Updated: Apr 26, 2021
What I find so disingenuous and contradictory about those who staunchly defend Churchianity and the institutional model of the church is this: Everyone with an ounce of biblical understanding will readily agree that “WE” are the church - not the “BUILDING”. Yet, when it comes to emphasizing the importance of gathering together, they just can’t get past their centuries-old addiction to church buildings. Try as they might, they can’t get around the importance they place upon them or their attendance to them. They can squirm, protest, deny and debate but it is still their big pink elephant in the middle of the "WE ARE THE CHURCH" living room.
“Buildings” have not only become an integral part of their institutional understanding of church life, but they have also become indispensable – even when Jesus has left the building and Ichabod has been posted over the door. Professional ministry often harbors a self-serving motive in maintaining the existence of church buildings because it is a symbiotic relationship. Church buildings enable them to earn a living and, in turn, the ministry supports the building's existence. In many cases, the ministry dreams of one day achieving the holy grail of all church buildings – The Mega-Church!
It is this building-oriented obsession that has contributed to centuries of religious abuse and stands as a monumental stumbling block to what God intended His church to be in the beginning. The fundamental failure to understand what the church is and what the church is not has led to centuries of spiritual error, manmade traditions and misdirection. It has turned the church into an organization, an institution, a denomination, a manmade system and a building.
When the Bible speaks of the church it is referring to a “state of being” and not a place where we go. The word “church” (Gr. ekklésia) simply means “assembly, gathering, meeting or congregation”. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church referred to as a building we go to or a physical location. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he wasn’t addressing the “1st Church of Philippi” on the corner of Broadway & Main. He was addressing a community of believers scattered throughout the city. The concept of a designated place being the church would be a foreign concept to early Christians. They knew that God’s temple was not a pile of stones. As Stephen declared to the Pharisees at his stoning, “What house will you build me says the Lord? He does not dwell in temples made with hands.”
This is not just a matter of semantics or quibbling about terms and definitions. It’s about the essential nature of the New Testament church – not the manmade monuments to waste, religiosity and inefficiency that man has fabricated through the centuries. The “church” was simply a community of believers who lived out their Christian lifestyle through their normal, daily rhythms in the midst of the communities in which they lived. They met in the natural, familiar, everyday setting of homes to fellowship, pray, eat together, interact around the word and edify one another.
The church was never meant to be a building we go to on a set day in order to be “in” church. I don’t have to go to a specific location to be “in church” any more than I go to a specific place at a specific time to be, Bill Kimball. I am Bill Kimball 24/7, not just for a couple of hours on Sundays when I go to a holy sanctuary and go through the motions of acting like Bill Kimball. We were meant to be the church each day, every day, everywhere we went because “WE ARE THE CHURCH!”.
Yes, we are called to “gather together”, to interact, fellowship, eat together, continue in the word and prayer, but the church was never meant to be just a staged “weekly event” artificially removed from the world but a daily lifestyle. (Acts 2:42 & 46) Though most Christians are quick to claim that buildings are not the “church”, when viewed against the practical example of their lifestyles outside the four walls of the church, their confession has a hollow ring to it. Most live out their daily lives outside the church walls quite differently in relation to their communities and, often, even in relation to their fellow believers. It’s “in” the confines of a church building that most of their “go-to-church” Churchianity is played out – not in their daily lives or the communities around them.