Friday, October 10, 2008

Chapels vs. churches

Some churches don't like calling their buildings "churches."

Notably, the "Churches of Christ" which crankily announces on their signs that "the church of Christ meets here."

It's a very American idea: the church is not a church. Only the people are the church.

Some of our brethren seek to circumvent this by calling their meeting place a "chapel." Such as this congregation.

Which only begs the question: the English "chapel" is from Middle English, borrowed from Old French and medieval Latin. In those languages, it meant basically what we mean when we say "church."

Emphasizing the people of God as the church is not a bad thing. But a church building is indeed the House of God. Here Christ has promised to be in our midst, and here we receive His Body and Blood. The Patriarch, St. Jacob reminds us of this (Gen. 28.10-22) when he spoke of the place where God appeared to him in a dream: "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

We set aside space to be the house of God. That space has and retains a holiness. Even when the people of God are temporarily gone.


Steve said...

Jim, the question remains, what was the place where Jacob was? Was it a building? All we know is that there was a stone on which he laid his head.

There are three clear verses in the New Testament to instruct Christians about a "place" of meeting or worship. John 4:21-24 says the focus of worship is not the place ("neither this mountain, nor Jerusalem") but how we worship ("in spirit and in truth") which is important.

Jesus also says in Matthew 18:20 that "where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst", again, emphasising not where they are gathered, but why they are meeting: "In His name" or for His glorious cause. Finally, Paul in Acts 17:24-25 says that God, "does not dwell in temples made with though he needed anything".

God's Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of Christians (Romans 8:9-11) so that, no matter where Christians meet, when they gather for the cause of Christ, Our Loving God is there with us. What matters is the hearts of the people meeting together, not where they meet or what sort of place that is.

Your thoughts?

Jim Huffman said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I suspect that the place where Jacob slept was not a building. Nevertheless, it was a place. And our worship cannot be "placeless." We will always worship somewhere -- that is, in a location.

I tend to focus on continuity between pre-incarnation and post-incarnational worship. However, this is a clear example of a change: the locus of worship location changes with the incarnation. In the OT, the locus of worship was in the Jerusalem temple. This locus required worship to center in that location, and effectively prevented a widespread dispersion of God's people throughout the world. After the incarnation, the locus is on Christ's presence in His people. The "2 or 3 gathered" is not a location-less gathering, but a gathering around in Christ's name, and I'd argue that "in My name" implies the name centered in God's word, in preaching that comes from that word, and in His name in the elements, where we receive His Body and Blood. "In My name" is a worship statement. While God's people remain God's people at work, asleep, eating, whatever, the place where God's incarnate presence is promised is in the gathering around His name.
We look for where God has promised to be with us.