Posted in architecture, church, encouragement, new testament, temple

Of church buildings and temples

I’m reading 1 Corinthians 6. The verses at the end of the chapter, 19-20 are as follows:

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

We are familiar with that passage and no doubt can quote it. In this portion of the chapter Paul is urging the sexually aware and culturally lascivious Corinthian believers to forgo sexual immorality. He said that because the Holy Spirit is inside us, and that we are living temples of Christ, when we sin sexually we make Christ complicit in it in a way that no other sin does. (1 Corinthians 6:15).

In reading my commentary by John R. Rice, he went further in explaining. His focus in this paragraph is not on the body in which the Spirit dwells, making it the temple of God, but on buildings.

What’s in a church building? If you’re an Old Testament worshiper, everything, absolutely everything. If you are a New Testament worshiper, nothing. Absolutely nothing.

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We know that God spent an inordinate amount of ink and inspiration in the Old Testament recording the specifics of the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple’s construction. We have an excellent idea of what they both looked like because of the monumental meticulousness in the OT regarding its dimensions, specifications, and adornments. Some of this information can be read in 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2, Exodus 38, and so on.

The Disciples looked upon the temple in Mark 13:1 and exclaimed over its majestic beauty. There is even much ink given to the construction, location, and adornments of the Temple in the Millennium Age (Ezekiel 40-41), even down to the number of cubits wide each door will be. Revelation 11:19 even mentioned God’s temple in heaven opened up and the ark of the covenant being there.

But did you ever wonder why in all the New Testament, no specificity or even reference is given over to the construction, location, adornments of any church building? None whatsoever?

Here is John R. Rice:

It is significant that not a single church building is mentioned in the New Testament. Were there any church buildings? If so, God was particularly careful that no one should revere or honor them. God does not live in church houses. Many a home where Christians pray and read God’s word and delight in His presence is more nearly a house of God than the church house. It is wrong, then, “to speak of reverence for the house of God.” We should respect the rights of other people. We should see that services are decent and in order, without confusion. We should respect the man of God. But God has no temple on earth but a human body… ~John R. Rice, The Church of God at Corinth: Commentary in 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1973

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We note that the disciples met in the Upper Room after the crucifixion (Acts 1:13, Acts 20:8). When Apollos was expounding in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside to explain the Way more accurately. The verse doesn’t say where they took him, just “aside.” In Acts 19:1 Paul arrived at the interior of Ephesus and found some believers there. The verses don’t say where. We know that early believers initially met in massive numbers in the outer court of the temple. (Acts 2:46). After Paul’s discipleship grew, he quit the synagogue and reasoned “in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” for two years. (Acts 19:9).

We read in Acts 11:25-26 that

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

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Here Paul stayed a year, but again, no big deal is made of the building or place where they met. The church grew hugely, in fact this was where the followers of the Way were first called Christian, and yet…biblical silence on the building or specific location where this happened.

There were house churches. Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 10:6), believers were gathered at Mary’s house to pray (Acts 12:12), Lydia had a house church, (Acts 16:40), and so did Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3,5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Nympha hosted a church at her house, (Colossians 4:15). Philemon and Apphia had a house church. (Philemon 1:1-2).

We have absolutely no idea as to the size of these house churches, how regularly they gathered, what their gatherings were like.

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What we do know is that the early believers met in homes, lecture halls, the great outdoors, stadiums, synagogues, wherever they could. Even at the end of the New Testament when Jesus dictates His letters to the seven churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea they must have had a known building since presumably the letter-carrier would have known where to bring the letter. Yet we do not have any specificity of the 7 churches’ size, dimensions, adornments, etc., unlike the Old Testament’s attention to the details of the worship house.

This is because WE are the temple.

Churches today meet in rented school gymnasiums, storefronts, homes, brick buildings with steeples, clapboard structures large and small, majestic buildings, traditional edifices with bell towers, or simple square humble dwellings. It doesn’t matter what the building looks like as long as the temple of people that are gathered are holy and worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Or own church was founded in 1892 and is brick with bell tower, with solid wooden pews, hymn-holders, red carpet, tin ceilings, a pulpit and other traditional architecture. I love it. I’m comfortable there. I love the tradition and solidity of the permanent location of a place that’s immediately recognizable as “worship place.” Yet our church voted to move to a larger facility down the road which is currently a factory by day. The Youth meet there every Wednesday night, and we hold special events intermittently there as we make the transition.

The Old Testament is loud and noisy about the Tabernacle and the Temple. The New Testament is silent on church houses. The obvious variety of the structures in which they met isn’t the point. The point is that they, being the temple of God, met. And they did so continuously, joyously, even when persecution came. They gathered, prayed, baptized, learned, exhorted and proclaimed the Good News from lecture halls, homes, stadiums, hillsides, and temple courts. They met, these people who are the temple of God, they met. The building does not matter. We are His temple. This is what matters-

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)

Posted in ben ari, israel, messiah, messianic jews, new testament

Israeli MK Ben Ari tears up New Testament and throws it in trash

Missionaries in Israel proclaim the Gospel just like they do everywhere else on other mission fields. The issue is sensitive in Israel, though, and some laws have been passed to hinder distribution of mission materials, including the New Testament.

