The Church Building
A very unusual sermon today. Maybe the least-Biblical topic I’ve ever preached on.
But it’s a very timely topic, as we are currently doing some work on our building. And it’s also a subject that many people have questions about. And, with good reason. It’s also a potentially controversial subject. So let’s open our Bibles and see what we can find out about church buildings.
II. Authority for a building?
Turn with me to:
All the verses about building a building:
All the examples of church buildings:
All the passages about how the church should pay for a building:
All the details about classrooms, bathrooms, water fountains, parking lots etc.:
All the instructions about how nice it should be:
All the scriptures about how a building should be maintained:
Why, then, do we have a building? Let’s go through the reasoning.
We know we are supposed to come together.
Heb. 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth gives us some insights.
1 Cor. 11:17-22 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
Ok, so we have to sort through some things here. Clearly the church in Corinth was off track in several ways. But setting that aside, what were they expected to do?
Come together. Partake the Lord’s Supper. In the following verses he reminds them of the true purpose of the supper, then says:
1 Cor. 11:33-34 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Clearly, the idea is that the members would come together “as a church” (vs. 18) in some place as a church and share in this memorial. Chapter 14 shows us that they also shared together in worship.
Where did they meet? We don’t know.
Some met in houses.
1 Cor. 16:19 The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.
This was perhaps the most common arrangement.
Other examples of churches meeting in houses: Prisca and Aquila (Rom. 16:3-5), Nympha (Col. 4:15), and Philemon (Philemon 1:1-2).
But it’s easy to see a problem with this. What if the church was large?
In Jerusalem, in the early days, they met in the temple (Acts 2:46).
In Ephesus, it seems they assembled in a place called the Hall of Tyrannus, a lecture hall:
Acts 19:8-9 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
In the next chapter, the disciples assembled in an upper room on the 3rd floor:
Acts 20:7-9 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
Who owned this upper room? Was it part of a home? On top of a shop? The text doesn’t say. It was simply a place where they could assemble. It reminds me of when Jesus’ disciples were looking for a place to partake of the Passover.
Luke 22:7-13 When came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” 9 They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
It seems to me that this is the basic question. Where should we meet? It would be interesting to hear from you all the different places you’ve assembled for worship.
Home, outdoor pavilion, armory, school, rented storefront space, community center, and of course, a building built for this purpose.
We assume that since the Lord did not give us specific instructions on where to meet, that it is up to us to determine what works best, which may vary from one group to another. And may change as that group grows or shrinks in number.
Or to put it another way: we have a command to assemble, which gives us the authority to find a place to assemble.
III. Dangers of a building
Church buildings do come with several dangers that we need to be on guard against.
A. Confuse the building with the church.
Our language has shifted to the point that “church” practically means “church building.” It’s hard to avoid this usage.
We can’t let our shifting language cause us to lose sight of the fact that WE are the church.
1 Pet. 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
B. Confine Christianity to the building.
By thinking of this place as the church, it’s easy to slip into a mindset that confines Christianity to what goes on here. Do we confine worship to within these walls? Can we not sing, pray, read, etc. anywhere we are?
Or what if we think about using our talents? Do we think of things like, “well, I could lead singing, I could teach, I could mow the church lawn, etc.”? As if serving the Lord begins when we pull in the parking lot, and ends when we leave? Surely the main part of our walk with the Lord is what happens when we leave. That’s where we let our light shine, show love, serve, and share the gospel with others. This is where we worship, remember, and encourage one another to love and good works.
C. Get too attached to it.
Mark 13:1-2 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And that was the temple of God! Our own buildings are of no importance by comparison. And yet we have a tendency to be distracted by and attached to what we can see and touch, the physical structure.
D. Spend too much on it.
It’s easy to see how a building could go from being a practical solution to a money pit. There’s no end to what we could spend on a building. Just like your own home, it would be easy to get into a situation where you are “house poor,” spending so much on your home that you can’t afford to do anything else.
Also, would it be possible to get too caught up in beautifying the building? Or too focused on comfort? Think of the new theaters with reclining seats. How long till someone introduces them in church buildings?
This structure is not what matters. It’s a place for us to assemble, and that’s all.
I think we all agree that if you are going to have a building, it’s only right to take care of it. We wouldn't be good stewards if we let it crumble and fall apart. For example, we will soon be replacing the windows in the old part of the building. The reason is that the wood around them has rotted away. If you don’t fix that, it will lead to bigger problems. Same thing with the bricks. Earthly things require maintenance and upkeep. And we also want to make it attractive and comfortable, but obviously it would be easy to go overboard in that regard. It boils down to judgment and opinion.
E. Argue and bicker over it.
Which brings me to the last point. Any time you have judgments and opinions, you’ve got the potential for tension, arguments, and conflict.
How many arguments and disputes have begun over buildings? Something that is completely optional and not even mentioned in the Bible? Yet that doesn’t stop us from having very strong feelings about it.
I recently posted on Facebook that I was working on a sermon on church buildings, but within a couple of hours I deleted the post because people—Christians!—were bickering in the comments.
How sad would it be to let something as inconsequential as this building cause strife in our spiritual family?
We can avoid unnecessary conflict by keeping some things in mind:
1. The building is an expedient, a facility. It is temporary and optional.
2. Focus on the true work of the church: sharing together in worship, edification, benevolence, evangelism.
3. Understand that elders and deacons and others involved are making the best judgments they can with regard to the building and property. Differences of opinion are inevitable, but need not cause conflict.
Jesus said he has gone to prepare a place for his disciples. Any building we have in this life, whether it be our home, our church building, or even our bodies, are temporary shelters along the way.
2 Cor. 5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.