I was driving around with my six-year-old step-daughter Leslie the other day. She likes to talk, a lot. She especially likes to make observations about everything she sees. We live in a town that I usually describe this way: “In this town, you can throw a rock in the air and either hit a church or a Chinese restaurant.”
Anyway, Leslie says, “There’s a lot of churches here.”
I said, “That’s for sure.”
She said, “God sure has a lot of houses.”
When I pastored, the phrase “God’s house” used to bother me. You usually hear it when a kid is running through the church and an older member yells out, “No running in God’s house!” Or these days, someone will post a Facebook status, “Great to be in the house of God today.”
So is there a problem with the phrase? Well, it’s cliche, but is it unscriptural? Let’s take a look.
Is there a problem?
I found a great article online written by Peter Ditzel called “Are You Meeting in God’s House?“ He takes a walk through Scripture and deals with the term very well in both testaments. I don’t agree with every exact interpretation, but heck, he wrote a four page deal on it. His analysis is very good and I commend his work to you, especially since I’m relying on his article to do all the heavy lifting on this point.
The bottom line of his article is that “house of God” is a biblical term used to refer to the tabernacle or temple used by the Jews. Christians aren’t to use it because we are technically the house of God as an assembly of believers. Seriously, go read it. Learn something. My horrible two sentence summation doesn’t do him justice.
The reason I always had a problem with the term was for two reasons. One, Acts 7:48 where Luke paraphrases the Old Testament, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says.” (ESV) God just doesn’t live anywhere. He dwells everywhere. Using the term, “God’s house” is kind of a slap in the face to God’s omnipresence.
It was used in a special way in the Old Testament for the dwelling place of His glory, but we have a new covenant.
Second, as a sold out sovereigntist, I just really don’t like the idea of stuffing God in a building. By the way, rabbit trail here. I hate, hate, hate, hate the cliche, “We can’t put God in a box.” Man I hate that. It is so overused and so 1980. Maybe I should blog about that one. But I bet a lot of the people who use that term also say, “God’s house.” You don’t want to put Him in a box, but you want to stuff Him in a building.
Read more after the jump.
Why it might be wrong
Because God really is everywhere. He’s not confined to one place. Hey, I’m about to blow your mind with some expensive seminary learning. If you don’t think you can handle it, click on over to Yahoo! Games (not a paid endorsement) and have some fun. I suggest cribbage or canasta. If you have lived over thirty years of life and don’t know how to play cribbage or canasta, then you should be shipped off to a silo in North Dakota until you do.
You’ve been warned. Anyway, when I went to seminary, I learned that God is not only not confined to space, He’s not confined to time either. Whoa. Seriously, worry warts, that’s why Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow. Because God is already there. He exists in present, past and future, simultaneously. He’s got tomorrow and He’s got it taken care of like He wants it taken care of. Trust Him.
Why it might be okay
Okay, honestly, I seem against calling a church “God’s house.” That seems pretty obvious. I’m about as objective about this as I am when my Razorbacks play LSU. Like I’m sitting there saying, “Yeah, those LSU fans and players are pretty classy.” (Honest apologies to the many LSU fans who read my blog and are really great people.)
But some people will say, “Lighten up, dude! It’s just a name we have for church! Get a grip! It’s been in our Christian language usage for decades. People know the difference between a place where God dwells and a building. We all know that God really doesn’t live there.”
I’m sure that’s right. Let me lighten up for a minute. Yeah, I see that point. If you’re calling it “God’s house” yet explaining the point to your youngster that God doesn’t really live there, stay there, pay rent and whatever, I guess you’re doing well. But I’d rather see people grasp the understanding that we are a church universal. We are a people who gather together and God is with us always. He never leaves us, forsakes us, or stops being there.
I fear that many of our members feel that we go to church on Sunday to consume God. He’s in that building there that we built. So let’s go “see God” like we go see the lion at the zoo. And for the rest of the week, we compartmentalize our lives and leave God out of it because He’s not there. He’s at some building across town that we don’t have to worry about until we get there on Sunday.
Guess what? I do it too. At times in my life, I have not remembered that God is right there, with me. All the time. When I’m depressed, He’s there. When I’m sinning, He’s there. When I need a friend, he’s there. When I’m acting like a fool, He’s there.
He is the ever present God who will never, ever leave us. David got it when he wrote Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
(Psalm 139:1-6 ESV)
That’s the God I love. And I wouldn’t want Him any other way.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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