(Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the importance of the church. See also: Is the Church important?; Why is the church important?)
Scripture expects us to believe truths that seemingly contradict. God is entirely sovereign and has from eternity chosen all those will be saved. Man is entirely responsible and is commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. No man knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be preceded by clearly recognizable signs so that his followers will not be surprised. These truths, and others, are like parallel roads stretching on into the horizon; always getting closer but never seeming to meet. We are not told to reconcile these truths (for, indeed, friends do not need reconciling), but to live according to them. Another such set of truths is that God is everywhere, but he is only met in certain places.
God is everywhere: he is omnipresent.
Psalm 139:7-8- Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
Jeremiah 23:23‑24- “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off?
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.
Proverbs 15:3- The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Acts 17:26‑28- And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, “In him we live and move and have our being”…
Since God is everywhere, one would think that God could be worshipped anywhere. If God is in the mountains, we can worship him in the mountains. If God is in the valleys, we can worship him in the plains. It makes sense. It is wrong.
The Bible is very clear that God is only to be worshipped in the place and ways he determines. As the nation of Israel was about to enter the promised land, God made it very clear to them that he was only to be worshipped in the place he determined. The phrase “the place the Lord your God will choose” occurs 22 times in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 23:16; 26:2; 31:11). That place turned out to be the Tabernacle, and then the Temple.
The people of Israel did not obey this command and built “high places.” They built their own places of worship for God and idols. God hated this practice and vowed to judge the people for it (Jer. 17:1-4; Ezek. 6:1-7). This practice of private worship, or even public worship in the place God had not chosen, was so significant that on multiple occasions it was the criteria by which kings are judged in Kings and Chronicles. Wicked kings set up high places (1 Kings 12:31; 13:33; 2 Kings 17:9); good kings failed in not taking away high places (1 Kings 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35); the best kings removed the high places (2 Kings 18:4; 23:19). One of the key criteria by which God evaluated the kings was what the kings did about private worship and their neglect or their building up of Temple worship at “the place the Lord your God chooses.” God is everywhere, but he is worshipped where he chooses.
The blessings of the New Covenant overflow the Old Covenant. No longer must every worshipper of God go to Jerusalem three times a year or whenever else an offering is made. The temple is no more! We are free to worship God everywhere! Right?
Wrong. The truth has not changed, even if the outworking of it has. The church is important because it is the new building of God. God repeatedly claimed that he was only to be worshipped in the place he chose, the place where he caused his name to dwell in. That place is now the church- the true temple of God.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Ephesians 2:19-22 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
1 Peter 2:4-5 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
What is the significance of the temple? The temple is where God dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22). Yes, God is everywhere. But he dwells in his temple. Wherever God dwells is where his people are to meet him. If someone does not go to the meeting of the church, they are not worshipping God in the way or place he has chosen. Peter states as much in 1 Peter 2:5 with a mind-bending metaphor. We are being built up as the temple to offer the spiritual sacrifices of that temple. During the Old Testament, God only accepted sacrifices offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament God accepts sacrifices offered at the temple: the church.
Previously, we saw that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the body of Christ. A member not connected to the body dies. There is no life apart from the body. Now we see that a Christian “goes to church” because it is the building of God. As God’s temple, the church is where God is met and worshipped. Christians are stones in that temple. They are connected with everything else (i.e. everyone else) beneath, beside, and above them. God does not leave his people as stones in a field. God builds his people into the place where he is. That place is the church. If you are not in the church you are not where God is. You are not God’s building.