Based on a Bible Study by Dr Scott Aniol
Given at Providence Baptist Chapel Bedford – March 2022
What are we really doing when we gather for worship? This is a vital question we must answer from the Word of God. A question answered in many ways by different believers and churches (consider Hillsong, Bethel, Vineyard, Jesus Culture, Elevation churches across the world today and their diverse forms of worship). Why such a variety?
- Some believe the main purpose we gather to worship is to attract unbelievers
- For others the purpose might be spiritual revival
- For some we gather for fellowship and to experience a sense of community
- Others see the goal being to express praise to the Lord for all that He is and has done
- Others want some sort of emotional experience
- Some simply see worship as a duty to perform or a ritual
What does the Word of God identify as the central goal of our worship? Ephesians 21:11-22 beautifully pictures God’s intent. It helps us to understand what we should be doing as we gather. In Paul’s letter, he describes the nature of the gospel. People that come to faith in Jesus Christ, from Jewish or Gentile (non-Jew) backgrounds are brought near to God and into communion with Him. They are then being built into a habitation for God and being changed into a holy temple to the Lord. Why does Paul use this metaphor, a temple, to describe the church? The temple metaphor is not coincidental.
The gathered New Testament church is the dwelling place for the Spirit of God today, in the same way that Israel’s temple was God’s dwelling place in the Old Testament economy. The Bible also teaches that we as individual Christians are a temple of the Holy Spirit, but in Ephesians 2 the focus is on the collective church. Notice what Paul says in 2:21 “in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord”.
This description of the gathered church is not unique to Ephesians 2. Paul says something similar in 1 Corinthians 3:19 “we are God’s temple”. We note that in Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 3 the pronouns are plural. He’s talking about Christ’s church (see also 2 Corinthians 6:16). Peter says something similar in 1 Peter 2:25. Each of these texts describe the gathered church as a spiritual house, as a holy temple unto the Lord.
So why do these New Testament authors all use the image of a temple to picture the gathered church? What happens in a temple? In this living temple, built by the Spirit of God and indwelt by Him, worship takes place. Worship is not a duty to perform out of obedience for God. It is not simply expressing our hearts in praise to the Lord or having an emotional experience.
A Hillsong Church Service in Los Angeles
The Old Testament temple was first called a tabernacle, then later the Lord called it His sanctuary. He told Moses in Exodus 25 “let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.” This communicated the idea of something consecrated and set apart to protect the holiness of God from the uncleanness of everyday life. No uncleansed or uncircumcised person could enter the holy sanctuary. He gave crystal clear, specific instructions for how His sanctuary was to be built, cared for and what was required before a person entered. All the elements had to be regularly cleansed by the priests and sinful worshipers must offer sacrifices of atonement before entering. God specifically commands this in Leviticus 19:30 “you shall reverence my sanctuary; I am the Lord.”
The idea of set-apartness is at the core of what the sanctuary was. It is then extended to the church, as God’s living temple. Ephesians 2:21 calls the church a holy temple in the Lord; 1 Timothy 3:15 then establishes a particular way to behave in the church because it is set apart. The assembled church, as Christ’s temple and as His sanctuary, requires a unique kind of behaviour, different from all other behaviours of life. As individual Christians we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and must behave in ways that are holy and pleasing to the Lord.
As the gathered church, in a special and distinct way, the sanctuary is to be the place where God’s presence is known, and His people behave differently. It is vital that what we do in the church, is regulated only by God’s clear instructions in His Word. The worship that takes place when we come together is not about a building or place. It is about His gathered people, the holy temple of God.
This description of the temple not only carries the weight of it being the sanctuary of God, but also helps us recognise another clear description of the temple. In the Old Testament several passages called it the house of God and His dwelling place. Many passages use the same language to describe the temple e.g., 2 Chronicles 3:3: “Solomon built the house of God”. The temple is where God dwells with His people. Jacob called the place where he met with God Bethel, which means ‘house of God’. A house is a place where you meet with someone, dwell with them, and where you fellowship with them. This emphasises that not only was Israel’s temple a sanctuary it was also a dwelling place for God. A place where they met with him.
Unsurprisingly the New Testament also refers to the church as God’s house e.g. 1 Timothy 3:15 calls the church “the household of God”. In Galatians 6:10 Paul calls it “the household of faith” and in Hebrews 10:21 “the house of God”. It’s why in Hebrews 10:25 “we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The Lord Jesus also told His disciples in Matthew 18:20, when teaching of the nature of the church and discipline, when the church gathers “where two or three are gathered in his name there Christ is in their midst”. Before Paul calls the church God’s holy temple, he says we are fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built together for a habitation of God.
Therefore, these three principles establish the nature of what the gathered church is:
- We are a holy set apart people, a dwelling place for God;
- We gather as the church and as God’s temple; and
- We gather to meet with God for communion and fellowship.
However, a problem emerges if the church is God’s temple, the dwelling place of God, and God’s holy sanctuary. How can sinners enter? Ephesians 2 addresses this issue. Paul connects the condition of unbelievers with the uncircumcised in the Old Testament, who were unable to enter Israel’s sanctuary. He contrasts them with those who are “nigh”. This is a term he used to indicate those who are able into enter the sanctuary as opposed to those who are far off and cannot enter. But in 2:13 he says: “in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”. This is the language of the gospel, where we find forgiveness of sin, and come near to God, able to enter His presence, and His sanctuary. Christ came and preached peace to you who were far off and to them that were nigh.
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
- Worship is primarily for believers
- Worship is relational
- Worship is formational
- Worship is covenant renewal