by Al Maxey

Issue #398 ------- May 13, 2009
God builds His temple in the heart
on the ruins of churches and religions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson {1803-1882}

Hallowed Halls of Worship
Are Our Church Buildings Holy?

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) once observed, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." Frankly, he may very well have said far more in that brief statement than he ever realized, especially with regard to our church buildings! Mankind has far too frequently down through the ages tended to allow mere inanimate, temporal things to define, and even control, him. "The clothes make the man." "You are what you eat." The number, kind and cost of the cars you drive; the degrees you have earned; the house in which you live; etc. Those things that man shapes with his hands, too often, in turn, shape him. This is, in no small part, our very own fault, for we have a tendency to confer upon these things an unrealistic value. The higher the value we place upon them, the greater the control they exert over us.

A perfect example of this woefully misplaced value which results in undue influence over a number of facets of our lives is a church building. What originally was erected as no more than a simple convenience, in time took on an aura of holiness. In a word, these humanly constructed edifices became holy ground. "It is not an auditorium," a woman recently informed me. "It is the sanctuary" -- from the Latin: sanctus, meaning "sacred." When Christians elevate mere wood, nails, brick, mortar, plumbing and wiring to the status of a "holy place," the controlling force of that edifice will soon be exerted upon those who assemble therein. And this force can at times be rather oppressive and afflictive, especially when enforced by the structure's "guardians."

I think a good many of my beloved brethren need to go back and reread (or, perhaps, read for the first time) the statement of Stephen, the first Christian martyr: "The Most High does not dwell in temples (houses, places) made by human hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house would you build for Me?' says the Lord; 'Or what is the place of My rest? Was it not My hand that made all these things?'" [Acts 7:48-50]. I also cannot help but recall the words of Peter as he witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus Christ: "I will make three tabernacles (sacred tents) here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" [Matt. 17:4]. Needless to say, such "sacred structures" were not in any way encouraged by the Lord. There was simply no need for them. Nor is there any need for such "sacred structures" today ... not even for Jesus Christ! After all, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well outside the city of Sychar, worship under this new covenant of grace is not tied to any particular location [John 4:21]. Therefore, as free men and women in Christ, place and time are truly irrelevant from the perspective of the Throne of God.

Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, we tend to elevate these edifices anyway ... and we have been reaping the wages of this error for centuries! It is "sinful," for example, to have a place within the "holy edifice" to prepare food for the saints to ingest on site ... although, strangely enough, it is NOT "sinful" to have a place within this "holy edifice" for saints to excrete that which was previously ingested. Thus, it is a sin to masticate in a church building, but it is NOT a sin to urinate or defecate in that same structure. Go figure! During the six years I preached in Hawaii for the Honolulu Church of Christ (1992-1998) I remember the time when a leader in the Non-Institutional Church of Christ from the mainland flew over to "check me out." He later reported back to the Internet group of which he was a member that my lesson was "sound" and that the congregation was very friendly. However, he was saddened to report that after our evening assembly we all went downstairs, and there he witnessed several of us "eat cookies and drink punch in the church building." Therefore, we were "apostates," and clearly "bound for hell." Why? Because we had "defiled" the "sacred place" by satisfying our carnal appetites within its "holy precincts." Good grief, Charlie Brown!!

A reader recently informed me that a young couple who had been attending their congregation, but who had not yet been baptized, asked the leaders if they could get married in the church building. Their request was denied because they were not "members." The implication left in their minds was: this site is holy, and you are not; thus, you would defile our sanctuary. Needless to say, this couple left to find a group of disciples with a healthier concept of "holiness." Yes, my dear brethren, the building is HOLY --- thus, popping a cookie into your mouth in this sacred structure is an egregious sin; popping the remains of that cookie out the other end in this sacred place, however, is perfectly acceptable in the sight of God. I would certainly love to hear some legalist explain the "logic" of that dogma! There is a little congregation here in New Mexico that believes it is a sin to have a kitchen inside the church building. Kitchens are used to prepare food, and since it is a sin to eat food in a church building, it clearly would be a sin to prepare food in a church building. Thus, no kitchens allowed!! However, they were not sure what to do with the communion supplies, and where to actually prepare the trays for their weekly observance. The solution? They took one of the storage rooms in the building, put a sink and small refrigerator in it, and called it a "closet." Problem solved. I guess they must have figured that they had fooled God with that little manipulation. How ridiculous we become over our delusional dogmas!

