Ancient Judaism was centered on three elements: the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifice. When Jesus came, He ended all three, fulfilling them in Himself. He is the temple who embodies a new and living house made of living stones—"without hands." He is the priest who has established a new priesthood. And He is the perfect and finished sacrifice.' Consequently, the Temple, the professional priesthood, and the sacrifice of Judaism all passed away with the coming of Jesus Christ.' Christ is the fulfillment and the reality of it all.'
In Greco-Roman paganism, these three elements were also present: Pagans had their temples, their priests, and their sacrifices.' It was only the Christians who did away with all of these elements.' It can be rightly said that Christianity was the first non-temple-based religion ever to emerge. In the minds of the early Christians, the people—not the architecture—constituted a sacred space. The early Christians understood that they themselves—corporately—were the temple of God and the house of God.'
Strikingly, nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia), temple, or house ofGod used to refer to a building. To the ears of a first-century Christian, calling an ekklesia (church) a building would have been like calling your wife a condominium or your mother a skyscraper!'
The first recorded use of the word ekklesia to refer to a Christian
For references to Christ as Temple, see John 1:14, where the Greek word used for dwelt literally means "tabernacled," and John 2:19-21. For additional references to Christ as a new house made of living stones, see Mark 14:58; Acts 7:48; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; Hebrews 3:6-9,9:11, 24; 1 Timothy 3:15. For references to Christ as priest, see Hebrews 4:14; 5:5-6, 10; and 8:1. The new priesthood is mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 1:6. Scriptures that point to Christ as the final sacrifice include Hebrews 7:27; 9:14, 25-28; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:18. Hebrews continually stresses that Jesus offered Himself "once for all time," emphasizing the fact that He need not be sacrificed again.
Stephen's message in Acts 7 indicates that "the temple was merely a man-made house originating with Solomon; it had no connection with the tent of meeting that Moses had been commanded to set up on a Divinely revealed pattern and that had continued until David's time." See Harold W. Turner, From Temple to Meeting House, The Phenomenology and Theology of Places of Worship (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1979), 116-117. See also Mark 14:58, where Jesus says that the Temple of Solomon (and Herod) was made "with hands," while the Temple that He would raise up would be made "without hands." Stephen uses the same wording in Acts 7:48. In other words, God does not dwell in temples "made with hands." Our heavenly Father is not a temple dweller! See Colossians 2:16-17. That Christ came to fulfill the shadows of the Jewish law is the central theme of the book of Hebrews. The New Testament writers all affirm that God does not require any holy sacrifices nor a mediating priesthood. All things have been fulfilled in Jesus—the sacrifice and the mediating priest.
Ernest H. Short dedicates an entire chapter to the architecture of Greek temples in his book History of Rel/gious Architecture (London: Philip Allan & Co., 1936), ch. 2. David Horrington states, "Religious buildings were, nonetheless, an integral part of Graeco-Roman religion" in his book To Preach or Not to Preach? The Church's Urgent Quest/on (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1996), 27. Pagans also had "holy" shrines. Michael Grant, The Founders of the Western World: A History of Greece and Rome (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991), 232-234. For more on pagan rituals, see Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1987), 39, 41-43, 71-76, 206.
John 0. Gooch, "Did You Know? Little-Known or Remarkable Facts about Worship in the Early Church," Christian History 12, no. 1 (1993): 3.
* See 1 Corinthians 3:16; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:20-22; Hebrews 3:5-6; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5, 4:17. All of these passages refer to God's people, not to a building. Arthur Wallis writes, "In the Old Testament, God had a sanctuary for His people; in the New. God has His people as a sanctuary" The Radical Christian (Columbia, MO: Cityhill Publishing, 1987), 83. According to the New Testament, the church is the bride of Christ, the most beautiful woman in the world: John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 21:9.
meeting place was penned around AD 190 by Clement of Alexandria (150-215).8 Clement was also the first person to use the phrase "go to church"—which would have been a foreign thought to the firstcentury believers.' (You cannot go to something you are!) Throughout the New Testament, ekklesia always refers to an assembly of people, not a place. Ekklesia, in every one of its 114 appearances in the New Testament, refers to an assembly of people. (The English word church is derived from the Greek word kuriakon, which means "belonging to the Lord." In time, it took on the meaning of "God's house" and referred to a building.)10
Even so, Clement's reference to "going to church" is not a reference to attending a special building for worship. It rather refers to a private home that the second-century Christians used for their meetings." Christians did not erect special buildings for worship until the Constantinian era in the fourth century. New Testament scholar Graydon F. Snyder states, "There is no literary evidence nor archaeological indication that any such home was converted into an extant church building. Nor is there any extant church that certainly was built prior to Constantine." In another work he writes, "The first churches consistently met in homes. Until the year 300 we know of no buildings first built as churches."'
Neither did they have a special priestly caste that was set apart to serve God. Instead, every believer recognized that he or she was a priest unto God. The early Christians also did away with sacrifices. For they understood that the true and final sacrifice (Christ) had come. The only sacrifices that they offered were the spiritual
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, ch. 11.
The nineteenth-century church historian Adolf von Harnack said of the first- and second-century Christians, One thing is clear—the idea of a special place for worship had not yet arisen. The Christian idea of God and of Divine service not only failed to promote this, but excluded it, while the practical circumstances of the situation retarded its development." The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, vol. 2 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1908), 86.
Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God's Program (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1972), 11, 12, 16; A. T. Robertson. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1934), 174. As William Tyndale translated the New Testament, he refused to translate ekklesia as church. He translated it more correctly as congregation. Unfortunately, the translators of the King James Version did use church as the translation of ekklesia. They rejected the coact translation of ekklesia as congregation because it was the terminology of the Puritans. See "The Translators to the Reader" from the preface to the 1611 translation in Gerald Bray, Documents of the English Reformation (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1994), 435. Clement, The Instructor, Book 3, ch. 11. Clement writes, "Woman and man are to go to church decently attired." Graydon F. Snyder, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985), 67; Graydon F. Snyder, First Corinthians: A Faith Community Commentary (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1991), 3.
sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15 and 1 Peter 2:5).
When Roman Catholicism evolved in the fourth to the sixth centuries, it absorbed many of the religious practices of both paganism and Judaism. It set up a professional priesthood. It erected sacred buildings." And it turned the Lord's Supper into a mysterious sacrifice.
Following the path of the pagans, early Catholicism adopted the practice of burning incense and having vestal (sacred) virgins.' The Protestants dropped the sacrificial use of the Lord's Supper, the burning of incense, and the vestal virgins. But they retained the priestly caste (the clergy) as well as the sacred building.
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