The Church Building
By "church building" I have reference to a building in which the church meets, a building usually owned, rented, or leased by the church (the term ekklesia, church, never applies to the building but to the people). There is often ignorance regarding the church building because too often very little teaching is done regarding the building belonging to the church. Let me briefly suggest now and visit in more detail later that a building or place in which to meet is intimated in different verses. Paul mentioned the whole church at Corinth " coming together in one place" and a church meeting in the house belonging to Priscilla and Aquila (I Cor. 14: 23; Rom. 16: 5). Some met in a house rented by Paul, in the temple, and in the "upper chamber" of a building (Acts 28: 30; Acts 2: 46; Acts 20: 8, 9). Allow me to also immediately inject that many today place entirely too much emphasis on the "building" and not enough on the "church", as we shall later see.
The temple of old. We read of two places of importance in which Israel met, the tabernacle and then the temple. The tabernacle was designed to be portable, essentially a tent, and served Israel well in their transient circumstances (Ex. 26). The temple construction under Solomon is recorded in I Kings 5, 6. The temple was fixed, practical, and ornate. Many of the surfaces were overlaid with gold (I Kgs. 6: 21, 23). I Kings chapter eight records the dedication of the temple and it was said that God's presence would be in the temple (I Kgs. 8). It was in apparent reference to the temple as a meeting place that David wrote:
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem" (Ps. 122: 1).
While under the old economy (the Law of Moses), the emphasis was on the material temple, under the New Testament system, the accent is on God's people themselves being the "temple of God" (I Cor. 3: 16). There is a stated typology involving the temple, but the correspondence is spiritual and not material (Heb. 9: 8, 9, 11, 12, 24). The church and heaven appear to correspond to the holy place and the most holy involved in the temple configuration. I say this to point out that there is no semblance between the church building, if you will, and the grand temple. During later times, we read of synagogues that were located in various convenient locales in which the Jews met (cp. Matt. 9: 35 and also observe that Jesus himself taught in many of these synagogues. In addition, consider the fact that the Greek for assembly in James 2: 2 is "synagogue", thus showing that the term was evidently used outside the Jewish vernacular by Christians to designate their gathering or perhaps even their place of meeting, as we use "church building").
Authority for church buildings. As mentioned, the emphasis in the New Testament is on the assembly and not on the place of assembly (cp. I Cor. 14: 19, 23, 26, 40). However, a place in which to assemble is authorized. Allow me to first mention the matter of explicit and implicit authority. Many things are plainly taught, such as, scriptural baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38). Other matters are implicitly or not so clearly presented. Jesus taught life after death in Matthew 22: 32, but he presented the teaching implicitly. I say this because to arrive at the authority for believing life after death based on the teaching of Matthew 22: 32, one must employ the necessary inference. Hence, we refer to the circumstance of Matthew 22: 32 as implicit or indirect, if you will, arrived authority. After a similar fashion, the authority for a place to assemble is found in the command to, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together " (Heb. 10: 25). Moreover, a number of commands can only be satisfied in the assembly circumstance and the assembly must have some place in which to assemble (cp. Eph. 5: 19, I Cor. 11: 17-29, Acts 20: 7). Again, the place may be a private house, a rented or leased building or a building owned by the church.
Abuse of authorization. We have established authority for a meeting place, but this authority can be and often is abused. There are many views relative to the meeting place that are contrary to biblical teaching.
Some select a church based on the building. During the seventies, I preached for a church that had a very impressive building that had been built back in the late twenties. We had many people to attend because they were so " in love with the church building." Some members were simply dedicated to the building, not to the church, such is wrong.
Some determine the strength of a church by the building in which they meet. Regarding the above, many throughout the whole city thought of the church as " one of the strongest in the entire area" based on the size and nature of the building. A strong church may meet in a lowly place and a weak church may assemble in an edifice, I submit.
Some churches are spending too much money on the building. Alas, some churches cannot even do the work assigned to the local church because their building payment is so high. This is an abuse of authority for the church building.
