Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The House of God

  I really am an odd bird, I  guess. I sit in church and I listen to what is said, and I think about it.  I try not to over-analyze or nit-pick or criticize; I try to simply listen and think.  Because I do this, I wind up occasionally questioning what is said.  I try to make allowances for  the fact that I am  listening to man with all the accompanying frailties and that remarks made off the cuff may not be  bulletproof, but when I see the same sort of thing being said over and over, I  usually identify it as a trend and a trend, once spotted, needs to be examined since the Bible says "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good". 
  The trend I noticed a few years ago in certain circles is the use of the term 'house of God' to designate a building where church services would be conducted.  People would open services by saying things like "It's good to be in the house of the Lord this morning."or "Welcome to God's house." Having designated the building as a special place the 'house of God' proponents would sometimes delve into the particulars of Old Testament temple worship as a guideline for how to  conduct oneself inside this  special place.  Special clothes must be worn in this special place. Certain behaviors are not acceptable in this special place. This sentiment seemed so prominent in certain circles that, although  my initial response was skepticism, I considered that there might be something to it.  I decided to look at the use of the term, particularly  in the New Testament.
  One of the first things you notice if you run the references on this sort of thing is that the  term 'house' is used two different ways in the Bible. One of the ways, obviously is a physical structure  constructed to be indwelt.  You see this in Exodus 1:27 where God gave the Hebrew midwives "houses".  Starting in Exodus, the term is used   literally hundreds of times to refer to a structure, whether it be tabernacle or temple, where God's presence dwelt and where God's people went to meet with him.  When people refer to their church building as the 'house of God' this is generally their intent.
  The other way the way the word "house" is used is to refer to a family of people.  Actually the first use of the  word is in Genesis 7:1 when Noah is told "Come thou and all thy house into the ark...".   Noah obviously didn't pick up the  structure they  had been dwelling in and  haul it into the ark; he took his family. This is borne out by God's use of the term in Hebrews 11:7. God  continues to sprinkle this usage throughout the  Old Testament, with terms like "the house of Jacob", and "the house of Israel". 
  Having established that there are two meanings of the word, we can now take that and apply it to the  usages in scripture to see if there is any validity to the idea of a special building where special things take place. In Matthew 12, and Luke 6 as well as Mark 2, an Old Testament event is cited where David entered into  a structure, namely the tabernacle. There are a couple of  citations where the word is used to denote  a structure (like Acts 10:22 and Matthew 10:25) .   But after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the term seems to be used almost exclusively to designate a family.
  For example, in Acts 2  Acts 7, and Hebrews 8  there are references to the "house of Israel " and the "house of Judah".  Since the individuals named Israel and  Judah had been dead for quite some time now, that obviously has to be a reference to their families or descendants. God has a "house" , according to Hebrews 10:21, and 1 Timothy 3:15 defines that "house" as "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth". From this, some will conclude that God is speaking of the structure in which they assemble, and they take the  admonitions in 1 Timothy as a guideline for behavior while they are in that particular building.  The problem is, that verse 15  is not a stand alone verse; if you read the rest of 1 Timothy 3, and even  jumping back to  1 Timothy 1 and 2, the context is family relations within the  family of God.  1 Timothy 3 is not about how you treat a building, it's about how you treat your brothers and sister in Christ, and since they are your brothers and sisters in Christ  all the time, you  should treat them  right all the time.
  If 1 Timothy 3 is about behavior inside a building, then presumably you are at liberty  to act  however you want outside of that building.  But the overall tone of scripture doesn't allow for such a double-minded life. The Bible says " Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ", with no qualifying statement. How you are in the parking lot or the front pew or the choir loft of the church building is  pretty much how you ought to be all the time, and if you aren't, then perhaps you should repent of your hypocrisy.
  Simply put, God is too big to  properly indwell a physical  structure of  wood or stone.  In fact, he even  says   so in Acts 7:49 when he says "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool : what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest"  After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Bible is clear; God  indwells people who have accepted his Son, not buildings.  Those people individually and corporately  are the  family of God or "the house of God".
  When the  New Testament does refer to a structure as God's dwelling place, you find verses like "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved , we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." referring to our bodies, which   dovetails with "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?"  When the Bible commands you to "grieve not the holy Spirit of God," the context is how you act ( specifically how you talk, but that's a whole different topic) in your day to day life. There is nothing in the  New Testament that allows for a double standard of behavior based on  where your at.  The music you listen to, the conversation you  enjoy, the way you conduct yourself ought to be the same whether you are assembled with other believers or not "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; ".
   My perpetual smart-aleckness  does not do me much credit, I must admit. Once I was talking to a man and he made a reference to their church building as 'God's building'. I asked him what was it before they put a building up. Was it 'God's undeveloped lot'? I asked him about  the churches in Africa that assemble under a tree, are they meeting under 'God's tree'? And what happens to God if you cut down his tree? Is God now homeless?  I walked into a church building once with my hat on, and less than 3 feet in the door somebody yelled at me to "take  that hat off in God's house" and I said "That's weird, I wore this hat on top of God's house all the way across the parking lot".
  If God's house is a building where people assemble ,then when the judgement in 1 Peter 4:17 starts happening, your best bet is to meet outside until it's over.  When God  quits  chastening the building, then it will probably be OK to go back in, assuming it's still standing.  See how silly we can be?
  In my estimation, the idea that God's house in New Testament  times is a building with special rules and special requirements does  two things, both of which are harmful. It puts believers under an unscriptural yoke with extra-biblical rules and regulations.  It also  perpetuates a  subtle hypocrisy.  It's too easy to argue with your wife all the way to church and then put on your happy faces because we after all, we're at  'God's house' now.  I heard a preacher say once that his  wife wore pants, but never at 'Gods house'.  The problem is, is she's saved, his wife is at God's house all the time, because she is God's house!   
  By taking an unscriptural definition of a term, we  have imposed this strange duplicity on our lives and we've done it to our own detriment.  Now, lest I be accused of going too far in the other direction, if people have given and sacrificed in order to be able to financially set aside and maintain a place where they can assemble, that  sacrifice ought to be respected for what it is.  So don't tear the place up just because you can. Don't spit on the floor, don't color in the songbooks. That's not only stupid, it's rude. But be mindful that it would be better to tear the sheet rock off the walls of the building, that to actually harm "God's building" ( 1 Cor 3:9). I've known men that would  never enter the church building without a tie on, but would  gleefully  damage the  real "house of God".

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