fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Where to go?

churchWhere to go? by Julie McAllen

Where to go? Where to go?

3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. (1 Sam 1:3-7)

It’s a sad fact that sometimes going to the house of the Lord is not filled with rejoicing but weeping.

Even the wise King Solomon advised, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” (Ecc 5:1)

Though we are told to “not give up meeting together” (Heb 10:25), have you ever been forced into a situation to decide where and with whom you should gather? Whether that question arose due to a major doctrinal dispute, a preference in worship music, or a relocation, the question of where to worship is not a new one. Even before “the church” was established, the question of where to worship was posed to Jesus in an encounter with a Samaritan woman.

 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:19-26)

The woman asked a legitimate question about where to worship God. Pay attention to the answer Jesus gave. Jesus denied that worship was confined to a place and this is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. Under the Old Law Covenant, the temple in Jerusalem was the place to go for worship and instruction but Jesus was preparing people to accept the new covenant in which they would worship God not in any one place, but in Spirit and in truth. Jesus ensured that his followers would be taught by the Holy Spirit excusing them from the need to seek God through the religious leaders found at the temple (John 14:26; 1 John 2:20, 27). Believers themselves would become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Believers themselves would become the Holy Priesthood (1 Pe 2:5, 9). There was no need now to travel to a place of worship, it is within every believer born of His Spirit (John 3:3-8).

In Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin, he also denied the need for a building made by the hands of men and quoted from the prophet Isaiah.

 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 ” ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?

50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ (Acts 7:48-50)

Paul also explained the change in worship: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Acts 17:24)

As Jesus was gaining followers, people were coming out of their established, traditional organized places of worship. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Sanhedrin together and began to say: “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48) What were these religious leaders afraid of? Jesus was bringing God near, near enough to even dwell inside Jews and Gentiles alike with no need of a special mountain, temple or synagogue. He prophesied the destruction of the temple along with all it’s physical forms of worship (Matt 24:1, 2) Soon there would be no need for a building, the priesthood, animal sacrifices, circumcision or laws on ceremonial foods. As correctly stated by the religious leaders in fear, “if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

And that is exactly what happened when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Imagine if your place of worship were destroyed today. Imagine the pastor is gone, the worship team is gone, the great midweek programs, the coffee, the stain glass windows or even the property on which you gathered. Where to go? Where to go?

I can well imagine what a stumbling block this was for the first Jewish converts. No temple? Where will I worship? How will people know I love God if I’m not seen performing the religious duties there? As Jesus’ teachings penetrated the hearts of his chosen disciples, he restated the importance of this new form of worship devoid of everything physical.

 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:63-69)

Peter was in no different predicament then as we sometimes find ourselves today asking to whom shall I go? He understood Jesus himself had the words of eternal life, his very words were full of Spirit and life enabling one to worship in Spirit and in truth. But to follow the way, the truth and the life meant certain persecution from his own religion (Matt 5:11, 12; Matt 10:17-23; Matt 24:9; John 9:22; Acts 13:50), no wonder it says that many of Jesus’ early disciples turned back and no longer followed him. What did they turn back to? Religion. Empty religion devoid of relationship with God.

God did not come to earth to bring a religion to us, He came to restore a relationship with us. Peter verified that with his admission that Christ himself had the words of eternal life. That life was already strengthening him to follow Christ because he knew by doing so he was in danger of losing his religion. What a blessing! If we lost the elements of our religious routine, would we consider it a blessing? To whom would we go?

Gathering for church in a building is not wrong in itself, but if we’ve begun to follow the routine of religion thinking our faith is proven by attending services at a particular church, or shows in the way we dress, how much we contribute to the collection plate, or through our display of bumper stickers and jewelry, we’re not really relying on the Spirit which gives life. The Jews of the first century came to Christ with much difficulty. They did not attend Christian meetings because the people were so nice, the air conditioning worked, the chairs were comfy, the coffee good, or the music was great. They left behind family and friends who chose to stay in the synagogue and the security of a history containing a physical temple, a priesthood, rituals and festivals that made them feel religious, and they came to the bareness of Christ. Likewise, struggles to come to Christ today are not always a conversion from a wild lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll, sometimes it’s the struggle to break free of religion and all its physical trappings and stand bare before Christ who offers nothing but Himself.

Where to go? Where to go?

Keep yourselves in God’s love, Julie


September 13, 2009 - Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Julie,
    Awesome post! We had talked about this subject before and I was wondering how you would present it without offending others, but you wrote a fine piece. Anyone who would find this post offensive (or contradictive) needs to examine their faith…is it in God or their church? Thanks again…be Blessed!

    Comment by Linda | September 15, 2009

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