In the first two articles of this series, we have examined the context of the account of the money changers in the Temple (John 2) and whether or not our church buildings should be viewed in the same manner as the Temple of Old Testament times. Today, we wrap up this series by studying the concept of worship as it relates to the Temple and our modern church gatherings.
What is the Correlation Between Worship in the Temple and the Church Gathering?
The Bible gives us a wonderful history of worship. We were created in the image of God as perfect worshippers of our Creator. Unfortunately in the ultimate act of self-worship, we sinned, and ever since, mankind has had a major worship problem. In setting apart a people of His own, God gave the Jews the ability to worship Him through keeping His law and sacrificing in the Temple. All of this pointed to the One who would fulfill the law and be the once-and-for-all sacrifice. While the Jews had a shadow of things to come, we see clearly that all worship is now in and through Jesus Christ. In Him, we now have the substance of what the Temple was once the shadow. God, in the midst of His people in the Temple, is now in the midst of His people in our hearts and lives.
When the woman at the well was talking to Jesus about the proper place to worship, Jesus said the following to her:
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. For the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
Jesus has also made it clear that the only way to the Father is through the Son. For a Christian to worship in spirit and truth is to worship in and through Jesus alone. In reality, worship is engaging with our God on His terms alone, and the Father’s terms require that the Son is our only way. The Temple is out of commission.
The church is made up of believers in Jesus Christ—not bricks and mortar. Christ is the better, greater tabernacle. We come together to be edified and encouraged to serve Him more effectively. Indeed, the primary purpose of the church gathering is to be equipped and edified. This is brought out in 1 Corinthians 12–14, where the Apostle Paul instructs believers to have orderly gatherings whose purpose is the edification and the building up of the saints.
If we truly understood the purpose for the gathering of the saints, as borne out in 1 Corinthians 12:7, 25; 14:4–5, 12, 17, 26, 31, then we might change the name of our gatherings from worship services to “edification services.” Here worshippers come together corporately and are built up through songs of praise, ordinances, and fellowship around the teaching of the Word of God, and there is no denying that there is something truly special about the gathering of the saints.1
The New Testament does not tell Christians that we must come to a certain place on a certain day to worship God, like the Jews did under the old covenant. We do not need to go to a building to worship. Instead, we gather as the church because we are already worshippers through Christ. Neither do we come together to sacrifice as the Jews did in the Old Testament, but we come because of the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ. We do not come to the house of God; we are the house of God. We do not seek God through a priest; we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).2
While religious terminology has been used broadly, we must be careful to define what we mean by certain terms. For example, appeals will be made by well-intentioned pastors for people to come to the altar, but this definition has changed. This invitation usually refers to the idea of coming before the body of believers and publically confessing one’s desire to give his or her life to Christ. However, we need to realize that originally the altar was a place where sacrifices were performed. Since Christ’s sacrifice was final, the altar, as defined biblically, has become obsolete.
So why do so many churches use unhelpful terms? In fact, why call the Sunday morning gathering a “worship service”? The misunderstanding of terms like “altar” and “Sunday worship” have reduced the concept of worship merely to a Sunday morning event (or even the 20 minutes of “worship”—music—before the sermon). In fact, there are many unhelpful terms consistently used by Christians that have caused us to place undue importance on physical and aesthetic things rather than on our hearts and lives before God.
Many churches call their auditorium a “sanctuary,” and treat it as if it were a holy place. We fail to realize that when the people leave the building, it is just another empty room. The true sanctuary is the dwelling place of our Lord in the hearts and lives of His children—the true church. We need to understand that our church gatherings are to be times when we are to be equipped for spiritual battle and trained to fulfill the Great Commission given to us by our Lord and Savior (Matthew 28:18–20).
So let us ask the final question in this series: when Answers in Genesis comes to a church with resources to help people answer the critics of the gospel, does this have anything to do with an attempt to commercialize worship? No, not in the slightest. We are here to support the church gathering in its purpose to edify and strengthen worshippers and to reach out to those who may become worshippers. We come to give them even greater confidence in God’s Word and pray that non-Christians will receive God’s free gift of salvation.
Church buildings are not the same as the Temple. The curtain has been torn in two and Christ is now the free and only access to worshipping our Creator God.
In a time when our churches are losing our children at an alarming rate (see the AiG book Already Gone), and in a culture that is becoming less Christian every day, we are grateful that the Lord has provided us with such incredible answers from His Word on how to live in an anti-God culture. The world is penetrating the minds of Christians, especially younger believers, with humanist dogma through various media. We face a barrage of humanist propaganda that markets secular ideology through television, schools, movies, and many more avenues.
We are so thankful to be in a ministry which defends the gospel of Jesus Christ and supports the church with God-glorifying resources that proclaim the foundational truths of the Bible. The church needs to be thoroughly equipped for the battle in our increasingly secular culture and to lead people to Christ.
Sadly, AiG is often denied the opportunity to equip congregations because of a false view of the church and Temple. Sunday morning services are sometimes the only opportunity the church has to reach the majority of its people. The culture’s influence on the flock compared to the church’s influence is terribly disproportionate in most Christian families.
So, come on church! Let’s not just welcome the provision of Bible-defending, equipping resources, but let’s actually see pastors encouraging their people to get the resources that will help them to defend the faith against the daily indoctrination of the secular onslaught. (And we praise the Lord for the church leaders who have already been doing this.)
The message we really should get from John 2 about the money changers is to ask ourselves whether we view our faith with a heart to worship our Savior and Creator through His great sacrifice or whether we see our faith through a consumer’s mindset and as a form of transaction to get us to heaven. If Christ were to walk into our hearts, would He be at home, or would He pull out a whip and turn our tables?