You can't smoke a cigarette on the church grounds. Wait until you're off premises. Now, please don't get me wrong here -- I am not in favor of smoking; I believe it to be a nasty habit, not to mention a deadly one. But, if we don't take a fellow disciple to task for smoking (or dipping, or chewing) off site, yet would not tolerate them doing so on site, then the clear implication is that there is some perception that one site is deemed more sacred than the other. It's okay to sing a spiritual song at home accompanied by an instrument (although some extremists would declare this sinful even there), but don't you dare sing that same song with accompaniment in the church building. Why not?! Because you're on holy ground; you've come into the presence of God; you have entered the sanctuary. Since everyone knows that the Lord is only to be found within the church building (which is why so many go there to pray), it's okay to do these things away from the building where God apparently won't see or hear them and thus be outraged. Crazy?! Yup! And what's even crazier is that there are disciples who believe this with all their hearts. Satan is a crafty foe, and he is having tremendous success within the church wherever he can insert such legalistic, patternistic thinking (and I use that last word loosely, for if these people ever truly thought about these teachings and practices they would be red-faced with embarrassment).

Church buildings, along with what may or may not be done within them or to them, are never mentioned in the New Testament writings. The early disciples of Christ Jesus met in homes, or in the temple courts, or in larger upper rooms they might have borrowed (or even rented for the occasion). There was no perceived need by those brought into relationship with Jesus to immediately raise funds to purchase some existing structure or build a "church building" where their "worship services" could be "conducted" (and, by the way, a "worship service" is yet another phrase one will never find in the New Covenant writings). The early Christians spoke of their "spiritual service of worship" [Rom. 12:1], but this was not even remotely the same concept as our current "worship service." Worship, for these early disciples of Jesus Christ, was not confined within four walls, nor was it restricted to certain "acts of worship" performed on specific days in specific ways. Indeed, the author of Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that the "regulations of divine worship" associated with "the earthly sanctuary" that were to be found in the Old Covenant had been forever removed under the New Covenant. Such regulations and restrictions had been imposed for a limited time ... "until a time of reformation" [Heb. 9:10; cf. vs. 1, KJV, NASB -- the NIV reads, "until the time of the new order"]. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well that this time was now here [John 4:21-23]. The old was passing away; the new had now come! Jesus Himself ushered it in. Highly regulated "worship services" were being moved out in favor of "spiritual service of worship," which allowed tremendous freedom of expression of a heart devoted to the Lord. Worship would no longer be limited to specific times and places, but could be offered up any time, any place, by any person (or persons) intent upon expressing the devotion of their hearts.

Such a radical shift would no longer restrict worship to a physical structure, but would instead turn the entire focus upon the heart. Thus, the people of God were, in effect, removed from their edifices so that they might begin their ministries of personal evangelization, education and edification among the people. Over the past 2000 years, however, too many Christians have lost sight of this reality, and have instead returned to the "holy structures" to "perform" their "religious service." In so doing, they completely miss the point of this "time of reformation" ... this "new order" of things. And our terminology reflects our misunderstandings. We do not "go to church," for example ... we ARE the church!! We talk about how many "churches" are in a community. We ask people which "church" they attend, and what the address of their "church" is. "Church" has become misidentified with a particular structure and a particular systematic set of religious doctrine and dogma. In short, it has once again become all about time, place and form ... the very things Jesus came to replace in His "new order."

The focal point of much of this departure from divine intent is the church building and what takes place inside it (primarily during the "worship service" on Sunday morning). Take a close look at the long list of things the disciples of Christ have fought and fragmented over during the past centuries. You will find that at least 90% of them deal with what transpires within a building during the course of a couple of hours a week. Does one eat in the building? Does the building have a kitchen or fellowship hall attached? Does the building have class rooms? What pew Bible is used? What kind of singing occurs in the building? How do the congregants dress for this "time of worship"? May a woman speak out "in the sanctuary"? And on and on! The inconsistency of this dogma is clearly displayed by the fact that most of these "weighty matters" are of little to no consequence when they occur outside the building. However, when we enter the building -- everything changes!! Yes, we are now "on holy ground." Eat a cookie within this sacred structure?! One can almost hear God fanning the flames of hell, making the furnace hotter and hotter, so that it will inflict even more fiery torment upon these godless "cookie eaters." How in the world otherwise intelligent, rational beings can embrace such insanity is beyond me!!

