by Peter Ditzel
In Hebrews 8:1-2, we read, “Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” This is referring to Jesus Christ, our High Priest and minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle set up by God. Notice: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us…. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us…. So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation…. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest [the true sanctuary] by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 9:11-12; 24; 28; 10:19-20).
If our High Priest is the minister of this heavenly sanctuary, if we enter that heavenly sanctuary through His flesh and by His blood, are we not denigrating all He has done to go back to the physical shadows and call a room in a building of wood and bricks a sanctuary?
Some would say we are to call this room the sanctuary because this is the place to worship God. Jesus specifically refuted this. He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:21, 23). God is not worshipped in one place better than in another. God is worshipped in spirit and in truth. Christians do not have a particular place in which they must worship God. And they are not specially sanctified by a particular building or room. Christians are sanctified by Christ dwelling in them through the Holy Spirit and can worship God anywhere.
The next place in the New Testament where “house of God” is mentioned is Hebrews 10:16-25: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” What is the “house of God” here?
Commentators agree that it is the church, the assembly; not a building. In verse 25, we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The Greek word translated as “assembling” in this verse, episunagōgē, is nearly unique to the Bible. The only other place it is used is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,” where it refers to the gathering of the saints at the last day. A similar word, episunagō, is translated “gather together” in Matthew 24:31 and similar passages: “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Quite frankly, despite what we so often hear from the pulpit, it is doubtful that Hebrews 10:25 is talking about attending church. Given the use of the word episunagōgē, it is far more likely talking about not forsaking, as some scoffers have done (see 2 Peter 3), the blessed hope of Christ’s return and our being gathered to Him (the, “and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching,” at the end of the verse adds weight to this understanding).
The last place “house of God” is found is 1 Peter 4:17: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” Again, what is the “house of God” here?
A few commentators say that this is a reference to the temple and the judgment to come on the Jews. But this does not fit the rest of the sentence, which is clearly speaking of the church and believers as contrasted with those who do not obey the Gospel. Again, I believe this to be referring to the assembly.
What have we seen? We have seen that “house of God” and “house of the Lord” started off being used in the Old Testament to refer to the ground where Jacob had a vision and the pillar that he set up on that spot. It was then used to refer to the tabernacle, and then the temple. Then we saw that it was used in some Psalms with a sort of double meaning, the immediate meaning being the temple, but also with a spiritual application of our eternal dwelling with God. We also saw it in prophetic books as referring to our heavenly dwelling or to the church in this age. And we also saw that, past the Gospels and the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is never again used of the temple, or, in fact, of any physical building. The “house of God” is now spiritual, the body of Christ, the temple not built with hands, the assembly of the firstborn.
Why did I go into all of this? When we begin to use unbiblical definitions for words or terms, or import shadowy Old Testament definitions into the New Testament, we can start to lose sight of the truth. In fact, I believe many have already lost sight of the truths I have brought out in this article. We don’t go to God’s House, we are God’s House.
If we started calling the paper and ink that a Bible is made of the Bible, instead of the inspired words, we might lose sight of what the Bible really is and allow it to become corrupted. Religious organizations that think of their buildings as the “house of God” can build beautiful structures and have spiritually dead people because they have lost sight of the truth.
Roman Catholics do this. They equate the Old Testament temple with the church building, even setting up a special priesthood based on the Old Testament Levitical priesthood. A religious group may have a very beautiful structure and call it the “house of God.” But there may never be a “house of God” there because the people inside are dead. I would rather meet in a barn with the real “house of God” anytime. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are far more beautiful than any building. We are far more sanctified by our High Priest than any room called a “sanctuary.” We are in grave danger when we shift our focus away from the spiritual and to the physical.
We read in the New Testament that the church in Jerusalem met in the Temple (Solomon’s Porch) and in private houses (Acts 2:46; 5:12). John Gill suggests that the Solomon’s Porch meetings were not assemblies of the entire church, but were meetings held by the apostles for public evangelism. The church met in houses. Gill’s position is supported by the fact that, as the church grew, this pattern was clearly followed. The apostles evangelized in places open to the public, such as the synagogues and the school of Tyrannus. But the assembly of the saints was in private houses (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2).
Some have suggested that the saints had to meet in houses to avoid persecution, but the Bible says nothing of the kind. And history shows that at least one of the reasons the Romans persecuted the Christians was because they met in private houses. The Romans were willing to accept Christianity as simply another religion to add to their “collection.” They already tolerated plenty of other religions. As long as a religion was open to the public and licensed by the government, Rome was willing to accommodate it. What they would not tolerate were private meetings. Earle E. Cairns writes in Christianity Through the Centuries, “There could be no private religion…. The Christians held most of their meetings at night and in secret. To the Roman authority this could be nothing else than the hatching of a conspiracy against the safety of the state. Christians would not serve as soldiers until after 313…. The secrecy of the meetings of the Christians also brought moral charges against them. Public rumor made them guilty of incest, cannibalism, and unnatural practices” (87). Christian assemblies were markedly different from the rites of the other religions in the Roman Empire because they met privately, not publicly.
All the other religions had public meeting places, but the Christians met in private houses. This, the Romans saw as evidence of sedition. Why would they be meeting in private if they had nothing to hide? What is telling is that the Christians continued to meet in private houses despite the fact that it brought them persecution. They obviously considered meeting in private houses and not meeting in a public building for their regular assemblies important enough to suffer persecution for it.
Gillian Clark of the University of Bristol writes, “Early Christian groups met in private houses, and no church building earlier than the mid-third century has yet been identified” (Christianity and Romans Society, 7). The first church buildings were built by Constantine after he had adopted Christianity as the official state church. In doing so, he simply followed the Roman custom of erecting temples to their gods. Prior to Constantine, Christians had no thought of a “sacred” place in which to worship. To the Christians, the people were the assembly. They rejected the concept of replacing the focus on Christ and His saints with a focus on a physical structure. The meetings were not open to the public because they were not occasions for evangelistic preaching to the general public.
Joan E. Taylor observes, “Constantine brought to Christianity a pagan notion of the sanctity of things and places” (Christians and the Holy Places, 308). Leonard Verduin writes, “Thus, before the Constantinian change had come full circle, the death sentence had been prescribed for either holding or attending a conventicle [a private assembly not sanctioned by the law]” (The Anatomy of A Hybrid, 99). Yet it is well documented that the faithful who would not give in to the institutionalized state church continued to meet privately and illegally for centuries. Of these secret assemblies, Verduin writes in another of his books that “one of the things required of a convert…was the promise not to go again into a stone-pile, a cumulus lapidum,” as they called church buildings (The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, 167). Even some who stayed in the established church during the Constantinian change deplored the new buildings: “We do wrong in venerating the Church of God in roofs and structures. Is it doubtful that the Antichrist will sit there?” (ibid.). This sentiment is documented at least into the sixteenth century when the Anabaptists called church buildings stainhauffen or “mere stone piles” (Werner O. Packull, Hutterite Beginnings, 173).
We do not have to go to a so-called “house of God” building in which to assemble. Wherever we meet, there is God’s house, because we are there. Those things that the terms “house of God” and “house of the Lord” referred to in the Old Testament were mere types of the spiritual reality–the true house of God, the assembly of the saints–that we have today. When we are thinking spiritually, we will see this. The true house of God is not any building. Brethren, we are Christ’s house (see Hebrews 3:6).
Paul writes, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). Let’s not forget 2 Corinthians 6:14-16: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God…. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Revelation 21: 1-3, 22).
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