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Doing Church

The dry definition of Religion is: a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. Filling in the blanks that defines Christianity as: a belief in and reverence for God, the Creator and King of the Universe. The question I now ask is, if we follow such a Big God why do we cram Him into such a small box? We should let Him loose, let Him roam freely, let Him act according to His awesome nature. Of course He already does, but we act as if He lived just in ancient buildings, sports halls on a Sunday hire, or in front rooms swept clean of profane literature and embarrassing relatives. The Bible gives us a more realistic view of God:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139: 7-12)

There's no escape. God doesn't just live in Church buildings for a couple of hours every Sunday. He is everywhere and there is no escape from His presence. He is present with the astronaut in the space station and with the coal miner deep underground. He would even be with us in the darkness of our minds, the place where many of us conceive the most shameful acts.

How we do Church is in many ways a product of Greek thinking rather than Biblical instruction. For a start, nowhere in the Bible is Church ever meant to be a building. It was always referred to as a group of Christians. It was the Greek Church Fathers who changed things, leading to an idea that any expression of Christianity is best confined to a meeting place rather than the people who meet there. Whereas Jesus tells us to go out into the world and preach his Gospel, we have ended up telling the World to come into Church, to find Jesus there. And what does the World really find when it goes there?

First, the building. For those of you who meet in house churches, sports halls or modern ecclesiastical edifices, this is not for you, so you are absolved in advance. For the rest of you, it may be a surprise for you to know that Church buildings were originally based on Roman government buildings, which were in turn based on Greek pagan temples. The man chiefly responsible for the prominence of Church buildings was our old friend, Emperor Constantine. He gave the people no choice, passing a Law prohibiting Christians from meeting anywhere other than in a Catholic Church. This meant that folk couldn't meet in homes or public arenas and it cemented State control for the official religion of the state. It was very similar to what we see today in China, with their measures against Christians meeting in "house churches".

And the Churches that were built were for a particular purpose. Constantine's choice of design was to provide an environment where the masses could be seated most efficiently to passively watch a performance.

Here was the dualism of Plato in action, the separation of the clergy (up front doing the stuff on a raised platform) and the laity (the commoners watching the performance from behind a screen). The original Churches were also built facing east, so that, as with Greek Temples to the Sun god, the sun shone around the face of the speaker. There was little distinction between the Son of God and the sun god in many minds.

Next week we will venture inside and see what we find ...

Steve Maltz
December 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)

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