House of God?

Recently I created a stir in the congregation I serve by pointing out that the church building was not the “House of God” and that we ought to avoid this terminology. This vernacular usage has troubled me for many years.

The situation that precipitated the dialogue was a common one in many churches. The congregation, especially children and youth were carelessly treating the facility and causing actual physical damage. The initial response was that we should not do this to the “House of God.” I have also heard many worship leaders on Sunday morning welcome people to the “House of God.”

This language is neither Reformed nor Biblical. We should all know better. We know of course that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. He is infinite, eternal, unchanging and omnipresent. In spite of this in, the Old Testament, God chose to reveal Himself in a special way at specific geographical locations, namely, the tabernacle and the temple of Israel. The coming of Christ and the New Testament changed this. As Jesus reveals in John 4:23 & 24, Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. (NIV) The author of Hebrews reminds us in 3:6 that we are “God’s House.” The Apostle Peter tells us in I Peter 2:5, You also like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” No physical building today is “God’s House.” The church membership, the people are “God’s House.”

In my lengthy ministry I have talked to many of my peers about this and their attitude has been, “What’s the big deal?” I thoroughly disagree. One of the plagues of modern Christianity is the erroneous concept that when I am in or near the church I behave in a holy way, but when I am away from it I can behave in another. When we teach our people and especially our youth that the church building is the “House of God” we perpetuate this fallacy and we encourage a double standard of behavior. Subtle references tend to create lasting problems.

My most recent encounter with this problem prompted me to consider some practical suggestions. For example, I have suggested to our worship leader that he begin the service by saying, “Welcome to the gathering/meeting/communion of the house of God.” This emphasizes the holiness of the occasion but also conveys the proper theological perspective.

For those concerned with educating the children I had other suggestions.  For starters I suggested that this is an issue of stewardship. Everything we have and use comes from God. If we do not teach our children to respect the gifts of God at home, we can hardly expect them to behave differently in church or any other public setting.

In addition, the care of our church buildings raises unique perspectives. First of all we must consider that usually we have dedicated this building to God in a special service. This means that we have set it apart for holy uses and that we have, in a sense, given it to God for his service. When you have solemnly presented something to God, it is clearly wrong to abuse or misuse it or take it back. Hence, we are not only misusing his provision, but we are taking back what we have given to Him. Secondly, we invoke His presence in our worship and our meetings through prayer. According to Matthew 18:20, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done by you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.(NIV)  If we have invited God to be especially present in our meetings, then all of our actions are under his scrutiny in a special way and we need to be circumspect as parents and children.

These suggestions are only a beginning to what we can do to properly direct our congregations and especially our children in the way of the Lord.