For years, even decades, I have participated in the Simple Church Movement. This is a Christian movement that has redefined the nature and practice of church. In the Western world when most people say, “I’m going to church,” they are talking about a traditional stone and mortar building. It is where people meet for an hour or two each week, usually on Sundays, and where they conduct some praise and worship and listen to the Pastor preach. On the other hand, in the Simple Church the focus is on the development of Christ-centered relationships, discipleship, outreach, and returning to the simplicity of the Gospel message without the encumbrances that tend to accompany a large format meeting. Both methods, whether simple or traditional church, serve a valuable purpose. Despite my preference for the simple path, what struck me the other day was the thought, “What is the major reason that people go to church?”
I was raised in a traditional Irish family where church was a mandatory weekly event. Believe me, there were a few times in my life as a young man that I tried to buck the system. However, my mom and Dad made it very clear to me that we were Catholic and going to church was what every “good Catholic” did—no negotiation! Some Sunday mornings I had to pry my eyes open with a crowbar because of some late Saturday night partying, but I still managed to roll out of the womblike warmth of my bed and drag myself into the pew. Like my young self, I know there are many who attend because of some sense of obligation, but I also believe this is not the case for the majority of adults who attend church. As I’ve informally polled those who I consider to be sincere in their faith and Christian walk, it seems that the primary reason most go to church is because that is where they feel close to God.
In some ways this saddens me because our closeness to God should not be dependent on a physical place. Years ago I had been seeking an answer from God to a serious problem I was having. Finally after weeks of seeking I received three very clear mental images while praying as I lay on my bed. I knew in my heart that God had spoken, and over the course of time what He showed me came to pass. I had drawn close to God and experiencing His presence through His prophetic insight greatly impacted me.
In life it often seems that as one problem gets resolved another soon rises to take its place. A few months later I again lay on my bed praying when it occurred to me that I was acting as if the bed had become a place where I was closer to God. The bed top was a place where I had gotten an answer to my prayer, and hearing from God for me was a powerful experience. Unconsciously I had begun to think and act as if the quiet of my bedroom was where I best drew close to Him.
As silly as that may sound, I think the way I acted is probably pretty common. It is why certain places developed a reputation as being “holier” than others, and why people seek those places out. It is certainly one of the reasons people go to church, as my informal poll uncovered, because it helps them feel closer to God.
Thankfully, unlike the days of old when the Israelites had to go to the Tabernacle or Temple to worship God, today those people who are born of His spirit, are the temple.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
What an amazing truth it is to know that God does not dwell in a Temple built with stone and mortar. He now dwells in us, a living temple built upon the cornerstone of Christ himself and there is nothing that prevents us from drawing near to Him, other than obstacles of our own making.