There is much tension regarding Christian missionaries who are proselytizing in Israel in and among Jewish people. After all, Israel is the only nation in the world to have been established (again) on the basis of their religious heritage and not race, geography, economics or any other attribute.

This news article from June 2012 states,

Yad L’Achim Gets Missionary Ad Pulled from Israel Radio‘: ‘Quick action by Yad L’Achim forced Israel Radio to pull a cleverly disguised missionary ad from its Russian-language programming.”

Therefore there’s much open hostility by Jews against Christians, particularly against “Messianic Jews.” Sometimes Messianic Jews are targets of terrorism from Jews just as much as Jews are targets from Muslims.

There is an enormous amount of suspicion and hostility leveled against Christian missionaries and evangelists. The website at Jewish Israel makes this statement:

“Due to the numerous political, economic and security hardships facing both Israel and the Diaspora, large sectors of the Jewish community in Israel have become dependent upon evangelical Christian political influence and charity. While much of this support appears to be benign and benevolent – and some is indeed sincere – Israel’s embracing and accepting of Christian fundamentalist sponsored activities and philanthropy has been exacting a serious cost and adversely affecting both religious and secular individuals and groups throughout the private and public sectors of Israeli society. Our Jewish values and heritage are being compromised.”

As most Christian Missionaries walk a fine line between hostility and acceptance, and as each mission field is fraught with its own particular demands and challenges to proselytizing, so it is in Israel.

In this article from the Israel daily newspaper Haaretz from 2010, we read of an “Aggressive Missionary Campaign in Central Israel

Note the language the reporter uses. It is snide, sneering, biased, and he makes frequent use of journalistic tricks like “scare quotes”. Here is a sample:

“Jews for Jesus” in Israel brags that it has launched a missionary campaign in “an area that has never had a significant evangelical activity since 1948” – namely, Tel Aviv’s satellite cities.” Uses the word brags.

“Different groups spoke Hebrew, English, or Russian, providing their “services” for all sectors.” The word services is in scare quotes.

“The missionaries’ latest gimmick is the placing of thousands of “traffic tickets” on cars”… the word gimmick is a bias word.

“Deceptive tactics of this nature have become the accepted protocol in the evangelical Christian movement, writes Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz”…deceptive and tactics are both heavily biased words that leave a taint in the reader’s mind.

“Rabbi Shalom Lifshitz said, “Now is the time to demand a change to the missionary law, and to put a stop to this wild, criminal missionary activity that leads to tragic results.”’

Needless to say, Christian Missionaries in Israel have a hard row to how.

And that brings us to the laws Israel has instituted to control, limit or even prevent missionary activity. Although the laws at present there appear to be only two laws being enforced which limit missionary activity in Israel:
1) No one can offer a material inducement for someone to change their religion
2) No one can discuss changing religion with a minor (under 18 years of age) without their parents’ permission,

…the facts on the ground are that there is much discrimination and hostility against missionaries and Christian materials. Make no mistake, when it is stated that there are laws and guidelines against missionaries, the focus is really on the Christian Evangelicals.

With this context in mind, here is an article reporting on how new testaments mailed to the Israeli Congress (Knesset) were reacted to. While most ‘quietly dispose’ of the materials, one Minister of Knesset reacted violently. This happened three days ago. Jerusalem Post reports.

“Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization. The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a “Book of Testaments,” which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time.”

Gasp! In Hebrew!

One MK in particular had a more violent reaction than others. He is Michael Ben Ari, acknowledged to be an extremist- on the Jewish side. The Hebrew daily newspaper Maariv reported Tuesday that Knesset (Parliament) member Michael Ben Ari deliberately tore up the New Testament and threw it in the trash. He posed for photos while he did it and then posted the pictures.

According to Maariv, the shipment of the “Christian holy book sent to all members of the Assembly with a blessing caused uproar. “MK Michael Ben Ari tore the pages of the book in protest and said: “This is a provocation. … He explained it: “This abominable book, motivated murder of millions of Jews Bainkoosetzih and centers of car-da-fe.” claims “a provocation of the Church missionary ugly, no doubt the place of the book and his handlers into the trap of history.”

That last excerpt was Google translated from the article. Google had a hard time with the Hebrew. But you get the idea. MK Ben Ari believes that Christian holy materials are a desolation to their religion, the catalyst for Jewish persecution, and a threat to their nation.

On Wednesday, there began the expected outrage against Ben Ari’s outrage. MKs are calling for Ben Ari to be censured. Israel has been battling perceptions of their low tolerance for Christian Missionaries for a long time (a perception that may indeed be warranted) that Ben Ari’s action only serves to highlight.

So why this hostility to the Christian witness? Usually the case is because of 2 Corinthians 4:34 which says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

So it is satan who has blinded the non-believer’s mind. However, it is a little different for the Jew. In this case, it is GOD who has blinded them!

