What is the church?

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The remaining two senior ladies and a middle-aged couple would not sell their church building. The building seated 700 people and reflected the success of God’s mission in the distant past in this very large city in a part of the globe dominated by another world religion. The church leaders in the area needed the funds to finance a new health ministry that was reaching people daily in another part of that same city. However they had to respect the local church’s wishes. Why wouldn’t the people sell their building? For them the building was sacred. The building represented the presence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the city—selling it would mean there was no sacred place. The church would not be in the city.

In a secular city, a young pastor was asked to pioneer the last day message. He had no church building. He doorknocked around his neighbourhood and used Facebook messages to find people who were interested in reading the Bible and learning about God in discussion groups. Within a year he had five groups of about 12 people meeting each week—learning straight from the Word of God and becoming disciples of Jesus. He has asked the mainly young adults he is reaching to come to a church building. But they don’t see the need. The Sabbath meeting in a home with other spiritually growing people is their church.

So what is the church? In the OT the “church” was a sacred tent (the moving Sanctuary) or building (temple). It was the place where God dwelt (Exodus 25:8). When Jesus came to earth He claimed that He was the temple (John 2:19-22)—God’s sacredness was a person not a place or building. Jesus and the apostles knew the temple would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-3). The Christian faith would not be based on a place but a Person—the God-man, Jesus Christ, who dwells in the heavenly temple (Hebrews). Those who believe in Jesus take Him symbolically into their hearts and minds (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 1:13,14; 2 Corinthians 1:22). We as individuals have God living inside us, through the presence of Jesus—the Holy Spirit—and we are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). When believers in Jesus gather (church in NT Greek) they become the temple of God—it is the group of people that makes any place sacred (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; Ephesians 2:19-22).

It is for this reason that the General Conference Global Mission team is able to say that house churches are legitimate forms of churches. House churches and the NT understanding of church will help the Church grow in the difficult areas of the world and where real estate is hugely expensive. House churches could be the basis of a disciple-making movement.

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