From Change Your Church for Good: The Art of Sacred Cow Tipping (W Publishing Group, 2007) by Brad Powell:
God intended the church to be about people, not place. Acts 8:3 tells us, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” This passage clearly communicates that the church was and is people. They didn’t drag off the houses. They hauled off the people. The church is people. And yet, most churches tend to focus on place over people.
I would argue that what the Acts 8:3 passage clearly communicates is that the church is people gathered in a place, not just people. Certainly the greater context of the Book of Acts would support this:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together… (Acts 4:31)
God’s people are commanded to not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:24), obviously requiring a place to assemble. And if the church is not both people and place, how does Brad explain 1 Corinthians 11:18:
For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it.
Two verses later Paul refers to the church as “coming together in one place” (1 Corinthians 11:20).
Place was significant in the Old Testament whenever God was present. Jacob picked a place at random to sleep and when he awoke he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not.” He dedicated that place to God (Genesis 28:11-19). Moses was walking through a desert and heard the voice of God speak to him to remove his shoes because “the place where you are standing is holy’ (Exodus 3:5). Joshua set up stones in the Jordan river to mark “the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood” (Joshua 4:9).
The church is God’s people gathered in a specific place. And when the church is gathered, God has promised to be in their midst. The presence of God in the midst of God’s people demands reverance and awe. Today’s contemporary church makes irreverance a vital part of their creed. Brad Powell again:
[W]e invite people to bring drinks into our auditorium for services. In fact, we have cup holders in our seats to facilitate this. You wouldn’t believe how many people, especially those who come to our church as nonbelievers, have told us that they were willing to come because they could dress casually and sip a latte or cappucinno while we told them about God.
Of course, it has its problems. It never fails that someone will spill a drink in the back row. Since our auditorium floor is sloped, the spill will slowly make its way all the way down front. It makes for cheap entertainment. People will start placing bets on how far it’s going to go. I think the record is twenty-three rows. (Please know that we don’t actually sponsor or sanction the betting.)
If you invited a group of people into your home, would you tolerate this kind of lack of respect for your home? If you were invited to someone’s home would you behave in this manner? And yet this kind of irreverance is actually encouraged by the pastor of a church where God’s people are supposedly gathered to meet God!
Is the church’s character and calling shaped primarily by the word of God or by the prevailing culture?