I am normally a fan of all things Southern Baptist. I even preach from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB…”Hard-Core Southern Baptist”). I have been troubled by something that continues to appear in the Sunday Literature from Lifeway that my pre-school children have been using. The literature continues to talk about the Temple in the Old Testament and use the word “church” instead of Temple. At first I used to think it was semantics. Until I really started to understand what the church is (and is not) and what the Temple is.
I know, you have to teach children at their level. I understand that. Can’t we teach children what the Temple really was? Why must we call it a “church” for simplicity sake? Many people (myself included) are troubled at statistics which tell us more and more young people are dropping out of church after high school. Maybe it is because we don’t teach them the truth?
In the Old Testament the Temple was the place where God dwelt. Yes, they understood that He was everywhere, but if you wanted to be near God, you had to go to the Temple. It was a special building that God Himself designed and gave the people the blueprint. There was no other building like the Temple. God’s people had unusual reverance for the building. In the New Testament, believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor. 6:19 is clear on this matter. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you. You are now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. God’s people used to go to the Temple to offer sacrifices to the Lord, but Jesus is our sacrifice once for all. We don’t need to go to a building and slaughter one of our animals.
The church is a whole other matter. In the New Testament the “church” never means a building. The church is never a “place” it is always “people” We are the church. For that matter we are the Temple as well (that may be the only similarity!) When we begin to think of our church building as an equal to the Temple of the Old Testament, we are thinking unbiblically. When we teach our children that the Church where they have their Sunday School class is just like the Temple in the Old Testament, we are teaching them unbiblical things. I would go as far to say that we are teaching them harmful things.
When the church building is seen as the Temple it reinforces our cultural idea that there is something special about the building we use on Sunday. It is a subtle way of making the children think they have to act differently at church because it is “God’s House” (did He ever give us the blueprint for it?) We do more for our children when we teach them what the Temple was, and that they are the Temple. It will give them more respect for their own bodies. In fact, Paul is speaking in 1 Cor. 6 about not sleeping with prostitutes at the pagan temples. He says not to join your body (the temple of the Holy Spirit) with the prostitutes. We need to teach our young people that their body belongs to the Lord, He dwells there! We also need to teach them that the place where we worship on Sundays is only a building. It is not mandated by God. It is amazing that the church got along so well for 300 years without their own buildings! We would do well with that today! How many billions of dollars have we spent on our buildings, stained glass windows, steeples, and pews that get used for a couple of hours each week!! Many believers know the frustration in their churches when people will spend tens of thousands of dollars to pretty-up our buildings while we have to squeeze out a few thousand to help people hear the Gospel.
If we continue to teach young ones that the Temple is a church, what will we say when they ask where we are to sacrifice, or ceremonially wash, or where are the places that only the priests (pastors) can go? We have to correct them on these matters. It seems to me that it would be easier to explain thing correctly from the start.