The temple and the home.
Both/And rather than Either/Or – my exploration of some of my favourite tensions in the Christian faith. Holding multiple things in tension is a good thing – hence why I am writing this blog series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.
Everyone’s a critic. You don’t have to attend church (or any gathering of people for that matter) long to realise a lot of people have lots of ideas about how best to do this thing we have called “church.” I have my critique too, as I believe critique can be good. What isn’t good is cynicism.
You know the kind I mean. The kind of critique that isn’t drenched in humility and grace, but instead pompous arrogance. The kind that says “I know how to fix this…but I won’t be.”
The critique that breaks my heart the most is the one about church gatherings. There seems to be a couple of camps on this one, but let’s put them into two major piles. There’s the crowd that’s all about the big church gathering on Sunday and then there’s the crowd who’s main thing is small gatherings in authentic community in homes or similar.
I’ve experience both of these wonderful worlds and I have experience dead and useless versions of them too. For every great church gathering I’ve seen some that have repulsed me and caused me to think “Is this really what Jesus had in mind?” I have also had wonderful times in great small groups and then tragic experiences sitting in what I can only label as some sort of “holy” grumbling group.
So which is it? The big, vibrant and raucous Sunday gathering – or the small, vulnerable and intimate gathering of just a few friends?
Wonderfully, the Bible paints a great picture of both. Jesus honoured the Temple and the home. The Apostles had time of being at the Temple and in homes. The church today must be a place of both the “temple” and the “home”.*
The temple is the big gathering where everyone comes together from their experiences of the week. A meeting place of life, colour and wonderful noise, where a large group of people can be together to love God and each other. A place where they can learn a bit. A place of experiencing difference existing within unity. You can hide in this gathering, you can be part of the crowd and that’s OK – because this is the place of the crowd after all.
The home is the smaller gathering where a small group of closer friends can gather. It’s more intimate, and perhaps more authentic. You can’t hide here, you’re guaranteed to be noticed. You’ll have to share, you’ll have to contribute and it will cost you. This is the place of less-is-more, a place that seeks out depth.
Here’s what’s amazing about the early church though – they loved both. They spent time at the Temple and they spent time in their homes. In fact, archeology shows us that they knocked out walls in their little homes so that they could squeeze in one, or two, or three more people. The home was important, but it was still a place of mission, and it was a place of growth. It didn’t just stay “them”.
Today I hear people all too often draw lines around either the big gathering, or the small gathering, and that’s that.
“I’m off to church.” Well, it’s ironic because the church has been you all along.
“You must invite your friends to church next week…” Interesting, because your dinner table could be a better start.
“I don’t like going to church, it’s too showy.” True, but that’s because it’s where the crowd and the raucous noise of resurrection people is meant to be. Maybe your cynicism has helped you forget that.
So, I hope you see that going to your Sunday gathering is about you taking your presence to be before God with others, and celebrating the new life a community of people who shouldn’t have anything in common now have – Jesus.
May you see that Sunday will never be enough, that at some point you will have to be exposed a little more and share your life humbly with others in some kind of smaller setting. It will cost you – true community always does.
May you have to knock out walls in your own home to fit in another one, or two, or three as you love God and love others, and then go to the Sunday gathering to celebrate that with all the others who have done the exact same thing.
*I could list a bunch of Scriptures here – but I won’t. What I think you should really do is grab your Bible and read all of the book of Acts in one go. Go on.