Last week I offered an initial argument that believers gather for worship. In part 1, I discussed the significance of the phrase, “house of God” as applied to the church in the New Testament, that it points to assembled believers as the place of God’s special presence, the “new temple/tabernacle” for those in Christ Jesus. I argued that this phrase, “house of God,” used of the church in passages such as 1 Timothy 3:15 and Hebrews 10:19-24, should be taken to mean that the church is the new temple/tabernacle in this particular economy of God’s work in human history.
This installment wants to argue along similar lines. As I said, the application of the phrase “house of God” to the church means that the church is the “new temple,” the place for public worship. I believe this becomes even more explicit in the clear New Testament teaching that gathered believers are together a “new temple” in this era of God’s work.
This is most clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
The teaching that the assembled church is the temple of God should not be confused with the teaching in 1 Cor 6:19 that our individual bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is an important separate teaching with the implication that we should live holy lives lest we make the Holy Spirit a partaker of sin. The teaching that the church also is the “new temple” has the implications that the church must be holy and that God dwells in the midst of assembled believers. Because the Spirit of God dwells in the midst of assembled believers, that group of assembled believers is holy. The church is owned by God, completely devoted to him and his worship. Flowing from the fact that God dwells in the new temple–the church–comes the starting application: God’s church is holy, and those who hurt God’s church, God will hurt. The very principle of holiness speaks of the church being devoted to the worship of God. The church is owned by God, and is a holy place devoted to him. If God dwells in us, we are God’s. And what God desires, more than anything else, is our worship. Above all this is the clear teaching here that we are God’s temple. The assembly of believers is the new place for public worship in the church era. We are a temple, and should be devoted to the public worship of the Triune God when we gather together.
The church as new temple is not only taught in 1 Corinthians 3. In 2 Corinthians 6:16b, Paul says,
“For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.'”
The context in 2 Corinthians 6 is again one of holiness. Believers should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, because God’s temple is holy, and such communion with the unrighteous would defile God’s temple. Christ has no concord with Belial. The reason we should not be connected with unbelievers is that the church is God’s temple, the holy place of his special presence. Therefore we should be separate from those who deny God and Christ. We are wholly sanctified to God, and dedicated to him and him alone. He is our father, we are his children. The church is the place of public worship because it is God’s temple–wholly God’s and holy to God.
The final passage I want to point to that teaches that the church is God’s temple is one I looked at last time, Eph 2:19-22.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
I love this passage because it combines the ideas of church as household of God, not only as Graeco-Roman household, but as temple. We who were “strangers and aliens” are now in God’s house, but we the church are also the “house of God,” the temple. Paul mixes in the metaphor of the church as a physical building (conjured by the references to “household” and “temple”) there too. But here it is reiterated that we collectively are the place of God’s dwelling by the Spirit. We are the new temple, the place for public worship in the Christian era. No more is there any need to go to the old temple. Christ’s church–the assembly of believers–is the place appointed for all humankind’s public worship of the Holy One of Israel, the Triune God.