Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. [Exodus 25:8 (NLT)]
God directed Moses to build Him a miqdâsh, a sanctuary or sacred place. That there are 50 chapters of Scripture devoted to its construction tells us that it was of great importance to the Israelites. At first, this sanctuary was the holy tent known as the Tabernacle and, once completed, Scripture tells us the glory of the Lord filled it. In Solomon’s day, God’s sanctuary became the Temple in Jerusalem where it became the center of worship. Jewish law even demanded that every man had to make a pilgrimage to the Temple three times a year.
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, God was not left homeless. The glory of the Lord didn’t disappear because God never lived in a tent or building. While God’s presence was centered on the Tabernacle, it was not limited to it because no building, place, or nation can contain Him! He is with us wherever we are. God wanted the sanctuary built not so he could live in it but so that He could shâkan (settle down, reside, abide, or dwell) with the people! Where we worship God isn’t important; what is important is that we do worship Him!
As it turns out, the church at which I regularly worship has no walls; it is located in a park by the beach. Even though our church has left the building, it is as much a Tabernacle as the tent of the Israelites, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Washington’s National Cathedral, a home church in China, a pub outreach in Pennsylvania, or a SK8 ministry’s skateboard park. A building isn’t necessary for worship because our bodies serve as God’s dwelling place.
Just because God isn’t confined to a building, however, doesn’t mean we should skip attending church! The Law required Jews to worship at the Temple three times a year but many who claim to be Christians only make it twice: Christmas and Easter (if even then). There are many golfers, fishermen, bikers, beach-goers, and sports fans who say they worship God while doing their favorite weekend activity. Asking God to sink a putt, saying “Oh, my God!” when you land a big fish, taking His name in vain when the running back fumbles, or a quick grace said over Sunday dinner are no substitute for corporate worship! Although we can worship God anywhere and everywhere (even on TV or the Internet), it’s important to meet with fellow believers. Church isn’t just sixty to ninety minutes of song, prayers, and message.
The Apostle Paul points out that we are all part of the body of Christ and a body can’t function without all of its parts. It’s at church where we meet our brothers and sisters in Christ and have the opportunity to be compassionate or accept a kindness, to offer prayers or be lifted in prayer, to love and be loved, to be inspired or offer encouragement, to assist or receive help, to instruct or to learn, and to make friendships and be held accountable. When we come together as the Church, we sing our praises, meet at the Lord’s table, partake of His body and blood, and welcome others into the beautiful body of Christ. While God may have left the building, He hasn’t left the church and neither should we.
Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man. [D.L. Moody]