Why going to church is not a New Testament concept
We have all been asked the questions; “what church do you go to?” or “what is the name of your church” or “where is your church?” But, when I refer to “the church”, I’m not talking about a physical location or the name of a building. I’m talking about the Biblical concept of church itself. Scripturally speaking, the church is a “state of being” not a place where we go. The word “church” (Gr. ekklésia) in the New Testament never refers to a building or physical location. It fundamentally means “assembly, gathering, meeting or congregation”. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church referred to as a building we go to or an address we look for. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he wasn’t addressing the First Church of Philippi on the corner of Broadway & Main. He was addressing a community of believers scattered throughout the city of Philippi. The early Christians knew no such thing as a designated place being “church.” That would have been a completely foreign concept to early Christians.
This is not simply a matter of semantics or quibbling about terms and definitions. It’s about the essential nature of the New Testament church – not what we have fabricated it to be 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, eat together, interact and build each other up or they simply gathered together in public settings in the midst of unbelievers like they did in the open air of Solomon's porch surrounding the temple in Jerusalem.
As I have said before, nowhere in the Bible does God describe the New Testament church as:
“God’s holy people going to a holy building for a holy length of time on a holy day at a holy hour to act holy by participating in holy rituals during a holy service with a holy schedule and give a holy amount of money to pay a holy salary to a holy man to perform holy duties and God is orchestrating it all from His holy headquarters each Sunday.”
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” ‑ No 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 few artificial hours during the week when I cloister myself in a holy room removed from society. 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) Of course, most Christians would be quick to claim that buildings are not the “church” but, in real life, their confession has a hollow ring to it. In reality, most live their daily lives outside the walls of the church quite differently in relation to their communities and, often, even in relation to their fellow believers. Many are tired of the shallow fellowship of believers that often goes no further than the ritual pleasantries of Sunday morning small talk. It’s “in” the confines of a church building that most of their Christian confession and lifestyle is played out but it’s time to be the church instead of playing church!
God doesn’t dwell in “temples made with hands.” (Acts 6:48 & 49) The Word says that His church is a “spiritual house” made of “living stones”. (I Peter 2:5) And Paul plainly states; “For you are the temple of the living God...” (II Corinthians 6:16) Yes, they met together but their focus was not on buildings artificially segregated from the communities in which they lived. The church wasn’t focused on a designated day or structure. They didn’t come together to be “in” church for a brief period of time. The church wasn’t an organization; she’s a living organism. There was nothing “canned”, institutionalized, formatted, contrived, intimidating, religious or programmed about it.
* See Also: Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 18:7; 20:20 Romans 16:5 I Corinthians 1:11; 16:15; 16:19, Colossians 4:15 I Timothy 5:13 Philemon 1:2
But of course "our gathering together" can be as little as two or three gathered together in His Name as Jesus said. The reason being is that it’s not really about the numbers but the quality of that gathering together.