We have been talking about the church as a group of believers, but there is also the definition of a church as the building in which those believers meet. When entering a church, people immediately lower their voices and talk more quietly. When lonely or terribly disheartened, even non-believers are likely to enter into a quiet church for comfort. Is it superstition in our society, or is there something special about a church?
When Hurricane Katrina hit the southern United States, it left devastation in its path. There are pictures of boats swept miles inland. Debris was everywhere, massive trees were toppled, and for miles, nothing was left standing. Yet there are photos, in the midst of the total destruction, of one small church left standing. It was a miracle, and one has to wonder, Is there something special about a church? How could it possibly have survived that kind of catastrophe when everything around it was razed?
When Moses built the tabernacle of God according to the instructions that God had given him, something miraculous happened. “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34, NIV). God’s presence was there, physically and visibly. This visible presence, however, seems to be something unique to the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, God’s presence was not visible in the temple. Yet, we notice that Jesus was incensed at the disrespectful treatment of the temple, and He threw the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple, declaring, “ ‘It is written, . . .’ he said to them, ‘ “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it a “den of robbers” ’ ” (Matt. 21:13, NIV). The temple was still holy, and Jesus defended the physical temple against disrespect and degradation.
What makes a church special? First, it would be God’s choice. It was God’s choice to have a tabernacle built, and it was His choice to dwell in it and make it a place of meeting with His people. God chooses to make a church special. But then, it is also special by our choice. Jesus clarified the special nature of the temple by adding, “ ‘For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them’ ” (18:20, NKJV). It seems to be the coming together, the uniting of believers in faith and hope that God blesses. God allowed the magnificent temple in Jerusalem to be completely demolished more than once, but He always found a way to preserve His people. Just as He will preserve us today.
If God does bless a church with His presence, then coming together to worship in a place where God has promised to be is a way to experience God more fully. It is far from the only way to experience Him, but it is one of the most compelling. Still, it is the coming together with other believers that God encourages, not simply coming to a building alone. God listens to the prayer of one person. He comes close to the lonely and the brokenhearted, but God never leaves us alone and solitary. “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6, NIV), and that includes church families. There seems to be a special blessing for those who love God and come together to worship Him, forming what is truly a “church family.”
Of all the things that make the church the Kingdom of God, the most powerful is the fact that God is there. He promises to meet with His people, to share life with us, and to enable us to know Him better as we fellowship with Him and His people.*