Brethren, God has called the church (the saints) to be holy, as He is holy, not the church building. The structure within which we may meet for times of edification is just a physical structure made with human hands ... nothing more. It is not sacred. It is just a building. Perhaps we ought to be spending more of our time seeking to be personally holy in our daily lives than attacking all those about us for what may or may not occur inside some church building. When we stand before God in judgment one day, it will not be to answer for what we did in some structure on a Sunday morning. Frankly, such rituals matter little to our Father. Rather, our God will want to know whether we displayed love, mercy, patience, kindness, compassion, self-control, forgiveness and other spiritual qualities in our daily interactions with those about us. Let's get past our obsession with religion and get back to the importance of relationship (both with our fellow man and with our Father). It is WE who are to be the sacred dwelling place of the Spirit, not some edifice we ourselves constructed from earthly materials. May God help us to wake up before our buildings become our mausoleums!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Scotland:

Dear Brother Al, I hope you don't mind me contacting you. I am a 47 year old divorcee here in Scotland. I purchased your book Down, But Not Out yesterday, and I have already read most of it. I am in the Churches of Christ (have been for 30 years), but have not attended since my divorce three years ago. I would like to ask you a few questions regarding my divorce and a possible remarriage. I am a broken woman at the present, and I'm really struggling to understand correctly God's will on this so that I might begin living again and restore something out of this broken life! The church can be so harsh sometimes!! I hope you don't find this letter impertinent.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I have come to love and appreciate you over the years. Reading your Reflections is something I always look forward to because your articles are always so fresh. You, unlike so many in the church I know, are willing to look at every angle and consider every perspective before drawing a conclusion. You are not locked into our tradition! Thank you so much for all you have done. The Lord has used you to transform my thinking on so many things. Again, Thank You!! ... and may God bless you!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, You know that you will be a very old man before anyone can show you the "Religion" of Jesus, or even the list of "rules" we must obey. Please continue exposing such false teaching, brother! You are putting a significant dent in generations of false traditions. The only way unity will ever be achieved is by teaching our relationship to Jesus, instead of some "religion" -- in fact, I almost hate that word!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I came across the following quote which goes along well with your last Reflections. It comes from James A. Michener's book The Source --- "When men ignite in their hearts a religious fury, they inflict at the same time a blindness upon their eyes" [p. 639].

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, I am so glad that you wrote this article ("Rebels Against Religion"). It was right on target for so many of us. I am so thankful for someone like you who can convey these Truths to those people who remind me so much of the Pharisees.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Brother Al, WOW! "Rebels Against Religion" was great stuff, although probably pretty hard for many to swallow, I'll wager! Your article reminds me of the only lesson that I ever heard Charles Holt deliver -- it was around 1990-91 in Dallas, and was titled "Out of the Church and into Christ." After meeting in homes for five years now, I realize the folly of institutional religion. Indeed, my Non-Institutional Church of Christ friends and family are so institutional that it almost stinks! Keep up the great work, brother!

From a Reader in India:

Bro. Al, "Rebels Against Religion" was an excellent article! In the absence of any freedom loving, Christ-centered assembly here in New Delhi, I have to assemble with a group who are legalistic patternists ... and I feel like a caged creature! I agree with you completely on your teachings about this theology. Please carry on, brother. Your writings are a source of great encouragement to us. We only wish that there was an assembly of Christians here that allowed people the freedom to express opinions without inviting the wrath of the "chief elder" down upon them.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I'm sure you have already dealt with this concept some brethren have of the Church of Christ church being the only "right church." Leroy Brownlow's book "Why I am a Member af the Church of Christ" makes this point clearly -- I am a Church of Christ member because the Church of Christ is RIGHT on (1) ----, and (2) ----, and (3) ----, and etc. etc. And since WE are correct on everything, then all OTHERS are wrong ... and thus going to hell. The truth of the matter is: I am a member of the Body of Christ, the Family of God, because I have been saved by grace through faith. I am in relationship with Him because I have been saved by His blood. Yet, so many brethren have a conception of the "church" as this entity, this club, this group, this institution set up by God ... and the lost must find this group (church) -- making sure it is the RIGHT one -- and then get baptized into it. In years past I have actually heard sermons, and read "gospel" tracts, on believe, repent and be baptized, while saying nothing about the cross, the blood of Christ, and the grace of God. On those things they were totally silent. How can you preach the gospel and say nothing of the blood? How can you preach the gospel and say nothing of the grace of God? How can you preach the gospel and say nothing of the mercy of God? Who within the Family of God has everything RIGHT?! Who in the One Body is correct in all their knowledge?! Just who among all His children has everything figured out?! Who in His church is totally without mistakes or errors?! Yes, I can see a few out there raising their hands, saying, "ME!!" Thanks for listening, my friend!

