THE CHURCH NOT BEING A PHYSICAL BUILDING FOR WORSHIP
The characteristic of the church in the beginning was her simplicity. The church today, having been altered, is no longer so simple. According to the principle of simplicity, when the early church was raised up, she did not have many of the things that we see in Christianity today, not even a physical place for worship, such as a cathedral—something so greatly valued today. The believers met at times in public squares, sometimes in the portico of Solomon, and at other times in their homes. Basically, there were no chapels or cathedrals. The concept of building physical places for worship did not exist until the degradation of the church under Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church brought the heathen customs and practices, including idolatry, into Christianity. Those who are knowledgeable about architecture all agree that the best buildings and structures in Europe are the cathedrals. It is reported that St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican was built at a cost of 90,000,000 pounds sterling, which is equivalent to several times that in dollars. This shows how highly regarded the cathedrals are in degraded Christianity.
The temple in the Old Testament was a physical building, and the temples or shrines of the Gentile idols were also physical structures. The holy temple was considered the best building structure among the Jews. The former temple was torn down, and it took forty-six years for the latter one to be built. Likewise, in China the best architecture in every place is also seen in the temples or shrines. However, when the church was first raised up, the worship of God was “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem” but “in spirit” (John 4:21, 23). God cares only for our spirit. Thus, the Bible tells us that, individually, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This means that God dwells in us (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:22). Corporately, the church is God’s house, God’s dwelling place. This means that God dwells in the church (1 Tim. 3:15). Therefore, the church is not a physical building for religious worship.
According to man’s religious concept, a house used for church meetings is different from any ordinary house. Once I met a group of believers in Tientsin who called their meeting place the “holy assembly hall.” I wondered if these people would not also call their homes “holy residences.” Surely, a meeting hall and a regular house are different, but the difference is only in what they are being used for and not in whether they are holy or common. When the Lord began His recovery in China, Christians were raised up to take the way of the recovery in many major cities. At that time there was a group of young believers who were studying medicine in Ch’i-Lu University. After they had seen the light of the Lord, they loved Him fervently. Since they were students who lived in dormitories, they did not have a home or a place to meet. Thus, they held their first Lord’s table in a cemetery. They placed the bread and the cup on a table used for offering sacrifices, and in this way they worshipped and remembered the Lord. All those who attended that meeting testified that they had never touched the reality of heaven or sensed the loveliness of the Lord as much as during that particular time.
THE CHURCH BEING NOT A PHYSICAL BUILDING BUT A SPIRITUAL BUILDING
The church is really simple. She is so simple that it seems she has nothing with respect to rules or regulations. Today, however, it seems that we cannot break the bread or worship the Lord unless we have a piano and a table. Please remember that this is a degraded and deformed situation. Someone may say that in the Catholic Church the cathedrals are imposing, the sacred songs are solemn, and the bishops are awe-inspiring. It has never occurred to him that these are items in a deformed situation. In contrast, there was nothing attractive outside or inside of the meeting hall of the church in Shanghai, yet every time there was a meeting, the hall was full. One time, two overseas Chinese attended a meeting there and were greatly astonished. One of them said, “I saw many places of worship in America, but they were never filled. I never imagined that when I came back to my homeland I could see people packed into such an unattractive place.” It was marvelous to him but not to us because the early church was the same way—considering the physical things as nonessential.
As children of God, we must realize that all physical things will eventually be destroyed. We should build only the things that are spiritual. Degraded Christianity always likes to show people a grand piano, a beautiful pulpit, and an exquisite façade. We should not be like this. The church does not necessarily receive more of God’s blessings by having a splendid building. Rather, when the church has the presence of God with His life, power, and strength, this is really God’s blessing. Sometimes the believers have a desire to meet outdoors, but some are concerned about not having a podium or a piano. Actually, in the beginning the church did not have these things. Physical things are not essential because what we are building is not something physical but something spiritual for people to be strengthened from within. This is God’s intention.
(The Pursuit of a Christian, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)