Most of us are completely unaware of what we lost as Christians when we began erecting places devoted exclusively for worship. The Christian faith was born in believers' homes, yet every Sunday morning, scores of Christians sit in a building with pagan origins that is based upon pagan philosophy.
There does not exist a shred of biblical support for the church Yet scores of Christians pay good money each year to sanctify their brick and stone. By doing so, they have supported an artificial setting where they are lulled into passivity and prevented from being natural or intimate with other believers.'
We have become victims of our past. We have been fathered by Constantine who gave us the prestigious status of owning a building. We have been blinded by the Romans and Greeks who forced upon us their hierarchically structured basilicas. We have been taken by the Goths who imposed upon us their Platonic architecture. We have been hijacked by the Egyptians and Babylonians who gave us our sacred steeples. And we have been swindled by the Athenians who imposed on us their Doric columns.2"
Somehow we have been taught to feel holier when we are in "the house of God" and have inherited a pathological dependency upon an edifice to carry out our worship to God. At bottom, the church building has taught us badly about what church is and what it does. The building is an architectural denial of the priesthood of all believers. It is a contradiction of the very nature of the ekklesia—which is a countercultural community. The church building impedes our understanding and experience that the church is
The Temple in Jerusalem was a type and a shadow of the church of Jesus Christ, along with the sacrificial system that went with it. Thus the Temple cannot be used as a justification for owning church buildings any more than slaying lambs can be used to justify that practice today. The church in Jerusalem met under a roof in the Temple courts and Solomon's Porch on special occasions when it suited their needs (Acts 2:46, 5:12). Paul temporarily rented a school as his apostolic base while he was in Ephesus (Acts 19,1-10). Consequently, buildings are by no means inherently wrong or bad. They can be used for God's glory. However, the "church building" that is depicted in this chapter is at odds with biblical principles for the reasons stated herein.
One English Catholic writer puts it this way: "If there is one simple method of saving the church's mission it is probably the decision to abandon church buildings for they are basically unnatural places ... and they do not correspond to anything which is normal in everyday life" (Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, 323).
Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America (New York: Knopf, 1992), 338. Between 1820 and 1840, American churches began to appear with Doric columns reminiscent of Greek classicalism and archways reminiscent of ancient Rome (Williams, Houses of God, 12).
Christ's functioning body that lives and breathes under His direct headship.
It is high time we Christians wake up to the fact that we are being neither biblical nor spiritual by supporting church buildings. And we are doing great damage to the message of the New Testament by calling man-made buildings "churches." If every Christian on the planet would never call a building a church again, this alone would create a revolution in our faith.
John Newton rightly said, "Let not him who worships under a steeple condemn him who worships under a chimney." With that in mind, what biblical, spiritual, or historical authority does any Christian have to gather under a steeple in the first place?
1. Church buildings enable a large number of people to gather together for worship. How did the early church manage to worship in homes with so many people and still see themselves as a single body of believers? Practically, how do organic churches today maintain every-member functioning as they grow in size?
Today Christians often assume that the early churches were large like many contemporary institutional churches. This, however, was not the case. The early Christians met in homes for their church gatherings (Acts 2:46; 20:20; Romans 16:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2). Given the size of first-century houses, the early Christian churches were rather small compared to today's standards. In his book Pauls Idea of Community, New Testament scholar Robert Banks says the average-sized church included thirty to thirty-five people. 214
Some first-century churches, such as the one in Jerusalem, were much larger. Luke tells us that the church in Jerusalem met in homes all throughout the city (Acts 2:46). Yet each home gathering didn't see itself as a separate church or denomination but as part of the one church in the city. For this reason, Luke always refers to this church as "the church at Jerusalem," never as the "churches at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1, 11:22, 15:4). When the entire church needed to come together for a specific
ED Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 35.
purpose (i.e., Acts 15), it met in an already existing facility that was large enough to accommodate everyone. The porch of Solomon outside the Temple was used for such occasions (Acts 5:12).
Today, when an organic church grows too large to gather in a single home, it will typically multiply into separate home meetings throughout the city. Yet it will often still see itself as one church meeting in different locations. If the home groups need to congregate together for special occasions, they often rent or borrow a large space to accommodate everyone.
2. I'm not sure I understand the problem with church buildings. Are you saying that they are bad because the first ones were modeled on large public buildings or promoted by an emperor with suspect theological grounding? Is there anything in Scripture that prohibits the body of Christ from meeting in them?
The answer to the first question is no, that is not what we are saying. By detailing their origin, however, we are showing that they developed apart from any scriptural mandate, contrary to what some Christians believe. Furthermore, we believe they detract from a proper understanding of the church as the body of believers.
Although Scripture never discusses the topic specifically, church buildings teach us a number of bad lessons that run contrary to New Testament principles. They limit the involvement of and fellowship between members. Often their grandeur distances people from God rather than reminding them that Christ indwells each believer. As Winston Churchill said: "First we shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us." This has definitely been the case with the church building.
The idea that the church building is "the house of God" and is constantly referred to as "church" is not only unbiblical, it violates the New Testament understanding of what the ekklesia really is. We believe that this is why the early Christians did not erect such buildings until the era of Constantine.
Church historian Rodney Stark says, "For far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (ca. 285-337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax. . . . Constantine's 'favor' was his decision to divert to the Christians the massive state funding on which the pagan temples had always depended. Overnight, Christianity became the most-favoured recipient of the near limitless resources of imperial favors.' A faith that had been meeting in humble structures was suddenly housed in magnificent public buildings—the new church of Saint Peter in Rome was modeled on the basilican form used for imperial throne rooms."21'
3.Just because Plato, a pagan philosopher, was the first to articulate how sound, light, and color influence mood and elicit splendor, awe, and worship, why is it wrong for churches to consider how to maximize these factors when designing their buildings? Isn't it appropriate to employ these to the fullest in Christian worship? After all, Scripture makes clear that we are to remember God's holiness and righteousness.
Our point in that brief discussion on Plato was simply to show that pagan philosophy had a hand in engineering sacred buildings to create a psychological experience in those who occupy them. To our minds, psychological experience ought never to be confused with spiritual experience.
4.Since believers are in a church building only two to three hours a week, how can you say that these structures stymie the functioning of God's people?
Most Christians equate church services in a church building with "church." Church leaders often quote Hebrews 10:25 ("not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together") when telling members they should "go to church" on Sunday mornings. This reinforces the misconception that when the New Testament writers talk about church, what they had in mind is passively sitting through a service in a special building once a week.
But the fact is, the New Testament vision of the church meeting is one in which every member functions and participates in the gathering. And as we have established, the church building defeats this purpose by its architecture.
Case in point: I (Frank) have met a number of pastors who came to the conviction that the New Testament teaches that church meetings are to be open and participatory. Shortly after making this discovery, these pastors "opened up" their church services to allow members to freely function. In every case, it did not work. The members were still passive. The reason: the architecture of the building. Pews and elevated floors, for example, are not conducive for open sharing. They obstruct it. By contrast, when these same congregations began meeting in homes, functioning and every-member participation flourished.
To put it another way: If we equate church with sitting in a pew and taking a mostly passive role, then church buildings are appropriate for the task (but we
EE Rodney Stark, For the Glory of Goth How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 33-34.
still cannot claim that they are biblical since the New Testament knows nothing of church buildings).
On the other hand, if we believe that God's idea of a church meeting is for every member to participate in ministering spiritually to one another, then church buildings as we know them today greatly hinder that process.
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