After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 2 Samuel 7:1-7
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14
The 2 Samuel 7 passage is one that we looked at this last week in a Bible study and I loved it because of it’s missional implications. It explains clearly the potential (and maybe to some sort inevitable) downfall that happens in institutional forms of religion.
We may, if we aren’t careful, begin to think something like: “You silly Israelites, of course God doesn’t live in house where we can come visit him. You should have known that through your many and vast experiences like the Exodus pillar of fire and cloud, the visit of God to Moses on the mountain and the many trials and tribulations of your people that God doesn’t live in a fixed house. We as Christians understand this because we have the Spirit of God and know better.”
But we struggle from the same misguided belief about God. The prevailing paradigm of Western Christianity in the last 100+ years has been, “We have a valuable message. Come to us (at the church) and we will tell it to you. You are welcome to hear it on Sundays between 8 and 11 am and from 6 to 8 pm. We also offer special services Wednesday evenings from 5-8. We’d love to have you stop by and hear this life saving message.”
In many ways, this sort of institutional church mindset is so hard to break because it is even in the fabric of the language that we use. When we use phrases like, “Let’s go to church,” we reveal that what we really and truly believe is that the church (building) is the place where God resides and in order to meet with him in any real or important way we must go there. Because we view that as a good thing, meeting with God is, we think that inviting others to ‘the church’ is a good thing too.
But when we do that we fall ill to a grave sin. We have mistaken the church for a building, a time, a place or a function and not the people that it rightfully is. By saying, “Let’s go to church” we admit that we aren’t, but the building on the corner of 1st and Main is.
The danger of making a ‘building’ to God is that we then begin to assume that that is where God lives and works. We lose the missionary implication of the Gospel.
We see it in the 2 Samuel passage, we saw it when the Ancient Jewish people actually did build the temple and we have seen it played out in countless ways throughout the history of the Christian church. We forsake the people of God for a building. We assume (incorrectly) that the building serves as a special conduit to connect people with God.
But we need to correct that thinking. We need to realize that the church is not a building or place we go, but that it is rather a people. We should take our clue from the John 1 verse above and, like Jesus, move into our neighborhoods. Every meal, outing, walking of the neighborhood and social gathering is a chance to be the church as a visible witness to the community.
And the outcome is much different. Instead of saying, “Go to this building to hear something about Jesus,” we model our lives as the Good News embodied to those that need it. Empowered with the Holy Spirit we are free to engage others with the redemptive love of Jesus.