Others compromise the truth in view of the building. "We are committed to pay for the church building," I have been told more than once, "therefore, we must avoid taking a strong stand on any issue and run the risk of loosing some members."
There are those whose concept of the work of the church is that of simply, "Keeping house for the Lord." It is their understanding that their chief mission is to keep the building clean and maintained and they, therefore, expend all their energies accordingly.
The only time some have any appreciable zeal is when they have a building program. They financially give and they give of their time and labor to see that a church building becomes a reality, but when the building program is completed, they go back to being pew warmers.
Some in their zeal to have better and bigger buildings sacrifice church autonomy by involving other churches in their building endeavors. "Send us some money to help us build our building" starts off innocently and often results in control outside of the local church (cp. Acts 14: 23, I Pet. 5: 2). Besides, just because a church does not have a church building does not mean that the church collectively constitutes needy saints, those for whom there is authority for the treasury to be used to assist (cp. I Cor. 16: 1ff.).
The church building is holy. By "holy" we mean, "set apart for spiritual service", not that the building is intrinsically pure. In this vein, we read of the priest's garments being "holy" and therefore for a special service as opposed to the secular use (Ex. 28: 4). The only way a building belonging, rented, or leased, by the church can be scripturally justified is in view of the work of the local church needing some place for its execution (there is absolutely no authority for a church simply buying and selling real estate for gain). The church is to support and teach the truth and edify the members (I Tim. 3: 15, Eph. 4: 16, 2 Tim. 4: 2ff.). The building that belongs to the church can be permanently designed and uniquely arranged in view of the work to be done. Socialism, civic functions, humanitarianism as such, and uniquely family functions such as family life centers, etc. are not a part of the work of the church. A kitchen for social meals is not part of the scriptural activity of the church, collectively viewed. Therefore, it is a desecration of the church building, because it is holy, to introduce such activities. I say this because the building is provided for out of the Lord's treasury.
Responsibility involved in the church owning a building. As indicated, there are many advantages of a church owning a building as opposed to simply renting or leasing one. When a building belongs to the church, they have certain liberties to design and arrange the building to uniquely suit their spiritual needs. Inherent responsibility would be to be certain that the building is used in keeping with its scriptural purpose and not secularized as so many church buildings are.
If a church is going to own a building, they need to maintain it and avoid a state of disrepair. The material presentation of the church building often bespeaks the church that meets in it. If it is obviously neglected, such says the church is not as alert and zealous as they should be. If the building is ornate and apparently the emphasis of the church, such says the church has a misplaced emphasis. Efforts should be made to avoid unscriptural denominational symbolism, messages, and identification. The building is just an expedient, a place to comfortably and controllably meet, and not the ultimate goal. Brethren that possess a suitable building need to be thankful and use it to expedite the work of the Lord.
I have preached and met in many circumstances. I have preached in the out of doors, in private houses, in rented commercial buildings, and in buildings owned by churches. Without question, the church building arrangement in which the church owns their building is the most ideal. I was especially reminded of the truth of what I just said. Due to heavy and severe snow damage, we were forced to leave our church building and meet for almost six months in a gathering room rented from a nearby motel. We had many bad experiences, resultant due to lack of our total control. Alcohol odors, cigarette stench, interruptions by employees barging in and even drunks hiding out in an adjacent storage room were just a few of the problems. We could not make plans and with certainty invite the public because of the precarious nature of our arrangements.
In closing, the building owned by the church can greatly enhance our spiritual opportunities and wonderfully contribute to doing the work of the Lord; however, the church building over emphasized or abused can be a source of apostasy for the church. As pointed out, the way in which a church uses their building is an indication of the nature of the church itself. Let us ever emphasize, though, the church and not the building. Remember, the people are the " temple of God" (I Cor. 3: 16). (For additional reading regarding how a church building is and is not to be used, click on "Weddings in the Church Building Exchange.")