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From early in the year 2020 the world has faced an unprecedented challenge in the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Large gatherings and even smaller gatherings of 10 people or more were cancelled in an attempt to slow down the spread of this mysterious illness that could potentially claim the lives of millions. Congregations around the world quickly realized the threat and sought new ways to stay in fellowship and to encourage one another outside of the normal gathering places we have called “churches” for centuries.
The word “church” has come down in the English language from early translations of the original Greek New Testament. Nowhere in the Bible itself does the word refer to a physical building. The Greek word in the New Testament is “Ekklesia,” which in the First Century was often used in reference to a meeting of people gathered to discuss community affairs. In the book of Acts, it is even used once to describe the gathering of an angry mob of unbelievers! (Acts 16:39-41)
In Christian writings the focus was always on the gathering of God’s people, and also on a sense of the community of believers when they were not together physically. Ekklesia literally means “the called out.” The early Christians understood that they had been “called out” of the darkness of sin in this world and into the “marvelous Light” of Christ and His Good News! (1 Peter 2:9) What ever translation you use, and what ever English word we use for Ekklesia, one only has to read the Bible to find out its meaning. In the Bible the church is described in metaphors like the Body of Christ of which each believer is a member. Together we represent Christ in this world!
In another place we are depicted as individual stones that make up a house that God Himself inhabits. The old temple in Jerusalem is gone, but Spirit-filled believers in Christ together make up a new Temple for the worship of God! Another lovely metaphor depicts God’s people as the Bride of Christ, which He purchased with His own blood to be His own precious companion! As you can see, God has an exalted position for those who love and worship Him! He lives not only among His people but in them as well! They are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God!
Over the centuries, we have become accustomed to calling the buildings we gather in churches. When people say they are “going to church,” what they really mean is that they are going to a gathering of believers which takes place in a building. Instead of calling it a church building it is easier to just call it the church. Even when instructed about the true nature of the Christian church, it is hard to break the habit of calling the building the church. That is unfortunate. Sometimes the area of the building where the worship takes place is even called the Sanctuary, as if it is some holy place where worship can only happen.
If one good thing comes out of this crisis, I hope and pray that we can once and for all put behind us the concept that God lives in a physical building. Even in the old testament, King Solomon of Israel, who had just dedicated the marvelous temple to the Lord in Jerusalem made this declaration:
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built! (1 Kings 8:27) NASU
It is convenient that there are many nice and even beautiful buildings available for us to meet in, which also are a great benefit to those who could never afford such comforts on their own. At the same time, we can become too dependent on the atmosphere we create for worship. It is easy to forget that our God is everywhere as well. The Early Church knew this as they met from house to house, sharing in the fundamental and bedrock reality of the Christian Faith, the Love of God!
Now that we are learning to not take for granted the face-to-face fellowship that can happen in buildings dedicated for that purpose, let us determine to never return to “business as usual.” We are important to one another and to God where ever we are. We do not meet out of tradition, or fear of punishment. We absolutely need one another as much or more than my hands and feet need my heart and head!
The physical buildings and programs we witness in them are only useful if they serve the purpose of helping us build up one another in Christ! In this way we become the Light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hid, showing others the way out of darkness and into His marvelous Light!