I remember several years ago when I was a church planter working in Wills Point, Texas. My partner and I visited several pastors of churches in the area, mostly to ensure they weren’t threatened by us in the community. I distinctly recall meeting one pastor, and he was really friendly with us. He took us to the new sanctuary they had just finished constructing, and was obviously very. . . does the word “proud” fit? I’m trying to be charitable here, but there’s no way getting around my conclusion that he was bragging about the magnificence of his new building. And I came close—oh, so very close—to responding by saying “This really is a beautiful building. Too bad it’s all going to be dust and ashes some day.” The missed opportunities!I think of that story every time I read today’s passage and others like it. What do I mean by other passages? Well, look at the dedication of the original temple. The builder of the original temple, King Solomon, had no illusions about his magnificent structure: “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
Even during the time of the Old Covenant, during the time when God met people inside of buildings, and you could actually point to a structure and say “That’s the ‘dwelling place,’” the most insightful believers knew that God doesn’t really live inside a building. As Solomon said, the heavens can’t contain him. As Isaiah said in today’s reading, Heaven is his throne, and earth is his footstool. The idea of men building a “house” for God is pretty laughable.
What about the New Covenant? Does God have a temple today? Of course he does! It’s the Body of Christ collectively and each believer individually. The word “church” in all the New Testament always refers to a group of believers, never to a physical building.
Now, does this mean that I’m against church buildings, or sanctuaries? No. We have to meet somewhere, and a church building is as good a place as any. I'm not opposed to it.
But am I in favor of spending a lot of money on a building which will be dust and ashes someday? Well, I can’t find any Scripture against it as such, so I’m not going to judge other believers on stuff which the Spirit failed to mention in his word. But I’m not too comfortable with going overboard with it. Where that line is, is something I’d have to think about.
I do know this for sure, however. As today’s passage makes clear, God is—and always has been—impressed with things that we aren’t. We’re impressed by an imposing and beautiful building, while he’s impressed with “those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at [his] word.” The nobody, the “has-been” or “never was” can easily be someone who catches his blessed attention. All they have to be is someone who’s humble, contrite (sorry about their sin), and who trembles at his word. And friend, let me tell you something: If someone trembles at God’s word, they won’t tremble at the sight of a building, or much else for that matter.
I think all of us need to examine our priorities, and reexamine them on a regular basis, especially if we live in a rich country like America. Are my priorities his? Forget a moment about being negative about worship centers. Are you humble? Do you have a keen sense of who God is and who you are in comparison? Are you mourning the sin in your life? Do you tremble at his word?
Well, Father? What about it?
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