding of the presence of God! All other physical places are Old Covenant and portray a separation from God who is not separated from us in the New Covenant, but rather is in spiritual union with all believers.
Where does the above biblical analysis place the physical places that are called “church” today? I conclude they are no more than the synagogues of the Jews! They are “their” places made by human hands and do not in any way reflect His places as are clearly told to us in the Scriptures.
What then do people do when they want to meet with other Christians? It might be profitable to search the Scriptures to look for clues as to how the early believers handled this situation.
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). Keep in mind that they attended the Temple because it was still standing until AD 70. After that time there was no Temple!
“greet also the church in their house” (Romans 16:5). Please take note that the word translated as “church” in the verse above is the Greek word “ekklesia” which should be translated as “the called out ones!”
“…Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:19). Take note again that the word translated as “church” is the Greek word “ekklesia” which should be translated as “the called out ones.”
“To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house” (Philemon 2). Once again the word translated as “church” is the Greek word “ekklesia” which should be translated as “the called out ones.”From the passages above it is easy to see how the early Christians fellowshipped with each other. They met in the homes of the people! The religious hierarchy had not yet brainwashed the believers into thinking that they had to attend the synagogues and buildings that they would construct to “organize and control” the Christians! The religious leaders got a big boost in building buildings when Constantine came along and provided funding to build these structures to meet his own personal needs (click on the word Constantine below to see the material on Constantine).