Paul wrote in Romans 11, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” (Romans 11:7-10).

He continues the thought in verse 25- “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25).

Individual Jews can come to saving knowledge of Christ, as anyone can. Joel C. Rosenberg is a prominent example of one man with a Jewish heritage could accept by faith that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. However, because they are partially hardened, Jewish individuals accept Jesus through massive odds. Widely, and as a nation, not at all. Not yet.

Source, public domain bible clipart

God is not finished with Israel. He will return His attention to them when the full number of the Gentiles is fulfilled (Rom 11:25) and deal with His rebellious but beloved people. In the end of the end of the Tribulation they will cry out to Him and accept Him as Messiah. (Zechariah 12:10). Jesus proclaimed, ““For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” ” (Matthew 23:39). They do, and He comes!

All Israel will be saved at the appointed time: “And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;” (Romans 11:26).

Blessed is our Lord who is mighty to save, mighty to preserve, mighty to remember. Until that time, the road ahead for Jews, Christians, and everyone else will be fraught with hostility and rising persecution and divisions. One thing we can do is be aware of the tensions, we can pray for missionaries in Israel, we can pray for the zealous but mistaken Jews like Ben Ari. We can pray for men like Ben Ari who hold in their hands the key to eternal life, the New Testament story of Jesus the Messiah, but continue to reject the Good News. We can praise Him for the missionaries who constantly attempt to get the News in front of all people in Israel using all methods at their disposal, whether spoken or written. We should plead with God to make these materials more widely distributed and more available. Because…they will soon need it.

Posted in God, new testament, old testament

A Tale of Two Gods?

In this corner, with the wizened face and long white beard, God, also known as Ancient of Days and sometimes as simply I AM. Aged, ancient, and some say, outdated, audience, give it up for God in the white robe, the Old Testament God!

In this corner, with the scarred face and hands, smallish stature and nothing beautiful or majestic to attract us to Him, don’t underestimate this Man of Sorrows, Jesus! Give it up for the man in the crimson-stained robe, the New Testament God!

Through this playful anecdote I hoped to bring to your mind a vivid picture of what I see as a problem today in the mainline churches. They see that there are two Gods, an “Old Testament God” and a “New Testament God.” This reveals a basic misunderstanding of who God is in both testaments. He is the same God. The Old Testament God as He has revealed Himself is a holy God concerned with sin, redemption, and righteous living for the sake of His holy name. In many, many OT chapters, He reveals His profound love for His creation, man, in promising a better future and adhering to those promises again and again.

In the New Testament, God as He has revealed Himself through Jesus is a holy God concerned with sin, redemption, and righteous living for the sake of His holy name. While throughout many, many NT chapters, His Spirit reveals Jesus’s profound love for man, His creation, in promising a better future and adhering to those promises again and again by dying on the cross and resurrecting, He also promises wrath. Just read Revelation. It could be just as factually stated that the ‘OT God’ is a God of love and the ‘NT Jesus’ is a God of wrath. Think about it.

In the entire bible there is wrath and there is love. There are plagues and there is redemption. There are covenants kept by God and broken by man. There are prophesies made, fulfilled, and to come and there is a hope and a future. There is no Old Testament God and there is no New Testament God. There is just I AM.

In the New Testament we see that the wrath of God is still “being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18). The God who came to earth and cleansed the Temple with a bullwhip (Mark 11:15-19) is the same God who in the Old Testament “abounds in love and exceeding patience” (Exodus 34:6).

Though the Jesus of the New Testament is depicted all too unfortunately as a meek and mild, politically correct good teacher holding love-ins on the hill while making daisy chains, He was not. He directly confronted evil, He pointed fingers, He spoke hard sayings, and when the people left, and they did, (John 6:66) He let them go.

God is the same God as He lovingly and compassionately reveals Himself throughout the 66 books of the bible. He is love, He is wrath, but utmost, He is HOLY. His concern for His people is of our sin, and repentance. There is no comparative religion, there is only the superlative religion (L. Ravenhill) and there is no OT God and no NT God, there is only God. He is unchanging. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” James 1:15. And deep down, aren’t we relieved that there is no difference in our God from one covenant to the next?

He reveals Himself to us in various ways. We know of Him through the the creation (Rom 1:18), directly person to person (Gen 3:8, Gen 5:22, Ex 33:11; Adam, Eve, Enoch, Moses), through the prophets, (Heb 1:1), through Jesus (Col 2:9), through his Spirit (2 Tim 3:16), through the Word (John 1:1-5). But though He reveals Himself in various ways, the qualities inherent in that revelation of Himself do not change from covenant to covenant, testament to testament. He remains the same.

If you find yourself saying “Old Testament God” stop for a moment and ponder the gravity of those words. He does not change. He reveals Himself to us as He does and as He will. Is it fair to say ‘OT God’ and ‘NT God’? Is it right? Does it send a good message to hearers? It doesn’t. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8). “I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) Now go read some Old Testament!