I will never visit the Western Wall, a remnant of King Herod’s temple complex in Jerusalem. I won’t insult God by sticking a written prayer in a crack. He hears my prayers no matter where I am. The Western Wall is no more holy than the rest of the world.
King Solomon’s temple was built c. 1000 BC and lasted less than 450 years. Babylon destroyed it in 586 BC. Why? The Jews had become idolaters, so God removed his glory from the temple (Ezekiel 8:3-16, 10:18-19). God had warned Solomon that he would do just that if the people worshipped other gods (1 Kings 9:6-9). The promise of “forever” had a price – obedience (9:3). Zerubbabel’s temple, expanded by Herod the Great, was built c. 516 BC and lasted nearly 600 years. Rome destroyed it in AD 70. Why? The Jews had again become idolaters, this time of the temple. They didn’t know the time of their Messiah’s appearance either (Luke 19:44).
The Jews arrested and then accused Jesus Christ of wanting to destroy the temple (Matthew 26:61). They wrongly had Paul arrested for bringing a Greek into the temple area (Acts 21:27-29). The Jews stoned Stephen for insulting it (7:48-53). I doubt any Jew today would want to enter heaven. It has no temple. Instead, the “Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22).* What’s a Jew to do?
The Jews had a temple in Jerusalem for about 1000 years, less than 450 as a nation. They’ll have one again for just seven years (or maybe only 3.5) during the anti-Christ’s reign. So why do they idolize the temple? Israel had a roving tabernacle in the wilderness. It lasted 400 years through the reigns of the nation’s first two kings, Saul and David. Yet Moses, God’s instrument of deliverance from Egypt, saw God face to face (Exodus 33:11, Deuteronomy 34:10). The patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph – had no tabernacle and didn’t need one. The tabernacle and temple were never permanent, just object lessons for Israel to recognize the coming Messiah as they learned to worship God.
Sadly, the Jews turned it into an idol. They valued a building made by human hands more than the God they worshipped. They couldn’t see the new dispensation in Christ: when the temple’s earthly purpose would be fulfilled and the human body would become the living temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16) as believers worshipped God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). They rejected the glorious truth that Christ by his Spirit would dwell in his people forever (2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3). Yet the Spirit cannot dwell in man without a final sacrifice for sin. There’s no Pentecost without the Incarnation and Good Friday.
When Jesus died, the veil covering the most holy place in the temple was split from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). It and daily sacrifices weren’t necessary anymore. When people turn from idols to Christ, the veil covering their hearts is removed (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). Yet after Jesus died, the Jews either repaired or made a new veil. For 40 years, they also needlessly sacrificed lambs on the altar. By rebuilding what God had destroyed, the Jews became transgressors (Galatians 2:18).
Nothing of human origin is permanent. This is why the everlasting God “does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48). Jesus’ disciples admired the temple, but he prophesied that it would be torn down (Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus worshipped God more than the building, even after he cleansed it (John 2:15-17). Do we? We ridicule Jews and Roman Catholics for idolizing temples and churches, but are we any different? I don’t think so.
The true church is the body of Christ – roving temples of believers. We no longer need to meet and worship God on a mountain or in Jerusalem (John 4:21). Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered … in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Two or three, twenty or thirty: are mega-churches necessary? No. Should we even build a building? Probably not.
After Christ’s ascension, Jewish believers met in one another’s homes for meals and worshipped in the temple every day (Acts 2:46). They mingled with Gentile believers in their homes because the latter couldn’t go to the temple. Outside Jerusalem, Gentile believers had “church” in their homes (16:13, Romans 16:5, 10-11; Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2). Under Roman persecution, they met in catacombs underground. Early Christians worshipped God when and wherever possible.
Yet we have made “church” a physical building that even the devout only visit 2-3 times per week. This is an unbiblical aberration. The new dispensation in Christ was meant to abolish this pattern, yet we’ve re-established it. There is no place I’d rather be on Sunday morning than church. Yet I know this practice is not enough spiritually.
We also treat the church like a nursing mother. We put our children in Sunday school and take them to VBS, wrongly believing it is the church’s duty to teach our children about Jesus. We forget that the church is a supplement. The believer’s only “nursing mother” is the Holy Spirit through the Word. We also try to grow churches biologically. Yet the church is a spiritual entity and grows only through conversion. VBS and Sunday School won’t guarantee that.
Regardless of what sinners and some liberal Christians believe, doctrine matters. Some churches are kosher, while others are cults. I will never recommend the Seventh-Day Adventist, Latter-Day Saints (Mormon), Unitarian Universalist, and United Pentecostal cults to anyone. The doctrines they teach are unbiblical and I wish God would abolish them.
Still, some Christians confuse “church” with “denomination.” They cling to the Methodist, Reformed, Baptist, or Pentecostal label while offending believers in other denominations. The Baptist-affiliated Moody Bible Institute and LifeWay Press won’t hire anyone who isn’t a member of their church. They ignore confessions of faith, i.e. such a member may be unconverted and a true convert from another denomination may be a good employee. Some Pentecostals refuse to work with other denominations in foreign missions. If a Pentecostal church isn’t there yet, they insist on setting one up!
I think Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other denominations had the Holy Spirit in the past but not anymore. Why? The Spirit was offended and left, just like God left the temple. I used to think only Trinitarian Pentecostal churches had the Spirit. Yet I’ve attended two Baptist churches recently that have more spiritual life than the Pentecostal churches I grew up in.
Some Christians ridicule church-hopping; I do it all the time. Why? My only allegiance is to Jesus Christ – not a denomination, church, or pastor. The Holy Spirit is like the wind (John 3:8). He moves through space and time. Do we? Some churches are dead spiritually, yet we cling to them. Here’s the truth: if a church teaches wrong doctrine, I won’t support it with my time or money. If a church is spiritually dead, I feel no qualms about leaving. I have walked out of many churches mid-service because they were dead or corrupt.
What will happen if true believers throw off the denominational label and worship together? Or they meet in public places and private homes rather than churches? We will say like the Jews about Jesus, “You have heard his blasphemy” (Matthew 26:65)? Will we be cut to the heart and stone them, as the Jews stoned Stephen (Acts 7:54, 57)? Or will we say like the Jews about Paul, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live” (22:22)?
When a local church, pastor, or denomination trumps conversion and holiness, then we have idolized the “church.” Physical churches are buildings made by human hands. Like the Jewish temples, they’ll be destroyed one day – possibly by evil governments, definitely by God. Everything we see today will be destroyed in the Great Tribulation. Then the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ, will come. After that, we’ll enter heaven for eternity. It won’t have a temple or a church (Revelation 21:22). Are we ready for that? I wonder.
Jesus died and rose again so we can be transformed into his image through the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we worship anyone or anything else, we become like physical idols – deaf, dumb, blind, and immobile. We also become spiritually corrupt. “The idol church” is spiritually immobile today. She’s deaf to the cries of sinners, mute when she should be preaching the Word with power, and blind to the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3). This church is also full of spiritual wickedness – homosexuality, abortion, witchcraft, and drunkenness to name a few.
The church finds her identity in Christ alone as his bride (Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 21:9, 22:17). Yet she’s idolized herself. Only God can save her now.
* All Scripture verses come from the NKJV.