6 Nov 2020
The church lies at the centre of God’s eternal purpose. Christ gave Himself for us not only to ‘redeem us from all wickedness’ but also to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good’.
From the beginning, God desired to have His habitation with humankind. It started with God creating a beautiful garden in Eden where He walked with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8). Tragically, however, their sin polluted the perfect paradise, banishing them from God’s presence (Gen. 3:23).
God determined to restore this habitation – first in a portable tabernacle ( a beautifully constructed tent (Exod. 25:8-9)); and then within a stone temple, built and completed by Solomon in 959 BC, on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 3:1). The temple was destroyed after the Babylonian took Israel into exile; reconstruction was later initiated under orders of King Cyrus of Persia, and supervised by Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:1-2:2). Following further destruction, King Herod the Great ordered the rebuilding of the last temple in 19 BC – it took 46 years to complete (John 2:20).
Both tabernacle and later temple were significant symbols of God’s presence among His people. The Apostle Paul, bridges the gap between the old and the new, reaffirming God’s ongoing desire to live with His people. But rather than using a temple of stone, He lives in a temple of flesh, blood and bone (1 Cor. 6:19-20) – temporary dwellings until we see Him face to face in the new heaven and new earth where perfection is restored, with Jesus as the cornerstone, not of a stone temple, but of all believers of every nation, being built together to become a dwelling place in which God lives by His Spirit Eph. 2:19-22).
God chose us and created us to be a living temple (the church) in which He can live by His Spirit – we are His body, His temple – God makes His dwelling in us individually and together as a body (His church). By His Spirit, God makes His presence among His people in the church and ultimately, this would be consummated and perfected in the new heaven and new earth. We see how great a calling we have as His people and the great and awesome privilege and responsibility we have as God’s ‘temple’.
The church is the chosen and beloved people of God, His own special treasure, the covenant community to whom He has committed Himself for ever, engaged in continuous worship of God and in compassionate outreach to the world, a haven of love and peace, and a pilgrim people headed for the eternal city. But in reality we who claim to be the church are often constantly bickering with each other, uninspired in our worship, concerned with our maintenance than our mission, struggling and stumbling along, needing constant rebuke and exhortation. What has gone wrong essentially with the church? What are the challenges facing the church which cause her to fall short of what she was and is meant to be? We are to declare and do what God has sent us to declare and do; instead we end up answering questions nobody is asking, scratching where nobody is itching, supplying goods for which there is no demand – in other words, the church has become totally irrelevant to the world around us.
The people in the world are searching for ultimate reality beyond the material universe. It is a protest against secularization, that is, an attempt to eliminate God from His own world. It is a recognition that materialism cannot satisfy the human spirit. In consequence, people are looking for another, a transcendent, reality; they seek it everywhere – through transcendent meditation (TM), the eastern religions, through music, through a drug-induced higher consciousness, through modern cults, New Age speculations, dangerous experiments with the occult and the fantasies of science fiction. The quest for transcendence ( a form of ‘spirituality’) is a challenge to the quality of the church’s public worship. Does the church offer what people are craving – the element of ‘transcendence’, the ‘fear of God’, the sense of awe and the greatness of the glory of almighty God in our worship? Too much of our worship is ritual without reality, form without power, fun without fear, religion without God. Our worship services should be such that true transcendence can be found and a close encounter with the living God enjoyed; believers can say with Jacob, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it,’ and unbelievers present will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’
There is much in our world which not only smothers our sense of transcendence, but also diminishes our sense of personal significance, our belief that life has any meaning. In the view of many in this modern world, God is dead, everything else has died with Him. Because there is no God, there are now no values or ideals either, no moral laws or standards, no purposes or meanings. The striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. Meaninglessness leads to boredom, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency and even suicide.The quest for significance is a challenge to the quality of the church’s teachings. Millions of people do not know who they really are, nor that they have any significance or worth. The church’s urgent challenge is to tell them who they are, to enlighten them about their identity, that is, to teach without compromise the full biblical doctrine of our human being -its depravity, yes, but also its dignity. We Christians believe in the intrinsic worth of human beings, because of our doctrines of creation and redemption. God made man in His own image and endowed him with rational, moral, social, creative and spiritual faculties which make man like Him and unlike the animals. Human beings are Godlike beings; as a result of the fall our Godlikeness has been distorted, but it has not been destroyed. Christian teaching on the dignity and worth of human beings is of the utmost importance today, not only for the sake of our own self-image and self-respect, but even more for the welfare of society. When human beings are devalued, everything in society turns sour and negative. Human life then seems not worth living, because it is scarcely human any longer.
In today’s world, we are living in an era of social disintegration. People are finding it increasingly difficult to relate to one another. We go on seeking the very thing which eludes us – love in a loveless world. People today are hungry for love, for understanding love.. which is the answer to loneliness, despair and hopelessness. They need someone who will understand and respect them. We all know that love is indispensable to our humanness. Love is what life is all about and people are seeking it everywhere. Unfortunately, some seek it in the wrong ways; some experimented by abandoning the long institutions of marriage and the family in an attempt to find in this way the freedom and spontaneity of love; others ended up in lust, passions without true satisfaction and true love, broken relationships and tragic ends. The world’s seeking for love provides the challenge to the quality of the church’s fellowship. We proclaim that God is love and that Jesus Christ offers true community. We claim that the gospel helps to create a society, even a new humanity, in which racial, national, social and sexual barriers have been abolished. But the great tragedy is that the church has consistently failed to live up to its own ideals. Generally speaking, there is little acceptance, little caring and little supportive love among us in the church. The church is one place many do not bother to check out because they are sure that they will not find love there; those who have tried have left, disillusioned.
People are openly and actually looking for the very things that Jesus Christ is offering! Can the church be radically renewed by the Spirit and the Word of God that it offers an experience of transcendence through its worship, of significance through its teaching, and community through its fellowship? Or does the church function like any other club, where people of similar interests ‘click’ together and ignore the rest, and there is much that is lacking in terms of care, kindness and love, and where there is just superficial ritual, form and religious cliche without ‘life’ and spiritual nourishment?