Separate and Not

I’ve been reading Principles for the Gathering of Believers Under the Headship of Jesus Christ by Gospel Fellowships

In Principle 6, they speak of the fact/truth that God does not need buildings to dwell in. They really hammer on it. While I am reading between the lines, I’m guessing that there have been many who have condemned/judged them for not having “proper” church buildings, so they feel the need to defend/justify their house church meetings. That is really sad.

God is omnipresent, but not only that. God is present in each of us. The authors (and scripture) make that quite clear. Paul notes that we are now God’s Holy Temple. Note that there is a tension here. If God is omnipresent, why then would we need to note that God is dwelling in us. It’s an obvious conclusion. That Paul feels it necessary to make this statement means that there is a difference between omnipresence and dwelling.

My struggle with the authors’ point isn’t that I think that it is necessary for there to be a physical building for there to be a church (or “the” church), but that we need a physical place.

Think of the Deborah, the judge. When she is approached by the people of Israel, she is under a tree. If it was any old tree, how would they know to find her there. Now, I could be reading too much into the passage, but I don’t see a “they searched for Deborah and found her under a tree.” I see a definite sense of place. When Saul is wandering after a donkey, we learn that there are multiple places of residences for seers. They are known as the towns of the seers.

There is a definite sense of presence.

God uses the words “to tabernacle” when He talks about dwelling with the Israelites. God uses dwelling with, too. When God set out the rules for the tabernacle, it wasn’t for God. It was for the people. Even with the Holy of Holies, it isn’t for God, it is for the people. The setup of the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies is to set the space (and psychology) for the people’s interaction with God, using the framework of space to display the separateness of the Fallen (i.e, broken, separated, sin-filled) world from God.

One of the repeated components of both journaling and prayer (spiritual practice-wise) is setting aside a quiet place to do it, and many teach that it should be the same place.

It is not that the house church movement is wrong, nor is it to say “the traditional” church-y structure is wrong. It is how we set aside space to meet with God. The authors speak of the early church meeting outside of the city walls, or even meeting in the catacombs of the cities. I’m going to guess, however, that the early church met at only a few specific places. In other words, they had places set aside to meet with God in the presence of one another.

And this is where the Western church in the midst of its apparent decline is discovering a new tension. When you are launching church or choose not to build a building, you are often using spaces that were built to fulfill other purposes (i.e,. school gyms, movie theaters, conference rooms, etc.). As the church finds that it can no longer maintain the buildings it created, or chooses to serve in different ways in which they find buildings to be in conflict in with their mission, the church is struggling to find a way to have a holy place in the midst of the secular.

For some of us (me), we need the pomp and circumstance as part of our religious practice. We struggle with these dual purpose secular/holy places. We feel a need for these places that are6Ahh2&n#l!Ugb{}&k2+00tQK`-[cWF.(1~{!2}jr set apart.

If you are not one of those, be happy with that. If you are not one of those, be grace-filled toward those of us who are.

This is not to say that I always need a “special” place to meet God. That would deny the nature and character of God, and my faith. I will often find my self more aware (and present) of God’s presence when surrounded by His Creation of nature. For standard practice, I need some of that ritual which is aided by a physical structure. That is not to I am bound by them.

This leads me back to the tension showing up in the church today. We cannot deny that God calls us to live in the world, yet not be of the world. We have to think of that particular tension in the light of ambassadors. The ambassador of a foreign country lives among others who are not of their country, yet they are separate.

If God set apart part of His Tabernacle aside to be a special place, why would we not recognize the pattern, and do so ourselves. If we take Paul’s words about being a temple to heart, then those that are Christian are set apart from the world. This, it seems to me, is the same pattern…a setting apart.