Is the Church a Building?

As the title suggests, I want to aks you a question regarding how we see the Church. This post will be rather short as I’m looking for feedback, rather than trying to give all the answers. My hope is that this post will make you think more deeply about the way we see and talk about the Church and bring it back into focus.

So, “Is the Church a Building?”. In my experience, most Christians will answer this question and say “No, the Church is the people.” However, I find that there is a major discrepancy in the way people answer this question and the way they speak about the Church. Consider the following statements:

“Are you going to Church tomorrow?”

“Which Church do you go to?”

“What is the address of your Church?

“What is the size of your Church?”

“We are building a new Church in _________”

This is common language found among the majority of Christians today. However, it does not line up with the reality of the Church as God’s people. The reality of these above statements shows that Christians associate “Church” with a building. This is in stark contrast with the New Testament. Paul described the Church as many things, such as,

  • A body
  • A bride
  • A family
  • A house or temple

In all these cases, we as God’s people form these things. We are Christ’s body. We are the bride of Christ. We are God’s family. We are the living stones that form the temple of God. What was foreign to the NT was the idea that the Church was a physical building. The notion of the Church as a physical building only started to occur around the 3rd century after the Emperor Constantine institutionalized the Church and modelled it after pagan religions where large congregations would assemble weekly in temples.

It is clear that this tradition has come down through the centuries and has had a big impact on how we view the Church. It is not surprising that most non-Christians view the Church as a building on the corner of their street.

The intention of this post is not to bash the traditional way people see the Church, but rather to challenge you to think deeply about the way you understand the Church. A few questions you are welcome to comment on or simply think about(other comments are also welcome):

Is this an important issue?

Do we need to reform the way we see, understand, and even practice Church?

Do we simply need to change our language on how we speak about the Church?

Does the idea of the Church as a physical building have any negative impact?

What does the Church as Paul described look like? Is it different to the Church as a building?

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Nathan Odell Nathan Odell is the author of Joined to Him. You can connect with him on

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Comments

  1. IAN BAARD says:

    Ecc 5:1 Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Ecc 5:2 Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God [is] in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few. Psa 11:4 The LORD [is] in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne [is] in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. 1Cr 3:16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1Cr 3:17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which [temple] you are. 1Cr 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [who is] in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 1Cr 6:20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body [fn] and in your spirit, which are God’s. WHAT DO YOU THINK ????? WE ARE ALL THE TEMPLE…!!!! if he is in you and he is in me and in the next…..does it not stand to reason that we should walk PRUDENTLY into each others presence that we should regard each other as the lords temple as a most HOLY PLACE ,,does it not stand to reason that as we are fellow shiping with or talking to one another we are in fact in a form of prayer not just to each other but also to the LORD in us,, in 1 Cr 3 ;17 therefore is a verse that must come into play ,, i honestly believe that we are in prayer to each other and the LORD as we share and fellowship together,,,us being one body and one spirit in CHRIST,, may the truth set us all free as we eat and meditate on this most important word,,,,blessings to all and one in CHRIST;;;come HOLY SPIRIT please and set us free to love and respect each other as YOUR HOLY TEMPLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!XX
    ..IT ..IS..ALL..ABOUT ..RELATIONSHIP..BETWEEN..YOU ..ME…AND..THE LORD OF LORDS..A THREE FOLD CORD IS NOT EASILY BROKEN….SHALOM……. ON THE POINT OF US BEING THE CHURCH.. WE SHOULD HAVE MODELED THE CHURCH AFTER THIS MANNER IN ORDER TO MAKE { disciples } Jhn 21:15 ~ 17.. FEED THE LAMBS… { ESTABLISH new believers in the Identity & oneness with Christ… tend the flock. is to make sure all are correctly believing ect..Act 20:28 feed my sheep is to send them out & support them.. in all areas..this is briefly described. acts 2 ; 40.. +++ is how it should be.. there is more.. but the church as it is today is just a load of rubbish,, { THE BIGGEST ISSUE IN THE CHURCH TODAY IS { SPIRITUAL ADULTRY } mixing of old & new covenants,… LAW…. & GRACE/TRUTH .which we are told not to do..

  2. Ryan Saunders says:

    Hi Nathan

    I do actually often use the word “church” to refer to a building, although I do not think that it affects the way I understand the Church as the body of Christ. To me it just happens to be a homonym (at least in the English language) — a word that I use in at least two different ways.

    In the Bible, “church” almost always refers to either a local assembly or the universal/worldwide body of believers. But in English, “church” also has other related meanings. Yet, I am not sure if this is a problem – except that the word “church” (as with any homonym) may sometimes need enough context in order to make it obvious which meaning is intended.

    So, regarding the discrepancy that you mention, I think the reason that there seems to be a discrepancy is simply because the word “church” can mean more than one thing in English. In one sense “the Church” is not a building; but in another sense “a church” can mean a building.

    (But, of course, if we think that the Bible means “building” when it says “church”, then we are confused.)

    Regards
    Ryan

    • Nathan says:

      Hey Ryan. Great comment. You brought up some good points.

      “In the Bible, “church” almost always refers to either a local assembly or the universal/worldwide body of believers. But in English, “church” also has other related meanings.”

      The word Ekklesia, translated as the english word “Church” means an assembly of believers or called out ones. My main issue and question is that in light of the biblical meaning of the “Ekklesia/Church”, Why do we use the word to describe a building? And should we use the word Church to describe a building, if clearly it is not what the author intended?

      Personally, I’ve changed my vocabulary in this regard. I use “Church” when talking about a group of believers. When talking about the assembling of the Ekklesia/Church, I refer to it as a Church assembly or gathering or meeting or fellowship. In my opinion, to use the word “Church” to refer to a building has no biblical merit. Simply put, a building does not equal a church. So why should I refer to it as one?