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I've just finished reading "Rebels Against Religion," and it gave me a sick sense of despair to realize that John Waddey is still clinging to the traditional teachings of man that I myself was once immersed in "lock, stock and barrel." I still have many, many sermons that I prepared years ago that I can now no longer, with a clear conscience, preach! Brother Al, I like to compare us (i.e., you and me) to Paul and Apollos: one plants, the other waters, and God gives the increase (not that I, being the least in the Family of God, even remotely approach the stature of either you, Paul or Apollos). You start the thinking/reasoning process with your Reflections, and then I take those truths and attempt to lead others out of the bondage of misconceptions about the "Church." I love you, dear brother! May God bless you in your ministry!

From a Reader in Canada:

Bro. Al, I haven't written much lately, but please don't regard this as an indication that I have stopped enjoying your wonderful material. After reading this last article about the legalistic John Waddey, I am amazed that more people don't perceive that men like him have nothing constructive to offer. They only divide and confuse, destroying the ability of their followers to think for themselves. Brother, as always, you are on the first line of my "love and thankful for" list. God has truly blessed you with the ability to teach us all with such a simple clarity that builds us up as individual disciples, and also gives us courage to think and question and challenge. I love you, brother!!

From an Elder in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Several here are curious as to whether John Waddey ever offered any response or gave any answers to the challenges and questions you posed to him in your last issue of Reflections. If he did, we would be interested in hearing what they are. As you are probably more than aware, John Waddey is still remembered by many faithful brethren here in Tennessee because of his sad "exploits" in the past. Thanks, brother, and please continue to be bold in your exposure of such false teachers.

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, The only places I know of where Jesus Christ even spoke His thoughts on worship were in John 4, where He said we must worship God in spirit and truth [**see my studies of this passage in Reflections #112 and #252 -- Al Maxey**], and also in Matthew 15, where Jesus characterized it "vain" (or empty) worship for one to teach as God's commands the traditions, precepts and/or doctrines of men. He also stated, in several places, that we are only to worship God. He spoke of judgment being based on "knowing" Him (I take that to mean relationship based), not based on what religion one professes. Mr. Waddey mentioned "change agents." My personal thinking has been for some time that Jesus was one!! The apostle Paul was one! As were the rest of the apostles, and as should we all be! It seems that all proclaimers of the Good News should be in the business of promoting change! And if one makes a close examination of the reformers (Luther and all the rest), as well as the leaders of the "Restoration Movement" (or the "American Reformation") such as Stone and the Campbells, were they not all change agents challenging the status quo within the various religious traditions and simply seeking to return to a solid focus on Jesus?

Men have taken the Savior's words on worshipping in spirit and truth, and have added to them all manner of human laws, rules, doctrines, dogmas, traditions and conditions. I do not believe the early church would even recognize the church of today!! On the flip side of that, if someone were suddenly transported back in time to Corinth, for example, that too would be a total shock to their refined religious sensitivities. The early church was able to cross cultural, geographical and racial boundaries with the Gospel without burdening the many recipients of that Good News with a lot of unnecessary traditional baggage. The Good News was simply communicated in light of the true freedom that we have in Christ. We today have complicated far too many things with our many human rules and expectations. Our traditions and methods need to change as culture and society changes, which can be done without ever compromising our faith in the Lord or our service within His kingdom. Keep up the good work, brother.

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