Is the church building the house of God?

Growing up we were told that the church was the house of God. Adults would call out to the children, “No running! Remember you are in the house of God.” We dressed in our “Sunday best,” the term used to describe our holiest of outfits because we were going to God’s house. Loud talking and noise-making by the children were prohibited because God’s house was a solemn place. No fun was to be had, only reverence.

The question needs to be asked. Is it true that the church building is the house of God? Is our church meeting place the place where God’s presence literally dwells? These questions deserve an answer, not from us, or our parents, or grandparents, but from God. Thankfully, we have His answer in the scriptures if we have the humility to ask honestly.

The first time God commissioned His people to build a dwelling to for Him was in Exodus 25. He commanded Moses to build a tent known as the “Tabernacle” or “the tent of meeting.” This tent was an elaborate setup with two chambers and an outer courtyard. The altar for burnt offerings was erected in the courtyard. The holiest place was located in the innermost chamber where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Atop the Ark were two golden cherubim whose wings met in the center of the top of the ark. The place where the wings met was known as “the mercy seat.” The mercy seat was to be the throne of God, the place where His presence literally dwelt.

Much later, once the Hebrews settled in the promise land, the Tabernacle was replaced with a more permanent dwelling. The new building, built by King Solomon, was known as the temple or “the house of God.” The temple was built after the plans of the Tabernacle. It also had two main chambers and an outer courtyard. The temple was larger and more ornate than the Tabernacle, and it was attached to the ground.

Only the priests and Levites were allowed in the house of God. There were strict laws governing the type of clothing the priests were to wear and how often they were allowed into the sanctuary. A violation of these laws most often led to the instant death of the offender. The house of God was a solemn and most holy place; the holiest place on the planet because it was the place where God dwelt.

The temple was destroyed after Israel fell to Babylon. It was rebuilt upon the return of the Exiles to the promise land. It was renovated once more under the reign of Herod the Great.

Two things happened that led to the demise of the temple. First, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil that separated the innermost chamber was ripped in two from top to bottom making the holy of holies just an ordinary room in an ordinary building. Then, in 70 A.D., the Romans invaded to put down a Jewish rebellion and the temple was totally destroyed in the battle.

The careful reader of Scripture will discover that this was always God’s plan. His plan has always been to make His home, not in a building, but in the hearts of His people. In Hebrews 8-10, the author explained that just as the Tabernacle gave way to something more permanent, so also the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem gave way to a dwelling place for God that is even more permanent. The ultimate house of God is not a building made with hands but in the transformed heart of a believer. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Ephesians 2:22 says, “In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

When a group of believers gathers together for worship and ministry, a local church is born. The place where they meet, whether it is beautiful Victorian building, or a shady spot under a tree becomes holy when the people of God gather there. But the meeting place is not holy in itself like a temple or a house of God; it is holy because the body of Christ comes together as one in that place.

There is nothing wrong with calling church facilities “holy.” Holy means set apart. Church buildings are holy because they are set apart for corporate worship and ministry. However, the church building is not God’s house. God has made His earthly home in our hearts.