What do you think of when you hear the word “temple?” For most people the word probably evokes an image like this:
It is very unlikely that the first image that comes to mind when you hear “temple” looks something like this:
Here are some examples:
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.
…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.
2 Corinthians 6:16
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? 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.
There are two Greek words that make up this phrase “holy temple.” They are naos and agios.
Agios: “Holy” means:
“Consecrated, dedicated to the service of God, set apart.”
Naon: “Temple” means:
“A place or structure specifically associated with or set apart for a deity, who is frequently perceived to be using it as a dwelling.”
As a “Holy Temple”:
1 Corinthians 3
- We must be aware that God has placed us in our city to be a dwelling place for His Spirit.
- The living God is present in our world through us.
- We must live lives of holiness marked by continual confession of sin to one another and repentance of sin.
- We are accountable to God for how we form our church culture.
- We are “growing into a holy temple,” so we keep in mind that we are on a journey and in process together.
- We don’t allow the ideal of the “perfect church” to be formed as an idol in our lives.
- We critically think through processes, strategies, culture, etc. within the church, but we stay focused on Jesus and we build one another up in the process.
- We recognize that this all happens “in the Lord.” Jesus is the source and target of our identity as a holy temple.
- We practice discipline within our church in order to restore those who sin.
2 Corinthians 6
- We destroy all idols that contradict the reality that we are the temple of the living God.
- We take seriously our role in our city as a place (a people) where God dwells by his Spirit.
- We stay connected to our culture, while exemplifying Christ-exalting, God-empowered holy lives.
I think it’s vital as we look at this metaphor to realize that there are certain ways that we think or speak as church people that can contradict these biblical texts. For instance, if we (the people) are God’s holy temple, we must avoid thinking or talking as if the physical facility that we meet in is God’s holy temple. I have heard many people within the church world take issue with that last sentence as they quote Old Testament texts that refer to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, as if they apply to the building located at (insert your church mailing address here). That mindset would be laughable if it wasn’t so pervasive (and I would argue, destructive) in Christian culture.
We must make sure that our practical vocabulary reflects our biblical theology. For example, we should avoid the trap of thinking that the church building is the “house of God,” that the biggest room on campus is “the sanctuary,” or that the room we pray in is “a house of prayer for all the nations.” We must read and apply Hebrews 9 to our lives, realizing that we are God’s holy temple, we the people are the place within which God dwells by his Spirit.
Why is this issue such a big deal? Do we really have to change our vocabulary to clarify our theology? I think it is responsible to do so. In an ideal church culture, where the “spatial holiness” mindset doesn’t exist, I suppose we can talk however we want. Maybe you and your church live in that environment of sanctified orthodoxy, where you never face confusion on this issue. But I don’t. And the church that I am a part of doesn’t either.
What does it mean if we realize that we are God’s holy temple? This means that as you “walk out of church” on Sunday, you’re not actually leaving “the church.” You are the church, leaving the building. I dream of the day when the people of my city can say “the church has left the building.”