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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...


Daily Boost

April 15, 2010 - What Is the Church?

By George Paul Wood


What is the church?

When I was little, my Sunday School teachers taught me a little ditty.

Here’s the church,
Here’s the steeple.
Open the door,
And here’s the people.

The point of the ditty was that the church is people, not a building. That’s true, of course. The church is people gathered by God’s grace for worship and sent by God’s gifting for service.

But even my little Sunday School ditty doesn’t pierce to the essence of “churchness.” To do that, we need to pay attention to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:16,17:

“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” (NIV).

To properly interpret this verse, we need to compare and contrast it with 1 Corinthians 6:19, where Paul writes:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”

Both verses use the words “temple” and “Spirit,” so some have interpreted them as referring to the same thing. That would be a mistake, however, for their contexts are very different. First Corinthians 6:19 refers to how individual Christians use — or misuse — their bodies. There, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to avoid sexual sins because they pollute their bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit. In other words, 1 Corinthians 6:19 uses the word “temple” to refer to the bodies of Christian individuals.

In 1 Corinthians 3:16,17, however, Paul uses the word “temple” to refer to the Christian community. Throughout chapters 1-4, Paul has labored to end divisions in the Christian church by focusing the Corinthians’ attention on “Jesus Christ and him crucified” rather than on their favorite leaders. In 6:19, the sin is sexual sin committed against one’s own body. But in 3:16,17, the sin is division within the body of Christ. The church itself, understood as a community of believers, is God’s temple, not just the body of the individual Christian believer.

The essence of church, then, is relationship. My little Sunday School ditty is correct that church is people in relationship to one another. Not every relationship with others is church, however. Families are not churches, businesses are not churches, sports teams are not churches, and governments are not churches, even though all of these involve relationships.

The missing element in these relationships, the essence of “churchness,” is relationship to God through His Holy Spirit. In Israel, a temple was the place where heaven and earth met, where God came to dwell among men. That is what makes the church unique among other relationships. God joins in.

If God joins in, the church must reflect His character. He is holy. He brings grace and peace to His relationships. True holiness does the same.

God is holy. God’s temple is holy. We are God’s temple. We must be holy too.

— George Paul Wood is director of Ministerial Resourcing for the Assemblies of God and author of The Daily Word online devotionals.



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