      • Ryan Saunders says:

        “Building” is clearly not what the authors intended — that is true. Yet, when we use the word “church” in a sentence such as “What is the address of your church?”, we are not trying to make reference to the Bible. We are simply using a short English word instead of saying “the building where you meet as an assembly” or “church (assembling) building”. I do not think that this is illegitimate, or misleading. I do not think that this has some kind of negative impact.

        Even though the Bible does not refer to church buildings, the English word “church” can legitimately refer to a building, depending on the context. Because, well, that is one of the meanings of the English word “church”.

        A classroom and a class consisting of pupils are not the same thing, but they can both be called a “class”. And similarly a church building (i.e. an assembling place) and a church consisting of Christians are not the same thing, but they can both be called a “church”. Maybe the reason that we have both of these meanings for the English word “church” is similar to the reason we have the two meanings for “class”.

        But, you do not have to call the building a church, if you prefer not to 😉 and you do not have to call a classroom a class.

        • Ryan Saunders says:

          I should probably add that the building is not a temple. The idea that a church building is a temple would certainly have a negative impact.

  3. Dear Nathan

    If God wanted a house made with bricks, He might as well have just destroyed us all after the fall and then spent the rest of eternity building the most glorious physical temple the world has ever seen.

    But praise the Lord He is a God of relationship. A God that desires to dwell within US, not buildings. He is not interested in what we can build for Him, but instead in what He can build with us. A living house made with living stones.

    As for how our current language relates to what the bible says – frankly, we should “put our money where our mouths are.” Lets choose to live the truth that we so often speak.

    May the Lord have the house that He desires!!!

  4. Thanks for this post, Nathan. It is obvious that most of Christendom has little to no conviction that regarding a building as a “church” is contrary to God’s thoughts and intentions concerning His Ekklesia, which is His Body, His people. We are concerned about being “biblical” with pretty much everything, but this matter apparently gets a “bye.” Traditions die hard, and this one is a Goliath.

    I think the key to returning to a biblical perspective of “church” in this regard is to begin by changing our words. Words are powerful. They have the ability to build up strongholds, and tear them down. They define and establish what we consider to be truth. They spring from our heart, and they reveal our heart. If we develop a conviction about what comes out of our mouth, it is the best way to monitor and safeguard what is really going on in our heart. It also has a relational and communal aspect to it as well (as words are spoken to others) to help monitor and guard what we think and believe collectively.

    In our house we have had the conviction of guarding our speech in this way for years. In fact, we have a running joke that calling a building a “church” is tantamount to “swearing” in our home. We take it seriously. We do not want to propagate a false conception that has immense consequences to the manifestation of the Body and Bride of Christ in the earth. We will use words like “church building”, “church service”, “church organization”, etc… to speak of the religious buildings, meetings and institutions that large portions of God’s people attend and call “church.” (It is a “church building” only because the true “church”, God’s PEOPLE, assemble there….etc.) If we would begin to make even that simple shift in our speech, we would begin to see things a whole lot differently, and our actions and habits would begin to change.

    We can confess that we believe the “church” is God’s people, but, as you pointed out in the beginning of this post, there is a big discrepancy between what we say we believe and how we normally talk. Our belief and our speech need to come in line, otherwise we are double-minded and not ultimately walking in the truth.

    Thanks again for this post, and for bringing this significant aspect of our life in Christ to light.

    • Nathan says:

      I agree completely David. Thanks for the additional insights – very helpful. I also chose to specifically change my vocabulary and challenge people when they ask me questions like “What church do you go to?”

  5. Bonjour Nathan!

    Je suis français et j’ai eu accès à votre post par l’intermédiaire du traducteur Google. Ce n’est pas le top mais ça permet néanmoins de passer par dessus la barrière de la langue. Les excellentes questions que vous soulevez sur la nature et le sens de l’Église ne sont pas typiquement américaines mais sont posées actuellement dans l’ensemble du monde chrétien. Il est important de retrouver les fondements de la pensée divine à ce sujet, sinon nous risquons de servir d’autres enjeux et d’aller dans d’autres directions que l’édification des disciples jusqu’à la maturité en Christ.

    J’ai déjà mis sur le web plusieurs réflexions sur ce sujet et je vous invite à les lire (en français) sur mon blog :

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.fr/2009/08/la-dynamique-de-lekklesia.html

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.com/2009/07/quarrive-t-il-leglise.html

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.fr/2011/08/les-structures-de-leglise-selon-le-plan.html

    etc…

    Bonnes lectures !

    Fraternellement en Christ.

    Jean-Luc Burnod

  6. Hello Nathan!

    I am French and I had access to your site via the Google translator. This is not the top but it can still remove the language barrier and it is he who translates for me now. Excellent issues you raise about the nature and meaning of the Church are not typically American but raised today in the entire Christian world. It is important to find the foundations of divine thought about it, otherwise we risk going in other directions than the edification of disciples to maturity in Christ.

    I put on the web personal reflections that speak of the church according to God’s plan and I invite you to read (in French … or with the Google translator) on my blog:

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.fr/2009/08/la-dynamique-de-lekklesia.html

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.com/2009/07/quarrive-t-il-leglise.html

    http://blog-porte-parole.blogspot.fr/2011/08/les-structures-de-leglise-selon-le-plan.html

    etc …

    Happy reading!

    Fraternally in Christ.

    Jean-Luc Burnod

    • Nathan Odell says:

      Thanks Jean-Luc for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I will check out your links.

      Blessings Brother.

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