Part 1 - The End of Church as we know it?
Randall Mooney, Th.D.
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Part 1: The End of Church as we Know It?
Part 1: The End of Church as we Know It?
Today we mark the third Sunday since we began the current exile from our much-loved church buildings. So far, we’ve learned to hone our media skills and push the internet gospel to new heights. However, we must remember that despite using their systems for good reasons, the giants of the web are not friends of the gospel. Try to preach or write something they deem offensive and you’ll soon discover their mission is different from yours. Unfortunately, the land of the free, is now more edited, regulated and monitored than ever before, and it’s only going to get worse. Sadly enough, the masses are playing along instead of pushing back.
As we continue experiencing what many are hoping does not become the new norm for the church, millions are longing for the day we get to return to business as usual for thousands of congregations. But the opportunity appears to be pushed out even further as the President extends the exile to April 30th, eroding our dreams of Easter Sunday services. When did we decide that buildings define church? Buildings are places for gathering. From churches to football stadiums, the building serves a purpose. The building is not the purpose. Football stadiums don’t play football, players do. Church buildings don’t worship God, people do. If the only way to maintain your relationship with God is in a building, then you only have a relationship to the building rather than to God.
In Matthew 24:1-2, we read, “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’” (NKJV)
That building did in fact get leveled in 70 AD, by the same Romans that permitted it to be upgraded and expanded by King Herod of Judea, beginning in 20 BC, and completed in 4 BC. This was the second temple, which Cyrus the Great, a Persian emperor, allowed the Jews to rebuild from 538 BC to 515 BC, after Solomon’s temple, built in the tenth century, was completely destroyed by the army of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Interestingly enough, since its total destruction in 586 BC, the exact location of the first temple is not known, nor had any artifacts from the first temple ever been unearthed by archaeologists. However, in 1999, people began noticing an underground construction project on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and witnessed trucks carrying debris away from the site. A group of people founded the Temple Mount Sifting Project and claim to be finding evidence of many artifacts while sifting through the dust and rubble.
Back to Matthew 24. Why didn’t Jesus appear to be upset when he predicted this dismal future of the temple? Why didn’t he tell his disciples to fast and pray that God would intervene and prevent it from happening? It was obviously upsetting to some Jews, because they brought up some of his comments about the temple at the crucifixion. Could it be because he knew the building would no longer be the temple, that we would? He did know that after his sacrifice there would no longer need to be a blood sacrifice in the temple. Which triggers another thought, have our buildings become places of unnecessary financial sacrifice rather than places filled with the Glory of God, carried in by His people? While we’re anxiously waiting for the day we get to go back to the building and continue having church as usual, have we learned anything God wants us to learn during this exile? This is not the first time God has exiled His own people in order to teach them a lesson.
So, what is our lesson? What is a church? The Jews, and many Christians have been preoccupied for centuries with the rebuilding of the temple. Jews have longed for it to be rebuilt since its destruction in 70 AD. To what end and purpose? To resume sacrifice after the perfect sacrifice said it was finished while still upon the cross. Is their ancient building irrelevant to the purpose of God? Are our modern buildings just as irrelevant? There are church congregations all over the world that have never had a building dedicated to the purpose of gathering alone. It is particularly prevalent in the US that buildings have taken on value over substance. Can the American church learn to thrive without structure and structures? We will soon know.
Finally, without trying to confuse you with Greek, the original text of Jesus’ words offers something to seriously think about. When he said, “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down,” the implication was a dissolution, to come to naught, a breaking up of a journey. So, seriously, have we come to the end of our journey as pertains to our ways of doing God’s work? If so, what does He want from his church going forward?